Archive

Tag Archives: aspirations

I’ve found myself re-counting numbers recently. Second guessing myself. This morning, I counted the handful of change for my morning cappuccino three times. Three. Clearly, the trust has gone.

Maths has never been my strong suit, but still. It’s starting to verge on the ridiculous. At work I find myself struggling to grasp what the month number for May is (it’s five…isn’t it?). Is this just age? Surely not, I’m barely 32. The years of alcohol? Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling the reason behind this strange emergence of Dyscalculia is because I find myself in, well, a strange period in my life.

calc ageI have begun to question things in ways that haven’t crossed my mind for at least ten years. And it’s really annoying because, with my questions remaining unanswered, I feel lost and discontent. And the other, even more annoying, thing is that it’s only me that can provide any answers.

It’s funny how it is generally acknowledged that you become wiser the older you get and, by default, more confident. But my confidence is no longer the unwavering warrior it was when I was younger and knew nothing. Sure, I’ve got less tolerant of the selfishness of others and I am more likely to say so rather than hush into a corner and somehow blame their behaviour on my faults. And yes, I’ve become openly accepting of those with whom I shall never be friends, who shall never like me and vice versa. We are all different. But am I more confident with age? In a word (well, two) – not quite.

I suppose it depends on what confidence means to you. For some I imagine it’s having the guts to go out on stage in front of hundreds of people. To be able to take a risk, make that scary career change. For me, it’s having the strength of self-conviction – the total assurance that everything will turn out ok in the end, because you are you, and you can handle it.

My self-possession rose and peaked almost out of nowhere between the ages of 24 and 29. With hindsight – something I’m pretty sick of now – I realise this time is The Golden Period. The pressure is off. You become aware, for the first time, how far you have come in such little time. Your twenties bring with them an intense personal growth spurt that you have no real control over – grown-up stuff just happens to you whether you want it or not. You accept this fact, grow from it. You have money. You are young. You sit back and enjoy it for a bit. Uncomplicated confidence. You are going places and you know it.

But then you hit 30. Ouch. All that confidence so flippantly built ebbs away. But this time the subtle change in yourself, so frivolously disregarded when it moved in the other direction, does not go unnoticed. It starts to drive you a bit mad. You get angry with yourself. How could you let this happen? Why did you sit back and relax while youth and all its opportunities passed you by – look at all those chances you were too lazy to take. And now, now you’re just too old to do things. You’ve got commitments.

It turns out my star didn’t rise at the same trajectory and speed (hell, I don’t move at the same speed) as was mapped out in my twenties. I got too comfortable. Smug. Other people are younger than me now. It is annoying. They are annoying. To make matters worse they are more skilled than I both was and am now – they’ve been forced to do more internships than I’ve had hot toddies. They don’t need to do IT training. They don’t even call it IT – to them, technology is just life.

Life is hard enough as it is. And when the total confidence that everything will work out how you want it leaves the room, what do you do? For me, well, I’ve got to work out what it is that I want – it turns out thirty-something Gemma might have different (less ambitious) ambitions from those of ten years ago. And it’s sobering to admit that to yourself.

I think the key is nailing that fine balance between accepting who you are and what you can achieve whilst still treating yourself with the respect to challenge yourself and grow. Maybe once I solve that equation two and two might start to make four again.

“She’s a game bird.” I overheard someone saying this recently. No other phrase creates more nausea within me. Well, aside from the classic “Let’s have a giggle”. Eurgh. It’s worse when you give thought to what such a seemingly harmless little phrase actually means. Game is an ‘object of pursuit’, with fair game being ‘something equally accessible by any legitimate participant’. It derives from the grouse hunter’s expression to identify a bird that is a legitimate target as opposed to a bird that is injured, or too young. When that ‘bird’ in question is a woman, well, there’s the nausea again.

In my mind’s eye I cringe at hawing and hooraying middle-aged men in pastel linens, winding down with a sloe gin in an Agatha Christie-esque parlour of some vast country estate after a long haul on the grouse fields, his eye on the next target – Florence, someone’s cousin. (Must stop watching all this ITV3.) But, naturally seems as I live not in the country but Birmingham city centre, the fella I overhead making the “she’s a game bird” statement was not in fact a middle-age country gent but a lad in his late teens sporting a sort-of quiff. His friend wore red cords and a smart blazer. There was a cravat present.

