The Time I Beat 1000 People

(Originally published on 9th May 2013)

Tallulah and I made a promise. Before our time in New York was over we would get to see The Book Of Mormon, and we would do it for $200 less than the face value of a ticket. Come hell or high water, apocalypse or plague of locusts (Or Cicadas, because – sidebar – that’s a real thing that’s actually about to happen here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/03/130329-cicadas-coming-sky-locust-swarm-animal-science/ ) we would see that show. It was a commitment, written in the stars and bound in blood and honour. If one of us fell in battle, the other would fight alone to fulfill our destiny, whatever the cost.

So, to cut an epic saga short, we saw Book of Mormon. It’s operated on a lottery system, so anyone passionate/theatrically nerdy/cheapskate enough – and in New York, that’s a lot of people – can turn up before the show and enter a lottery to win $32 tickets. Our first attempt at this ended in a mixture of disappointment and, in the logical course of natural progression, waffles and rowing.

A couple of weeks ago it was time for round two, and after a hard morning’s lie in, we headed to the bright, obnoxious lights of Broadway. This attempt was for an evening show so the crowd waiting outside was double what it had been before. I admit that in the past I’ve had a tendency to describe it like a fisherman talking about the one that got away – it gets bigger every time. Fortunately, I’m over that now.

So we stood outside the theatre with 400 other people waiting for the draw to begin. There’s a guy with a megaphone called The Lottery Dude, or Mr The Lottery Dude, if we’re going to be respectful. Mr The Lottery Dude has a tough job in that he has to keep everyone entertained while they wait, and at the same time enforce the rules like a megaphone-wielding headmaster. But he manages to keep 500 people happy enough, and that’s no mean feat.

The lottery is for 11 pairs of tickets, so tensions can run high in a crowd of 600 all waiting to hear if they actually have something to do that day or not. The draw got down to the last pair of tickets and the remaining 700 people in the crowd had all started to scan the horizon for nearby bars.

When my name was called out it was a surprise, and this was largely due to casual racism. Stay with me here. When we wrote our names on our cards we also had to write where we were from. Mr TLD, as a way to build up tension, always announces peoples’ towns, countries, states, whatever, first. I wrote ‘Great Britain’ on my card. So, when MTLD announced “From across the pond…” to the other 800 people, I naturally thought I was in with a shot. Then, when the other  900 didn’t seem impressed, he added “From England…”, which is not what I wrote. I thought ‘Oh, well’ and started mentally filling the rest of my evening’s schedule. Then when my name was called, my initial reaction was to think ‘How dare he assume I’m English?’. I mean, my very awkward reaction to being called out at all would probably have tipped him off (we were supposed to be exuberant and joyful and, well, last time I checked ‘joyful’ is an emotion, and therefore not something I’m culturally equipped to express in a public forum), but I was still tempted to Highland Fling my way up there in protest at this flagrant assumption. To clarify, I didn’t, on account of I would have gone arse over tit. But I was tempted.

After that I was ushered inside, presented with a badge to make it super-official, conversed with by easily the most superstitious person I’ve ever spoken to (“you know what? I picked up a penny on the subway over here. I knew this would happen…”), relieved of my money, and sent back out into the world a changed woman. For lo, I was a winner.

And that is the true and fascinating tale of how I beat 1000 people. The rest of the evening involved pizza and seeing the show. It was funny, and I highly recommend it.

Incidentally, I also went to the theatre the weekend just gone. I saw a play called The Nance. It starts off quite funny, but it’s set in a time when homosexuality is illegal and burlesque clubs are starting to come under scrutiny by politicians. As all of the characters are gay, or burlesque performers, or a combination thereof, this soon leads to a sad ending. And yet they sold nipple tassels on the merchandise stands. Which, incidentally, nobody in the play wears at any point. This might have been the single most misleading piece of merchandise I’ve ever encountered. Not that the play was bad, but I just expected it to be a bit more… Nipple Tassel-y…

Have I mentioned I’m the next Michael Billington?

