Nostalgia

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This is it, my FIRST post of my thirties. How on earth did that happen? On Sunday, I woke up in the most remote part of Exmoor National Park, donned a dress covered in beetle & butterfly print and ate the biggest full English of my life, with extra fried bread. I was now 30 years old. When Nick had asked how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend, I think my requirements were pretty simple; somewhere wild where we can hike around, somewhere just us and somewhere I could eat a cream tea! He chose the most incredible little country house nestled amongst the hills of Dunkery Beacon and beneath one of the only dark sky patches in the UK (stars!) We will be writing about this trip as our first UK-Travel adventure over on Twentysomething Burnouts so I won’t spoil it here, and I don’t want to write about it here anyway because instead I want to write about ~feelings~.

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I had been warned by older relatives and friends about the pre 30 freak-out. I hated the way it was talked about with such inevitability and that from the moment I turned 29 last year the words on everyone’s lips were “ooh 30 next!”. At around this time I started to take stock of my life and the one area of my life I felt there were some pretty heady regrets was seeing the world (and the fact I hadn’t done it, basically). There were many reasons Nick & I decided to quit life and go to Latin America, but a secret one I kept tied up in my heart was that I felt I could perhaps dodge the freak-out bullet by facing head-on the one unsatisfactory area of my twenties, before 30 chased me down once and for all. For anyone else teetering on the late-twenties nearly-thirties gap, I would highly recommend this tactic. If you can use the big day as inspiration to take a look at the bits of your life you would ideally change beforehand, and then make steps to do this, there isn’t a whole lot left to be freaking out about!

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Lately I’d been so distracted with interviews, house hunting, catching up with long lost friends, shuttling around under ground and re-acclimatising with London-me, that I didn’t do very much of thinking “this is the last cup of tea of my twenties”, “this is the last time I wear this dress in my twenties”; the type of thoughts that might start to make your heart patter a little faster. I felt a bit super-hero-esque about this whole turning thirty thing. I kept trying to prod and pinch myself with little tests of if I felt weird about it yet… but I mostly felt excited at the prospect of getting to make an extra big fuss of celebrations more than anything else.

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And then it happened.

It was actually due to my plans for writing this blog post that things started to unravel. I wanted to post some old photos of me through the ages, and therefore knew I needed to have a dig around my storage boxes and bin liners. I found a tote bag that on the surface seemed to be filled with photos, and set about spilling the contents around me. Disappointment quickly stained my initial excitement as I realised all the photos were reasonably recent (mostly blurry drunk photos and Lol & I at various indie nights around Leeds). Having filtered through all the grins and gins and finding nothing from earlier than my twenties, I noticed the bag was still half full. I blindly dug around tombola style, pulling out scrap of paper after bank statement after ticket. I’m not sure why, but the rest of the bag was a mini time-capsule of 2006. I must have stuffed everything in there, before moving down to London, and thought I would sort it out at the other end. Five house moves and nearly eight years later, and that obviously never happened! It was so surreal to suddenly be face to face with my life back then and to every bit of paper trail that surrounded it.

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I dragged the bag to a shredder and sat reading every item before destroying it forever. Some parts were fascinating; like my revealing wage slips that showed how many hours I worked at a busy gig venue & bar but how pitifully I got paid. All my bank statements were just one more H&M splurge away from the bottom of my already-extended overdraft. There were cheque books (how quaint!), receipts for dates I don’t remember, an annoyed letter from my dad about my eating habits (which I had no recollection of) and endless ideas and plots and plans for short stories I never wrote, and maybe should. There was a doozy of a heart-wrench find in a letter from my ill-chosen university boyfriend, who had apparently staggered drunk into my work and had to be thrown out by my manager. Talk about dramatic, I don’t remember my life being so Hollyoaks like. It was three a4 pages of empty apologies and promises I had heard a million times. Safe to say, things didn’t last very long after that! Shredding that particular find felt extra satisfying.

