And then it starts to rain!

I was washing the dishes tonight and listening to the radio, which, to my dismay, was blaring out the distressing experience known as “Country Hour”.

I am not a fan of country music. Or to put it a different way, I am a huge fan, but only insomuch as it makes me snigger in an unattractively condescending manner. Some of it’s fine – I have to admit to being quite fond of John Prine, and the Dixie Chicks, for example. The more Country/Folk style. But the twangy, ultra-depressive, “My wife left me and then my faithful old dog got run over by the same truck that I sold just so I could afford to eat” style Country and Western genre? Ohhhhhh boy. It only irks me so much because I know that so many people think it’s good, and I can’t cope with being in a world where someone can say “Oh, isn’t that just briliant?!” on hearing that sort of hilarious warbling, and others around will agree with perfectly straight faces.

I do, however, love it for its comedic value. The lyrics are generally so poor that they amount to being utterly genius, and I like this. And also, when you’re currently feeling the “life has treated me so bad / and now I am so blue and sad” vibes, you can enjoy said lyrics on a totally new level. I would never have expected a Country song to lift my spirits, but when Ricky Van Shelton’s “Life Turned Her That Way” came on as I was scrubbing the saucepans, I found myself giggling and singing along with great enthusiasm. I couldn’t help it. I know I have a tendency to be a self-pitiful, woe-is-me, poor victim, Eeyore sort of character when things go wrong. Just the sort of person to be the main character in a Country song, in fact. I could very easily be the sort of person who listens to stuff like that and thinks “Oh, woe! Woe! Poor me!”. So hearing the doleful lyrics and mournful guitar twangs, and recognising myself  in a truly ridiculously depressing song had the unexpected effect of cheering me up. Interesting…

I feel quite positive after that timely insight into how I could very quickly end up if I weren’t prepared to laugh at myself now and again. In fact, I have decided to write a Country song, myself. I’m pretty certain that anyone could do it, to the extent where I’m just going to start writing and rhyming and see what comes out. Ready?

She’s sittin’ on her suitcase
In a dusty foreign town
Her heartache’s etched on her face
She don’t know where she’s bound.

She ain’t got no cheeseburger to eat
No one to hold her while she cries
She thinks she must admit she’s beat
It never works, however hard she tries.

And then it starts to rain!
Oh, the rain, the rain
The pain, the pain
The grey skies, her teary eyes
They’ve said goodbye, she wants to cry,
Love’s a lie, passion sure dies,
And then it starts to rain.

She’s hurt her knee and is limpin’ sore
Towards a hostel that’s smelly and old
She ain’t got no money no more
And the world feels dead and cold.

There’s a rat runnin’ past her weary feet
And no one seems to know she’s there
Can’t stand all those happy couples she meets
She feels like there ain’t a soul who cares.

And then it starts to rain!
Oh, the rain, the rain
The pain, the pain
The grey skies, her teary eyes
They’ve said goodbye, she wants to cry,
Love’s a lie, passion sure dies,
And then it starts to rain.

Oh, wow! I am a Country music genius. Put those words to the one solitary standard Country twangy tune that seems to be used for every single song, and you’ve got a smash hit that will be played to death on Country Hour.

I’m tellin’ ya.

Bubbly Personality

I have become oddly addicted to bubble gum.

I haven’t had bubble gum since I was a child, and the taste instantly transports me to standing outside in the garden with my friends, chewing earnestly and competing to see who could blow the biggest bubble. I was always the one who ended up with a burst bubble smeared stringily all over my face. You can’t really say you’re surprised, can you?

Anyway, when I was kidnapped on a Cheer Up Hails mission the other day by Elly, she kept presenting me with random Happy Gifts, including coffee, cigarettes, muffins, and – somewhat inexplicably – a three or four foot long tube labelled “World’s Longest Bubble Gum”.

Hmm.

Hmm.

Of all the characteristics I might reasonably have expected to hear applied to bubble gum (chewy, gummy, bubbly, etc.), “long” has just never featured in the list. But there’s no denying it. It is long. “It’s the longest bubble gum in the world!” I cried in delight as she presented it to me on leaving a shop.

