Seven Little Books

“29/04/18. My arms are aching, my legs are covered in bruises and I’m completely shattered. I must be in London.”

It has been a week since I vacated my flat in central London and returned once more to Swindon. It almost feels like the past year has all been but a dream, vape steam in the breeze. Invisible, abstract and only memorable by the faint smell it leaves behind.

On 2nd May I left London Paddington station for the last time packed like a loaded Buckaroo: an overfilled holdall case, a heavy rucksack, an additional handbag, a canvas tote filled with redundant bedlinen and a heavy laptop across the body for good measure. I learnt from my mistakes moving out and managed the travel back relatively bruise free, however my body has ached for days from strain. The day before I fully moved I’d completed a separate trip to Swindon with a similar amount of goods and wondered why I couldn’t stop violently shaking. I spilt coffee everywhere at the formal work function, of course. At the time I put it down to the amount of rushing around but now I see it as the culmination of mental and muscular stress.

Other than the short term pains it would be easy to pass off what I’d been through and achieved in just over twelve months living and working in the English capital as nothing more than normal. ‘Business as usual’ as my colleagues would say. But it isn’t. And it’s not just the big things that make me say that, like moving into the flat and travelling solo in Europe for the first time, but it is the little things as well. The events I put myself out of my comfort zone to attend, the weird obsession with finding the cheapest eggs, the men (goodness the men). And as I stood in Brompton cemetery one Sunday afternoon while a random man called Nicolas tried to chat me up I thought only one thing.

Thank God I’m writing this all down.

Seven separate notebooks, all documenting the experience of spending a year in London. Seven books with unique but different personalities as I went through a deeply personal and professional journey. Just glancing over extracts from book one and comparing it to book seven the transformation is really quite something (excluding coffee spilling and egg hunting, those two are deeply trademarked parts of me). Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books in depth since writing, I want to let some water trickle under bridges first. But I remember so clearly picking the first notebook off a shelf in a stationery store and telling myself I would make every effort to record the upcoming eight months in London (as it was then supposed to be) so that I should not forget the experience when I returned once more to Wiltshire. To ensure that I never let this fantastic opportunity turn into little more than a faded dream. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will do something more with my scribbles, that people will know about the time I ended up at a celebrity wedding, when the artist Grayson Perry became a fan of my writing, the time I got screen tested for a dating show. And again, the men.

If two things show how much I’ve changed over the past year then look no further than these separate quotes.

“11/05/18…Let’s make this work.”

“06/04/19…Because I can.”

 

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Betrayed by a Toblerone

he Repair Shop is on, but we can’t watch that because of your father.’

‘Is that because the clock repair guy?’

‘Yes.’

At which point Mumma Bennett quickly switched channel to the more favourable Homes Under the Hammer in case the family member suddenly made an appearance. (Although usually that occurrence is preceded with the sound of creaking floorboards and my sister calling out ‘the kraken has awoken!’ from her lady cave upstairs.)

To my dad, a clock maker, the clock repair fella on the aforementioned television program represents a sour relationship from a time now since passed. Their falling out was probably the only time I had to give counselling to my old man.

‘Perhaps I should call him again.’

‘Dad he’s not interested, if he was he’d have contacted you last week when you emailed him.’

‘But maybe he didn’t see it.’

‘Dad…I know it is hard to accept but perhaps it’s time to let go. Here, let me get you an ice cream.’

‘I’ve texted him.’

‘Right.’

And that’s the thing, to my dad the feeling of ES_c0af6c02-0371-4c24-9c11-3e51d230b6cdSELRES_bc66a467-30bb-4348-8029-e005ac1betrayal SELRES_bc66a467-30bb-4348-8029-e005ac142724SELRES_c0af6c02-0371-4c24-9c11-3e51d230wasn’t marked by a singular event but more ongoing jabs. How the other party continues to ghost my pa but happy to lap up minor celeb status as an apparent expert on horological affairs.