I’m actually really happy that by some twist of fate, I ended up having to face up to some lurking ghosts of my past and the inevitable reflecting that comes along with switching decades. The feelings I felt most strongly were disconnect from that early twenties in-debt love-troubled bar-working dreamer. It felt almost like rummaging through someone else’s life. It was familiar, but mostly it was shocking how far removed I have come to be from that chunk of my life.

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The key learning I took from it is what I think it the NUMBER ONE difference between the twenties and thirties. Are you ready? In my twenties I thought I knew everything. I thought I had everything and everyone sussed out, I thought I was wise before my years (cringe) and I thought I had it pegged exactly how my life was going to pan out. In my thirties, the first thing I am happy to do is put my hand up and admit I have a LOT to learn. I certainly do not know everything, and that’s exciting to me. I don’t rush in making snap judgements anymore, or assuming I know what someone it about. I sit back, I take my time and I am happy to admit when I was wrong and have to go back to the drawing board (the big “lets move to Brighton” plan for example!)

Ever since turning 30 on Sunday I have felt an unusual sense of inner calm. I think I look a tiny bit wiser/have a new wrinkle. I feel so relieved to draw a permanent line in the sand between the me of my twenties and the me now, who has so much to look forward to. So far, being 30 is pretty excellent! And, because I am no longer twenty and paranoid about what people think of me, I will happily confess that I have practised saying “Hi I’m Bee and I am 30” in the mirror a few more times than is healthy and it feels… ok!

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Sit back, make a brew and I will whisk you back to summer 1991 when I was 7 years old. I was on a family holiday to one of our favourite spots; Seahouses in Northumberland. I’ve only found out as an adult that on the fabled morning that I set this tale, my parents had an almighty row. I think maybe two weeks cooped up in a tiny self-catering holiday home with a scrapping sister & brother was taking it’s toll. So following the row my dad did the sensible thing; escaped the house with my brother and I. Seahouses is famous for it’s boat trips and despite the fact we’d done them so many times we headed out under a blackening sky for another, leaving my mum to have some much-needed alone time. As it was already a dank, drizzly day and hardly puffin-spotting weather, there was only us and another family on the boat and in that family was another 7 year old girl called Clare Foster. The boat trip turned into something more resembling white water rapids at a theme park. A storm rolled in and waves heaved over the boat as it was bashed around the sea. Obviously being kids we thought this was fantastic, but I’m sure my dad and her parents were more green and less happy about the situation. After a stomach-reeling hour the sailor took us back to shore and it was there that on the back of a receipt she wrote her address down for me. (And my parents? My mum had watched us out in the stormy sea and was so happy to have us all back in one piece that all was forgiven. We were the last boat trip to go out that day, all the rest were cancelled because of dangerous conditions!)

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Clare & I were penpals from the age of 7 to 15. We wrote on a weekly basis, if not more. She lived in a little village in rural Cumbria, and I lived in a smoggy urban city. To each other, our lives seemed idyllic and exciting and as we got older we would also go to visit each other in the school holidays. Our relationship was far closer than perhaps some of our school-friends as we could be really honest about all the things that were happening to us as we negotiated those tough teenage years. The letters were more like diaries really, where we offloaded anything and everything that we felt, thought and bought (we shopped aLOT!) in intricate detail. On average each letter was 4 pages of doodled A4. We shared photos, stories and most details of our everyday school lives. I think we did a really good job of maintaining contact for such a long time, but the letters petered off around 15/16 when you discover boys, under age drinking and get a bit overwhelmed with life choices.

