London Girl in the Philippines

A much needed trip back to the Philippines to visit my family gave me an unhealthy dose of reality and a gentle reminder that there is more to life than tube commutes and sales targets… sometimes…

In the cities, capitalist malls stand proudly next to abject poverty, brand new Navarra’s pull up next to battered Jeepney’s carrying 50 passengers cross country, so sometimes it’s nice to get out to the coast and away from consumerism in the oddest form.

My grasp of the Filipino dialects is pretty lousy but I get by enough to order food and ask for directions. But without the inside knowledge of a local, my family, I would get pretty lost trying to find the little paradises I have been lucky enough to visit over the years. After a family reunion celebrating my grandmother’s 80th birthday, my next stop was Siquijor, an island renown for its ghosts and witches. My family warned me not to drink the water, not because it wasn’t clean, but rather that it was going to be cursed. Great. Good start as always.

A bumpy, non-air-conditioned six-hour bus ride, that could rival some of the more tragic bus journeys taken around Indonesia, and a 40-minute ferry and I was happily on the witch island. If witches lived like this, then I could get used to it. I settled for Coco Groves, slightly more resort-y than I’m used to but I wasn’t about to turn down a private beach and floating bar a few hundred meters out in the ocean.

After a couple of days at the beach rolling around the sand like a whale, I found myself searching for somewhere a bit different. On recommendation from my tricycle driver I chose U.Story, an almost Buddhist retreat with a small cove and about five small thatched huts. No wifi, no service, no fuss. It was blissful. I spent days reading my book, practicing yoga and falling asleep watching the sun set on a spotless ocean, and of course gorging myself on fresh fish and fresh fruit. If you ever get the chance, Filipino mangoes are edible gold.

With a mind finally cut off from the usual Western distractions I was able to think, or really, not think. Blissful, if rather short lived. Removing our everyday “essentials” we strip ourselves down to our bare minimum, perhaps, our real selves. What do we really think about when we’re alone; what are the things that really matter to us when we don’t have Twitter or Cosmo or even Honest Burgers. I thought about a lot of things, including whether I would rather be caught in a zombie apocalypse or a natural disaster, amongst more serious things of course. An idyllic haze settled upon my little brain and I felt nothing but good vibes about life. Sometimes we need an escape from tube maps and angry commuters to remind us about what is important to us. Family, happiness, and of course, Filipino mangoes.

 

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London Girl in Berlin

A dreamy haze seemed to hang over Berlin from when we touched down, and clung there for the entirety of our stay.  The weather was as temperamental as we were and days swung from flooding sunshine to windswept storms in a matter of minutes.

Amongst a busy week of merchandising for a new store opening, I managed to squeeze in a couple hours here and there for sightseeing and gorging myself on schnitzel and sausages, and unashamedly, a lot of Thai food.

Berlin is achingly cool, a whole city of Shoreditch, with graffiti and posters plastered across the city, street style London won’t see for months and a history that is still fresh enough to feel it thick in the air. It manages to perfectly entwine 80s tacky décor and infrastructure with modern day hipster cool.

I managed to nab some of my French colleagues on our day off and we gorged ourselves on an amazing brunch at Kaffe Einstein. Think The Breakfast Club with class; set in a grand old converted house with original moldings and illustrious vases of flowers set elegantly alongside black and white framed photos of the Berlin chic.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the city and basking in the sun, walking the wall and drinking coffee and eating apple strudel. We managed to walk far enough up a hill to get away from the more suffocating concrete that envelopes much of the city and later catch some greenery in the main park.

Berlin’s notorious club scene didn’t tickle my fancy that week. Perhaps because I’m getting older or maybe just more boring. I left the infamous naked clubs where you leave your phone, and your clothes, at the entrance and nabbed myself a candlelit meal with great company in Savignyplatz. Spinach gnocchi stuffed with cheese and second helpings of red wine and lashings of compliments. Far better than seeing all the wobbly bits of Berlin’s party animals, but do correct me if I’m wrong.

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Girl v. Byron Burger Club

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This week Byron launched their first Burger Club event. They describe the club as “founded to reward dedication to the cause of proper hamburgers and open the doors to the inner workings of our kitchens.

Down in the basement of their Hoxton restaurant, Byron put on an evening of “Mockdonalds” complete with chicken nuggets, a fucking hot apple pie and old school McDonald’s adverts playing on a projector.

We all know burger joints are achingly cool in London so it’s tough to make it unique. But this little event was able to capture intimacy which I think far outweighs exclusivity nowadays. I just hate the idea of queuing for my burger and milkshake.