Caring About Stuff

(Originally published on 26th April 2013)

Most cities care by making some attempt to help the homeless, or by making sure their waiting staff are paid at least minimum wage. New York cares by painting fences.

On Saturday a group of particularly public-spirited/in-possession-of-nothing-better-to-do Mountbattens got up at stupid o’clock to drag themselves out to the Bronx to take part in New York Cares day. Admittedly, we are poor, and most of us were there for the free t-shirt because it would delay having to wash any clothes for a little while longer (saving both money and time, and therefore spreading happiness. And who doesn’t want a pyjama top that screams ‘I’m a good person!’). But New York Cares day happens twice a year and the idea is that the people of this great city stop “accidentally” kicking you with their stilettos and muscling each other out of the way for cabs, and do something to help someone else. But I suppose a few people are getting a small amount of shit done, and that counts for a lot in what is quite a self-absorbed city.

The day quickly became massively over-exciting when we realised we were going to get to go on an actual yellow school bus. Of course, the day probably became drastically less exciting to the US residents also on the bus who had probably spent the best part of half their lives on actual yellow school buses, and were going to have to sit for an hour and listen to a group of Brits talk in awed tones about ‘actual yellow school buses’. But we did not worry about such things, for we were passengers of an actual yellow school bus now, and we lived up to everything that implies. So we acted like five year olds, spilled our drinks, and squealed every time the bus went fast over a bump.

THIS BUS IS YELLOW AND EXCITING AND I DON'T EVEN HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL IN IT

THIS BUS IS YELLOW AND EXCITING AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL IN IT

The random hand merely proves that I was not the only person sad enough to take a photo.

As an out-and-proud Brown Thumb I nearly bit the hand off the woman who was handing out work assignments for the morning. I mean, it’s not that I would have minded doing something to do with plants (I’m not being non-specific here, I just genuinely didn’t know what on earth people were talking about), but I just decided that peoples’ lives are hard enough, without me “helping”. So I ended up on a special painting mission with a few select others who were also greenery impaired and/or in the toilet when the people for gardening were chosen.

But the secret prize for being crap at gardening was…

The hand of a dead muppet. For sure.

The hand of a dead muppet. For sure.

The dismembered hand of a Sesame Street character!

Not for us the tedium of brushing or rolling. We simply had to spend a few hours stroking the park’s acoutrements. All we had to do was dip our hands in and get going (that’s what she said). I promised myself that, as an adult, I would be much better at what was essentially finger painting than I was as a child and I’d keep my clothes clean. And in fairness, I more or less did. My arms, hair, and face, on the other hand, were a different story. I had a good half hour of Lady-Macbeth-stylee ‘out damn spot’ing when I got home before I could call myself presentable and be allowed back into society.

But despite the aftermath, anyone who’s never spent an afternoon dipping a prosthetic paw into black gloss, stroking a bench, and breathing in the fumes while they’re at it has just never known joy.

Before

Before

After

After

The afternoon was spent clearing logs from a section of woodland. I missed the explanation as to why we were doing this, but I’m more than happy to blindly bundle in with the rest of the herd, and so bundle in, I did. I quickly discovered that the secret to successful log shifting is to pick ones which are really rotten. This allows you to carry huge logs, without all of the extra weight and inconvenience that comes from things being alive. It also allows you to look super-impressive, not only as you carry entire trees past a group of burly guys struggling with one between eight,but also when you show off and move it from one shoulder to the other mid-walk, and when you turn around on the spot and smack one end into a surviving tree, causing the dead one to explode fairly disproportionately but also spectacularly. Basically, I brought the party. I also taught a couple of Americans about tossing the caber, so you’re welcome, Scotland. Just spreadin’ a wee bit o’ culture.

My models were a bit wooden.

My models were a bit wooden.

