Florida part 2

Gavin and I had had two fairly significant arguments during the last year about marriage, with I for and he against or indifferent, I couldn’t tell.

He had been planning to propose throughout both those fairly significant arguments. Good poker face, that boy.

Everywhere we went on my 32nd birthday Gavin was trying to find the right place to ask me. Not at the bollard. Not after the manager in the tourist shop. When?

We went for dinner with a colleague and his partner who were coincidentally in Key West that night. I have never been happier.

The following day we took a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s home. Our tour guide was loud and intense. He took his job very seriously. He made direct eye contact for too long. He clearly loved Ernest Hemingway but deplored his infidelity. He kept coming back to it. How wrong it was. Like he was saying to everyone in the tour that he would never be unfaithful.

Out by the pool, toward the end of the tour, a man dressed as Ernest Hemingway interrupted our guide.

“I AM AN ASSHOLE”, he said.

We all thought that this performance was part of the tour but the guide was infuriated and asked him to move on, which begs the question, does this man just hang around Ernest Hemingway’s house impersonating him? Seemingly, yes.

The remainder of the holiday was spent watching iguanas in the trees, wild chickens in the streets, eating a lot, no really, like a LOT, napping and beaming at each other smugly. I drank mimosas every day and I ate key lime pie three of the five days we were in Key West.

We caught the shuttle back to Miami, an 85 year old German man and his American wife joined us half way up the keys. Every five minutes he would make a joke about leaving her for a younger woman and she would reply – go ahead. She began to talk to the woman sat beside her about their lives whilst we eavesdropped.

They had been on holiday in Gran Canaria many years ago and decided they would never visit England based on this experience. Entertainment for the evening had cancelled and a German singer had agreed to fill in. As he began to sing in German, the English guests booed. The American wife was so appalled by this, she explained to her new acquaintance, she could not understand why the English had not overcome their ill will to the Germans after World War II. She continued to explain that her husband had lost relatives to the English during the war and they were not offended by songs in English. Her new acquaintance, who had initially been quite talkative, grew quiet. Gavin and I silently calculated how old the German man would have been in 1945.

We arrived at the airport.

 

 

Florida part 1

We arrived in Miami on a humid Saturday afternoon. There were no functioning cash points at the airport and neither of us had remembered to get dollars before we flew, cue much meandering of the airport and wringing of hands whilst trying to decide how we would get to South Beach with no money.

The more I fly, the more my fear of it seems to grow. So I take drugs now. I don’t know if it was watching ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ chased with ‘Inside Out’ on the plane or the drugs or both but I was feeling pretty emotional.

Last year was a hard year, on reflection, I think actually a good year but hard. I don’t remember the summer, I was on my final nursing placement between May and July and then after a week spent horizontal, mainlining Charmed, I started as a healthcare assistant at my first nursing job whilst waiting for my NMC pin. Oh and we were in the process of selling my flat and buying a house.

People told me how selling a flat and buying a house was one of life’s most stressful events, up there with death and divorce but I didn’t believe them. I thought they were exaggerating and being babies.

I was wrong.

To cut a story long enough to be its own post short, I really needed this holiday.

My summer had finally arrived. We checked in at The Betsy on South Beach. They handed us both a glass of complimentary prosecco, delighted and giddy, we went to the room and awkwardly tipped the bell boy. The Betsy looks like it should have been the set of a film noir. We lay on the bed and watched the ceiling fan tick round.

That night we went for dinner at Prime 112. My first night in America I always have a blind spot to portion sizes. I think we ordered enough for 6. If you’re ever at that restaurant, the mains are big enough to share. After dinner, my feet swollen from the flight, my strappy shoes too tight, we walked several blocks to find a Walgreens to buy an industrial sized pack of peanut butter M&M’s. For later.

Things carried on in much this fashion for the next day or so. I tried to badger Gavin into buying swimming trunks at Macy’s but he wouldn’t. He doesn’t like to swim. My little Australian brain can’t comprehend it.

I had booked a greyhound, realising at 11pm the night before we were due to travel that the collection point was 2 hours drive from our hotel and that we needed to find another option. We managed to book a shuttle going from the airport.

Another couple on the shuttle tried quite hard to befriend us during the journey, I can’t remember their names. She gave me a small bottle of sweet wine to drink, he joked about English people using the word chemist over pharmacy and how we may as well be saying apothecary. Conversation faltered over the seven mile bridge.