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The event had one sitting for two evenings and was intimate enough to high five their head chef for a job well done afterward and compliment one of the top guys in Byron on his scent… Turns out it was the chicken nuggets, it’s clear my mind is always on one thing… Nom. But the best bit for me, the vanilla malt milkshake with a shot of maple syrup and a shot of Makers Mark bourbon. My life will never be the same again.

It was kitsch, delicious and intimate. In a city that engulfs me, a little intimacy and a lot of BBQ sauce, can make my day.

Looking forward to the next one, Byron!

Find out more here

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girl v. London

London, I wish I could quit you.

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My desire to quit London is an itch. It starts off with barely a tickle, a murmur under my skin. But that little bite will keep itching. It will wait until I’ve got my paws back firmly on the soil and it will itch. And itch. And itch. And it won’t stop until I’ve dug my nails into my skin and caused a scar.

But I love London. I don’t think mere words could do my love justice. Simply and delicately she is the most inspirational energy in my life. She is an anchor for my soul. London taught me to love. She has the power to bring the sense of new possibilities everyday, like there’s always a chance to reinvent yourself, whatever sins you have committed. The power of anonymity runs rampant through her streets.

But if I’m honest, some days she’s not enough. Some days I don’t want to play sardines on my commute or wait in line for a fucking burger. Some days she can’t take my constant instability and indecisiveness and itches. But she tells me that everything will be OK if I just stay here with her. But with her anonymity is also easy routine. And as easily as we reinvented ourselves, we find ourselves in routine.  This week Ari called me up and asked me to meet him for a hotel night of sushi and excess. It was an achingly London routine and I wondered whether in a city that is constantly evolving, are there some things that stay painfully the same?

I wish I belonged here but lately I have felt I am owned by London. Every time I leave, I get the overwhelming urge to crawl back. When I am here I am euphoric and then quite suddenly plagued by thoughts of quitting that leave me feeling so guilty. Like I owe something to London. Which is true, I owe her my life. She is as mesmerising as she is intoxicating and once she’s got you, she’ll never let you go.

I’m pretty sure I don’t want to quit London. But it is an addictive place and I think you become easily wrapped up in a certain way of life that it’s hard to imagine that anywhere else could soothe you in the way London does. Some days she just swallows you whole. I think I will escape while I’m young enough and go have an illicit affair with New York or Berlin, someone who might be crazy enough to handle me. Maybe I will come crawling back to London begging for forgiveness. That does seem to be the growing trend.

It has been nearly a year since I came back from Tokyo. Some days I want to quit London but the feeling is always short lived and the itch and scar soon fades away until the next time. I guess I only think I want to quit because I don’t want to belong to anyone, not even London.

Originally inspired by Time Out’s ‘New York, I wish I could quit you.’

girl v. grief

When grief hits it will chip away at you like a disease until it devours you whole.

 
 
About two years ago a good friend and my father died suddenly a few months within each other. Teaching me quite abruptly and at a relatively young and naïve age, that nothing lasts forever. I was left gasping for breath completely and utterly unable to comprehend what happened and with no chance to say “goodbye” to either man.
Even now, I never really speak about either of them, but not because I don’t care or that I have forgotten. On some days, when I’m alone, or surrounded by people; maybe in my apartment, or on the tube, my mind wanders to them. And of course I am overcome with a certain kind of sadness but not one that incapacitates, no, it is rather one of fondness, for they lived and their lives were intertwined with mine, and that makes me happy. And I think that is the best way to deal with grief. It is not a burden for us to carry but a tool to make us think about our lives on a deeper level.
 
But it wasn’t always like that. Grief affects us all in different ways. I spent so many days and nights reading about the “seven stages of grief”, trying to psychoanalyse my own behaviour and trying to wish away the days until “it was all over”. I cried, of course. For days, for months… I stared into an abyss within myself and wondered what could ever fill it. I took off to the other side of the world, did anything to run away from the emptiness grief brought with it. But I have come to realise that grief is not about “getting over it.” Everyone copes in different ways, but there are some things that remain the same…
 
First you’ll forget their voice. You won’t realise you’ve forgotten their voice though because they live curled up in a crevice of your mind. But one day you’ll think about a funny joke they told you, or you’ll be about to reach for a cigarette and be reminded of all the times they told you not to. Then you’ll try to remember how they said it and you won’t be able to capture their essence. You’ll grasp at the way they used to say a particular word or phrase. Or the way they said your pet name. But one day you will forget completely. Their intonation will disappear and get swallowed up by the sky.
 
