I write this on a train; this in itself is quite a novelty for me, as until recently my laptop was incapable of working unless plugged into the mains. Now I have a shiny new little beast that weighs half of what the old one did and has hours of battery life. I love it.
Being on a train however, is not a novelty. It is how I spend a good proportion of my leave. This is real life. And I do not love it.
I am, I know, incredibly lucky to have the friends I have. I have collected an incredible set of people who never cease to amaze and inspire me. They are creative, intelligent, adventurous and crazy and I love them dearly. Unfortunately, many of them don’t really know each other, having only met through me on odd occasions. There are the friends I met when I was young and living at home, there are the friends I met when I lived in Winchester, then there are those I met while indulging in wonderfully silly LRP weekend events across the country, and now there are those I have met at sea too. And none of them live in the same place.
As soon as I announce that I am coming home, I am beset by the question: “So when are you going to come and see me?” I hate that question, but then again, it’s nice to be wanted. Inevitably I will, of course, end up travelling halfway across the country to see them, spending hours, if not days, of my precious leave on the train, squishing my belongings into a rucksack and myself in between commuters and cider fuelled tramps. And it’s wonderful to see them, but there is also within me a tinge of resentment, the sullen teenager that resides within me still, muttering, “Why do I always have to come to you, why can’t you come to see me for once?”
I get 4 months leave a year, in two blocks. And yes that probably sounds like an age to most of you. However, do the maths: 52 weeks in a year, so that’s 104 days of weekends, then add the 28 days of statutory leave you get in your average job, then add in at least 8 days of bank holidays and you will find that you get 140 days off work every year. 4 months, if they average at 30 days per month, works out at 120 days off in a year.
So my time off is precious. And I try to spend it wisely, but when one has just spent 4 months working solidly, 10 or more hours a day, 7 days a week, then what I really want to do, initially a least, is cocoon myself away and just not do anything. I want 4 months’ worth of weekends: I want my lazy lie ins with my lover, I want my late nights getting drunk on good wine in front of the tv, I want to go to the supermarket and buy the food I have spent months thinking about, in short, actually, I want to revel in domesticity.
I long for a place of my own, but as yet there are insufficient funds in my account. And while I officially reside at my parent’s house, I probably spend more time at my boyfriend’s house. He also lives with his mother, and I find myself amused regularly at the exchanges between them; he, at 34, sounding like a petulant teenager, and she the put-upon mother. Sometimes I think they sound more like a bickering old married couple. But when I return home to my parents, I find myself hearing the petulant teenager in my own voice, and feel the very physical sense of annoyance that wriggles under my shoulder blades when I am told to do something. For example, when I had my own place, I always did the washing up in the morning – why end a lovely relaxed evening with work? And I always found that having done one task, I was spurred on to do more. But at home my mother insists it is done that night, so I am dragged from my comfortable seat on the sofa to come and help with the drying up. Likewise with other household and garden tasks, I have no issue with doing them, in fact, I quite enjoy them, but I would like to be allowed do them when I decide, not be given instruction. I realise run the risk here of sounding exactly like the petulant teenager I gently mock my boyfriend for sounding like. I do try and help as much as I can, I do my laundry when I get home from sea (although my skills in this department pale into insignificance next to my mother, who insists upon soaking almost everything first, and irons when I would simply hang up to dry and be done with it). I sometimes cook, but my mother usually has menus planned out for the whole weekend, which narrows my contribution down to chief chopper of vegetables and stirrer of saucepans, and that is a poor substitute for actually cooking.
My main contribution, as I see it, is in the garden. We have a large garden, which is a struggle for my parents to keep up with as they get older. Over the last 32 years that my family has lived in our house, my mother has slowly, painstakingly, and with the aid of a lot of compost, sand, manure and sheer bloody determination, taken a wasteland of weeds and overgrown shrubs growing on 500 ft of blue clay, and turned it into a garden. It is a work in progress, and when she makes a concerted effort to attack one area, inevitably, another area runs amok and the docks and nettles and grasses move in. I am their nemesis. I leave the planting and nurturing to her, but there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained from ripping up weeds and depositing huge heaps of them onto the bonfire. And while it is satisfying, it is also useful and helpful and lets me live happy in the knowledge that I’ve done the donkey work and they won’t break their backs trying to do it.
As I said, though, I spend more of my time at my boyfriend’s house, and have to admit I probably do more there than I do at home, but I get to do it on my own terms: I wash up, I cook, I buy groceries, including all the fancy things I feel eating in the shopping basket. I even do his laundry sometimes, when I’m doing my own. I tidy his room, put his clothes away and make the bed. Sometimes.
So I get my longed for domesticity, I get time with the family, and I get time with the man I love. But this gets broken up into little segments of a few days at a time, because there are all these other people demanding my time too, people who live in Devon, or Winchester, or Bristol. All of these places are too far to pop over for a pint, and as I may only get to see them once a year, they want to see me for a day or more, not a few hours. And I go, I spend hours on the train (the learning to drive new year’s resolution has not yet come to fruition) and I am glad to see them, in the hopes that at some point they will reciprocate.
Now, I threw a party earlier this leave. I decided a long time ago that as I turned 30 in March and I had never had a proper party I would have it in the summer. A full weekend if people wanted to stay, plenty of space in the garden of all to camp. Lots of food, lots of booze. I sent out messages in February asking what dates suited people the best. I had a few responses. I set a date and sent out invites. To about 70 people. I had to send invites via facebook because I was on the other side of the world (which is a pretty good excuse for not sending paper invites I reckon). I subsequently sent out about 5 messages to the invitees asking them to please RSVP. In the end, about 30 people said they could come. Not bad I guess. And then they started dropping out. The injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant I can forgive. Shit happens. But it still felt like a kick in the teeth when only 18 people actually turned up. This included my parents, sister and boyfriend. And the neighbours. The number of friends who made the effort to drag themselves across the country was depressingly low (injuries, illness and sudden discovery of being newly pregnant notwithstanding). I love my friends, and I know they love me, but after 3 and a half years of being in this job, there’s some things they still just don’t get.