In a very different example people tend to interpret the Biblical Judas as a man who betrayed Jesus (I know, what a novel concept). In Christian theology Judas is seen as not a nice guy but then his actions in turning against Jesus led to the salvation of humanity. If he hadn’t turned Jesus in for 30 silver coins would we be in a better place than we are now? Would it be worse? Would Toblerones still be the same size? I guess there’s some things we’ll never know.

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Don’t, I can’t bear to look at it.

For me when it comes to defining a back-stabber I think of it as more someone that damages the reputation of oneself or one’s trade. Don’t get me wrong, when BankUK stuffed up my mortgage application I was pretty miffed about my treatment but on reflection (and having conducted a number of Financial e-learning courses) I see that what they did was incredibly immoral to the institution as a whole, as well as myself as a customer. It undermined the wider financial industry and the rules that govern lending.

I also see the creative efforts of certain authors, artists, directors etc. as a criminal act. I’m sure you can think of a multitude so I won’t name any in particular *cough* Twilight Saga *cough, cough* Burn After Reading. Such tragedies are anything but Shakespearian.

Also, why is it called “Good Friday” when something bad happened on it? I mean you don’t go ‘I’m sorry to hear of your loss Sally. Was it a “good” Monday?’ In terms of emotion I feel rather ‘meh’ today on Good Friday. More meh than good, which makes me question everything about my almost non-existent Christian card I use.

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“On Good Friday? JESUS DIED INDIA!”

“Wow…”

The concept of betrayal is more complex than we give it credit for. Does the pain of betrayal make us intelligent beings or are we human because we’ll use that intelligence to better ourselves no matter the cost? Are we no more than immature children (after all, wars have been started for little more than a perceived betrayal of treaties). I suppose it’s something scholars have discussed and argued over for many centuries and a topic that will be debated over for years to come.

***

Today’s WordPress prompt was Betrayed and given today is Good Friday I wonder over the choice of daily prompt (WordPress being, after all, a forum of all creeds and faiths). This post is admittedly rather forced and not my best (starting with such a fun topic to write about is like trying to make a puppy cute when its head is already half hanging off). It’s a hard task is all I’m saying.

On a lighter note, here’s a pop video about Moscow:

 

If you were unfulfilled before I hope you are now satisfied, if you held my work in high regard before I expect your expectations have been suitably lowered. I will not pass judgement on either.

Girl Gotta Read

Here’s a newsflash…I like books.

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I once read somewhere that book lovers never go to bed alone and well I’m that. I read books in pretty much every stereotypical place, including in bed and I’ve woken up with a book is on the pillow on more than one occasion (‘oh God, 50 Shades of Grey, we didn’t…?’) But at the same time another reason why I never go to bed alone is because my room is packed full of books. It’s only now when I’m (tying) to have a clear out that I’m beginning to realise quite how many feature in my life. Call it a bit of soul searching, because I don’t care if you’re Mr Rockefeller or if you saved fifty refugees from a burning missionary school, if you don’t have time for literature then this ain’t gonna work out.

Think I’m being a bit over the top? Well here are all the types/places I keep my books. Bear in mind as well that these are just the ones in my bedroom.

 

Alice’s Books

I have a pile of unread books…

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…And a pile of recently read books

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(Before you ask I do a little bit of yoga which subsequently means I’m now super flexible. I used to do more but I have reason to believe it contributed to stuffing up my knee eighteen months ago but that’s a story for another day.)

I store books on my window shelves which is great because it means I don’t need to open/close my Venetian blinds when I get up every morning (I call them my ‘modesty books’)

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(That’s right, I own four Blue Peter badges but that’s a story for another day.)

I have intellectual reads

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I possess old book buyer catalogues (in case I ever needed more coffee table material)

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I own a box of old books

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I have books on the waitlist for more permanent accommodation

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I also have a few Alice books (aka photo albums) with glossy memories I value more than pixels. One of the best friend presents I ever got was the album titled ’21 Things I Love About Alice Bennett’ (left).