After much less time than I expected, the wood looked pretty much exactly the same, but there was also the above giant pile of fallen tree next to the wood. Which is apparently a good thing. Like I said, I missed some probably-quite-vital instructions at the beginning of the clearing, which would maybe have helped, but everyone who worked for New York Cares seemed very pleased. And they were lovely, so that was good.

It wasn’t a park when we arrived, but it was a ark when we le- Actually. It was a perfectly fine park when we arrived. But now all the lamposts are just that little bit blacker.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Rowing Boat In Central Park And Wine For Me

(Originally published on the 17th April 2013)

So. In case anyone had failed to notice, I’ve become quite the seadog since I moved here. I start and end every day with a voyage. And just because that voyage is only 8 minutes along the Hudson, it doesn’t make it any less of a voyage. As far as I’m concerned a voyage is anything that happens at sea. Or at river.

Or, at lake.

This Saturday I went to show off my new sea legs in Central Park. It wasn’t the original plan, but it turns out my new sea legs were not destined for a rush ticket to Book Of Mormon, so they had to think on their… Feet?… Hmm.

Basically, we went to town fairly early (minus the bit where we slept until glorious 10am) to enter the lottery for show tickets. After not getting them, we ate a very unhealthy brunch and decided the best way to undo the damage was to walk up town to Central Park. This was 99% because we knew there was a waffle truck there, but our intentions were noble and our hearts were pure. So it’s totally cool.

And, as the natural progression of things dictates, after waffles must come rowing. And between waffles and rowing must come an awkward 10 minutes of trying to get the boat away from the side of the lake, and look cool enough to convince the guy renting you his livelihood that you absolutely are not completely incompetent and you actually are a qualified seadog, and not crash in to every other person doing exactly the same thing as you are. I only mention this because, well, they never told us that in school.

What followed was an hour of mayhem. I’m not sure exactly who’s had the misfortune of seeing me tackle a three point turn in a car but, well, boats don’t even have wheels. And there’s, like, hardly any road. Except for the parts where I crashed into the side. It’s missing a lot of the key components needed to even barely succeed – so it’s difficult to get out of trouble.

Assisted by my able cox Tallulah*, I crashed into boats full of tourists, got my oars tangled up with a boatload of French men, startled several snogging couples (seriously, I’m not sure anyone is attractive enough to make me not want to pay 100% attention to the fact that I’m suspended in water by what is basically just a piece of wood. You have to respect the sea. And the boating pond.), and only got up any kind of speed when I splashed a lady’s back with my oar and she didn’t notice straight away, giving me the perfect window for escape. Tallulah’s* cox-ing in all of this consisted of very late instructions like “Oh by the way, you’re about to hit a rock/tree/boat” and some arm waggling.

When Tallulah* and I swapped places, I’m not saying I was any better, but this isn’t Tallulah’s* blog and so I’ve whipped out my artistic license.

*Names have been changed because this person should be embarrassed.

After the boat we had a quick glass of wine to steady the nerves, and I wandered jelly-legged (Seriously, not-on-a-machine-in-the-gym rowing is hard – did we know this already?!) to the Met. I’d met a girl earlier in the week at a writing workshop and after exchanging pleasantries and numbers, I was very surprised to find she actually wanted to meet.

And then we did stuff and then we ate food, blah blah blah, and then we met the person who writes the sex columns for Cosmo!! This only gets the appropriate (or should that be inappropriate?) reaction from half the people I tell, but I think that’s a pretty cool thing to happen. And I certainly did when it was gone midnight and there was sangria involved.

But seriously, kids. This is actual proof that those columns aren’t just created by putting a load of things nobody seriously wants to do into a computer, with loads of ‘ifs’, ‘ands’ and ‘buts’, and just mixing it all up, and printing whatever comes out. Who knew? I mean, I met someone who is not a medical professional and actually uses the word ‘perineum’. As part of their proper job.

I’m moving up in the world.

I Am British And Therefore Must Comment On The Weather

(Originally published on 10th April 2013)

This was back when the smug 'weather app screenshot' post was, I think, rarer.

