Friday, 19 June 2015

Things you never say to a girl

Things you never say to a girl

‘’You really need to learn to look after your skin’’ – the words jolted Carla away from her phone. They came from her boyfriend who was lying right next to her, lazily scanning her face. ‘’You, white girls, have no idea how to look after yourselves.’’
Carla stared at him in disbelief. ‘Are you actually saying those words?’’ -  was all she could muster.
Not reading her reaction well, he continued - ‘’You have that spot on your face and you could’ve prevented it, you know, and…’’
‘’Enough! What is wrong with you? Who says THAT to a girl?’’ – Carla roared.  Not one to accept insults, she attacked like an angry tigress, sending the message loud and clear – ‘In the interests of safety and preservation of manhood, leave the premises immediately.’
The following weekend, when Carla relayed the story to me over brunch of eggs and coffee, I didn’t dare to ask what happened to him after that. (Although I do recall reading a story in a local paper about a man who drove himself to A&E with a folk sticking out of his face. I guess it could’ve been a coincidence.)
I must admit, I was shocked myself. I’ve always thought that it was common knowledge not to say certain things to a girl. The skin comment would be there together with ‘Did you put some weight on?’, ‘Must be that time of the month’ and ‘How much did those shoes cost?’ But evidently, the common knowledge memo never reached Carla’s boyfriend
On the way home from brunch I was trying to think of enraging comments I have heard from men. But at the time I couldn’t remember a single one.
Later that day, as I was sorting out some papers in my office, I stumbled across a box of old photos. They mainly consisted of bad hair styles, poor fashion choices and questionable taste in men. Most of them made me laugh until I came across I picture of him – a boyfriend of four years and his remark that haunted me for ages.
It was summer of 2000 and we were hanging out in my room. He put his hands on my shoulders in that melt-your-heart romantic way and I thought he was going to kiss me. Instead he said: ‘’Whoa! You have really broad shoulders!’’
I spent the following few years avoiding strapless outfits and covering up, without realising I was doing it. Until one girlie night, when my sister-in-law and I were swapping stories and steadily emptying a bottle of vodka, I remembered the reason why I didn’t wear strapless.
‘’Tash, he is hardly a fashion icon! He is fat, boring and he can’t spell, are you really taking criticism from that guy??’’ – she shouted without pausing for a breath. ‘’Besides, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your shoulders’’.
She had a point.  I went back to wearing whatever I wanted, archiving him and the whole experience so deep in my memory, that I needed a jolt to even remember him.
I put all the photos back into the box and put it away, but the memory was lingering like a bad smell. I couldn’t help but wonder, what makes us let people affect our lives with their language? And if they speak negatively, what makes us stay with them? When does constructive criticism become destructive?
That night I had a date with Mr Chateauneuf and as I opened my wardrobe, my eyes went to a red strapless dress I bought a couple of months earlier. I knew I had to wear it that night.
An hour later as I slid into the passenger seat next to him, I felt his gaze caressing my shoulders. ‘’Looking hot hunni’’ – he winked at me and started the car.  
I smiled, wondering if he realised that he had just given me the best compliment I had ever received.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Why I hate cats

Why I hate cats

My mum, a proud lady of the house that she was, taught me the importance of order in life. She had a strong sense of right and wrong, a tidy house and a system to organise just about anything. Her cupboards were neatly arranged, bills always paid and she even managed to find time to keep the biscuit tin filled with homemade goodies.

And as I grew older, the inbread obsession to be tidy grew with me. Not only do I keep my drawers tidy, but I apply the same principle and have a mental filing system.

A part of this structure is my ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ section. Everything I ever come across gets filed away in to either ‘Love’ or ‘Hate’ folder. Over the course of the years a number of files in my system got transferred from ‘Love’ to ‘Hate’ but only a very limited number of ‘Hate’ items redeemed themselves into ‘Love’.

One file in my ‘Hate’ folder that never changed is cats. I grew up with dogs and as a result never developed affection towards their rivals.

A year before I moved in with Mr Chateauneuf, he got cats. Not just one but two kittens. It was a drunken night and the kids pestered me – was his excuse. To say I was furious was an understatement.

The following months I considered a break-up, hiring a cat hit man and oldie but goodie – an ultimatum ‘me or cats’. But as the anger subsided and common sense prevailed I decided to do the unspeakable – move in despite the cats.

So on 23rd May 2015, having packed my life into boxes and loaded it into a van, I left the safely of my London pet free flat and moved to the country and into a house with cats. If somebody said to me three years ago that I would do that, I would’ve slapped them and unfriended them  on Facebook.