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I was such a geek (I know Geek-branded tee’s and Star Trek re-boots have made saying that chic, but I really was and not in a cool way) that I filed tons of the letters Clare sent me, in a very dashing lime green Homer Simpsons folder. Somehow this collection of letters has survived every house move I’ve made; through living in 4 different cities and a whopping 11 different addresses. Mobile phones and the internet barely existed when we lost touch, so it was a pretty permanent thing. I had fleetingly thought about Clare many times; especially when I ended up at uni with two of her school friends who we later worked out I had met on my visits to see her, but I had never been able to find her amongst the many other people with similar names online. By this age I had really felt like if we were going to get back in touch it would have happened, but I must have had a small psychic inkling that our story wasn’t over as her letters remained in a box in my loft.

Then, two weeks ago I got a message on LinkedIn. When I saw Clare’s name pop up I nearly fell over! It was such a rush of emotions and questions and curiosities. Literally ANYTHING could have happened to her in the 14 years we’d been out of contact and sometimes I had wished I could somehow know she was okay. And here she was!

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I hope she won’t mind me including a few snippets of our letters! I just think they are so 90’s and so amazing to read as adults, it’s such another world being that age. Anyway after a quick browse of the internet we discovered that we are both living in London and both bloggers (Clare wrote a really inspiring piece about us getting back in touch here) I guess a childhood of pen-palling conditioned us both into writers even now. Within days of her note on LinkedIn we were planning to meet up, and this morning we headed to Salvation Jane for a delicious brunch and 14 years worth of nattering. I was a bit nervous before she came in, but the second we got sat down the cappuccinos and chatter flowed and two hours zoomed by. To be honest it almost felt as easy as if we’d maintained our weekly penpal letters of news and gossip, it was so natural to just pick up where we left off. I’ve got no doubt that this is the start of a new chapter in our friendship, that started on a stormy day in 1991 and just took a bit of a breather.

I suppose the point of my writing this is to really encourage you to seek out friends you may have lost by the wayside. I know it’s impossible to stay connected to everyone and also you shouldn’t push where relationships have reached a natural end. But in those cases of treasures from your past, I definitely think if you find yourself pondering “I wonder whatever happened to so & so” it might be worth just tapping their name into Google and seeing what happens next.

 

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Is everyone getting a little sick of Christmas chat? I thought I’d have a  day off, since strictly I can’t really feel in full festive swing until my plane lands safely tonight in Northern Ireland and my two weeks of lie-ins, boardgames, FOOD and family fun starts! And I’m still at work today, poor me.

So; this is just a shameless excuse to talk about my all time favourite thing growing up, and put out a plea to see if there were any fellow obsessives like me.

From the age of 9 to about 12, I was single-mindedly obsessed with one thing and one thing only. Both myself and my sister were in fact, regularly pooling pocket money and Christmas present opportunities and tag-team scouring car boot sales and charity shop shelves. No it wasn’t Sylvanian Families, or cute Care Bears or wholesome Enid Blyton stories. Our lives were consumed with the world of POINT HORROR BOOKS!

  

   

The Point Horror phase of my life (yes it deserves official ‘phase’ status) started when the portable book library came to school. I’m not sure if this was just a Yorkshire, Northern or UK thing but once a year, this glorified shelving unit on wheels would pitch up to your school and you could purchase cheap books from it. I guess it was an initiative to encourage reading, and it was definitely one the most exciting days of the school year for freaky bookworm kids like me.

I was still stuck in the lame old land of Babysitters Club books, but my older and way cooler sister picked up a copy of The Boyfriend. It was a book that basically took a pretty weak storyline and stretched it over an entire 80 pages! I would describe the storyline, but only the amazingly cheesey blurbs (that used to make my heart leap!) can do it justice:

Wealthy, beautiful, spoilt Joanna Collier has it all, including her boyfriend Dex. But then she breaks up with him – the gorgeous Shep seems more her type. When Dex dies in a terrible accident, Joanna’s sorry, of course, but it’s not her fault is it? She never loved him anyway – he was just another toy to be used and thrown away. But now Dex is back – from the dead. And he wants one last date with her…

What is there not to love! The mega-cool American names Dex and Shep (so exotic), the romance, the passion, the TERRORRRRR!!! I remember we passed this book between us until it was literally falling to pieces. And then we discovered that this book was not a glorious once-off, but part of a collection of books in the Point Horror genre.

