Thursday, 22 August 2013

The unexpected can take you out. But the unexpected can also take you over and change your life.
~ Ron Hall

It’s been 516 days since my last post, and the concept of taking things one day at a time has never been truer than it has been over this past year and a half.  
In a nutshell…

The blogging stopped because of that one thing which causes indolence in people of all ages: as Ovid once wrote, ‘If any person wish to be idle, let them fall in love.’  Having spent the greater part of my late teens and early twenties blanketing my belief in notions such as true love and forever – and even, to some extent, the one – under a shroud of stolid scepticism and cold impassiveness, I had decided to take some time out in Australia, away from the distraction of failed relationships and comically disastrous first dates. In fact, my post on February 5th last year pretty much sums it up. My plan was to trundle down that road to self-discovery along with all the other wayward, hopeless, directionless, jobless young twenty-somethings. What I unintentionally discovered on my little journey, despite my mulish refusal to ‘‘fall in love’ in such impractical circumstances’, was my one.

If I didn’t have eyes for Damien when we first met, my younger (male) cousin certainly did, noting the unusual colour of his eyes and his potential as a model.  It wasn’t long before those steps which lead to a committed relationship began to take place.  First there was the Facebook friend request.  I sat in my room with they cursor hovering over the ‘add friend’ button, before eventually dissuading myself from clicking – it was far too soon, we had only just met, it would make me appear desperate and a bit stalkerish. But at least he didn’t seem to be in a relationship.  I closed my laptop and decided to sleep on it, which turned out to be a good idea as I woke up to a friend request from Damien.  Next was the casual invitation to play Words with Friends.  Before the days of Facebook and MSN Messenger and ICQ chat, boys used to have to make that nervous first phone call or shyly suggest ‘grabbing a coffee sometime’.  Now they make their interest known in black and white through 13 bytes displayed on my screen: ‘Fancy a game?’ Why, yes I do quite fancy a game, actually.  As it happened, my lexical abilities were proven to be far superior than Damien’s.  I can now confess that I did, from time to time, turn to an online anagram solver to secure my victory. Sorry, Damien. For me, it was all about the game; for Damien, it was only about that little chat window in the corner that allowed him to message me all day and through to the early hours without even having to request my mobile number. 

So one round of word play led to another, and eventually we went on our first date.  He took me to a steak house, and won my love for him through my love for large quantities of rare meat. It has since been made known to me that Damien did not listen to a thing I said that day.  He merely nodded cluelessly in response to my every word, and it would seem our relationship continues to progress with my speech constantly falling in vain on his deaf ears. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before we got serious, and I brought him home to England so he could meet my parents.  

With my dad’s blessing we got married in January, on a warm Australia Day, and spent our wedding night blissfully eating KFC and Nando’s in our deluxe hotel suite. On May 31st, our gorgeous baby girl came into the world and immediately began to fulfil her filial duties of providing us with sleepless nights, dirty nappies and moments of helplessness as we were thrown into parenthood.

Ok, so those who can do maths will have realised by now that, no, Eva was not exactly planned.  Two little pink stripes on a pee stick led to a hurried ‘proposal’, and four months later I was walking down the aisle, only days before my protruding tummy became obvious.  A year ago, who would have thought that I would now be sitting here typing with one hand and cradling my sleeping three-month-old with the other?  Things did not happen as we had planned, but sometimes reality is better than dreams, and sometimes these unexpected situations are just what we need to mature.  

What started out for me as an egocentric ‘road to self-discovery’ back in February last year has brought me here to the beginning of the rest of my life.  I didn’t find what I was expecting, and I haven’t become the person I expected to become, but I have been given much more than I could have anticipated.  Not only have I been given a beautiful daughter, but I have found security in my husband, in my family and friends who have been generous and supportive beyond words, but most importantly in my God, who has taken what was intended to kill and destroy, and turned it around, undeserving as I am, to give me a life fuller than I thought possible. 

So, here I am after all these months, ready to share my day-to-day life with you once again. It’s good to be back!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Success consists of going from failure to failure 
without loss of enthusiasm.
~ Winston Churchill.

I managed to go to the gym a further two times this week.  It’s no longer a novel idea that from time to time I might subject myself to a bit of exercise.  I didn’t quite manage to make it to today’s 9.30am Body Attack class though.  I woke up at 9 o’clock to a text message from my cousin, who was in the next bedroom: ‘cbf gym’. Barely awake, I replied ‘Hahaha’ before rolling over again, only to wake up at eleven. Motivation fail.