Our B&B in Key west came complete with cat, situated directly behind Ernest Hemingway’s house. I turned 32. There was a dress I was determined to wear on my birthday and whilst we getting ready to leave for breakfast the clasp broke. Gavin tried to fix it and I shouted at him.

We trundled on and got a bit drunk at breakfast, there was a nice dog, I recall. We took a trolley around the island and stopped at the southern most point. The line to take a picture was 30 deep, which was funny because there wasn’t really much to look at apart from a painted bollard.

Walking back to the B&B, I dragged Gavin into a tourist shop, intent to buy him swimming trunks. While we were talking about it in the large but empty store filled with knickknacks and swimwear, the manager turned off the loud electronic music playing and told us that the store was not for talking. Furious, we left without any shorts.

Gavin took this weird interaction quite hard. I didn’t know why. We went for lunch at Blue Heaven. We both calmed down.While we were at lunch Gavin told me that if I didn’t like my present then we could return it for something else. I idly wondered if maybe he was going to ask me to marry him. Then we went back to the B&B for a nap. Lolling on the bed, Gavin asked if I wanted my birthday present.

“OF COURSE I DO”.

He presented me with a ring and for a moment he said nothing. I wasn’t sure if he was proposing or if it was just a gift.

“Will you marry me?”

I laughed.

“Yes. TOTALLY.”

With tears in his eyes, we squeezed each other.

“Sorry for saying totally.”

 

 

The birthday wishlist or how to spoil a girl

birthday

 

From top left:

ASOS Curve Faux Fur Jacket, Clarks Kendra Dime Mary Janes in Cognac, Black Heart Creatives Moon Witch Silhouette Necklace, Chanel CC Cream, River Island Pompom leather gloves, Lavish Alice Cape Dress from Simply Be, Newlook Silver Metallic Brogues, Valfre Lipstick Phone Case, Rad.com Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe Sweatshirt, Etsy More Issues Than Vogue Phone Case, Etsy Leather Crown, Oasis soft leather shopper, Etsy Cut Out Diamond Pendant, and Victor Rolf Bonbon Eau de Parfum.

Phew.

Michelin London 2016 [food]

I love food.

Maybe love isn’t strong enough a word but I just checked on Yahoo answers (https://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090225111344AAvrmVl) and apparently there isn’t a stronger word for love than love so let’s just stick with that. I love food.

I’m not a snob about food. Twinkies, fast food, street food, vegan, upmarket, experimental, I’m interested. Let me try some of that.

The thing I really get into though is going to a fancy restaurant. The whole experience is like a sort of magic for me and now that I’m finally earning money again I want to start taking my love for food a bit more seriously.

The Michelin 2016 guide has just been announced and as you’d expect they all sound amazing, however, I’m a bit intimidated by restaurants that have them, like they might turn me away. I’ve been to a few that have one star unknowingly in the past, St.John and Sketch. People have raved about both and I enjoyed them but they weren’t necessarily the best meals I’ve had in the last year in London.

Once food gets to a certain level I’m worried that I don’t understand it. I’m a still a bit like a child with food. I put ketchup on lots of food at home. Don’t @ me.

Anyway I’ve put together a quick list of restaurants with Michelin stars in London I’d like to try (boyfriend please take note), that are maybe not too hoity-toity with the hope that they’re still sort of accessible for a person with the palate of a child.

Arbutus, Frith Street. *
http://www.arbutusrestaurant.co.uk/

Barrafina, Adelaide Street. *
http://www.barrafina.co.uk/

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge. **
http://www.dinnerbyheston.com/

Portland, Great Portland Street. *
http://portlandrestaurant.co.uk/

Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, Royal Hospital Road. ***
https://www.gordonramsayrestaurants.com/restaurant-gordon-ramsay/

Restaurant Story, Tooley Street. *
http://www.restaurantstory.co.uk/

Social Eating House, Poland Street. *
http://www.socialeatinghouse.com/

If you’ve eaten at any of the above or you’d like to, let me know.

Everything you ever wanted to know about becoming a nurse but were too afraid to ask.

TL:DR, Becoming a nurse is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was worth it.

A few weeks back I became a nurse.

I know.

Terrifying.

Some nurses might read this unabashed account of my experience and think I am a whiny baby. Maybe their training was sunshine and rainbows which they look back on fondly. Much like a mother several years post birth. But we all know. Giving birth is horrendous.