   

   

Various different authors published under the genre, the most profilic being R.L.Stine, Caroline B Cooney, Diane Hoh, Carol Ellis and Sinclair Smith. I don’t think we were fussy about the author, although the randomness of seemingly anyone being able to write Point Horror books did mean you occasionally got a real STINKER by some newbie, such as The Phantom by Barbara Steiner… run on Babs! You’re no RL Stine!

It is seemingly worrying that at such a young age we were obsessed with books based around sereal killers, death, horror and terror! But the books seemed to mainly focus on a girl with an issue to solve (not pretty enough, not popular enough, no prom date, no boyfriend, too many boyfriends, too popular, too pretty… you get the picture) and I guess alot of the appeal hinged on this more than the spook-factor.

My favourite trilogy of books was The Cheerleader, Vampires Promise and Vampires Return; although they actually were just one storyline rehashed for three seperate books. In them a plain, unpopular, unattractive girl is desperate to be a cheerleader and popular. She moves into a new house and there is a vampire living in the shutters of her bedroom (I know, I know) who offers her the chance to become beautiful; but she has to chose an already beautiful/popular girl to lose their looks and ultimately; life. I mean COME ON! When you are 12 and a pretty uncool, not particular popular girl  (me) of course a book where the character gets to become instantly popular and hot is going to appeal… as you sort of spend 90% of your life fantasising about the exact same thing.

And yes this photo is only half of our collection circa 1997; at that point we owned every single one that had been published up to that point. I kid you not. In each new purchase; we would proudly cross off each one we had from the full list of released titles that they printed on the opening page! We would also write ‘helpful’ marks out of ten and little reviews of each one next to the title; in case we leant them to friends. It got very messy if we both wrote reviews, especially if they weren’t in agreement.

I think my alltime favourite Point Horror was The Babysitter. Hardly the most original plot (OR blatent rip off of the babysitting urban myth about crank calls) but still, a classic!

I’m not sure what happened to Point Horrors. How me and my sister didn’t SOLELY keep them in business I do not know! For a time there were Point Crimes (bit weak), Point Romance (too slushy and WAY racier than Judy Blume – Forever, which is really saying something) and Point Sci Fi (snore). They then began a series called ‘Unleashed’ which was marketed as a slightly darker, edgier genre of Point Horrors. I remember excitedly getting the first one of these books called At Gehenna’s Door and it was so scary I started crying whilst reading it and it had a bit about eating someones brain from a skull and I was like woah woah woah where are all the cheerleaders? And dates? And the pizza parlours? It definitely went over my fear-limit at that age and they never published anymore non-Unleashed Point Horrors so the dream was over.

I have to confess, I still have quite a hefty chunk of the books at my parents house, so often whenever I’m home in my old tiny bedroom, with my single bed, I sneak a few in and re-read my favourites such as: The Invitation (RSVP or DIE!), The Snowman (A cold-blooded killer.), The Funhouse (Hear the fear!), Camp Fear (The past can’t hurt you, it can kill you.) and Dream Date (Sweet dreams and rest in peace…) absolute guilty pleasure.

 

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RIP The Mixtape.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I need to face up to the facts that the mixtape is dead and even as someone still attempting to live the Sony walkman dream… I am fighting a losing battle. Nobody wants a mixtape these days. When handing over that glorious rectangle shaped present to people; I get a blank expression. Followed by a “what the hell am I meant to do with this” face. How can I upload it to my ipod? What am I meant to play it on, my laptop doesnt take cassette tape? Argos don’t sell walkmans anymore? And then I’m sure it just languishes unloved and unplayed on a coffee table like some sort of archaelogical artefact.