Since then, it’s been a day of failures.  I accompanied Cat, my aforementioned cousin, to the vet; she with Mitzi on a lead and me with Peanut the rat scurrying around in my now urine-covered, excrement-filled cardigan (failure #2).  As soon as I entered the vet’s room and inhaled the aromatic mixture of old dog and clinical disinfectant, I knew it wasn’t going to go well.  

The last time I went to the vet was in 2004, with my little Westie – ironically named Scottie – for his routine vaccinations.  I hate needles, and it seems Scottie did as well.  Before the vet had managed to finish injecting him, he had jumped off the table and begun to run around the tiny room, the half-full syringe still clinging to the back of his neck.  By the time the vet had caught him and properly administered the jab, she had to deal with me as a second patient, pale and light-headed, slumped in a chair trying to remove the image of my dog’s red-stained white fur from my mind. 
Peanut, on the right
Mitzi was shaking as Cat lifted her onto the table.  I sat in the corner and distracted myself with Peanut, telling myself there would be no repeat of last time.  Still, I couldn’t help but watch while the vet gave Mitzi her injection, although I shuddered at the sight of the needle.  The vet carried out a few more checks on Mitzi before turning her attention to Peanut, who had a bit of a scabby tail. 

Peanut's tail
I stood up to carry Peanut to the table, proud that I had endured the ordeal with no signs of nausea. The vet told us that the tip of Peanut’s tail was merely dead matter. Sure enough, it fell into the vet’s hand as she tugged it. Easy!  But wait. Peanut started to run around the table, flicking her tail against the vet’s top, and a tiny streak of blood appeared on the pale blue of her scrubs.  I breathed deeply, but then I saw another thin trail of blood on the table, and the bright red circles increasing in number on the tissue in the vet's hand.  Game Over. 

Soon the bleeding stopped and it was time to go home. I sat in the waiting room while Cat sorted out the bill, leaning my head against the wall behind me.  No use.  I put Peanut down on the chair beside me and leaned forward, just as mum had always told me to when I was younger.  “You ready to go?” Cat asked. “Mmhmm,” I replied, standing up, before changing my mind. “I don’t feel so good.”  Damn right, I didn’t feel so good, otherwise I would have used the adverb, “I don’t feel so well.”  Failure #3.

I sat back in the chair, while Catherine went next door to buy a Coke and some food.  Soon I felt better, and was able to make it back to the car. I placed my half-empty can of coke (it would be ‘half-full’, but today warrants no optimism) on the dashboard as I tucked Peanut into my cardigan on my seat, and then perched myself in front of her.  I turned to pat Mitzi in the back seat, and Cat got in and began to move off, while saying things such as “You are so useless, Megan.”  We’d barely made it out of the car park when – prepare for Fail #4 – my forgotten coke slid off the dashboard and into my lap, right onto my brand new jeans.

At least things looked up during the second half of the day.  Cat, our Aunty Leonie and I had a bit of a girly nail painting session, and Cat made the ultimate comfort food for dinner.  Thanks, Cat! Success.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Exercise is done against one's wishes and maintained 
only because the alternative is worse.
~ George A. Sheehan

My cousin made me go to the gym again.  It’s International Fitness Week, so I got hold of a free pass and went to Body Attack.  Body Attack?? Self-confidence Attack, more like.  Yes, there was a great deal of physical pain - my legs hurt so much after ridiculous amounts of squats and jumps that they went numb and nearly collapsed underneath me while the instructor shouted ‘Stay with me! Push through it!’  But worse than that, I couldn’t even work out how to do the leg moves. I watched myself struggling in the mirrored wall, with moves like new-born Bambi, surrounded by all the other perfectly co-ordinated girls.  Dance was never my forte at school, and anyone who knows me will have noticed I’m as co-ordinated as Booba in his new shoes (I confess. That was just an excuse to get that link in there).  I told myself ‘Everyone else can do it, so you can work it out too!’, but still I just couldn’t figure out when to put which foot where. Eventually, the instructor smiled gently and said into her headset, ‘If you can’t get these moves right now, no worries! Just side-step for a bit instead.’  Crushed.  And that was before the first track had even finished. According to my cousin, my co-ordination will improve after a few classes, but I don’t know how much hope there is for me.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Muscles come and go. Flab lasts.
~ Bill Vaughan

All the hard work from Thursday is undone by yesterday's overeating: Red Rooster and sushi handrolls with a coke for lunch; a huge serving of sar hor fun for dinner; and, as if that wasn’t enough, rice porridge for supper followed ice-cream topped with crispy m&ms. 

