Full Moon on Cambridge Station

Two disappointed believers
Two people playing the game
Negotiations and love songs
Are often mistaken for one and the same

Train in the Distance, Paul Simon

I met a friend after work one evening this week, and got a late train home. I found myself waiting on the platform, for a little while, because there’s only one train an hour. I had long enough to wait that I was able to get a seat, and the evening was mild. I had my phone, so I had music and reading material. The Norwich train was sitting at the opposite platform and when it departed the cacophony in the relative quiet of the evening was intrusive, unbearable. The train screeched away, the noise fading, and I found myself thinking, probably with some irony,
“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.”

Like magic, I pulled the song down out of the cloud. I’ve not listened to it properly for years, it’s not on Graceland or the compilation we kept in the car. I’d forgotten the story of the lyrics, and I’d forgotten the bridge, which I’ve copied above.

I watched trains come in and out on the far platforms. The London train arrived, streams of people flowing out. I saw someone I used to work with but didn’t know very well, from afar, and I wondered how he is, whether his new job makes him happy. I considered the people with the shopping bags, the parents and older children together, the commuters, the people in groups, the ones alone. As I grew tired of people watching, my attention was caught by the moon, glowing behind a misty veil. Hanging low, pregnantly round, fat and yellow against the industrial silhouettes cast by the train station furniture and the blocks of flats and houses. She was beautiful and mysterious, holding on to her secrets, casting rings of light around her in the damp air.

The song played and finished.  I listened to some more Paul Simon.  He is my favourite songwriter, ever, it feels like his songs are ‘woven indelibly into my heart and my brain’, to quote the end of the song. I boarded my train, the artificial light within the carriage hard on my eyes. The guard smiled at me when he checked my ticket, because I was looking especially pretty that evening, with red nails and my bright blue coat. I read a book on my phone but it was no sufficient distraction.

The lines kept on going round in my head, like tickertape on a loop.  Walking home, I glanced up again, the moon was half hidden behind clouds, but my heart was full and glowing with my own secrets and mysteries.  Thinking about my failed negotiations, the love songs I’ll never sing.  And thinking most of all about my own disappointed believer, the game we played, and the sadness that it had no winners but at least two losers.


On Sighing

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny, nonny.

(Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing)

I have a sighing habit. And it has been noticed. My first day in a new role, many years ago, I remember Aussie Nicole saying that I hadn’t stopped sighing, and it was driving her crazy. Recently Colleague 1 told Colleague 2 that she’d just have to get used to my sighing, and it didn’t necessarily indicate I was pissed off but did potentially have a myriad of meanings, including the sometimes correctly identified “sigh of disappointment”. Then the other day the woman I sit next to at work said “I’m going to start a tally chart of your sighing today! I reckon we’re up to at least ten already!”

So to save my colleagues and my papers from gusts of air and huffy sounding interjections, I did a bit of research into sighing and why we do it. Obviously, since a sigh is just a really deep breath with an audible exhale, it’s not surprising that sighing is really all about breathing. It originates from a life-saving reflex. We all sigh without realising we do it, just to open up our lungs and get enough oxygen in. There are theories that sighing acts as ‘a mental and physical reset’ – who hasn’t done a bit of deep breathing before something they’re nervous about? A sigh acts in the same way. For example, I know that when I’m tense my breathing gets more shallow, and as a result, I sigh more, in an attempt to get myself on an even keel.

Unfortunately, people perceive sighing as, in the main, an expression of negative emotions. Hence the “sigh of disappointment”. We think of sighs as being associated with frustration and difficulty. But actually I find that when I’m concentrating I sigh. And that’s a good thing for me. And what about sighs of satisfaction, or pleasure? How does a happy out-breath really differ from a negative one? Can you hear tone in breathing?

Anyway, I’m sure that despite my new-found self-awareness, sighing will continue – I don’t want my lungs to collapse, thanks very much. But as ever Shakespeare’s advice holds true today. In the spirit of “act the way you want to feel”, I won’t be sighing, but will instead continue to listen to my Happiness playlist, which is surely the modern version of singing “Hey nonny nonny”.

