Henceforth appearing in the Oxonian Era.
I have settlement problems.
In the past 5 years I have moved house no fewer than 13 times.
I have relocated between 10 cities, in 6 countries over 3 continents.
My moves have spanned 10 time zones and both hemispheres.
Elevations from 2 metres to 2 kilometres.
Climates from hot, humid tropics to cold, arid mountains to stable, sable deserts to the temperamental temperate zone.
Houses built of wood, concrete, nylon, mud.
Or no house at all.
Every move has brought plenty of newness.
New systems of survival.
New friends and neighbours.
New jobs and new responsibilities – some to my liking; others less so.
By most standards, that is a lot of change, a lot of newness, in only a little time.
But I discovered that I have a settlement pattern.
2 hours: Explore.
2 weeks: All essentials located.
2 months: Routine, friends and local favourites established.
4 months: Feeling at ‘home’, in that wonderful English-language sense.
6 months: Restless for change.
I have yet to make it past that 6 month mark…
This time I’d like to.
It is 2016 and The Menace returns! And to ring in the New Year, it is only appropriate to review the Old – which was itself filled with lots of ‘new’:
But I have learned something very important about new-ness in 2015. Not all that is new is happy. Or welcome. Or healthy.
2015 can be seen as familiarly dichotic: Old Half and New Half.
In the Old Half, I continued my studies at King’s College London. I lived in the same flat in Hackney. I continued to not run – leg injuries of 2014 still smarting – and I wore the same tired wardrobe. I visited old favourite museums and galleries. I saw new theatre productions with the same old band of people. I attended lectures that blew my mind, that filled me with anger, or outrage, or happiness, or thoughtfulness, etc. I shared life, laughter and good meals with the same flatmates and friends. And I picked up the odd new addition here and there. Per usual.
Life was good.
The New Half brought newness. I finished my dissertation and thereby my degree. I landed a new job and gained new responsibilities (not to mention bureaucracy and other quotidien drama). I visited new countries, Denmark and Gabon, and learned of their histories and politics and cultural values. I moved from my dear flat in Hackney to a new flat in an old converted church in a new town with an old history in a new part of the country. I shared space with a new flatmate (and then another and then another)…and the bright shiny optimism of newness quickly turned to rust.
I hated this newness.
This newness was uninspiring. Old things I loved were no longer enjoyable. New opportunities were no longer interesting. Travel for the sake of adventure had not so much lost its appeal as been replaced by travel as a means of desperate escape from the doldrums. The intrigue of self-indulgent study, the pleasant retreat of reading, the creative outlet of writing, the relief of cooking and enjoying good food, even the thrill of regular exercise had evaporated within weeks. My soul died a little and my body began to shut down. This was not newness I had known before. This was unhappy, unwelcome, unhealthy.
I needed a new newness. In short, a new normal. And so I went to find it.
2016 has brought still more newness: a new town (Oxford) with a new flat and flatmate and a new commute to work. By extension that means I now have to find new friends, new local hangouts and new activities to occupy my time. But so far this is good newness.
For the first time since the Old Half of 2015, there is a return to optimism, albeit a bit tempered by my New Half experience, still fresh in my mind.
I feel comfortable. I am content. And I have learned the variable quality of newness.
London Thanksgiving Dinner
8 supermarket trips
3 hours of cooking
5 Thanksgiving dishes (divided)
2 holiday candles
3 bottles of wine
Mix for 3 hours, stirring in 20 minutes’ worth of stories explaining the origin of Thanksgiving holiday and traditions (Optional: add 1/2 cup skepticism and a healthy dash of snark).
To make gluten-free or historically accurate, may substitute alternative Thanksgiving accounts.
At last: my birthday gift to me!
And I wandered Leavesden Studios in a daze, remembering with fondness every moment of Harry Potter mania – the seven books, the midnight release parties, the costumes, fan fiction, and hushed spoiler whispers – and the anticipation of the films that brought the magic to life.On the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, eager fans (e.g. yours truly + Marijn, my trusty comrade in arms) can revel with abandon in the literary and cinematic masterpiece of fifteen years of Harry Potter – from the 1997 publication of the Philosopher’s Stone to the box set release of all eight films.
Props, sets, costumes, interviews, pranks and quirks, production secrets and behind-the-scenes gossip – soak it all in, children of all ages. The magic lives on.
Time: (morning rush)
8:30am – 9:30am (typical London workday is 9-5 or 10-6);shops generally open between 10 and 11am; larger chain restaurants open between 7 and 9am, smaller cafes and restaurants may not open until 10 or later)
People and Activities: (varied by area)
St Katherine’s Docks – sparsely populated, mostly men and women on their way to the Tower Hill Tube Station (business professionals) wearing suits or business-appropriate attire, assumed middle class, many taking personal calls on mobile phones, most walking alone, occasional solo runners, little interaction with others, restaurant staff setting up chairs & table settings for the day, short queue at the pop-up coffee vendor’s stall
Tower of London – largely tourists standing at rails to photograph the tower and each other; some professionals entering/leaving Tower Hill subway to access tube/train stations; generally benign, but occasionally brusque, interactions between the two as tourists stroll or stop and professionals attempt to hurry; tourists are primarily individuals, couples, or small family groups (no large, guided tours, no students); conversation primarily around the poppies for the WWI display in the Tower moat
Financial District – almost entirely business professionals streaming out of the tube station and toward their offices on the streets opposite; 2 charity canvassers attempt (rather unsuccessfully) to stop and chat with passers-by (myself included, though I too ignore them). Two men stand amidst the crowd handing out newspapers and another distributes fliers, presumably for a special taking place at the restaurant in which he works (he’s wearing a white apron); mostly white, middle class, English-speakers (those who speak at all) traveling alone or in pairs as they seem to have met up with a colleague along the way
St. Paul’s Cathedral – at this time in the morning, St. Paul’s is still rather quiet; business professionals walk by. Similar situation to St. Katherine’s Docks re:professionals and occasional runners; a few more family groups of tourists but again no large groups as it is still early
Fleet Street/Temple – greater number of young people around (whom I assume to be students) and more casually dressed business professionals; shops are beginning to open up, and tourists stand in small huddles on street corners consulting maps
General – Driving traffic is moderate, we are a bit past the morning rush by the time I enter the city; mainly cabs, buses, and personal vehicles but occasional construction trucks pass by; about two dozen cyclists pass along the way (from experience, this number would have been much greater earlier in the morning) and these seem to be young professionals, and predominantly white men (equal parts wearing jeans or cycling gear and suits; all carrying bags)
A mid-run break this afternoon in Regent’s Park.