If you’re reading this before you become a nurse maybe your training will really be sunshine and rainbows. Anything is possible.

A year prior to completing the degree I began an access to nursing diploma, it was part time and helped to prepare me for the academic demands of the degree. Some of it was absolute rubbish but overall it was useful, if only because it pretty much guaranteed I’d get a place on a course. Despite our nursing shortage, it is still competitive to gain a nursing degree place. I worked part time during this year and couldn’t really have managed without savings. If you are an aspiring mature student nurse I recommend an access course and becoming an HCA to supplement your income.

Then began the hardest three years of my life. I’m not even exaggerating. I’ve run a marathon, gotten divorced and moved internationally more than once. This was harder than all these individual hurdles combined.

If you fancy a blow by blow account of a day in the life of a ward nurse you can read this other thing I wrote a few years ago here:

http://sabotagetimes.com/life/diary-of-a-despairing-nurse

But let’s carry on.

First year doesn’t matter too much in terms of the grade you will come out with at the end of the degree but that didn’t stop me from putting huge amounts of pressure on myself to do well. And the placements. Placements in first year are the hardest. Every member of staff you meet will have a different expectation in regard to how competent you should be. Some nurses gave me patients to look after unsupervised, other supervised everything I did, quizzing me throughout. First year is the year you are most likely to be shouted at by your mentor in front of the entire ward. I’d like to say first year is the year you will cry most in storage cupboards but realistically that will happen throughout the three years and possibly for the rest of your life as a nurse.

Everyone will warn you that during the degree you may injure yourself performing some kind of manual handling. I did. I slipped a disc during my second placement and could barely walk for two weeks. It healed but was terrifying. I got norovirus more than once, stress related eczema and began having ectopic heartbeats during the degree. I also gained nearly 4 stone. I had to buy more uniforms two sizes bigger and worried toward the end that they may not fit in my final weeks.

Second year was actually kind of ok until my boyfriend’s Mum suddenly got oesophageal cancer and died 6 weeks later. I do not in any way begrudge any of the support I needed to give to everyone in my family during that time but I did it as a nurse, less so a girlfriend. Even when something is affecting you very closely, you are the nurse in the family now, as soon as you begin your training, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing. People will rely on you to interpret medical stuff and support them as a nurse. It is very hard.

Later during second year I went to The Philippines for a nursing placement. This was also incredibly hard but also fairly thrilling. I sweated a lot. You can watch my vlogs of that trip here:

https://vimeo.com/user25847260/videos/page:3/sort:date

This trip was sort of a more concentrated version of what it was like to be a mature student amongst 20 year olds. I really struggled with this. I’ve always been a bit of an outsider but I really felt it during the degree whilst trying to befriend people ten years my junior. I lost touch with old friends too because I was too busy to spend time with them throughout the degree. It is also worth mentioning that the NHS isn’t always the liberal utopia I thought it was going to be. Nurses are still people and some of them are racist, sexist, homophobic or just plain rude. Let alone the ones that are burnt out. I found less kindred spirits than I expected to.

Now. Third year. Oh boy.

In Third year you are a nurse, you’re just not getting paid. Also, you must write a 9000 word literature review which counts for almost a quarter of your degree. I dedicated about 8 months of my life to writing a very passionate literature review entitled ‘How does legislation affect health promotion for female sex workers?’, (A: punitive legislation dramatically impacts both access to and implementation of health promotion strategies. Sex work needs to be decriminalised asap.)

I didn’t go out, I worked on all my days off, I redrafted and redrafted and I got a C. When I got the grade back I tried to read the feedback but I couldn’t stop crying so I gave the stupid thing to my Mum who has kept it for a long off point in the future where I may be able to cope with reading it.

So why did I stick it out?

Easy – nursing is wonderful. It is an utter privilege what people will trust you with. You can travel anywhere and be a nurse. There are as many career pathways as there are parts of of the body. Nursing is freedom from worry about job security. No matter what happens to the NHS, we will always need nurses.

Finally, a tip for anyone about to venture into this career. Pull the pin out on your fob watch between placements, it saves the battery.

Just no one in this car. 

Family is tricky.

Thinking about my family tends to reminds me of a line from As Good As it Gets.

“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car.”

My sister walked down our driveway and out of my life for the first time when I was 6. Ten years my senior she was my idol and I was bereft at her departure. She had her reasons, none of them to do with me and as I say, family is tricky.