Squad Goals 

Apart from a penchant for red lipstick; full skirted sundresses; tall, blonde-curly-haired men (in my alternate reality I married Tom Hiddlestone) and heartbreak, I am nothing, nothing like Taylor Swift. This is one of life’s sadnesses – I will never be a twenty-something skinny, uber-successful ingenue songstress. I bloomed *way* too late for that. But I do have something Taylor’s got, and it took me this long to discover it…

I’ve got a SQUAD!  
My squad have swung into action over the past week, during a proper low. There are some long-term squad members, but also people who have surprised me. It makes me feel so bloody lucky and loved. They include: 
My former teacher and his wife. The kind of people you can call at 10am on a Saturday morning and tell them your heart is broken and you need to get the hell out of town, and they agree in an instant that you should be with them. So you turn up at their door three hours later, and cry, and they feed you and give you glasses of wine, and are kind when you cry some more. And you leave the next day knowing you’ll be OK because you have beautiful people like them in your life. And you have three gorgeous books to read that they’ve lent to you, and the fire in your heart to be yourself and to pursue your dreams.  
My boss, who when I called on Monday morning and told her I couldn’t stop crying because of a boy, swore with “the worst swearword I know”. I returned on Wednesday and she visited my desk with purpose and Germanic humour.  

Her: “Let me see your eyes.” *Teutonic psychic stare*. “You’ll be OK!”  

Me: “That’s the problem, I’m always ok.” 

Note – my eyes were still really puffy. Crying is not my friend.  
Welsh girl, let’s call her Cerys, who meets me for lunch, gives me a lift home on Thursday when Storm Doris wrecks the trains, and texts me tonight about her creme egg and sofa problem… and when I say I need a night out in Bury, she agrees without hesitation, even though apparently the club I want to go to ‘has sticky floors’. 
Nicole, my Aussie bridesmaid, the sender of Patron, poet and consummate facebook messenger. I love her with a true love that came about through *can’t stop laughing inappropriately in the office* circa 2007/8. She sends me messages of support telling me I am now Britain’s premier fashion blogger and a photo of her looking at a very large dildo to cheer me up, whilst confessing to inappropriate mum-drunkeness. Can’t wait for Summer 2018! It is *locked in*! 
Cambridge Historian, who is emigrating to the US, but believes in my club night idea, and when I said I needed distraction, immediately offered wine and a baby to cuddle.
My ex-husband. He’s allergic to chlorine but is doing something for me that exposes him to that eczema inducing chemical once a week. That’s love, even though it didn’t work out. The love is probably for Persie, but hey-ho, she’s part of me, so it counts.  
My psychotherapist. Emergency session on Monday because you can’t stop crying and left a sobbing message on her voicemail on Saturday morning? Hell yes. And on Monday when you get there she agrees “yes, this session was inevitable.”

Betty – well, she got a whole blog post, but everyone needs a straight talking Northern friend…
The slimming club ladies, together and separately, true friends. From Norwich brunch, to organising seeing Beauty and the Beast, to a long voicemail that didn’t make much sense, I know they’ve got my back.  
The girls at the nail bar, who are due a whole post of their own soon! But they fixed my gel polish twice this week, and when I said I didn’t know what was wrong with my right hand said “stress”. And also let me feel their new fake boobs… 
More work peoples! The girls who invited me on their spa day for women getting divorced and/or having a hard time. I was stupidly touched by the kindness because it’s sometimes quite lonely having been the boss. My team, who all could tell something was wrong but didn’t comment. Last but by no means least, the two -cky’s, my colleagues, and two very fabulous women, both of whom think in a structured way. It turns out I don’t think in a structured way at all! The first -cky has been there since I admitted to her… well it doesn’t matter what I admitted, but everything ridiculous I do, she laughs at and then understands… and she doesn’t judge my Boden habit. She looks me in the eyes and says “do you think you deserve happiness?” The second -cky is new to the squad, but is going to feature heavily. She told me a secret a couple of weeks ago; it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. She wears very short skirts because she is very skinny; I am a bit jealous of that ability. 
And others, just because they don’t feature doesn’t mean they’re not there and special. I know that you’re mean to have, like, squad goals, like frolicking on a beach in bikinis, and writing BFF in the sand and photos with filters… but I’m too old for all that instagrammable crap. We just want for everyone to be happy and well adjusted and prosperous and fulfilled, whether you’re going through divorce or bereavement or boyfriend problems or work hard times or don’t know how to get creme egg off your sofa.  
My squad. Average age of 45! They drink decent wine! They worry about parenting! They book spa days! They read real literature and watch proper films! They are super mature and awesome.  
Thanks for being there.  

Today I’m wearing… a slogan jumper

Mum clothes at the weekend are an inevitability.  I’m a little bit ashamed to admit that this Surrey girl went native a few years ago, and that at the weekends there’s a fair amount of Joules and gilet wearing… when in Rome!

Today comfort and practicality were the name of the game in the face of a long car journey.  I decided that I might have to wear jeans and a jumper, but I could elevate my outfit with a message.  Life may be shit in many ways… but I’m still lovely.