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And do not get me started on notebooks

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Good news though, I’ve recently purchased an oak bookcase so now I can purchase and store even more books! (I kid, I really need to clear a lot of these out and move the rest to the book case – except my modesty books.)

Looking to take my conversation engagement from 0 to 60? Give me a book and tell me why my life is poorer without it.

Every Book has a Million Stories

You know that feeling when you walk out the door without a book?

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Nicole Scherzinger does, it’s probably why her and Lewis Hamilton aren’t together anymore.

“Nicky, did you remember to pack War and Peace?”

“Urm…”

“Oh for Christ’s sake Nicole, you had one job to do, one! What am I supposed to read now? Thomas Hardy?”

(That’s totally what caused their countless break ups and getting back togethers. I mean what else could a pop star and racing car driver possibly talk about?)

It’s no secret I like a good book. I like the escapism they provide, the ability to make you conjure an image in the mind that can vary incredibly from person to person. It’s a testament to the human mind that we can read a bunch of random symbols on a page and turn it into pure emotion. It’s equally a testament to incredibly skilled writers that the reader can be taken on a journey and laugh, cry or even be deceived by the story before them and yet, despite the abuse, the reader carries on to find themselves begging for more when the tale is complete. I refer to this feeling as a ‘book hangover’, when you finish a novel but feel empty inside. Unable to come to terms with the end of a good book.

My recent read, Gone Girl, was one recent example of a book hangover. Without spoiling the book and/or film (NB I have not seen the film yet, but am quite sure it’s terrible vs the book – they always are), Gone Girl is a gripping thriller involving the disappearance of Amy Elliot Dunne. A whodunit with countless twists and turns. A book worthy of anyone’s time.

That said, I think a sizeable chunk of my present book hangover can be attributed to all the locations I read this one particular novel. Now I likes my tea and coffee and I likes my intellectual style. For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt of being sat in a stylish coffee shop and a handsome male swooping in and saying ‘Orwell, nice. What do you think of the book so far?’ instead of ‘is this seat taken?’ which is what I usually get. Hopelessly romantic ambitions aside, a good coffee shop with the right music and buzz is the best place the read a book. Fact.

One wash out weekend I basically went from coffee shop to coffee shop to read my book. (‘Oh look, its stopped raining’ *goes outside* ‘ah damn, its started again. Oh no, I’ll have to find another coffee shop to read in. The horror!’) What started as a one ‘look at me, I’m so intellectual!’ Instagram post turned into a mini series, a documentary of all the locations I read this one book. Aside from the plot of the novel itself, I now look back on these carefully posed photographs and think of the stories behind the locations. Those mini tales of no consequence or interest that form the back bone of daily human interaction.

Below are these said photos, complete with a slight description of the location. In taking and stylising these photos I learnt a bit about my tastes, how I like to relax and also that Gone Girl looks great in every filter. Show off.

Enjoy.

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Work, Swindon. I started and read a lot of Gone Girl in the break out space at work. This particular day I was in a good mood because I’d used a £2.50 Benugo voucher and the space was empty enough for me to take a picture without many people seeing. This area of the office houses a lot of meetings and discussions, I often hear fragments of interesting conversations causing me to lose my place mid paragraph. I wonder what people think of me reading in such a corporate environment. This is also the only photo which didn’t have a filter applied.

 

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Coffee #1, Swindon. This is my favourite coffee shop in Swindon. Upstairs it has a lot of space and never feels busy, perfect for reading and writing. Just out of shot (North West) a young couple were smooching on the sofa and spent the whole time I was there very much loved up, opposite (far right) a date was taking place and straight in front of me (where the Barista is) an older couple were reading the papers. To see three different relationship stages in a small area was charming.

