The Smug Marrieds

Thursday, 27 August 2015

So, it's happened. My friends have morphed from hilarious, vivacious girls that I went on raucus, drunken nights out with, into smug marrieds who look down at the single girl aka me.

It started slowly. After my birthday in March, two of my best friends worked themselves into a frenzy that I should basically be on suicide watch. Their reasons? I had organised a slap up birthday Sunday roast at my local gastropub instead of going raving, because none of my friends remembered to buy me a cake and because for the first birthday since I was 16 I was properly single. At the time, I was actually super content and happy; having ended a relationship I knew was wrong for me a few months previously, I was spending loads of time with my family and seeing friends, focusing on work and myself. I wasn't thinking about dating and was enjoying being a little selfish with my time. At the time my friends began to express their concern I was at first amused and a little touched and then increasingly pissed off. I was in my 'I'm a wonder woman, strictly a 10, don't need no one but my bullet' phase and they were there feeling sorry for me. I couldn't understand why? I was strong and amazing and most importantly had only been single for mere months, what was their issue? Not cool. I feel like their projected issues sunk in and when I left the euphoric phase I'd been in, they played on my mind. Should I feel sad? Should I be worried I'd die alone, a crazy cat lady? I worried that they were worried and then I found myself actually feeling low. Shit, really.

A few months have passed and I'm doing fine. Swiping wasn't for me (I lasted 3 days before deleting) but that led to judgment or Tinder tourism - friends who wanted a swipe but have a boyfriend and can't. Friends set me up on a few dates, which was actually a fun little experiment and nobody was a douche. But now my friends are getting annoying. They have far too much to say about my current dating situation. When it's okay to sleep with someone, when it's okay to go away with someone, what to do and what not to do if I want it to last, my relationships with my exes. Excuse me, what now? I'm not thinking in those terms at all - I'm happy to date and open to meeting someone, but I'm actively avoiding relationships right now. I want to be really ready and I want the person I date to be really right. But what's worse is the underlying pity in their words. 'We just want you to be happy' as if I don't make myself happy, as if happiness is derived from being one half of a couple. 'I just can't understand why people don't see how great you are' - well thanks, neither can I. 'If you're too picky you'll just push everyone away, no one will be good enough' - or I'll weed out the time wasters and ones I have no chemistry with instead of throwing myself at anything that looks at me?

God, as a former serial monogamist I sincerely hope I wasn't like this when my friends were single. It's annoying and presumptuous and causing me to retreat which is so unlike me as the kind of Pisces who wears her heart on her sleeve and talks about everything with my mates. Pity is the worst ever thing to feel from people who know you and I despise it because I know that I'm a strong person. I get dealt shit; I deal with it. I don't need you to feel sorry for me. I'd like us to have a drink and laugh like we used to. I'd like you to see me as the same person I was when I was in a relationship. And I'd love for you to stop thinking that your insecurities about being alone are also mine.

Recently Reading: Us

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The protagonist in 'Us' by David Nicholls of 'One Day' fame, is a middle-aged, middle class and very, very suburban man. Not the kind of voice I'd usually find particularly interesting, but Nicholls' skill at pulling together a complete character means that this novel about family is genuinely touching and entertaining in the most normal and relatable of ways.

We meet biochemist Douglas Peterson as his wife Connie tells him that after almost 25 years of marriage, she thinks she'd quite like to break up. When their arty and angsty son Albie goes off to uni after the summer she doesn't really see the point in staying together. Except Douglas really, really loves his arty, liberal wife and can't imagine life without her, so that rather scuppers his plans. They had planned a Grand Tour around Europe, taking in all the cultural sights and delicacies of Italy, France and Spain as a family, before Albie heads off to study photography at uni (a bone of contention with Douglas already). Connie decides they should still go ahead with the trip as she hasn't quite made her mind up and Douglas thinks he can use the time to repair the damage done to his relationship with his son and make his wife realise she should stay with him. What could go wrong? A lot, obviously.

Nicholls intercuts the present day possible break up anxiety of Douglas and the awkward moments of their holiday with the love story of Douglas and Connie. These were actually my favourite parts of the book, a look back at how a couple who were and still are so different came to fall in love. Douglas, staid, steady and responsible is instantly enamoured by free sprited, artist Connie; his life of boring dependability a world apart from her bohemian lifestyle of sex, drugs, parties and bad relationship choices. It was so interesting to have the whole relationship told frrom one point of view, although we only ever see Connie through Douglas eyes, we are able to glean so much about her personality through their interactions. While he remains devoted, and I am drawn to Connie's non-conformist personality, the reader can still see her snappy, often self-righteous behaviour in a way that Douglas cannot. Personally, it served as a warning of mismatching relationships (I'm single and looking for meaning everywhere lol)

While 'Us' takes us through the heady days of first falling in love, Douglas' jealousy and insecurity into eventual married life, we see a portrait of family life as it really is. Arguments and selling out for financial security, the loss of a child and of parents. Douglas' narration as a fairly 'normal' guy who just wants to get on with life, for his son to work hard and get a well paid job rather than something arty, for his family to stay together and bumble on and on; it's strangely charming. He doesn't like hot food, he can't resist arguing with his son, he is a stickler for rules and regs (there's a hilarious scene where he thinks it's acceptable to demand a recount at a parents quiz at Albie's school. Connie and Albie are mortified; he doesn't clock.) He has turned into his father without meaning to.

The Grand Tour of course goes tits up and Douglas thinks that he can somehow turn it into salvation for his family. By the end of the book you have grown so fond of Douglas and his nerdy little ways and are hopeful for the couple as he really does love his family. Nicholls then throws in a series of unexpected plot twists and revelations towards the end so expertly you almost fall off the bed but it all ties in perfectly. Some writers do this for shock value and you are left unsatisfied or feel cheated; not so here. It seems it all works out as it should, even if you hadn't expected it.

