I never thought I would be writing about a break-in. Well, I hoped I would never be. And I seriously never thought I would be writing about a break-in in such loving and overwhelmed tones. But here we are. I have ‘returned to London’ countless* times, and it’s always a little weird. Coming home to a lifeless flat, looking around wondering what to do next to pick up where you left off. But when I walked through the door last weekend it was different. I had been away for a month between holiday in Auckland and work in Chicago and while I was away someone had broken into my flat.
Normally that would be a bad thing. A very not ok thing. A crying as soon as you walk through the door thing. This was not that.
My flight from Chicago was delayed by three hours right from the start and when we were finally on our way we took off in snow clouds, and then arrived in London to more snow clouds. Cue a very bumpy flight and a very overtired Rebecca that finally arrived home. At first when I finally arrived home and walked through the door my flat looked totally normal. But then I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
My duvet was covered in cat astronauts.
Yes, while I was away someone had broken into my flat and changed my duvet cover.
At some point over Christmas I had a twitter conversation with Emma about the duvet in question. She sent me a link to it and I instantly fell in love because A) Cats B) Space. I quickly forgot about the conversation, but Emma, Emma got to plotting. She ordered the duvet online (George at Asda if you want one yourself) and roped in Lex who has a key to my flat. They broke in, made my bed and gave me the best space cat based surprise ever.
I am really glad that Emma and Lex didn’t figure out how to rig up a camera (apparently they did try) because I pretty much turned hysterical when I saw it. I veered so quickly between crying and laughing (the lack of sleep helped with this) that if anyone had been able to see it would have been concerning rather than delightful.
I just had so much emotion, what an unbelievably lovely thing for my friends to do. It made coming back to London a completely different experience – from cold and empty to hella full of friendship. Girls, you can break into my flat any time.
In my cold, dark distant past I did a psychology degree. I know, total basic. Apart from now understanding jokes about Freud, what stuck with me was that unhappiness/stress is caused by the gap between reality and expectations. Stick with me here, its important.
I’m talking about you being unhappy because you expected London to be life-changing, but the reality is that you are the same person as you were at home. The expectation that before you are 30 you would have your life figured out, a solid career and be living by yourself…but the reality is you are still skint and finding happiness in the bottom of a coffee cup.
I always thought that this concept was an aspirational one, that to solve this cognitive stress it was important to recognise your expectations so you could strive for more. That part of life was trying to achieve those expectations running around in your head. It is one way to go about it, and has the added bonus of making you feel like you are working towards something big, like there is a horizon to reach.
The problem is the expectations that we have in our heads are getting wilder and wider reaching. Before social media, before feminism and global travel being reachable to many the expectations were more consistent. School, OE, marriage, house, babies; yes there were variations within that but for the most part the expectations were all along the same path. So, because of conformity and lack of options, your ‘reality’ would fit somehow into the same expectations as everyone else you knew.
Now days, well. I follow an American cat called Norman on Instagram. In this world of increased travel, freedom and the breakdown of social norms people just aren’t leading similar lives anymore. I don’t think I could even begin to compare the careers of friends at this point, we each have our own definition of success and different options available to us. As an example the legendary Talon-ted Lex wrote this post about turning down a promotion, and yet I have friends who are firmly (and happily) on the accountant/lawyer traditional career path. So whose ‘expectations’ am I meant to compare my reality to anymore?
Sadly Facebook and Instagram have, as always, a part to play in this (not Twitter, twitter is like a kindergarten that is drunk on sugar at 3am, a place to commiserate the horror of life rather than crow over accomplishments). Every person, on their own different success paths, will post when they reach a milestone moment. All these posts filter into the back dark corner of your brain and set up an Everest of expectations. This new massive wall of expectations uses midnight as a perfect time to tell you that EVERYONE you know is happy, travelling the world, having incredible career opportunities, a wide circle of friends, buying a house, and being a little bit quirky. With the power of social media you can’t define the edges of people’s lives, all the big bits just form a frightening mountain of expectations that you will never, ever, be able to live up to. Seriously, not even Jennifer Lawrence would be able to achieve the ‘good’ bits of everyone’s lives all at once.
This is why honest conversations are important. I mean those conversations that are hard and make you feel a bit squeamish. Those conversations that might happen after a few gins or after an overdose of sugar. The honest conversations about the hard edges of life.
It’s so important to hear that your bohemian friend who is travelling the world feels a little lost and disconnected. That your friend living the start-up dream worries about burning out from the long hours. That your corporate friend making all the money is crying from a lack of creativity. That your friend ‘living it up’ in London struggles with loneliness. That the girl who has the house and the family feels trapped sometimes, that she is missing out.
This is not a pity party, that’s not the point. It is just the other way of looking at the realty vs expectations problem. Instead of striving to improve the reality, you can also re-assess your expectations. Add in those hard edges to put the green grass into focus. These honest, awkward conversations will make that gap between your expectations and reality so much smaller.
They are hard conversations to be a part of, as an age/society/internet generation we are not that great at just listening. If someone is open about their struggles or worries generally either people try to ‘one up’ the bad bits, competing for Best Loser, or they will try to make them feel better. But actually what friends and your expectation need is to just get the edges out with no comment, no competition and hopefully a large glass of wine.
I know where I am in life. No it is not everything I dreamed it would be, but I don’t think those dreams would actually make me happy. It’s taken me a hell of a long time to get this reality, and honest conversations with friends have been an incredibly important part of it. We are human after all, each of us is a living breathing ball of happy, sad, inspired, striving and desperate for a coffee. All you need to do to give your happiness the best possible chance is to cut through the bullshit that Facebook tells us, that our own little minds tell us, talk to your friends and set your own expectations.