 

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Caffé Nero, Bath Spa. I’d just arrived in the city on a Sunday morning and it was raining hard and steady. It was around 10:30am and none of the shops were open so I headed to a favourite haunt. The only seat available upstairs was a large sofa so I reluctantly took that. 30 minutes later an older man came and claimed another sofa that had been freed up and took possession of all the surrounding chairs for a upcoming group. Two friends, also awaiting a party, scrambled to get seats together around a table for two. A lady who’d sat in the corner eventually left and I claimed her armchair. The two friends turned around, having moved a number of seats, and saw my large, vacant, sofa. I apologised and invited them to claim my old space, which they readily grabbed. The older party discussed walking and the changing layout of Bath, the younger chatted about dating and studies. An interesting mix.

 

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Waterstones, Bath Spa. On the same day as the above photo, I dived into a bookshop to avoid the rain and happily discovered this place on the first floor. The area had largely been taken up by groups of young men with sci-fi t-shirts and beards, playing fantasy board games with excitement. I wondered if this was something they did regularly here and how they found a location with enough space to accommodate them for lengthy periods. It made me think that their gaming and my reading made us actually quite similar in that regard.

 

Reading at home
Home, Swindon. I’d just got back in from a two day Excel training course and felt shattered due to an information overload. I put on my oversized hoodie and felt relieved to have the option to read something which didn’t contain formulas.

 

Wine Bar Reading
Harbour, Bristol. I’d always wanted to go into a wine bar by myself, to defy the British stereotype that ‘it is ok for a man to hang out in a bar alone, but for a woman it’s weird.’ I’d never had the courage to do it, especially somewhere I didn’t know. I’d spent the day hanging out in Bristol with a friend and felt really good about life. Having missed my train I had some time to kill, so I ventured down to the harbour. Deciding it was now or never, I went into a bar (not my first choice, but everywhere was packed) and sat on a window ledge stool, between a large party of students and a first date-in-progress. I read my book for about 20 minutes before heading off. I felt so empowered that, on a Saturday night in a busy bar in a city I barely knew, I’d been able to do that. It wasn’t necessarily the action itself, but knowing I could perform the action by myself. I walked out with my head high and the eyes of numerous men on my back (including the man on his date).

 

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Home (bed), Swindon. By this stage I only had forty pages left to go so was thinking ahead to my next read. I was in bed, blinking off the sleep dust from my eyes and lolling around the duvet covers. On each of my bedside tables are piles of books, I had to carefully pull novels out of each tower to avoid the entire stack falling over. I placed a selection to my right, pulled the covers up and finished reading Gone Girl. Once I closed the orange cover I sighed, made myself a tea, and quickly disregarded a number of my earlier shortlist selection. A Clockwork Orange felt too challenging to deal with whist suffering from a book hangover. I couldn’t make a finial decision, but left it at TBC between a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, or a children’s classic that I’d never have considered reading had I not spotted it in a charity shop.

 

 

Every book has a million stories.

10. There’s a Lot of Shizz in my Room

There was a room.

A room full of bits and pieces and accumulated knick-knacks gathered over the course of two years. All telling the story of Alice Bennett, the Alice Bennett Installation if you like. Small, full of rubbish and severely lacking in suitable storage. A room unable to decide whether it wanted to rival Tracey Emin or desperately try and avoid it.

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Alice Bennett’s 2017 installation – ‘Push it Against the Wall and It’ll Become Invisible’
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Tracey Emin’s 1998 installation ‘My Bed’ – what can I say, I learn from the best.

As the house sale on the property next door started drawing to its intended close, I realised I was actually going to have to tidy up and clear all my stuff out. And this wasn’t something that a bottle of Windowlene and a couple of Peter Gabriel songs could solve, it was going to involve brutal woman power and an acceptance that, indeed, my room was full of shizz.

The timing for this wasn’t great, I was in the process of re-establishing my love of porridge and the supermarket had a sale on. Plus the shared kitchen gave me no space for storing foodstuffs (see – There’s Some Weird Shizz in My Cupboard) so I started the process of cleaning my room by with piling a load of oat sachets chocolate bars and varying alcohols and taking a photo of it for Instagram, obviously.

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Remember what I said about Tracey Emin aspirations?

Then it all got too much and I wrote a blog article about something else.