This was back when the smug ‘weather app screenshot’ post was, I think, rarer.

Um… Yeah you read that right. My suspicions that Newport is secretly a wannabe holiday destination were proved completely correct yesterday when I got out of my building in the morning and was hit by warmth and the smell of the sea. It was almost like I imagine living in Cornwall, except nobody speaks Cornish and there’s unhealthy food on every street corner. Actually, scratch that. It’s exactly like Cornwall. Or nice holiday-ish places, at least.

It was very good timing as I have foolhardily signed up for both a 10k run and a half marathon next month. And no. No, I am not ready. I daresay I can get round a 10k course and probably beat my own record, but that’s because it’s really flat around here, and therefore a piece of piss compared with running from the bottom of Stanmore Hill all the way to the top without giving yourself an asthma attack. But, well, a half marathon is still 13 miles and change. And that’s still a long way.

I wouldn’t feel concerned about it, except this Sunday just gone I was supposed to be in Paris doing a full-on marathon with a bunch of French people. Probably wearing onions. Definitely drinking wine. I like to blend in. Obviously, a few things have come up in the meantime which meant I just plain didn’t bother. so instead, I was in Chicago at the weekend, and I spent my Sunday doing the following:

  • Having one giant lie-in.
  • Eating chocolate pancakes.
  • Having a little bit more of a lie-in.
  • Eating multiple slices of pie.
  • Eating tamales.
  • Feeling very smug that I thought to bring an entire pizza with me in my bag for my flight home.
  • Wondering why all of my luggage smells like cheese.

As you can see, not a huge amount. But I’m reasonably sure I’ll be OK. I mean, this half marathon is taking place in Brooklyn. I have faith in my ability to keep up with a majority of people with big hair and tiny jeans. And as we can see from exhibit one, I am definitely on top of the carb-loading.

The nice weather also proved a blessing on Monday when I had my first (I’d like to say ‘last’ but, well, I didn’t choose the thug life, the thug life chose me) police drama of the trip. It basically involved a giant gas leak, and the total evacuation of a major commuter train station. But you know what, Britain? Despite my train being delayed for 45 minutes, I still got through my front door at exactly the same time as I normally would. And that’s without rushing. Booyah!* Let that be something to grumble about.

*That’s actually a lie, because I had to go to the supermarket first, but the point is that I would have been home on time had I not been a terrible person who was more interested in going off on a jolly to Chicago than keeping her cupboard well-stocked.

As I write this, there’s a giant thunderstorm indicating that the warm weather will be gone by the morning, but  these past couple of days of smugness have been well worth it.

It’s a Hair Raising Time

(Originall published on the 5th April 2013)

Since I’ve been here I haven’t been able to straighten my hair. I mean, I can spend the time doing it, but it just never lasts. It’s something I’ve only just noticed. Everyone has the odd bad hair day, when they do whatever they planned to do to it and then it starts to rebel and doesn’t stop. Little bits just pop up to say ‘hello’ and then more and more little bits follow suit and then suddenly you look like you stuck your fingers in a plug socket.

Anyway, this used to happen occasionally when I was at home and I really didn’t care or notice much because I could rarely be bothered to try making my hair look nice in the first place just to go to work to be grunted at by teenagers. But since I got here, I’ve been promising myself that I’m going to become ‘Fabulous New York Nicola’ and it’s really cramping my style. My promise to wear lipstick every day only lasted a week. It was maybe nine or ten days until my pledge to never break wind in a lift fell by the wayside. All I had left to me was the idea that maybe I’d have all of these good hair days because it’s New York and people (who go to hideously expensive salons and get terrible things done to their manes on a regular basis but we’ll ignore that tiny fact) do that. It’s genuine question time, folks. Could it be the soft water here? Am I being bitten in the arse by science?

Either way, I’m beginning to think I may as well just say ‘screw it’ and not get up until 6:15.