It’s striking how this trend in young men’s – and ladies’ – fashion has really taken hold of the great British public. First came the renewed thirst to dress like young Sloanes after the success of Made in Chelsea. Cue Jack Wills, ‘outfitters to the gentry’, sprouting up all over the place – yes, even not-exactly-Oxbridge Birmingham. So I suppose it is only natural that we are now seeing this strange rise through the ranks, if you will, to an upper class of aspirational dressing. A movement that is resulting in the incongruous (and really quite humorous) combination of 18-year-old lads dressed in sat round the local Wetherspoons resembling the head of some old aristocrat in neckerchiefs, waistcoats and loafers-with-no-socks. Likely topped off with a quilted jacket, or tweed if you’re that way inclined.

It’s not hard to see why this look is so popular. I should know, I subscribed to Tatler to a year. (Yes, I know – but I was curious). It’s a bit of fun. And it’s nice to see people looking so smart – much preferable to the full-on tracksuit look – even if it is just as equally ridiculous (arguably more so).

But I digress – it dawned on me after overhearing the ‘game bird’ phrase that in all my 32 years I’ve never eaten game meat. Clearly, I’ve led a sheltered life. It’s strange though, as I’m not exactly unadventurous in my eating and I’m often found in a restaurant these days. Game has cropped up on the menu and in my psyche on numerous occasions. But my abstinence is not a conscious decision based on the blatant sexism (and accompanying nausea) that has infected my perception of game meat. But rather, an (until now) unconscious aversion based on what it represents to me about the sticky issue of social class.

pigeon  edit 2Growing up in north Birmingham there wasn’t much call for game. It was a truly alien concept. I remember, not all that long ago, hearing about fashionable restaurants serving pigeon and my immediate reaction was: food has gone mad. Eating pigeon? Never. The worst I’ve done to a pigeon is chase it… I don’t want one on my plate. Most of them are mangled and diseased-looking with one eye and half a leg. Of course, what these restaurants are serving are not the city pigeons we all love to hate, but wild wood pigeon. Thinking about it, what’s the difference? The wood pigeon’s diet can’t be too far removed from that of their city relatives – so what if they supplement their seeds with a bit of our rubbish…isn’t that what pigs do? And my, do we love our pork!

I think I’d rather take a chance with a city pigeon than dice with dental disaster – who wants a mouthful of lead? – and, in the process, continue to not buy into the stale elitism that today’s game ‘sport’ culture represents. Members – provided you understand all manner of weird rules and codes – of a selective club, wealthy enough to be able to shell out thousands to kill birds for pleasure.

It all seems a bit barbaric and unnecessary. While I can understand the argument that game sport isn’t any more barbaric than rearing a bird in a disgusting factory to be killed, the altogether unwholesome social barbarity of fun-seeking toffs paying through the nose to shoot at animals for sport is something this diner just can’t stomach. But ridding our cities of the pigeon scourge – wouldn’t that be a good thing? A useful thing?

We could get them out of the guns out of the grouse fields and into our city centres for public service shoots. Then we could have a Digbeth Dining Club pigeon burger stand, inspired by this Rentokil pestaurant. Can you imagine…armed men in plus-fours running around town? Paying women and small children a pittance (this does actually happen) to beat the pigeons into flight?

No, neither can I.

My last blog post was all about lifestyle aspirations and, since writing it, I find something not-all-that aspirational has been on my mind – the takeaway hot beverage. I remember my first. Well, I don’t actually – but I can imagine what it would have been. A tea, milk no sugar. In a polystyrene cup.

