Saturday, 26 February 2011

CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN...



Last week, I stumbled across an interesting little programme on BBC iPlayer. Entitled As Others See Us, it followed four reknowned journalists as they recollected their experiences of reporting on The Troubles in Northern Ireland. A lot of it featured events from before I was born or too early in my life for me to recall, so I thought it would make an interesting watch. I did not expect to feel such an emotional reaction to it.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

HEART IN MY MOUTH...



Unless you were under a rock yesterday, you couldn't have helped but notice that it was Valentine's Day. Everything the shops can possibly cover with romantic emblems has been covered in hearts, cupids and other lovey doveyness. Restaurants triple booked everyone and squeezed an extra table or two in. Schmaltz hung heavy in the air...

I did nothing to mark the day apart from check the email affiliated to my OKCupid account with a mixture of dread and amusement. Would they take this opportunity to remind I'm in my thirties, single and have no one interested in me at all? Instead they decided to dredge up that swelling feeling of inferiority that only another barren Valentine's Day could bring in high school and ignore me completely, leaving me somehow feeling annoyed and lacking about something I just don't care about the other 364 days of the year.


But that's Valentine's Day for me. Over the years, it has been the thorn in the side of my usually steely exterior of singlehood. No one else cares about your romantic attachments the rest of the time, but Valentine's is a perfect storm of them asking probing questions and basking in the glory of their own Clinton Cards teddy bear and padded card the size of Milton Keynes. I shrug off their insinuations by playing up the advantages of the single life and remind myself that I would hate it if someone bought me a stuffed animal as flammable than a box of matches.


And while I would, I can't help but admit that it would be nice if I'd ever been bought anything on Valentine's Day at all. Not once, either when single or coupled up, have I ever received so much as a card on February 14th. I'd like to tell you this is because the men in my life have been so busy dreaming up impossibly non commercial, yet dashingly romantic gestures instead, but I'd be lying through my teeth.


My first experience with Valentine's Day set the tone for pretty much every single one that has followed. I was about ten, in P6 of primary school and my best friend Kelly started 'going out' with Gareth Miller, so in that pre-pubescent way of balancing things up, I had to start going out with his best friend, Blair Robertson. I think at most a peck on the cheek passed between us, but no fear, Valentine's Day was at the start of the next week and things were bound to be interesting.


The big day arrived. Kelly got some kind of satin montrosity from Gareth. The rest of the class seemed to be swapping cards like their lives depended on it. Feeling a bubble of disappointment rise, there was nothing for me in my desk, not even later in the day. But then as we filed in from lunch, Blair leaned over and asked me to meet him at the end of the day. Spirits lifted, I thought how romantic it was that he wanted to give me my card away from prying eyes and the classroom desire to score points.


Trying not to look too eager, I sailed through the afternoon and met him once we were dismissed for the day. He looked bashful, I looked keen and when he spoke, he informed me that he hadn't bought me a card. Expecting the cheeky postscript that he had made it instead, I grinned foolishly as he carried on, telling me that he had taken the bus into Belfast city centre to buy the card at the weekend with his brother and as the bus had gone down Royal Avenue, some scaffolding had fallen on it, breaking the  windscreen and causing the driver to crash. No one was allowed off the bus while the police and ambulance arrived and by the time they had gone, the shops were all shut, so he hadn't been able to buy me a card...


I was ten and utterly unschooled in the ways of romantic relationships. But having spent a lot of time in and around stables, I could smell horseshit a mile off. I'd like to tell you that I gave him a sassy brush off and walked off with my dignity intact, but as I don't remember doing anything of the sort, I think I muttered something wishy washy like 'can't be helped' and ran off toward my mum's car as she came to collect me. Blair and I never spoke again and twenty years later I've never quite forgiven Valentine's Day. It might have been the most creative excuse I've heard for letting me down (especially since Blair is now a chartered accountant) but sadly it wasn't the last. The day has been so riddled with disappointment on my part and indifference on the men's part, that by my early twenties I had perfected my happy-go-lucky response to the day to the extent that I actually fooled myself.


I've practiced it further since, even going as far as taking a trip to Ikea once to watch miserable couples rowing over their new wardrobe on the night to make my day seem better by comparison, and as I've got older, I have managed to make the day cease to have any resonance in my life at all. This year, I only noticed the date when a newly single friend pondered how she would handle the day on my Twitter feed. It took me a moment or two to realise she wasn't simply having a fit of the Mondays and make the association with the date. But once I did, I felt a hint of that lonely inferiority and couldn't quite quash it.


Next year though, I'm going to be on top of that niggling little thought and able to ignore it completely, making sure my feminist card doesn't get its yearly Carrie Bradshaw stamp. I'm also going to be that irritating person who keeps asking when it stopped being Saint Valentine's Day and tsking when everyone pretends that bloodsoaked martyrdom never happened on the Day of Lurve. So you'll know why I'm single. You won't need to ask and spoil it all...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

ONE YEAR DOWN...



Last year when I decided to stop buying cigarettes, I was so unsure that I would manage to quit smoking that I didn't make note of the date I started giving up on. It was a Wednesday in January and I was walking home from therapy and I realised I just couldn't choke down another minty fresh menthol for a while. I decided to see how many days or weeks I could last...


And almost without trying, I have reached (and possibly exceeded) that magical 52 weeks. It has been a year since I last bought a packet of cigarettes. In concentrating on not buying any, I seem to have distracted myself into giving up completely. Apart from one drunken mistake a few months in, cigarettes have ceased to have any presence in my life. Sometimes I am more taken aback by the fact I ever smoked rather than the fact I have stopped. Everything about cigarettes has become rather alien to me and I stare in wonder at those who still partake, unable to fathom the appeal.

I also try to keep this feeling very quiet. No one likes a born again non smoker, especially one who has also had a shit-ton of therapy and would be prone to some judgemental hand waving and accompanying pyschobabble if they didn't keep themselves in check. I'd like to pretend that this is because I am a kind and thoughtful person, but it's really because I'm terrified I'll be exposed as a hypocrite if I'm not careful.

I gave up smoking for a full 18 months a few years back around the time I was 27 or so and then fell off the wagon in stress filled style, puffing away with vigour for several more years. So until I've passed that benchmark, I'm a little bit wary of calling myself a non smoker for sure. I can't imagine going back, I'm too used to the extra cash and not smelling godawful, but I'm still hesitant. Just in case pride goes before a fall...