Culinary Goddess

I’m not a bad cook. I could absolutely keep myself alive if you locked me in a room with a hob and the basics, it just wouldn’t be pretty. And that’s because I hate it. If they invented a pill tomorrow that meant you never needed to eat (and therefore cook) another meal in your life, I would take it in a heartbeat. I seem to have the uncanny ability to surround myself with people who enjoy putting time and effort into making something one could reasonably call ‘a dish’ and… whisper it… Seasoning things.

I just can’t be doing with it all. I will always feel very guilty when people cook for me because I cannot fathom how anybody could possibly derive any enjoyment from choosing to make things that take time and effort, over choosing to make things that are over quickly. It’s just a completely alien concept. I like to bake things occasionally, but that’s different in that it often leads to cake.

Anyway, the point of this is that I’m cooking in my kitchen for the first time since I moved here and brown rice takes bloody ages.

I'm ready for my food photographer gig now.

I’m ready for my food photography gig now.

My Sort-of First Weekend

(Originally published on 29th March 2013)

Last weekend was the first in a while where I haven’t had to pack or unpack or do chores or paperwork or… well, anything. I didn’t have to do anything.

I broke my ‘Manhattan rooftop bar’ duck on Friday evening. I think I did it in pretty classy style, by shoving my lunch box into my handbag one minute before I hit the red carpet (That’s right folks, red actual carpet) to go to the lift,so I didn’t have to enter with the supermarket carrier bag I’ve taken to carrying everywhere with me. I did have it in my pocket, but that’s beside the point. The second I crossed the threshold, I kind of wished I wasn’t wearing jeans and converse. But they were sparkly, at least, and that’s always in style.

We had one drink in the rooftop bar before heading out to find what Yelp told us would be good food. We don’t really do a lot unless Yelp tells us to, and so far he/she/it has not steered us wrong. We ended up in a tiny Thai restaurant run by the best lady ever. For three slightly homesick British girls who’d just had a conversation about our families, she suddenly became a surrogate mother to us. She did not know this, but I’m pretty sure she’d be proud to have us if she had. Proud and freaked out. Mainly freaked out.

Anyway, this woman was incredibly nice and wanted to hear all about us and where we were from and so on and so forth, she wanted us to have the best things on the menu, and let us say exactly what we wanted in terms of spiciness and ingredients and all sorts (I realise this is probably not uncommon, but as the first time I have witnessed it firsthand, she will always be the inventor of the concept). So we sat there feeling like we were sitting in this lady’s living room, eating our tea – as opposed to being out for dinner – and listening to eighties power ballads on the radio, and we all felt a lot better about life and the universe. I, rather patronisingly, decided I wanted to spend more in her restaurant because I love her and want her to be my children’s godmother and thought she needed the extra profit, so I bought a drink as opposed to relying solely on free water. So I ended up with Thai iced tea, which was bright orange and looked like milkshake, except it had the taste and consistency of tea. And only after I was halfway through this did the restaurant fill up, and I realised I should never assume things about how other peope are doing financially. Assuming not only makes and ass of u and me, it also makes ‘me’ drink unidentifiable potions. And I’m much more concerned about that.

On Saturday we got up and ran. As a person who’s running views used to be whichever poor character from ‘The Animals Of Farthing Wood’ had met a gory end on the side of the A41, I feel like I’ve upgraded. You can measure 2.5 miles from our apartment complex by looking at when you get in line with the Empire State Building over the river, as long as you run down all of the little piers as well. My running route haspiers. I was dreading my first run after 3 weeks off, but it turned out to be very easy. I think I was probably being massively helped by the fact that it’s flat as a pancake round here, as opposed to hilly-as-hell, but whatever gets the job done.