Plus, for the past twenty-four hours I haven't even been able to lift my handbag without getting cramps seizing up my shoulders. I feel like I have permanently dead arms. Who’d have thought attacking imaginary predators for 50 minutes would have such an effect! To top it all off, my tummy is no smaller and the weighing scales are no kinder. I might give up going to the gym.  

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sandy, Sandy, beauty is pain.
~ Frenchy (Grease).

I’m in Australia –yes! Today was a day of pain, all in the name of aesthetics. For the past few weeks, I’ve been stuffing my face with all sorts of food in Malaysia. Even after averaging five meals a day, I still didn’t manage to eat all the country has to offer, such as corn in a cup. Anyway, my mother saw a photo of my chubby face, and made some comment about my newly acquired chin to my aunty, who is now encouraging me to eat a little more healthily. Ah, that gentle honesty that can only be expected to come from family members. And Facebook advertising, which has no qualms when it comes to suggesting I try to shed a few pounds. 

Bah Kut Teh in Klang
So first up: breakfast. Or is it lunch? It reaches midday before I even manage to drag myself to the kitchen. In Malaysia, breakfast would be bak kut teh (literally ‘meat bone tea’), a Klang specialty consisting of fatty pork stewed in a dark herbal broth, eaten with rice, fried shallots, you char kwai (‘oil fried devil’, or breadsticks), pigs’ intestines (which I affectionately called ‘roly polies’ when I was a child) and fried tofu. 
Nasi Lemak
(another popular Malaysian breakfast)
I’ve heard that it’s best to start your day with a breakfast that’s got a good balance of carbs, fat and protein, but I think bak kut teh might be taking this a bit far. As I am no longer in Malaysia, I reach for the oats and make myself a (rather large) bowl of porridge, with water instead of milk, and with the smallest amount of sugar.   I am so proud of myself. 

Next, because it’s not just my weight that got out of hand while I was on holiday, I called a local salon and booked a wax. So I took a nice 25 minute walk in the 27 degree sunshine, paid someone to put me through half an hour of torturous pain, went to the post office to send a few letters - yes, I still use snail mail – and strolled back home. 
Feeling invigorated after my walk (I'd forgotten the benefits of fresh air) and re-womanised after my wax, I decided I'd tackle my underarms.  I've been shaving for years, knowing it's not doing my underarms any favours in the long-term.  I epilated once, but that episode ended rather abruptly when I saw droplets of blood appearing on my skin.  I decided today that it's time to throw out the razor for good. I hoped waxing would be much quicker and far less painful  than epilating.  I was wrong. I burned myself on the wax, and each time I pulled a strip off I had to start counting to three then fool myself by unexpectedly ripping is off on two. But I have been rewarded with hair-free underarms.  Totally worth it, right? Yes.  

My ordeal over, I treated myself the only way I know how: with food. I had a deliciously wholesome brown rice and chickpea salad, prepared last night by my older cousin - at least one of us is dedicated to this healthy eating concept.  I even managed to work towards my five-a-day with this tupperware of fruit salad which my aunty lovingly prepares for the family every single day. 

Before long, my cousin came home and told me to get ready for the gym. I made up some excuse about not having any suitable clothes, but she unfortunately handed me a pair of leggings, told me not to be lazy, and again instructed me to get ready.  

Body Combat isn’t too bad as fitness classes go. It was pretty fun, for the first 10 minutes, then it gradually became more and more painful. After 50 minutes of non-stop pulsing, jabbing, blocking, and kneeing, I was pretty relieved when the instructor told us to grab a mat for the warm down. Not that the warm-down was particularly painless. My arm and stomach muscles are not strong enough to manage four minutes of crunches and press-ups. But I did lose over 700 calories. 

So, a successful day. Let’s hope this continues!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane,
Don't know when I'll be back again
~ John Denver

So, I’ve now left England.  I’m currently approaching the Poland-Ukraine border, at a height of 9472 metres.  It’s 7am and I’m 3 hours into a sleepless, thirteen-hour flight from London Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur International Airport.  I usually don’t mind long-distance flights, but this one is made far worse by the fact that I’ve been sitting in this seat since 9.30pm, six and a half hours before we actually managed to take off. Sometimes I love snow, but today I strongly dislike it for delaying my flight by six hours.  I’m grumpy, I’m tired and I feel slightly ill from my 6am dinner. Worst of all, I didn’t get one of those tasty chocolate/cake/cracker/peanut snack box assortments that everyone else received before take-off, because they ran out just as they came to my row and could only offer me a tuna roll, which was more like a cucumber and tomato roll with a hint of fish.  I'm trying to be grateful for my sandwich, but still I can't help noticing with some envy that my neighbour hasn’t touched his snack box yet.  I don’t think it’s socially acceptable to help myself to it while he’s sleeping, but I've still spent a considerable amount of time wondering if I could get away with it.  Anyway, it’s not all bad – I’ve got a front row set and therefore I have plenty of legroom, which is really, really great when you’re 5’4”.  