The last time I saw James was New Years Eve two years ago. We had dim sum to ring in the New Year and I told him I had never had a New Years kiss. As we stood on the escalator down to the tube platform he did nothing but silently stare at my lips, mesmerized. “Why are you looking at me like that?” “There’s only one reason I would ever look at you like this.” As we went to jump onto our trains he grabbed me and kissed me, our first, and only, kiss. The kind of kiss that takes  your breath away. “I know I’m a few hours early but Happy New Year.” And then as quickly as it had happened, we ran onto our opposite platforms to our opposite sides of London. I remember the jacket he wore, the pocket square and the ring on his left pinky finger. I don’t replay that moment every time I take that tube anymore. But I have forgotten the intonation when he said that.
 
New Year kisses are kind of sacred to me now. Only to be shared with those I am willing to bare my soul to. James set precedence. Those tiny things, like a fond kiss between friends, that shouldn’t bear any significance or stand out in memory can, and should, when it evokes the memory of someone; dead or alive. People leave impressions and I like that those can have impacts on our daily lives.
 
One day you will begin to forget their face. This is surely the saddest of all. Sure there are photos but remembering someone’s face is different to looking at a photograph. Those photos begin to look like someone else. Those moles look different and those wrinkles don’t look like they belong to him. When you close your eyes there will soon start to be a fuzzy little glow around their face as you recall them talking to you. You will start to try to single out a moment in time to remember them by and forget how they looked when they made you toast or read the evening paper.
 
You’ll always remember the little nuances of their personality. The way they hated the phrase “how are you” or the snarl they gave you when you’d done something wrong. You will always remember the look in their face when you had your last argument. If you’re lucky you’ll remember the last smile you shared.  But you will forget a lot. You will start to sieve out the banal, everyday details in search of a few salient pieces of memory to focus on when time comes to recall them. But I urge you to hold onto those boring pieces of everyday. The way the edges of their mouth curled when they got angry but didn’t want to say, or the way they blew their nose with a handkerchief.
 
One day you’ll wake up and they won’t be the first thing you think of. You might not think that possible, but the day will come when they will be the second, or the third. Some days you won’t remember them at all. Some days you’ll want to do nothing but bask in their memories and let those recollections flood in. Enjoy those days, do not try to block out memories because once they are gone they are gone, believe me.
 
I don’t believe in cliches like ‘it will all be OK in the end’, and I don’t believe that time heals all wounds. Some things you just don’t get “over”. But I don’t think that the end goal should be “to get over” or “to forget”. But then I don’t believe in time being so linear a concept. We are not all working our way up to one final moment where everything makes sense, we are constantly evolving in a way that every moment is the end, and also the beginning. I am not happy that some people are dead, or gone. But I am happy. And I think that is what counts.
I think committing those who have died to raw memory is of the utmost importance to us. To come back and remember the good, and the bad, of their lives and personalities make us more human. In a way it helps us remember those in our lives already; the good and the bad of them and their importance and significance to our everyday lives.
 
I think the ultimate goal for grief is celebration. It shouldn’t shackle you. It should set you free.

girl v. nostalgia

Nostalgia is ‘an ache to return home’; nostos meaning to return home, and algos is ache or pain.

No, for me, nostalgia is an open wound. It is a potent yet addictive emotion. One that we cannot help but pry open when it starts to itch and heal. It reminds you of emotions that are not there anymore, just thoughts of what you think should be, or miss, or desire.
Opening up nostalgia is like rubbing salt in the wound simply for that delicate after taste of relief. You’re addicted to let painful emotions wash over and consume you because basking in nostalgia is often better than reality.
My friend told me that on a recent trip home she had met up with her first boyfriend, despite her currently being in a loving relationship with her long-term boyfriend. She had met the first love at 17 and enjoyed a young love whirlwind romance for a couple of years. And now, she was confused. She didn’t understand how she could feel an ache when she saw him, but still love her boyfriend.
She asked me to tell her about my first love, about what I felt, whether I ever saw him again. It would explain a lot, I said. But no. I do not wish to prize open any old wounds. Nostalgia removes the bad parts of memory and holds recollection up on a pedestal. It doesn’t remember bruises on your heart or your legs or your mind. It savours only the good parts in a way that aches.
There is no need to dream of fond memories and what if’s. Nostalgia is not about coming home because home is right now in this moment. The memories we hold dearest through nostalgia are simply whispers in the wind rather than reality. Do not rip open wounds to bathe in nostalgia, no matter how addictive. The best thing you have is in front of you.