After running we went out for brunch – actual food brunch, as opposed to a Mountbatten standard ‘unlimited drinks all day’ brunch – at our new local, Skylark, (it has to be our new local – we’ve been there four times to date. We may as well just move in.) and then headed into the city to go to hell on earth Century 21. For the unitiated, firstly – stay that way. For the love of God. And secondly – it’s a bit like TKMaxx’s lovechild who grew to be a ten-storey monster. I did finally manage to make full use of my elbows though, and I also got into a passive-aggressive, wordless argument with a seven-year-old little blonde girl. Who I hate. But to be fair, she started it by shoving shoe boxes into my back. Repeatedly. And that’s how I made my first New York enemy.

Sunday also started with a run, although this time our herd had doubled in size. You can tell Mountbattens around here because we do tend to run in herds. It’s a bit like looking out across the Serengeti, although I imagine the antelope are generally sweating a little bit less pure jaegermeister.

We repaired any damage done to our unfitness afterwards by going into town and visiting IHOP. I’ve since been told IHOP in New York is bad, and nothing compared with in other states, but do you know what? Pancakes. Pancakes and eggs and bacon, oh my.

But hey, those pancakes were put to good use when we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge shortly afterwards. Mainly in that they gave more power to the elbowing-out-the-way of really, really slow people. I wouldn’t mind, but you can’t actually see anything from the Brooklyn Bridge at the moment, because it’s all boarded-up. So I can only assume these people were a test of patience and character. A test that I failed miserably.

But once I’d stomped the last little way into Brooklyn, I left everyone to wander and went to spend time with Jess and Sean – a couple of my friends who I’ve known for years, and yet never really had the chance to just spend an evening with them. They live in Brooklyn, and I lived in Bushey, so it was always either I stay with them, or they stay with me, or we write the occasional letter and then call ourselves bad penfriends in facebook messages. And to be fair, we are kind of terrible at it. Our friendship should be much more about what we had on Sunday night, which was amazing homemade food, a lot of laughs, cuddles with a cat, and too many episodes of New Girl. And now we have that opportunity, at least for a while. Leaving felt bizarre, because it was the first time I’ve done it without a suitcase and tear in my eye, and certainly the first time I’ve been able to say ‘see you next weekend’.

I’d write about the rest of the week, but I have to leave now, as I’m meeting my friend in a sex shop. Not even kidding.

Bus-ted.

A terrible thing happened to me on the bus yesterday afternoon.

While on my way home from work I bumped into one of my best friends from school.

Now, I am an avid follower of what people from school are doing, I really am, but I have no desire to find out from them in person. Instead, I like to occasionally creep on their facebook profiles, as well as their profiles on any other social media platforms they may frequent (which is, like, none. The people I went to school with are shockingly bad at the internet and I cannot understand it at all. It’s almost as if they’re out talking to people face to face, or something. Sickos.) and suss out where I stand in my own invented rankings of ‘Post School-Era Success’. To give you an idea, I currently fall somewhere between the honest-to-goodness, actual stripper, and the honest-to-goodness, actual mathematics PHD student. Not too shabby, either way.

Anyway, my bus journey started so well. I correctly predicted exactly where the driver was going to stop so I could be right in front of the doors, I blocked an old lady who was trying to push on before me but was actually not yet old enough to warrant that kind of treatment, and I got a seat on the ground floor. Is it a ground floor on a bus? I’ve never once considered this. Answers on a postcard, please.

I sat down, feeling smug. Then, I happened to glance up, and I spotted a school person getting on the bus. My heart dropped into my stomach, and my first instincts were:

  1. Freeze. For a brief moment, I admit, I confused my old human friend for the T. Rex out of Jurassic Park. And let me tell you, humans can definitely see you, even if you sit dead still.
  2. Think ‘Oh, it’s OK. I chopped all my hair off at the weekend, so he won’t recognise me’. But, genius, you did not chop off the face that he sat next in every single lesson, every single day for two years, did you? Man, those A* GCSEs were really not worth the paper they’re written on.

In a shocking turn of events, neither of those things helped me. I suddenly felt the need to become very involved in untangling my earphone wire. This was despite the fact that, for once in its miserable, plastic, tangly life, it was perfectly fine.