She had her first daughter four years later and returned to our lives having made a fragile short lived peace with my mother, disappearing again within a year or so.

I was at boarding school by then, making the new departure less noticeable and by the time she was pregnant with her second daughter she had returned, working in the family business, her presence sheer delight to me when I was home from school.

My sister was opinionated, argumentative and hilarious. Even now I expect if we were to speak she would have me doubled over in minutes. She smoked a lot and she drank a lot of Diet Coke and loved all the stuff my mother hated. Country music, Melrose place, Eddie Murphy. N.B. It was the nineties.

She would be candid with me in a way my mother never was, in hindsight I was too young to cope with her truths. When I was 10 I sat on the edge of the bathtub whilst she detailed every family scandal, embarrassment and wrong doing. From then on this is how I viewed us all.

When I was 15 she was gone again. A huge and now sixteen year rift with my mother had formed that could not be joined. I think my mother was so devastated she couldn’t even bring herself to tell me that she was gone again. I came home and there was no Diet Coke in the fridge and I knew.

Three more years passed until I tracked her down. This time we stayed in touch. She was my best friend. We were so angry together. We chain smoked watching Clueless and Grease and Reality Bites and Dirty Dancing over and over while her daughters were asleep.

When I was nearly 20 I left for England. We stayed in touch for a while but by the time I moved to America we hadn’t spoken in over a year. Then cancer came for my stepdad and the marriage I’d rushed into was collapsing and I needed her.

I returned to Australia and between time spent with my stepdad I managed to find her. She was a little different than I remembered. Still so angry. Not interested in the reconciliation with our family that I had hoped for. Memories of times she had been cruel and harmful when I was little began to resurface. My soon to be ex-husband was uncomfortable around her. Maybe I was too.

I went back to America. My stepdad died. My marriage ended. I left message after hysterical message for her but she never called back.  Eventually I gave up. But I miss her. I can’t forgive her but I miss her. Even now almost seven years later.

Family is tricky.

The parable of the hair wrap.

When I was eight years old, I desperately wanted a hair wrap from a kiosk at the mall. I pestered my mother over what was probably several weeks for this hair wrap. We lived in a coastal town in Australia. The beach aesthetic was the only aesthetic. This was very important. As was my school’s uniform code which did not permit hair wraps.

When my mother eventually yielded, I triumphantly paraded in front of my mirror, flicking my hair about to catch a glimpse of it, before starting to cry and asking my mother to cut it out four hours later because I was afraid of getting into trouble at school.

What a dork.

We need to talk about Herpes.

I’ve recently started working in sexual health services and am also a haver of sex, so there’s some personal feelings I have about this stuff as well as some sciencey facts that I need to lay on you, but first some observations I have made since working in sexual health.

1. Even in a sexual health clinic people are afraid to say the word ‘sex’. They often say ‘oh, you know” and look away and cough.

2. People on the whole have very little knowledge about how sexually transmitted infections are passed from one person to another. I saw a patient this week who had a series of insect bites on their forearm that thought they’d caught from a blow job.

3. Lots of people are not using condoms anywhere near as often as the health service would like them to.

These three things lead me to believe that people are going about having sex in a mostly terrified bewilderment and that makes me sad. Stigma is such a pain in the butt, much like gonorrhoea except much more prevalent. The difference is that unlike the new antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhoea that they found in Australia recently, stigma can be cured at least in part, just by talking.

Here is the personal anecdote section of the blog piece:

When I was younger and eager to impress my sexual partners, I used to get Brazillian waxes. The thing about Brazillian waxes is they rip little holes in your skin in areas that are warm and often moist and are by all accounts considered perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. Some people are lucky and they don’t get spots and ingrown hairs and cysts after having a Brazillian waxes but I was not one of those people. Apparently my whole family is just ‘cysty’. Thanks, genetics.

Anyway, many years after I stopped pulling out all my public hair with hot wax, I still have occasional problems with spots and ingrown hairs and cysts and sometimes I get worried that maybe they’re not just spots or ingrown hairs or cysts and that in fact they are ‘The Herpes’. FYI, calling HSV ‘The Herpes” is really stigmatising and I’ve heard actual Doctors say it to patients and it needs to stop. Wording is important.