Several days later, after consuming a sizeable amount of ‘the pile’, I remembered why I’d piled it in the first place. I got cracking with the tidy up.

It was a painful process. Because I’d achieve a mini-milestone of clearing one patch of floor space…

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…to turn around and see this behind me:

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That’s what hurt me most. Having to empty drawers and boxes that had previously hidden so much but now spewed everywhere. As you can probably tell, my room was tiny in the shared house, the double bed sandwiched into the small space the only way it possibly could.

The clean went on. Thanking the God’s for a decent metabolism and reasonably priced gym membership, one evening I wriggled under the low bed to pull out all the hidden ‘gems’ that had spent years in the shadows. Forget Blue Planet, my under-bed had some weirder things than the deepest depths of the Antarctic Ocean.

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But it also had a couple of bottles of wine so I was prepared to overlook some of the other things I found under there.

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Discovering bottles of wine when cleaning is like finding a five pound note when you’re tidying your room aged ten.

I learnt a lot about myself when cleaning up that space. For example, I’m a closet hoarder who’s in denial. I had enough plastic bags to fill a tanker.

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But then I realised I was British so quickly laid to rest my concerns. I wasn’t weird, just normal. In the same way I had been unable to throw away a handbag I like so mended it with a safety pin as a short term solution. Five million handbags later, I found it at the bottom of my wardrobe.

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You just wait until ‘Make Do and Mend’ comes back into fashion.

A week or so later (yes, that long) I was starting to see progress in the big tidy up.

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Yes, I saw this as progress.

I was quickly becoming numb to the difficulty of throwing stuff out. Either an item was literally falling apart or I was lazy and wanted future me in her massive house to store it. Clearing out items was as black and white as that.

When it came to my wardrobe door however I was forced to make more brutal decisions.

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I find it easier to tear up memories when it means I can spend more time looking at Andrew Lincoln’s face in Love Actually.

In rentals (or at least mine) blu tac is the substance of Satan, pretty much all landlords don’t want it anywhere near their magnolia walls. In place of that, the thin door was my only place to tac up things which meant something to me. A pin board-come-scrap-book of information and pictures that summed me up. New job cards, renters info from the Telegraph, a sassy postcard from M&S, it was, well, me. And now I had to take it all down and be a big girl for a change. Renters and school girls can do this sort of thing, homeowners with matching furniture sets and themed wallpapers couldn’t. The odd item got put to one side (sassy postcard, check!) but most of it ended up in the bin.

When the drawers were finally emptied and the shizz (well, most of) was in a black bin sack there remained little for me to do than slog over the worn down dirty mess that was the carpet. The landlord had bestowed on us a Henry hoover to enable us to keep the house tidy. Now, Alice, I hear you cry, what could possibly be wrong with that? Hurrah for landlords! Well, before you think my previous landlord was a saint…

  1. Three storey townhouses with heavy, hose-based, Henry’s do not mix.
  2. Never expect tenants to buy hoover bags, especially when most do not know what they are.
  3. No hoover will revive a cheap, well trodden, carpet that hasn’t been replaced since the property was built fifteen years ago. None.

I spent hours on my hands and knees trying to suck up every bit of dirt the machine could just about manage. I knew at the time it was a joke, trying to remove a strand of hair from the dirty beige pile. At the end of it I was so exhausted that I think I lost it a bit. On a Saturday night, a Saturday night, I put this on my Instagram:

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The filter only makes it worse.

I mean seriously.

Once that was done all that was left was to wait. Until the house sale was completed a lot of items remained bagged up in assorted suitcases donated by family and random shopping bags. It looked like I was about to go to some far flung country, about to jet off somewhere new, but in the meantime I had to sit and wait it out while messages pinged in from solicitors and I scrabbled around the square of floor to complete important documents. Like I was waiting for my plane to depart.