Of course, I do not know if this is true. They could be making it up; it’s not like anyone’s going to challenge them. I have done some research online and can only come to the conclusion that most bubble gum manufacturers don’t care about the length of their bubble gum. There are no references whatsoever to bubble gum being “long”. I have, however, discovered lots of useful tips about how to blow good bubble gum bubbles (peanut butter is apparently a useful anti-burst aid) , and also that the current Guiness Record for World’s Largest Bubble Gum Bubble is held by Susan Montgomery Williams, who blew a bubble that was “23 inches big”.

I am not sure what one is meant to do with the World’s Longest Bubble Gum. But I didn’t think it wise to attempt chewing it all at once, so I have instead been returning to the tube every few hours like a schoolboy’s finger to a nostril, and guilty breaking off another piece. It is like returning to the innocence of the long, sunny days of childhood every time I taste the sickly sweet flavour and accidentally send the gum shooting across the room in an overly-enthusiastic attempt to blow a bubble.

My mother seems to be despairing slightly. I have caught her talking to the cat about me.

A Humble Thank You Note

I’ve always been one for putting all my eggs in one basket (and also for using hopelessly worn out clichés).

I get swept along with a new hobby or interest or cause or friendship or relationship, and it becomes everything to me, to the point where I often lose sight of the other important things in my life. I confess to having done this over the past year or so. It’s not a good thing. And it’s only when that basket is suddenly taken away that I remember just how many folk there are standing around me, ready to make a dive for the eggs so that they don’t end up smashed and ruined all around my feet. (There, I turned the overused cliché into something more creative, so I get away with it, right?!)

From the moment I sat in the shopping mall bus station in Tallinn nearly three weeks ago, suddenly basketless and feeling utterly bereft and miserable, I have been reminded on a daily basis of how many great people there are in my life, no matter how many times I manage to mess up or get it wrong. The comments to my sad, lonely blog posts came thick and fast, along with emails, Facebook comments, phone calls and texts. I can’t quite believe that there are all these people who are there, quietly and unobtrusively, giving me the freedom and right to make my own mistakes, and yet stepping forward instantly when it inevitably falls apart.

The Parents were there, with no hesitation as to whether I could come home and stay with them for a while. The Sister was there with just the sort of unique Sisterly emails that only she can provide. McBouncy was there, talking me through my situation with calm reason as I sat in bus stations and grotty hostels with all my bags around my feet. Other friends were there with me, keeping me company in emails and IM and Facebook chats. Blog readers were there, leaving me comments that ranged from sympathetic to encouraging to motivational. I’ve had countless offers of help, in the form of places to stay, financial assistance, dinner invitations, transport, work advice, coffee and cigarettes, a stiff drink. And although I would rather have lived in poverty for a while than asked for a loan from anyone, I know that I would never, ever have been stuck over there in Eastern Europe with no money and nowhere to live — I only had to say the word, and you lot would have gotten me out of it. This is a wonderful and humbling feeling.

And now that I’ve finally got a little bit of decent writing work (about a week’s worth!), which I hope will be the first of many more regular projects, I know that I’ll soon be able to stand on my own two feet again (sorry, I really can’t seem to avoid the clichés today!). But to be honest, I’m kinda glad that I stumbled and needed someone to hold me up – because I would never have believed you if you’d told me how many great people there were willing to do just that.

Yesterday, Grannymar and Elly bundled me into the back seat of Elly’s car and effectively kidnapped me, whisking me off to Junction 1 for a wander around the shops in the sunshine, some girly company and chat, and, of course, coffee. These are people I know purely through blogging — I’d never even met Elly before! And yet they treated me like a sister and showed me that they, too, are simply “there”.

I’ve been hiding away since I got back. The only people who’ve seen me are the people who’ve said “I’m coming to get you.” (in a non-scary, non-serial killer way, I mean). It’s nothing personal, it’s just me licking my wounds. But I’m on the road to recovery, I think. I have talked to The Ex, and am moving on… may even be able to return to calling him by his blog name soon! I have a little work. I know I need to make better plans for Next Time. I have learned from my mistakes. I have hope! I am surrounded by great people. Everyone said it would get better, and very slowly but surely, it’s starting to.

So really, all I wanted to say was thanks. All of you.

Thank you for not letting the eggs break.

Lithuanian Buskers

On the Saturday that I spent in Lithuania, I went with a few friends from my hostel dorm to see Trakai Island Castle, which is, well, it’s a castle on an island. Funnily enough.