There was a tapping noise on the glass partition, which I studiously ignored. By that point I was starting to come to terms with the fact that I probably wasn’t getting out of this without making at least some small talk, but I was determined to delay it for as long as possible. I figured if he questioned me about why I didn’t look up I could claim I thought I was being very unsubtle-y harassed on the packed bus full of commuting types. Every weirdo’s natural pickup location.

“Nicola”. That was the final, dreadful moment when I knew I’d been rumbled.

Did I look up straight away? Of course not.

“Nicola. Nicola. NICOLA!”. He always was persistent.

So, randomly bumping into old friends. Kind of a treat? Or social minefield? I know which one I’d say. But then, I apparently think people have the same characteristics as CGI dinosaurs so, really. What do I know?

Nesting is Eggspensive

(Originally published 21st March 2013)

Something strange keeps happening to the gravity over here. I was at work today and handfuls of the free teabags they leave out for staff to enjoy in the office somehow fell into my bag. The same thing happened with quite a lot of plastic cutlery in the canteen, too. It’s not like the flimsy plastic cutlery you sometimes get, it’s good quality gear, even though it’s technically disposable. Its only problem is that it’s prone to the same freak gravity issue that means that some of it just seems to have fallen into my handbag. I’ve noticed a similar thing happen to a handful of drawing pins. In fact, that was extra-complicated, because a good couple of handfuls of those actually fell into an envelope on the way to falling into my bag… It’s all very mysterious.*

*I’ll be honest, this is a lie. It’s not like I haven’t been tempted, but I’m too pretty to go to prison. Oh no, wait, I’m just too wussy for a life of crime. Either way, everything at the-company-that-must-not-be-named remains in it’s right and proper place. But, you know… They just leave this stuff lying around… One day someone’s going to to come along who isn’t as honest as me. It just makes no economic sense.

OK. I just have buyer’s guilt.

This weekend we moved into our apartments in New Jersey. Mine’s very lovely and I share with nice people, but I’ve had to buy a lot of stuff to make it start feeling home-y. Someone was saying that everyone needs to make their nest before they start feeling properly at home and comfortable in their new surroundings, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Almost as soon as we got off the bus in Newport, and dumped our bags into our empty bedrooms, people had to go and buy bedding. Which is fair enough, because nobody wants the scabby old sheets left behind by Smelly-Feet-Mcgee when he moved out of the flat. But the thing is, there is one shop nearby that sells it. Interns moved into apartments across a four block complex on Sunday, dumped their bags, and started oh-so-casually strolling towards this one shop, feeling quite smug about the fact that we were surely the first person to do so. Then, on the horizon, there’s a couple more interns, sauntering down the road. Then a couple more. And then, before you know it, you’re deeply engaged in one of those ‘I’m not racing you, honest’ powerwalking competitions where nobody wants to admit they’re vying to get there first but everyone definitely is. You know the kind. It starts off with a casual glance over the shoulder and ends up with an elbow to the eye and a door to the face.

Target is a giant shop and has full aisles of really nice bedding, but only a small amount of really cheap bed sets with everything one could need. It even contains a skirt. My bed is now better dressed than me. Anyway – the bedding aisle of Target ended up looking like the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. It was chaos. I’m not even exaggerated when I say there was a shop assistant there calling into a radio for backup. There were dismembered limbs and weeping passers-by. There were pillows everywhere and duvets all over the floor. Well, comforters. I’m all for Americans in general, but they cannot do a decent bedcover to save their life. A comforter is kind of like a duvets anaemic younger brother.