Hot drinks just taste better in a polystyrene cup, don’t they? Or is that just me. I am always a little thrilled when I get my drink delivered in one. It rarely happens now though. The last time – a time I do definitely remember, it was that significant – was at London’s Victoria bus station one chilly Saturday morning. My sister and I were on our way to Chelsea – only via the somewhat scenic and not very glamorous route of The Bus. We couldn’t find where the number seven actually stopped. (Has anyone ever been to the Victoria bus station? Nightmare. But marginally better than the coach station.) We were a bit stressed. Then we happened upon a newsagents-cum-cafe, where everything was made better by massive cups of polystyrene tea for 65p. Memorably good value. We went back there especially three years later. It was £1.00. A smaller cup. That’s inflation for you.
You might, rightly, be thinking: what the hell has this got to do with anything, especially lifestyle aspirations? Well – can you remember when carrying a portable hot drink in public became a kind of social statement? When coffee drinking became a ‘thing’ – a lifestyle choice?
I can recall when the first coffee shops came to Birmingham in this way. I’d been watching Friends for a while so I didn’t question it, knew what to expect, and actually wanted to go there. Of course, there was no way in hell my parents would have taken me to a coffee shop – why would we spend money buying a hot drink we could so easily make at home? Cradling it for bloody hours, painfully making conversation with each other. Sounds hellish.
But then I got a bit older and earned some money. I was in sixth form. I was being attacked by Friends on the one front and magazine supplements on the other, so I knew what I wanted to spend said money on. Coffee Republic.
I had some free sessions in my timetable. So I would travel into town on the 46 (always the bus), get one of their hot spiced apple drinks (I hadn’t quite graduated to actual coffee yet), and walk over to the ‘city’ to people-watch the suits on their lunch breaks. And I’d sit on a bench or bit of wall for HOURS, with my (soon) empty cup. It was a real treat. Yet it was also more than that. For me that silly, portable hot beverage symbolised adulthood. It was where I wanted to be. I didn’t put it in the bin when I was finished – I wanted to be seen with it. It’s bonkers but they talk, those cups. Look at me! they say. I belong here, I’m so city chic! I earn enough money to be frivolously throwing at overpriced drinks that I don’t need!
I still do it now. I’ve got a cappuccino on the go as I type (no polystyrene in sight). Only now, I feel too aware of what I am holding represents to me, and to others. That Costa branding, Nero or Pret or whatever. Which one you pick is almost as much of a social calling card as the drink itself. Which is probably why I now crave the unidentifiable no-nonsense of the humble polystyrene. It’s a statement of a different kind, almost a protest saying I AM NOT RIDICULOUS. OR RICH. I GOT THIS DRINK FROM A VAN. I PAID LESS THAN A POUND. Hmmm.
tea thermos edited

Social politics aside, if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make you love something it’s nostalgia. Polystyrene pulls at my heart strings because it reminds me of growing up, of the first time I wanted to be like the grown-ups. Well, pretend to be one.

That first time you actually want to try a cup of tea. The first time you want to try one on the go, from the ice cream van, instead of getting a Coke. The association is as comforting as a steaming hot cup of tea after a long day.

It’s a shame polystyrene has gone out of fashion, but it was of course inevitable. And if the internet is anything to go by – polystyrene could kill both the environment and humans – then maybe it’s for the best.

But there’ll always be a place in this girl’s heart for weird creaky white stuff.

Ever bought a magazine for yourself as a treat? Of course you have. Perhaps something a little silly, like a celebrity gossip magazine? Yes.

What about a bigger treat – something from the next shelf up? No, no – not the top shelf. The fashion glossies – big thick spines, richly smooth pages. Most of which are just crammed full of adverts, but gorgeous ones.

It’s nice to get expensive magazines every now and again, isn’t it – to perk up the week. You just need it sometimes. But what if you wake up one morning and realise you have in fact subscribed to all of them?

I am 100% guilty of being seduced by magazines. I am a grown woman who pays through the nose for reams upon reams of things she can’t afford, and places she can’t afford to travel to. I just can’t seem to help myself.

And I really am old enough to know better – I know how real life works now (I think). I consider myself a media savvy girl – I regularly critique adverts out loud when watching the television, much to the annoyance of my fella.

So why the hell am I an Elle Decoration subscriber? I don’t even decorate. The bathroom floor is yet to be tiled – that’s three years of concrete. Yet here I am, flicking through pages and pages of vintage Moroccan tiles and bespoke marble. I can’t even muster the energy to browse through the Topps Tiles website (most tedious experience ever), let alone take up any of the tips and eye-wateringly expensive products featured in those glossy pages.