The castle itself wasn’t particularly impressive. We all thought that it felt very “new”, and quite touristy – probably because most of the castles in Lithuania were originally wooden and didn’t survive the test of time. The view of the castle from the mainland, though, was quite pretty, if you could get a glimpse of it through the crowds of tourists.

What I found much more interesting was the activity on the footbridges across to the island. The locals clearly knew that tourists are the No. 1 way of making easy money, and they’d come up with all sorts of ways of doing so. There was a woman selling berries which she was clearly collecting from a tree right beside her makeshift “stall”. Why she thought she had the right to charge for these when it would have been perfectly acceptable for any one of us to go and pick a handful for ourselves is beyond me, but she seemed OK with it.

DSC03491There was an awkward-looking man in welly boots by the water, presumably offering boat rides in cute little multi-coloured rowing boats.DSC03534But by far the most common sight (and sound) along the way was of buskers. Small ones. With recorders.

DSC03490They didn’t seem to be making any money, but this was most likely because they were utterly crap. Somewhere, at some point, a small child has seen someone busking and thought “Aha! That clever person is getting money just by sitting with a cap in front of him and making a lot of noise with a musical instrument.” The small child, being quite resourceful, did his research and discovered that the cheapest musical instrument he could afford was a plastic recorder. Perhaps he purchased it, sat in the path of tourists, and received a lot of money because of the Ahh, how sweet! factor, I dunno. But anyway, the point is that all the children in the area saw this and felt that they were entitled to do it too.

And the thing is, they don’t even know how to play the things! All along the way, the air was filled with the non-too-melodic noise of small children blowing repeatedly into their recorders. Some didn’t even realise that those holes on the front might actually have a fairly essential function, and were simply blowing into the mouthpiece without even attempting to pretend to be playing a tune.

DSC03535I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I tried this in Ballymena. Perhaps people would think I had serious issues, and give me money simply to pay for my therapy. Or perhaps, on the other hand, some Lithuanian practices are best left in Lithuania…

Self-serving concern

“Oh, dear Lord.”

Jo has just walked into Ma’s living room, where I am in the middle of reciting my tale of woe for non blog readers. I have been nervous about seeing Jo. She is a very good friend, but she is also my hairdresser, and a few weeks ago I had a rather unfortunate incident with my fringe and a pair of blunt scissors. Her horrified exclamation does not surprise me in the slightest, and I hang my head in shame.

“Let me see that… what the hell did you do that for?!” she rants in disbelieving annoyance, marching around me and gazing at my for some reason bizarrely unruly curls and hacked fringe.

“I couldn’t see out,” I explain sheepishly. “And I thought if I just sort of took random chunks out of it, it would look deliberately choppy, rather than like a bad haircut.”

Jo’s face is quite expressive.

“And,” I continue hurriedly, “then the mad curliness started and I couldn’t really do anything about that, and besides, it didn’t really matter when I was wearing a backpack and slumming it in a hostel in Eastern Europe. I kinda looked the part.”

Jo, bless her, has a big heart. With a huge effort that makes her look as if she’s going to burst, she sits down and tries not to look at The Hair as she asks me to talk about the past few weeks, and tells me how worried she was at the thought of me over there on my own with nowhere to go and nobody to help me. Sympathy is good, in the eyes of the self-pitiful. I continue with my sorry tale.

The three of us have a nice evening of complaining and sympathising and moaning and occasionally laughing at the crapness of it all. I mention that I’m going to Belfast on Thursday to meet The Ex for peace talks and closure while he happens to be in the country, and it is felt that this is a positive step. By the end of the evening, I am feeling some of those good vibes that come from spending time with friends.

“No, I’m sorry,” interrupts Jo at last, looking unbearably distressed. “Can you come tomorrow night and get that hair cut, please?”

“Don’t you have appointments tomorrow night?” asks Ma in surprise. Jo shakes her head. She has clearly been doing some frantic calculating and shifting around of prior engagements in her head.

“I’m sorry,” she explains, “But I will not be able to sleep if I know that you’re going to Belfast looking like that. It needs to be fixed.”

“I really don’t mind putting up with it for a bit longer,” I tell her amiably. “It doesn’t really matter.”

“Yes, it does!” says Jo fiercely. I meekly agree to go round and have my hair cut when she tells me to.

“See how much she cares about you looking your best?” says Ma.

I look at Jo, who seems a little guilty.