Which brings me to Monday, when it snowed. A lot. Well, enough that it quite possibly would have shut Britain down, anyway. But here they have these magical things called snowploughs and nothing stops for any weather. I get a boat, a bus, and a train to work every day and all of them were running fine. Anyway, I got home on Monday evening to discover that it was snowing. I discovered this as soon as I stepped foot off the jetty (that’s right, there’s a jetty involved in my commute. No biggy.) and onto dry land  and got a shoeful of ice. So that meant going to Target again and, once I’d convinced them that I came in peace and nobody would have to die this time, buying some emergency wellies and a blanket. To be fair, I did get quite expensive versions of each, but I had no choice where the wellies were concerned and, well, the blanket is just a particularly kick-ass example of blanket-kind. I consider it a gift to future-Nicola who will be poverty stricken and poor. I’m sort of my own kindly benefactor. So that was big expenditure number two.

And then Tuesday it was food. This country is crazy in that so much food can be bought so cheaply, but it’s all so unhealthy. I decided I wasn’t going to stand for it any more and bought ingredients to make lunches and breakfasts and dinners myself and avoid the fact that people have to put cheese on everything. Don’t get me wrong, since I did that, I literally have not made dinner once. But the intention was there, and nobody can ever take that away from me. And I feel better just knowing that one day, when I’m feeling down, I’ll have the icy embrace of a packet of chicken breasts split into individual portions in sandwich bags in my freezer. And we’ll be happy. And then I’ll say ‘screw cooking’ and order something in. But still. It’s there. Like the world’s worst life raft.

So, nest-building. It’s an expensive business. But it’s probably worth it, and I’m getting there.

It’s All Tube Much: Notes on the other passengers

The tube strike. It’s 10am and I’m already kind of sick of hearing about it. Although I wrote this last night and I scheduled it, so ‘I’ of the past (present) am guessing that ‘I’ of the (present) future will be sick of hearing about it. Holy tenses, Batman!

Anyway, what I was trying to say is that I’m probably sick of hearing about it by now so with that in mind, I assume other people will be too, and I apologise for bringing it up more than necessary.

This isn’t even technically about the strike. It’s about the bit before. You know, the bit where TFL warned us not to be on the tube after 6pm, and then lots of peoples’ offices let them go a bit early, and then people started getting nervous and leaving even earlier until what you actually saw when approaching any tube station were hordes of  people coming from every direction, pretending to be casual, and then just breaking into a run as they got overwhelmed with the tension of it all.

My train was a lot busier than it usually is, considering I unashamedly live in the Suburbia at the very arse end of the Jubilee Line, and with that business came every character imagineable. I couldn’t get over the sheer number and variety of people in that tube carriage with me and, in an effort to practice my observation skills (and because I was so crammed in I couldn’t physically hold a book out in front of me if I tried) I wrote a list of people I saw on the tube.

You lucky, lucky readers:

  1. Woman reading pornographic book and thinking nobody would realise because it was on a Kindle (reading over the shoulder is alive and well, lady).
  2. Man holding with epic B.O. in only one armpit, causing panic in at least half a dozen people around him 50% of the time he moved his arms around.
  3. Man with ears so dirty I couldn’t unsee them. Or stop staring. Note to self: Expect nightmares.
  4. Woman having Eastenders-worthy shouty conversation on the phone, about which I have a long list of follow-up questions that I couldn’t ask because she definitely would’ve punched me.
  5. Group of banker-types who just left Wimbledon and felt the need to relive it very loudly.
  6. Terrifying elderly man who demanded priority seat from an even elderlier elderly man. Old man fight.
  7. Small child wanting attention.
  8. Medium-sized child wanting attention.
  9. Large child wanting attention.
  10. Woman developing an eye twitch because she clearly shares my belief that we should have child-free tube carriages. Especially at rush hour. Especially especially in ‘if you don’t get home now, you won’t get home at all’-style mass-panic-induced rush hours.
  11. Group of ladies with Gins in Tins who didn’t bring enough to share with the class.
  12. Guy whose eye I caught and briefly thought he was flirting.
  13. Girl standing directly behind me who the guy I thought was flirting was actually looking at.

And, to top it all off, girl standing in the middle of the carriage getting in literally everybody’s way because she suddenly decided that she was a 25-year-old Harriet The Spy who needed to creep everybody out by staring at every little thing.

Um, My bad.