A sensitive tale of love and family from an ordinary guy.

Recently Reading: The Kite Runner

Friday, 21 August 2015

I read Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini's second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns years ago and was incredibly touched but have only just read his debut novel, the hugely successful The Kite Runner and again was moved by the plight of the characters against the larger backdrop of the hell of war.

Told from the perspective of Amir, the wealthy, pampered son of a respected businessman the book spans three decades and takes us from a prosperous Afhanistan to Pakistan, to America and back again, Afghanistan by then almost unrecognisable as a country ravaged by war and currently under Taliban rule. Amir, who loves storytelling and goes on to become a writer, is presented as a tender and thoughtful child much to the disappointment of his father but he is also jealous, cruel and cowardly as many young boys can be. This side of his character is shown almost always in respect to Hassan, the Hazara servant boy he has been raised alongside. The book really delves into themes of the father - son relationship, of feeling inadequate and the desperation to make a parent proud at any cost.

After a dramatic turn of events with a local bully, things are never the same for Amir and Hassan...and when Amir and his father escape Afghanistan before things turn really nasty, he is running away from so much more than just political unrest. Amir would likely never return to Afghanistan but many years later he has to...and it may just provide the redemption for the guilt that has riddled him for years. I don't want to give too much away but some of the story is heartbreaking, a country corrupted and destroyed. I found the experience of Amir and his father landing in America as migrants so interesting and relevant with all the migrant stories in the news at the moment. Having held positions of wealth and power, to see the characters adapt to their new lives as a student and his rich father now holding a menial job..the inner strength needed was painted beautifully.

Hosseini writes Afhganistan and the Afghan people beautifully, almost lyrically, whether he is describing the community coming together for the local tradition of kite racing, the wedding customs or even the decaying neighbourhoods when he returns many years later; every word is laden with reverence and respect for the country and its people. If the book is a love song to Afghanistan, it is one of heartbreak; when the relationship goes bad and is almost completely destroyed...but the ending has the tiniest flicker of hope.

Recently Reading: The Girl on the Train

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

What can I tell you about The Girl On The Train that you haven't already heard? Not a lot really, other than to say you should defo read it. I actually wasn't sure if I should get it because I'm not a hardback fan and that's what was on offer in Sainsbury's but, well, it wasn't the number 1 hardback in the UK for 20 weeks (longest ever) for nothing.

Like I said, you've probably heard that it's being made into a film and the incessant comparisons to Gone Girl. I get that to a certain extent, but The Girl on the Train actually feels more realistic, not least because it's set over here in the UK and also because the crazy and tragic things that unfold in the book all seem like things that could, in our own lives, happen, by accident. You know, without backdating years worth of diary entries and faking your own death.

The device of the unrelialable female narrator is used to brilliant effect; the narrative is told primarily through Rachel, a drunken divorcee without much to smile about, her enigmatic would-be neighbour Megan and her ex's new wife Anna, who takes just a little bit too much pleasure in Rachel's spiral into dispair.
Rachel has lost her husband, her flat and her job due to her descent into alcoholism and while at first the reader is a little sympathetic you soon start to tire of her self-pitying, indulgent and careless behaviour and just want to give her a 'fix-up' slap. She perves on a couple she can see from the train on her commute, a kind of real life Instagram stalk, giving them names and creating a love story for them...until the woman, Megan, goes missing and Rachel turns all True Detective. Her drunken past means the she becomes a literal unreliable witness. Tut. Rachel gets deeper and deeper into something she's not too sure she can handle...and along the way begins to question some of her memories about her marriage to her hard done by ex, marred by tragedy and hampered by alcohol fuelled blackouts.

Hawkins brilliantly constructs an unlikeable character but manages to get us back onside as the book progresses, weaving the three women's pasts and presents together to a tense and terrifying climax.
I read this book in one weekend and probably could have done it in a few hours if I didn't put it down to go out partying. Books and booze make for a pretty good weekend really!
Read it. Instagram the book if you're really cool (Reese Witherspoon did). You could wait for the film but you'd be missing a trick.

Go: Sunny Southbank

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

I frequently have a love/hate relationship with London, the city I was born and raised in, love wins mostly though! One of the best things about London is there is always something fun and free to do, if you just look hard enough. The South Bank is generally a pretty good place to head for an afternoon of fun or a date...there's so much to do, see and eat, all in the same place. I headed down there a couple of weeks ago and here's what I got up to!

It happened to be Nelson Mandela weekend, so there were loads of free film screenings and events on at the South Bank Centre but we also took some time to appreciate the memorial statue they have just at the top of the steps.

Perhaps as an anti-dote to the constant anti- migrant rhetoric being fed to us in the media at the moment, there is currently an exhibition on migration to Britain that looks at just how migration has worked here over the past 70 years and helps us to see how this makes up the Britain we know and love today. There was a display of staff who work at the Southbank centre who have migrated here and these paper discs where visitors who have at least one grandparent who migrated here could share their story. Three of my grandparents migrated to this country, my dad and his parents came from Jamaica and my nan on my mums side from Guyana. I am a product of this country's migration.

A West-Indian female bus conductor.

Lots of people from the Caribbean went to work in transport. Above is an extra large hat for London underground staff with dreadlocks - love it!

The section on how the media present immigration currently was so interesting, often used to sensationalise or whip up a moral panic.

We stepped out into the afternoon sunlight to enjoy the busy street food market. Fresh juices and flavours from all over the globe! Very fitting after the exhibition

We ended the day sipping Pimm's in a rooftop garden. The beers weren't mine but I thought they looked like British summertime...we use any excuse to drink outside!