Beyond January, into February.

image description: behind the steamed-up fairy light-adorned front window of a cafe full of plants.

This time last year, I set myself a challenge to find and write a story every day; it didn’t matter how long it was, or how meaningful it seemed, what mattered was that I got into the habit of writing more often, not overthinking or obsessively editing - and sticking to a task. Needless to say, I failed. It was a fast fail too, we were barely halfway through January when my creative resources dried up and once I’d slipped and fallen, my brain was too busy beating itself up to try and salvage the streak. 

Well, now it’s 2024. I’m sitting in a cafe filled with cute little cactuses, a Clare Bear opposite me, both of us tapping away on our laptop keyboards. The place has technically closed, but nobody seems to be budging. We agree to head out soon, we don’t want to be those guys. It’s bad enough being laptop wankers in a coffee shop on a Saturday. So inconsiderate. (It’s not, I asked the kind person behind the bar if we could do some work while we sat in, as I attempted to pay for my Biscoff sticky bun - before we realised their card machine was broken.) 

Where will we head to next? Maybe another cafe space that promises to stay open later. I doubt there are any in this hushed little town, mind you. Everyone turns in early, even on a Saturday evening. 

In the late summer of 2023 I moved to the other side of my less sleepy homestead; from the seafront in St Leonards to ‘up beyond the Old Town’. A whole marina, several slices of beach, a jutting pier, a stale shopping centre, coffee shops spilling over with memories, and a big old cliff are just a few things now wedged between me and my home of three years, which now feels like a past life. I still visit that area as it’s where the folks live, and I drove past my old flat recently, where I was thrilled to see a disco ball hanging from the high ceiling of the living room, and yes, I do miss being able to just amble from my doorstep down to the beating heart of the creative community - but needs must, change is healthy, gotta protect my peace, it’s exciting to move forward in my relationship, and all that. I don’t miss the late night noise. I don’t miss the dark speckles of damp in unreachable corners, or the scuttling woodlice under my bed. I definitely don’t miss the proximity to people I’d prefer to forget. 

It’s interesting how quickly you can get past it. I thought I’d struggle more, away from that funny little patch of creative culture and kooky characters, where I had everything I needed, more or less, two minutes walk over the railway bridge. When I first looked around the little terraced house we now occupy, I was struck by how quiet the area was, considering it’s just off the main road and a little way uphill from the best and busiest part of Hastings. I remember I cried quietly in my car when I first drove over to see the area, before we even had a viewing firmly booked, because it seemed so drastically different to what I’d got used to in the past few years - but also because I was happy to entertain this idea of peace and a welcome reprieve from complete social chaos. No, I’m not struggling. The mourning period didn’t last long. I’m relieved to be removed from that phase of my life, and onto a new chapter, cliche cliche, etc. etc. This is better for me. 

image description: a kitsch little cafe space with busy wallpaper and retro adverts framed on the walls, and a painting of the Wykham Arms, Winchester.

That’s not to say I don’t yearn for the unpredictable and ridiculous, sometimes. It’s to be expected. I have caught myself looking longingly out the passenger side window at the pubs and bars along the seafront on a Friday night, surprised by how deeply I'm wishing I was half-cut, inhaling strangers’ smoke and chatting shit on the icy picnic tables.

I often wonder if I’m on the path that was meant for me. It’s a hot topic in my therapy sessions; what is my purpose? How do I figure out what’s the right choice? Am I following serendipitous breadcrumbs, or paving my own way? This daunting sense of purpose came upon me at some point during my wild years of health dramas; I suddenly felt like I had to make it all worth it, I had to earn praise and pride from the medical professionals who’d worked so hard to keep me here, living and breathing and walking upright. I’ve seen friends I’ve made in this turbulent health journey die, or have their standard of living stripped away drastically. Yet I’m okay. Why? What’s so special about me? Is there some point to my existence that I have to uncover? I feel selfish when I wonder this. It’s not all about you, G. Life is just a series of hands dealt, you’ve got to take what you’re given and roll with it, make the best of it. 

I’m trying to embrace the ‘what will be will be’ energy and work out what I want. It’s tough. Bear with.

Anyway, I’ll be back soon with more rambles I’m sure, but in the meantime, here’s a little story I wrote on New Year’s Day 2023… 

   My head is swimming. Not literally. The hangover cliche. I woke up and immediately ran to the hotel bathroom as quietly as I could - I cracked the window while I sat on the loo, and peered out at the Sainsbury’s car park. Surprisingly full, for this supposedly sacred day. After I eventually emerged, all emptied out and freshly showered, I woke him (annoyingly, no hangover to speak of) and we went downstairs for breakfast at the cowboy hotel. This brings us to now; staring down at my plate of a rather squishy and bland vegan fry-up, half a coffee in, looking over his shoulder opposite me to gauge the distance from this table to the bar toilets, just in case. I realise I didn’t ask for the ‘ranch beans' as an extra. I feel indescribably sad that I forgot. I debate the risks of standing up abruptly and running after the staff member who served us our food - a young and female-presenting blonde in a cowboy hat with a kind face and a collection of quirky tattoos with plenty of stories behind them, I’m sure - he tells me to go for it if it’s what I really want, so I thank him for the support and I shuffle over to her.

   ‘I forgot to ask, can I please have some beans?’ I ask, a little breathlessly.

   She smiles. ‘Beans? Sure! No problem at all.’

   She brings me the beans surprisingly swiftly, piping hot in a tiny ramekin. I pour them over my very dry toast, and have a mouthful. They’re not ‘ranch beans’, I realise, they’re just your bog standard Heinz. They’re glorious. Just what I needed. I smile at the handsome man sitting across from me, eyebrows raised in concern. I thank him silently for putting up with me in my current state. In any state, really. I do sometimes worry he’ll figure out just how silly and ditzy and messed up I am, eventually. 

   The cheery young lady returns to the table after a minute (and half of my beans). She asks if we need anything else. 

   ‘More coffee, please! Definitely coffee,’ I say/pathetically gasp. 

   She nods and brings it. I think my favourite tattoos of hers are the fairy-winged frog, and of course, the cowboy hat patterned with solid black hearts. I point out the latter to the aforementioned handsome man, the one who puts up with all my nonsense, which leads to a discussion of whether her family owns this bizarre hotel/local institution, or she just really loves her job that much. I feel more alive after my second coffee, and we’re delighted to learn that it’s all included in our booking. As we leave, backpacks slung over our shoulders, I comment on how cute it is that the particularly pop-ish country music follows us out the door and into the guest car park. 

   I settle into the passenger seat and say ‘honey, I think we should have our wedding reception here.’

   ‘That’s an idea,’ he replies, simply.


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