I feel a little ashamed of my little habit. Like I have revealed I enjoy walking around the flat in my boyfriend’s pants (I don’t. Plus, it doesn’t really sound as seedy this way around, does it? More like I’m really on-trend and will be borrowing his jumpers next. I have been known to do that. Maybe it’s a slippery slope? Anyway.)

I know it’s all supposed to a bit of fun – a guilty pleasure, like chocolates are for other people. Or shoes. So why do I feel so uncomfortable about it?

I think I just don’t want to admit the truth to myself – that I secretly still harbour the ridiculous so-called ‘lifestyle’ aspirations that I did as a young girl. First it was fashion magazines – totally standard for a young woman. Fashion is great. But now that I’m venturing into home interiors it’s like I’m subconsciously nesting. And I am annoyed with myself – like a big predictable cliché I am following the path laid out for me by these marketeers. Next it’ll be Woman & Home. Easy Living. Then food magazines (that concept does sound quite appealing…they’ve clearly got me pegged.)

This love affair with magazines all started with the women’s lifestyle supplement that came with The Daily Mirror on Monday’s. Can anyone remember what it was called? I was obsessed with it. I would painstakingly absorb every inch of editorial for hours and hours. Literally – hours. In my head I would live out the lifestyle portrayed on those pages, contrasting starkly to the realities of my days spent in the classroom at school and then at sixth form. I envisioned that, when I was in my twenties (never in my thirties, too old…), I would buy a takeaway coffee on my way to work – a publishing house, newspaper or other arts organisation. I would be wearing a shift dress from Topshop, which would transition nicely when I met up with friends for post-work cocktails in a stylish bar, after which I would nip home to my fabulous flat in the city with a balcony.

And now here I am at 31, buying a takeaway coffee in the morning on my way to work at an arts organisation, wearing a shift dress, sometimes (but not as much as I used to) meeting with friends for post-work wine, and living in a city centre flat with a (sort of) balcony.

I should be bloody over the moon! I got what I wanted – so why am I still harbouring all these so-called lifestyle aspirations? It’s not like I’ve had the imagination to even generate new ones, not really. It’s the same meaningless things only on a bigger, more costly scale. I don’t just want any old coffee – I want the best coffee available, preferably organic. I’ve become complacent in my brilliant job. I want Reiss dresses instead of the H&M ones I can afford. Do you ever stop wanting things? I mean, it’s exhausting isn’t it?

It must be an addiction, this magazine consumption. You start to crave them as much as the things inside. It’s like by reading these things I am somehow living them a little bit. Of course, I’m not.

I am not jetting over to Fiji next week.

I am not planning a jaunt round Marylebone this weekend to peruse potential items for a room I’m ‘doing up’ in my Notting Hill townhouse.

I am not even able to justify buying a Smythson diary.

I know at the end of the day it’s just frivolous enjoyment and I should just stop over-analysing. Life needs more of the simple pleasures that looking at pretty stuff can offer. The escapism that comes from reading about things that just don’t matter. But it is niggling at me now that I’ve noticed it. I think I’m most worried that other people will think I actually want to be like these people who really do live out the lifestyle of Elle Decoration, with their bonkers staircases and friends who own top London restaurants. It all feels a bit ridiculous – a pointless, pretend world. I don’t want to be like that really.

At least, I don’t think I do…

P.S. One thing these magazines are an actual source of is absolutely brilliant gift ideas. So if you happen to know me, lucky you – you may not be sitting on a £25,000 art deco sofa suite the next time you come to visit, but you could have a really nice dinner plate coming your way this Christmas.

The Atelier Project

A Place to Explore, Illuminate, and Celebrate the Process of Creativity

the fantastic combo jones

Just meandering through life, pointing out little things here and there.

Volvo Diaries

The greatest WordPress.com site in all the land!

yadadarcyyada

Vague Meanderings of the Broke and Obscure

Keep Warm: Make Trouble

Poetry is my favourite form of trouble

The Wildcat Tap

Cask ale and craft beer, coming soon to Stirchley

The World Outside the Window

May contain time-travel

Ian Ravenscroft

Writer & Creative Producer

tracyshephard.wordpress.com/

tracy.shephard3@gmail.com