Jumper from Boden, last season (they sold out, I wish they’d do more).  Picture by Rosa.

Jamie Dornan’s a really good actor

So I went to see Fifty Shades Darker. It had to be done. Two years ago, I went to see the first Fifty with my friend Betty. I’d not read the books at that point and was pleasantly surprised by how stylish the film was. I went home and I did read the books (because I wanted to find out what happened), and subsequently re-read the trilogy at least four times that year and the next. I’m not sure why it had such an effect, but clearly it was a phase I had to work through… best not to analyse it too deeply!

Last night, Betty and I, after some serious calendar synchronisation, finally made it out to see the latest instalment.

It is not a good film. It makes me sad to say so, as I was a passionate defender of the first film, which was stylish and tense and had that great sudden ending… this film has none of that. The thing that intrigued me most about this film was, of course, Dakota Johnson’s lipstick.  And the most disappointing bit was Jamie Dornan.
Jamie Dornan is a really good actor. I know, because I’ve watched The Fall. I loved The Fall. He was menacing, evil, calculating and really really sexy. I worried about how much I wanted to shag that serial killer… I did not want to shag Christian Grey in this film. I did, however, feel very very sorry for Jamie Dornan, whose acting talents were neglected in favour of him simply removing his clothes. Although he doesn’t seem too bothered about it, as you can see from his grin in the picture – he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

But I digress! Because really the best thing about my evening out was not eating an entire bag of Maltesers to myself, but spending some time with Betty. Having whispered to her at an opportune moment that Jamie Dornan’s acting talents were being shamefully wasted, the next time he appeared in a gratuitous top off shot, doing that standing up pull up thing men do at the gym to show off, and hoisting his body weight above a pommel horse, Betty leant towards me and whispered “he’s a really good actor you know.”

People didn’t quite shush us, but they did look around to see who was making all the noise. You know that thing where you laugh, and someone else laughs and it makes you laugh, and the next thing you know you can’t stop laughing? Turns out that is really what I needed.

And then I discovered that Betty also knows all the words to Jenny From the Block – even the rap part – and You Can Call Me Al, so we passed a very happy journey back home singing along to the Happiness Playlist with the car stereo at full volume, with seat dancing and hand gestures too.  When I ate my snack when I got in, I felt a twinge in my jaw, and I realised it hurt from all the smiling.

The Power of the Playlist

I love Spotify. No Taylor Swift, of course, but apart from that minor detail, I love Spotify. I love that nearly all my music is there, waiting for me, in the aether. I love that as soon as I hear something on the radio, it’s there, waiting for me. The other night I added a song to my playlist *while I was listening to it on the radio* (Love, by Lana Del Ray, actually). For an instant gratification junkie like me, that’s a result.

And I may be in my (ahem) mid-thirties, but who doesn’t love to make a playlist? Because it’s just a mixtape by another name, and mixtapes are, as we know, very important. They’re how you express your personality. They’re how you tell someone they’re your friend, your love interest, your fellow geek/nerd. They’re a little slice of your soul, in music and lyrics. If you commute, a playlist is a vital component of your day. It makes the difference between feeling like you’re an automaton standing on a cramped train on the way to work versus starring in your very own indie movie about a cool girl who wears leather shift dresses, listening to the soundtrack you have curated. Although if, like me, you’re a devotee of the shuffle button, genuine curation isn’t even a consideration.

My last playlist had the creative title of “March 2016” and had swelled to a 100-plus behemoth which you could use to track the story of my last seven months, plus the songs which really genuinely are my favourites. It was a mix of songs from the Frozen soundtrack, Miley Cyrus, who I really shouldn’t like but I do, and all the cool stuff I listen to as well. Honest. But it was feeling a bit too memory laden. As all us students of English Literature know, the past is a foreign country (and as anyone who’s ever pondered why certain acts are “big in Germany”, or wondered why they bought that summer holiday hit); they do music differently there. I’ve lost my commuting buddy, I’m starting a new job… it was time to change my aural landscape and rewrite my soundtrack! I started a new playlist.

My new playlist is called “February 2017“. It’s almost relentlessly upbeat, positive and life affirming. No one can feel sad when they’re strutting down Hills Road listening to Aretha, or Beyonce at her most fierce, and while Jess Glynne might be a “cheery one-woman M People” © Alexis Petridis, she’s bloody cheery, and on a blustery February day, I think we could all do with some cheer.

Take a little look!  And suggest some more songs, please. I’m aiming for a behemoth of happiness.