After the sale had completed on my house I started moving items over, often taking a heavy case down to flights of stairs, across, up another two flights of stairs, then dumping the contents in a cold, empty bedroom. Then back down and up, fill up the case again and repeat. Then do the same with kitchenware and foodstuffs and you have the makings of a very drawn out, tiring, house move. My housemates would watch me carrying out the unorthodox house move in silence, whether they thought I was crazy or not mattered little to either of us.

On the last night I packed up my case with the last of the few items of clothing and put out what else remained on the bedside table.

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The boiled down essentials of Alice Bennett, all laid out on one tiny rectangle. At first I was a little bit emotional, then I felt a bit let down by the basicness. Only I would rate the presence of Sudocrem and a lemon pip higher than books or make up. What scenario would cause me to urgently need Sudocrem and a lemon pip I do not know.

The duvet and bedding got carried round to the house bright and early the next day, alongside the final case of clothes which this time got left unopened in the bedroom. Into one of my many plastic bags I scooped up the bedside table contents and checked the tiny room for the millionth time. I knew that it would be clear and I also knew that living next door it would be a breeze to collect things should anything have been missed off, but it still didn’t stop me checking again.

Ironically, now the room was clear of junk and shizz it looked much bigger, I realised why I’d taken it on in the first place (well, cheap rent and location were the main reasons, but still).

 

I placed my bedroom door key on the bedside and with a final long look and a sigh, walked out with the latch off so that the newer housemates could peer in after I’d gone. I slipped out the front door and posted the key back through the brass-coloured letter box. Done.

 

There was a room.

A room full of bits and pieces and knick-knacks accumulated over the course of two years. A room which told the story of a kooky girl who hailed from Gloucestershire (or was it Hampshire or Warwickshire?) who worked in a solid job, with solid interests, yet always aspired to be more. She moved out of the busy house share and into her own home next door. Why? Because we all thought she was mental.

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This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view all articles in the series (so far) click here.

9. Completion

When I went to pick up the house keys from the estate agents on a grey drizzly Saturday morning I felt in a rather neutral mood. Being stubborn and British I decided to walk the distance of almost two miles up hill to avoid paying for a bus or taxi, resulting in a matt of tangled, curly hair and a nose that continued to pour, even when I stepped inside the ultra clean office.

A man with overly gelled hair and patchy stubble directed me to a sofa while he consulted with a female colleague. All the staff looked like dolled up fifteen year olds, and I think no one could quite believe a young woman in unbranded jeans and a tatty Gap hoodie could possibly have bought a house from them.

The lady tottered over with a clipboard and let me sign for the keys. I politely smiled and said thanks, but she’d already gone. Everyone else was continuing to hit their keyboards in a monkey-like fashion, so I took my cue and left.

That was it. I owned a house, my house. I checked the envelope ten times over just to be sure.

“Oh my God.”

I was so overjoyed I didn’t know what to do with myself, so ended up marching straight down the hill in record time and landing back to the house I lived in. I dumped my bag, threw off the soaked hoodie and dashed around next door with nothing more than the key.

I held my breath as I inserted the key into the door and slowly opened the door. I stood there for a moment before walking in and sitting on the bottom step. I stroked the banister rail, like some prized pet.

“You’re mine now, and I am yours” I muttered.

With rain cold feet I ascended the first flight of stairs with ease and entered the bare living room and then the empty kitchen. Suddenly without warning I started laughing, then screaming, then running up and down stairs and into rooms and out of rooms. Slamming doors, apologising for slamming doors. Spinning round and round and round. I lay on my bedroom floor and took my breath.

“This isn’t happening, pinch yourself Alice, you just can’t have done this. Oh my God, what is happening? A homeowner? A homeowner…A homeowner! You. Are. A. Ruddy. Homeowner!”

I ran next door and grabbed my laptop from the top floor before rushing back round to my house. I turned it on and loaded Spotify, before blasting out Nina Simone, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, B*Witched. Anything and everything which came to mind. I screamed every lyric from every part of the house until my throat was hoarse from all the yelling, before lying in a heap on the cold, dark living room floor.

Why? Because I could.

 

This article is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the entire series (so far) click here.