girl v. how to fall in love

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How to fall in love. Blindly. Without an ounce of foresight. Casually with old friends. Or deeply with strangers. Fall in love with their snarl. Fall in love for life, or just for the night. Fall in love with someone who will make you pinch yourself when you wake up just to check you’re still there. Find someone whose touch sends shivers down your spine, whose every whisper leaves you grasping for another word, another breath in their presence. Find someone who is as electric as you. And someone to share electric kisses with. Find them in the supermarket or in the park. Don’t find them in a club. Fall in love with someone whose name quenches your thirst on a hot day. Fall in love with them when they are hungover. Love like a winged cupid painted blind. Love with your mind. Kiss with your eyes open. Fall in love with the city you live in. Fall in love with your life. Someone will fall in love with the way you love. Leap into extremes and jump, jump, jump. Creep with caution and be scared. Be OK with being scared. Fall in love with someone you see everywhere. Or someone you’ve never met. In a sea of normality, let love come charging in.

girl v. how to get over someone you love

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How to get over someone you love. Write about it. Read love poems. Read about lost love and ache that you could never put your emotions so eloquently. Read Sylvia Plath and cry. Listen to Buckley’s Hallelujah. Take a long walk along the coast, or just along the Embankment. Sleep. Sleep in. Sleep for days. Lie in an extravagant fort built by your tired hands after you stayed up late picking out the double entendres from his texts; how a semi-colon meant love and a full stop meant he stopped loving you. Throw a book against a wall. Don’t throw a mug (you’ll regret it). Visit a zoo and say cliché things to yourself, like, at least I’m only a prisoner of my own emotions not a prisoner of four walls. Listen to your friends when they say: “it will be OK,” or that “time heals all wounds”. I mean, it might not and time doesn’t, but just nod anyway. Be grateful that they are there for every time you call them to cry, or sob or want to drink until you wake up with the casual taste of disdain and regret in your mouth. Smile. Breathe deep. Take up yoga and knitting and please, please don’t forget to eat. Go to Selfridges and try on the most ridiculous ball gown you can find. Sleep around. Don’t sleep with anyone. Retrace your memory over the moles on his face that form a triangle across his cheek. Run a marathon, even if it’s just for Breaking Bad. Be nice to a stranger. Call your mum. Be wild. Don’t let yourself degenerate into a machine for making money. You’ll learn more by giving yourself a little freedom. Wake up one day and decide you don’t want to feel like this anymore, or ever again, and then change. Just like that. Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity. Go to a bloody library for once. Educate yourself. Don’t chase him. Work hard.

girl v. New York

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I am in love with London but I am ravenous for the world. I have a raw, salacious appetite for its wisdom and its taste. I just love to devour it raw, unrefined and in its most basic forms. I am always eager to travel the world, to drink in all it has to offer; from its concrete jungles to its natural beauties. I want it all. I suppose that’s how I found myself washed up on the shores of New York, my second favourite city in the world.
As I made my way to arrivals I hear a tannoy overhead. “Melanie A to baggage claim 10, Ms. A to baggage claim 10.” And as I emerge from arrivals he is standing there, solitary in double denim. He picks me up and swings me around. “I had to tannoy you, I thought the Americans had kidnapped you. I’m glad you’re not dead.”
Surely that’s all you need in life. A someone that is glad you’re not dead. In a city that never sleeps.
Let’s not call it love though. If the best cure for one’s bad tendencies is to see them fully developed in someone else, then what if you see the best of yourself in someone else? Are you inspired? Does it scare you or excite you? I’m not talking about sharing a love of Breaking Bad, I’m talking about someone whose certain being aligns with your certain being.
We broke into an abandoned rooftop bar and watched the sunset behind the Brooklyn bridge and stayed up to stargaze until the thick October evening began to chill our bones.
I fell in love with New York all over again. I felt powerful walking across those streets – like I owned them. Those grid roads sprawl out like your own mini catwalk that you own every time the green man says walk. There is enough space to stride across with a fierce power, rather than stumble and gait and try to emerge unscathed the other side of tourists when you cross in London. After traveling 40 minutes for the best bagels early one morning in New York we poured champagne into our green tea bottles and walked down the whole of Central Park and joined the local kids for a game of basketball. New York is brimming with pleasant surprises.
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New York is all encompassing and I love to feel anonymous and alone in big cities. To me it is a very comforting feeling to be made to feel like a little fish in a big pond, like a reminder to keep pushing forward. Anonymous can be good. It can help remind us of the best versions of ourselves, the one we allow to come out when we are not surrounded by familiarity. And New York? New York, I’ll be back soon.