All grumbling aside, I’m actually, genuinely, truly, very excited. I’m going to Malaysia to see family, going to a wedding, going on a little beach holiday, going to Cambodia, going to KL, going to Penang for great food, then going to Australia for a few months.  Of course, all my friends have said they think I’m going to find some hot Australian surfer guy and fall in love and never go back to England, but I think that’s highly unlikely.  I wouldn’t let myself ‘fall in love’ in such impractical circumstances (definitely a head-over-heart kinda girl) and I won’t even be living that near a beach.  I think that’s just something that girls say to their overseas-bound single friends as some sort of consolation for their inability to find a suitable guy in their own country.  So, I’m setting out to Australia ever the cynic, but who knows what might happen.  I might discover true love after all.  In fact, if the guy sitting next to me happens to offer me some of that brownie sitting in his still-sealed snack pack, I think that would give me sufficient grounds for falling in love with him.  Until lightning strikes, I’ll just sit back and have a few more glasses of this cheap red wine.  

Monday, 2 January 2012

“ A 'classic' is a book which people praise but don't read.
~Mark Twain

I told myself I would buy no more books for a while.  Books are to me what shoes are to the average female.  I’m a book lover.  I don’t think I’ve reached the dizzying heights of bibliomaniac yet, but I’m slowly heading that way.  I bought my mum a pencil for Christmas, and for my dad I picked up a couple of cheap boxes of chocolate from Superdrug.  For my present to myself I put in a little more consideration, and treated myself to Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night’.  Then I decided to go all out and surprise myself with Penguin’s ‘Great Loves’ collection as well, a beautifully presented twenty title box set.  I squeezed my new copy of 'Tender is the Night' between 'The Great Gatsby' and Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary' (all books arranged alphabetically by author, and chronologically within that).  As I looked at the shelves of books, I realised how few I had actually managed to read.  I have gradually acquired a collection of all those 'classics': Dickens and the Bronte sisters and Hardy and Lawrence and Eliot.  I buy them so that I know that at any given moment, when the desire to bury myself in some 'Wuthering Heights' overcomes me, dear old Emily is going to be there ready and waiting for me.  Of course, that sudden urge has yet to hit me, so I have shelves of unread novels.  My problem is I buy books faster than I can read them, and of course the overly verbose Hardy and the predictable Austen never stood a chance.  And that is when I told myself I would buy no more books for a while, or at least until I’d given Dickens a shot.

Today I went to the London Review bookshop, passing a scattering of cheese balls on the way.  Situated half a minute away from the British Museum, this attractive little book store boasts 20,000 titles in all subject areas across two floors, as well as a little cake shop.  I genuinely intended to browse without buying any books, but I ended up leaving with a few new purchases in my hand.  

The cake shop is a great place to sit and relax with a book for a light bite or a hot drink, although it is very small and can be quite busy at times.  They offer a good range of specialist teas, brewed using gongfu-style serving equipment with a pot, pouring pitcher and cup on a wooden slatted tray.  There is also a selection of sandwiches, salads, quiches and – best of all – cakes. 
Mandi instantly hovered around the cake counter, trying to decide which one to order. She settled on the gluten free chocolate and almond cake, while I ordered a macchiato.  The cake was deliciously moist, bordering on gooey, with a subtle marzipan flavour running through the rich chocolate.  Heaven.  Unfortunately, our visit was somewhat marred by the trio sitting at the table beside us.  I’m not sure what the relationship between the girl and two boys were, as their conversation seemed too wooden for them to be friends, but they had too many shared anecdotes to be acquaintances.  I think perhaps the girl was introducing her new boyfriend to an friend of hers, or maybe they were old friends who had nothing really left to say to each other.  Whatever the situation, they had all the awkwardness of a bad first date. I’m a bit of an eaves-dropper, which is part of the reason why I like to sit in cafés pretending to read or write like I’m doing now.  I have to admit it’s a bit of a let-down when I find myself in such close proximity to three recent graduates – young people who could be so full of original ideas and funny stories and optimistic plans for their future – and  all I hear is a girl listing to two very bored guys the amount of booze she consumed at that house party back in second year: “I had a gin and tonic, like two glasses of rosé, some Malibu, loads of cava and some of that… what do you call the orange one? Ah, yes, Cointreau! No wonder I was fu… – ”

And a big thank you to June, the wonderful woman we are staying with, for feeding us  this delicious kedgeree!