Facebook tells me that I’ve known Rebecca for exactly one year, two months, and two days (not really, I just searched my inbox for our first email exchange). When we finally met up at the Anthropologist in the City, there was a 20-minute wait at the bar and a nervous kind of, “So! Um … how long have you lived in the UK?” type of chat.
But once we got that out of the way, it was clear to us both that Rebecca and I were destined to be … the same person. I mean, seriously. Not only are we very similar in thought and psychic ability, but I also sometimes joke that – despite being five years younger than me (and the same age as my brother) – she’s my “big sister” or else my life coach/mentor.
She’s a damn swell gal and here are a series of questions I’ve always been dying to ask her.
First of all, do you ever go by any other nicknames than Rebecca? Like Becky, Becks, etc? Basically, what do people call you? Also, why do you sound like you’re saying, “ReBICCa” all the time? Curious minds enquire.
I seem to attract nick names more than most people. I don’t even mean variations on my name either (although most people call be Bex, Bec or Rebecca) I mean weird shit. My sister calls me Squidgy Mouse which I still don’t know the origin story for. My colleagues call me Little One (because I’m little), Curly Sue (because I have curly hair) or Angle Eyes (because I threaten to stab people quite often and this is apparently my murderer name). When I say my colleagues call me these names, they actually introduce me to clients/new workmates using them and have labelled my stationary with them.
Oh but call me Becky and our friendship is over, I once walked out of a class at school because the substitute teacher called out Becky when doing the register…I never went back.
As for how I pronounce my name, sweet baby Jesus it would be awesome if people over here understood me when I said it. They normally think I am saying RU-Bina which is all kinds of wrong. I tend to revert to Bec because it is easier, but even then my bastard Kiwi accent makes it sound like ‘Bic’ to an English ear. I think I might just change my name to Jaime, much simpler.
Where do you buy your pants? (By pants, I mean trousers). When you emailed to say that you were at the airport and you’d discovered you had your trousers on backwards, I mean … ? I like the ones with prints on them. It seems like you have a few.
Ok ok in my defense the back-to-front airport trousers were essentially MC Hammer style jazzy pants which were very hard to discern the front and back of. I actually only noticed when I tried to put something in the pockets and the pocket went the wrong way, a hugely disconcerting feeling. I have a rather impressive collection of weirdly patterned trousers, mostly because I am not a morning person and when I feel like I am getting changed into pyjamas it tricks my brain into thinking that waking up is ok. And because who doesn’t want to combine space pants and a mystic kitten top at work? Also in my defense EVERYTHING ELSE IN MY WARDROBE IS BLACK SO JUST GIVE ME THIS ONE OK?
P.s. I get most of them from H&M in the UK and Glassons in NZ.
You used to work as a tax accountant. That blows my mind. How did you get into that in the first place? Were you especially good at math? Did you do your parents’ taxes as a child? I can actually picture 10-year-old you in a suit with an Excel spreadsheet.
It blows my mind to think of it too. Essentially I took to school like a duck to an advanced aeronautics space programme i.e. not at all. My parents were just desperate for me to get to 5th form (around about the age of 15) before I dropped out. However they played the epic mind game of actually telling me that they thought I would drop out, and my response was pretty much “fuck you I’m not only going to finish school but I’m going to go to university and become a tax accountant too HOW DO YOU LIKE DEM APPLES”. Yeah I am the lunatic who used teenage rebellion to become a tax accountant. It helps that I am a massive dork for excel spreadsheets, like I actually get excited about VLOOKUPS and have tried using formulas as chat up lines in pubs. Surprisingly guys don’t react well to excel chat.
What is your obsession with a) gin b) cats and c) coffee? And, in your opinion, where can you find the BEST flat white in the WORLD? IN THE WORLD? (Hint: I’m guessing it’s not here in London)
a) gin is a family drink, back during the dark tax accounting times I would go home and be greeted at the door by my Dad with a G&T. So apart from it being delicious and a very easy drink, it also reminds me of home and happy.
b) I love that cats are such arseholes, they only love on their terms. I feel like we could learn a lot from them; enjoy the sunshine when its sunny, find someone to cuddle if you need a cuddle and if the world gets too much go and sit in a box for a while. Oh and cats are just oh so squishy.
c) Coffee is totally my drug of choice. If you are skint to all hell you can walk into a cafe and for £2-ish you can feel like a Queen for an hour or so. Cheaper than a cocktail + somewhere warm to hang out in winter = winner. Favourite coffee in London is from Prufrock or pretty much from any of these places; and in New Zealand I have to say Camper Coffee in Newmaret.
What do you miss most about NZ? Aside from your family.
Ok I am going to include cats in the family bit. I think the thing I miss most about NZ is just how easy it is to get around. In London if I can get somewhere in half an hour and only three tube changes I think that is super quick, but in Auckland with a car everything is pretty much ten minutes from my house. And going to the supermarket and not having to carry everything home is pretty much heaven.
Answer this truthfully: have you ever attempted to do the All Blacks haka? I was watching it on YouTube this morning and I wondered.
Ha! Girls can’t do the Haka for cultural reasons, we just get to stand at the back behind the warriors and sway while doing jazz hands. No seriously that’s a thing. I love the haka though, it’s the only bit of the rugby I watch and it gives me goosebumps every time.
Finally, why are you so freaking awesome? And what secrets are you hiding in your hair?
I don’t know about the awesome part, but I hide many many things in my hair. Mostly because people at work like to play a game where they hide things in my hair while I’m distracted and see how long it takes me to notice. Not exaggerating in the slightest, the top of the leader board is currently there for managing to get a phone charger and a plastic fork lodged in there while I was on a conference call.
Thanks Angloyankophile for the interview, you continue to light up my world and cure my writers block!