“Actually,” she admits, “I’m just scared in case anybody sees her and thinks I did it…”

Can’t afford a lottery ticket, either.

The problem with Elance is that although it lists dozens and dozens of new freelance writing jobs every day, most of them end up being awarded to people living in Eastern countries where the cost of living is quite considerably lower than it is here.

As a result, I can spend several hours every day applying to and bidding for work, and maybe only get accepted for about one per week, since most people want to go for the lowest bid even if the writer can barely string a sentence together in English. This is a bummer. I thought I’d found a way around it, in that I would get an initial job by putting in a very low bid, and then impress the client with my general brilliance before persuading them to give me the next job outside of Elance, where I wouldn’t be in competition with people who can survive on a dollar a day, and where I would also sneakily bypass the commission fee that Elance takes on all earnings. Unfortunately it turned out that they were monitoring my messages on the site, and they suspended my account until I pleaded and grovelled and apologised and signed a letter promising never to do it again. This, too, is a bummer.

I have scoured the job pages of the local newspaper and the local recruitment websites, only to be reminded that there are actually no jobs going at the moment, what with the world being on its last legs and everything. I would even have been willing to go back to Sainsbury’s as a humble cashier for a while. But no… nothing. No jobs. Nada. Bummer.

So I dutifully performed all the paying work I had lined up for this week, sent off my invoice, applied rather pessimistically for several other writing assignments, scounged a cigarette off my dad, and came to stare moodily out of the back door. I think I’m going to have to go on the dole. I will most likely go mad. I’m not a Ballymena person, and I am not a sitting around all day doing nothing person. I want to work. There is no work. I would be quite happy to write, and write, and write, but when I’m not also getting paid, I feel like a scrounger and a layabout for doing that.

And it’s all in the happy knowledge that The Ex is apparently having a “great time!”. Not that I want him to be miserable or anything, but still. A little sadness or regret or something wouldn’t have been too much to expect, would it? It’s not exactly heartening to know that life without me absolutely rocks. This is also a bummer.

I have lost my joie de vivre. It may still be in Estonia. And I can’t afford to go back over and look for it. Nor can I afford a bar of chocolate. Or a drink. Or cigarettes.

Bummer.

Options

Well, I’m pretty much overwhelmed.

Do you have any idea how many options there are out there for someone who has a very vague aim like “I want to live anywhere but in the UK, and travel around a lot”? I really need to come up with a more specific dream, you know, or else I’m going to sit here for many months clicking through endless websites and getting no closer to that Plan I was hoping for.

I could live on a farm somewhere, like the Happy Hippy complex in Bulgaria, growing organic vegetables and singing around a campfire with shirtless men with long hair and names like Storm. I could become an English teacher in a chic major city, going for cocktails with other young professionals every evening. I could keep on chasing housesitting assignments, and isolate myself for several months in a cottage in the middle of the French countryside, becoming a proper hermit writer. I could go backpacking again, and stay in hostels, visiting a new country every few days and travelling around by train whilst writing enough articles every day to pay for food and expenses. I could become a waitress on a Greek island. I could be a holiday rep in The Bahamas. The choices are endless, the sky’s my limit, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The unfortunate thing is that none of these options take into account the fact that what I actually want to do is go back to Tallinn and do all the things I’d planned to do with Riho. And that as fantastic as it no doubt is to have all these options, I can’t quite shake off The Sad to an extent where I could realistically go off and embark on all sorts of new adventures without feeling lonely.

Which is why it’s probably a good thing that I am completely skint, and therefore have no choice but to stay here and keep looking for ways to make money first, rather than heading off again any time soon. But seriously – what does a person do for entertainment in Ballymena? Especially a penniless person. When bored in Tallinn or some other “foreign” city, I could just get up and go outside and walk around. That was entertainment enough. If I do that here, I get (a) rained on, (b) accosted by no end of people from all areas of my life, to whom I do not want to have to explain that I have The Sad and no house and no car and no money and no job, and (c) vaguely depressed.

I guess it’s 24/7 job-hunting, then. Or going on the dole and spending it all on cigarettes and alcohol, but I can see how that might not help matters much. Positive thinking can only get you so far, and then reality has a nasty habit of laughing hysterically at you.

Sod it. I’m going to phone a friend. I don’t like any of the fifty-fifty options, and I think I’ve done too much asking of this patient audience!