As I had a little weep to myself about this momentous realisation I dug out my collection of all the mixtapes I’ve received over the years and I guess they do look a little alien these days; with their fiddly little wheels and spindly brown tape and clunky cases. I know these days you can give somebody a Spotify list, a Lastfm link or a USB packed with tracks (even one of those oh so hilariously ironic USBs that look like a tape cassette) but how can that even BEGIN to compare to the LOVE someone must have for you to spend an entire day layed on their belly, surrounded by a mountain of albums and tape inlays – pressing play&record, and pause, and writing out the tracklisting in the teeny tiny gaps, and agonising over which order to put the tracks and then hyperventilating when the tape FINISHES in the middle of the best track on side A. Do you start it again on side B? Start it from where it’s left off? Not bother putting the rest, but risk the tape receiver thinking it’s a crappy song? I’m having trauma flashbacks just thinking about it! With all the newfangled technology, you lose the charm of the mixtape too. Remember the clunk of the pause button sometimes recorded onto the tape (hated that) or the telltale chatter of a radio DJ interupting the music would reveal that you were a cheapo who had recorded this track from longwave radio atlantic 252…

This is my last attempt to say hooray for mixtapes and revive some interest. Mostly mixgtapes were the currency of my teenage relationships. You had to REALLY like someone to bother making them a mixtape and it felt like an incorrect track choice could most definitely end a blossoming romance. (True tragic mixtape story: On my 17th birthday a boy I had been dating for a week made me a mixtape. Whilst handing over the lovingly decorated masterpiece, he also told me he didn’t want to see me anymore. I guess somewhere between liking me enough to make it, and actually handing it over, he’d gone off me… but had invested so much time in it that thought he’d hand it over anyway. I pulled all the tape out in front of him & it decorated the floor like really bad, sad party streamers for the rest of the night.  The youth of today can never have these incredibly teen angst soaked moments with an mp3 can they?)

This is what we used to listen to in my day – AKA Old Fogey Music!] A present from my sister Meg (ten years older than me and therefore forever 10 years maximum cooler than me) when I was 15. Felt slightly vomity and woozey when I realised she made this for me when she was the age I am now, which makes me now a certified old fogey I guess. She shared pearls of musical wisdom with me such as The Cure, Blue Oyster Cult, The Pixies, Nirvana and Radiohead which would prove vital in impressing future friends and lets face it,older boys.

Your a star shining bright] (ah! I am old! because these days I would rather someone didn’t compliment me at all, than did it with incorrect grammar) From Tom, my first boyfriend at the age of 15. He had dreadlocks, he was in the year above me at a DIFFERENT school (so excotic!) and I think he made this for me about a week into our 6 weeks together. It was during a rare UK heatwave summer and I’d lie to my parents about where I was and go to his house to sit on the roof listenings to smashing pumpkins and learning how to play guitar. We split up because he found a note I’d written to a friend in my school planner about “luvving” someone called Jonny. To this day I have no idea who the heck Jonny was, and Tom still has my school planner. Un-nerving. Still, blinding mixtape – definitely the first place I ever heard Concrete Schoolyard

Bees Tape 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5] When I was 18 I went to university in Sheffield and for many reasons, was pretty miserable. One of my best friends Kerry went to university in Preston and for many reasons, was miserable also. So we set up in informal mixtape club and every week a lovingly crafted package would dutifully wizz off to each others halls of residence mail boxes. It didn’t matter that we quite often put on the same tracks as each other (Tori Amos, Jimmy Eat World and The Flaming Lips featured pretty regularly and heavily I recall) those tapes, at that time, rescued me and reminded me that there were people out there who loved me and were rooting for me to keep going. The familiar music provided a soundtrack to such an unfamiliar city and these mixtapes will always be so special.

So is the end nigh? Or could mixtapes be something that come back with a vengence when enough people pack their bags and head off on a Sunday nostalgia trip like me.

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