I went to get one such spot swabbed a few weeks ago, to check what was up and while I was waiting for my results to be texted to me, I had my first conversation with my mother, who is also a nurse, about STI’s. I am 30 years old. This is when she told me that she has had HSV since before I was born and I was reminded how messed up stigma is because a registered nurse was not able to have a conversation about STI’s with her daughter before she became sexually active but instead at the age of 30, when let’s be honest it is waaay too late.

Here is the science bit of the blog post:

HSV I gives you cold sores, HSV II gives Genital Herpes which is basically the same thing.

You can contract HSV and never get symptoms, or you can get symptoms years after first contracting it.

Between 50% and 70% of the population are carrying HSV, 80% of those people don’t know they have it.

The virus is passed easily through skin to skin contact, even when no HSV symptoms are present.

Condoms do not protect against HSV.

Sexual health clinics do not routinely test for HSV because it is so common, they merely treat symptoms.

In most people, after an initial outbreak the virus will lay dormant, they might never have another outbreak in their lives.

For unlucky people who continue to have outbreaks, the virus can be managed with medication.

The only way to avoid it entirely is to not have sex at all.

In the end the results of the swab were negative but given the sciencey facts above, it doesn’t mean I don’t have it.

Loads of us do. So let’s stop calling it ‘The Herpes’. Let’s stop making it the butt of jokes. Let’s talk about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Me, Usher and Chris Bray.

I went to boarding school from the age of 12 until 16. If you’re from the UK reading this then that probably sounds very posh. However, I’m from Australia where no one is really posh and the size of the country and location of schools sometimes means kids go to boarding school.

It was an all girls boarding school with a brother school across town. The two schools encountered one another at McDonalds on Tuesday afternoon in full school uniform or at quarterly school discos surrounded by manufactured smoke in the assembly hall.

In the evening before dinner in the boarding house we would wait for phone calls from the boys school. There was a line of 5 phones in the reception area, overlooked by boarding house staff. If you were upstairs watching TV, you would be called over the intercom, then bolt downstairs to take your call. 

In lots of cases, boys and girls would just want to talk to each other, sometimes without having met or heard of each other before, which is how I fell madly in love with Chris Bray.

The only problem was that Chris Bray had a girlfriend.

I mean in theory it was a problem, my thirteen year old self didn’t really feel it was an ethical issue and I began to pursue him with gusto. I arranged for someone to give him Usher’s ‘You Make Me Wanna’, the CD single, which I had bought for $2 and the mall. He called me up and told me that it had really. made. him. think.

My friends and I analysed and discussed and analysed this for a month leading up to a quarterly disco. He did not dump his girlfriend.

I danced with his cousin Bradley instead. He was the first boy I kissed. I figured it was close enough.

 

Sing Bitch.

In the Philippines. On the island of Guimaras, in the village Kati Kati, I stayed for a week in April. I ate a large amount of mango in between morning visits to hospitals and outpatient clinics in the area. I stayed with a family in a two room house made of branches and breeze blocks with no running water and occasional electricity. The brown outs came mostly at night.The yard was filled with chickens and ducks and dogs, who often made their way into the house. In the afternoons we took part in cultural activities and toured the island.

The Filipino people I met, especially in the week in Kati Kati were real straight talkers. Subtlety doesn’t translate well. The family I stayed with, they must have thought I was a giant. 5’7′ and plus size. I was basically Brienne of Tarth in comparison to my hosts and this did not go without comment.

We had a guide with us who was particularly excited about my size. She was very concerned about where I would sit on the trike so that it wouldn’t topple over. She made comment at dinner that of all their guests, I was most certain to float in the ocean. When we went island hopping she advised me against swimming through a caved area because I would get stuck. Each comment slightly more humiliating than the last.

We’d taken all the village kids with us on this trip to the islands and whilst we were waiting for the jeepney to take us back to the village they found a karaoke machine. I can sing a bit. I do an average Adele impression. So I sang Rolling in the Deep.

The kids all lost their minds.

It turns out that being good at karaoke is a BIG deal in the Philippines. The tour guide wasn’t there when I sang but word got back to her. She had missed Brienne of Tarth singing and she was well upset.

The following day, after some weaving in the local village hall, myself and the other students I’d travelled with were waiting to be driven back to the house when the kids started arranging chairs in front of us.

Then I was told to sing.

The hall full of children fell silent. My face reddened as I explained that I didn’t have any backing music and I didn’t want to sing alone. The tour guide found Rolling in the Deep on her phone and the song began to play.

“Sing,” she said.