Mr Chateauneuf knew that no good would come out of me living with cats and came up with a genius idea – create a space for me. So he built me a teremok (Russian for cute wooden house) at the bottom of the garden, where I could escape to read, write and just take a break from general noise. But more importantly where cats are not allowed.

As my teremok was filling up with familiar items I brought from London, I was feeling more relaxed and at home. And although it was nowhere near finished yet, one cold evening I escaped there, just to get some solitude.

And just as I made myself comfortable on the chair, I heard a scratch at the door. I looked over and surprise, surprise – the cats found me, both of them. Like sharks, they were circling my teremok, trying to find a way in.

For a split second a felt a panic flutter, and then I remembered that I it’s mice I’m scared of, not cats. I can deal with cats and more importantly – there is no way they can get in, unless I open the door. So I ignored them, listened to music, flicked through magazines and eventually relaxed and forgot all about them.

An hour later as I powered on my laptop, I noticed one of the cats sitting patiently by the door. She wasn’t scratching or begging, she was simply sitting there, looking at me through the window. It was like that episode from Catwoman when Selina meets cat’s eyes. Mesmerised and despite all my instincts I opened the door and she ran into my teremok.

I went back to writing while she went on exploring tour around my office. It didn’t feel completely natural having a cat in but I had to admit, she brought a certain degree of peace and serenity.  And before long, in true cat style, she jumped on my desk and I let her.

As I was watching her exploring my teremok, I couldn’t help but wonder, if something as huge as cats got taken out of ‘Hate’ folder, then what else can be moved? Is there a hope for other ‘Hate’ items? Can I learn to love after all?

I watched her jump on the book shelf and from there everything started happening in slow motion. She walked over to my favourite picture frame, knocked it over, it fell and smashed against the shelving unit underneath. The glass particles flew all over my office.

And right there I remembered why cats are in my ‘Hate’ folder. I kicked her out immediately and shut the door behind her.

Friday, 5 June 2015

A compromise

A compromise

There comes a crucial point in every couple’s relationship when they start talking about their future.  She usually dreams romantically with sparkles and everything looking beautiful, while he sees the whole process in a more pragmatic way, taking into the account the cost of the affair and the essential preservation of his manhood.
After two years of dating it was time for Mr Chateauneuf and I to make some important decisions. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but nothing prepared us for severity of our situation – we had completely different views on the subject. By the end of the week of spirited negotiations we reached an impasse. We still loved each other but there was no way forward.
It was still early when I woke up on a Saturday morning. Determined to move out of our dead end, I powered up my laptop and started researching. I figured if Mr Chateauneuf and I were lucky enough to have found each other and build the solid relationship that we did, then surely we could agree on the wallpaper and the furniture for the bedroom.
The difficulty was that I liked white furniture, light textures and painted walls while Mr Chateauneuf insisted on dark mahogany, wallpaper and heavy home accessories.
We have been to home DIY shops so many times that the staff started recognising us and offering us free beverages. My handbag was full of colour swatches, fabric samples and catalogues; his car became our office and restaurant.   
So, that morning I was relentlessly ploughing through Google pages of wallpaper, desperately trying to find something, anything that we could agree on.
Mr Chateauneuf woke up as I got to page 10 of my Google search and joined me, by page 15 he went downstairs to make us tea. While waiting for him, I clicked onto page 16 and skimmed through. A pattern in the corner caught my attention.
‘’Look at this!’’, I exclaimed as soon as Mr Chateauneuf got back with the tea. ‘’That’s the best thing I’ve seen so far. What do you think?’’, he asked tentatively. ‘’I don’t hate it. And could probably learn to live with it’’, I replied. We both grinned, this was a major breakthrough.
Later that day we picked up the chosen wallpaper from the DIY store. The more I looked at the print the more I realised I wouldn’t have chosen it if I was decorating by myself. But then Mr Chateauneuf wouldn’t have chosen the colour that I picked, so neither of us got their way and we compromised.
Back at home, as I sat on the bed surrounded by wallpaper and colour swatches, I couldn’t help but wonder, if neither of us got their way and we picked something that we didn’t hate, will we ever agree on anything that we both actually like? And if the trick to a happy relationship is a compromise, then when does a compromise become compromising?
I went downstairs and found Mr Chateauneuf in the garden with the tape measure. He was working out the best place for the summer house he was going to build for me. He beamed as soon as he saw me and immediately bombarded me with ideas as to where it should be, which way it would to face and how we can re-design the garden.
As I was listening to his excited chatter, I realised that the wallpaper, mahogany furniture and the colours didn’t matter. Yes, we have very different tastes and it’s very possible that we won’t agree on everything. But we were making steps towards an agreement, we both were giving in. And if we managed to agree on the wallpaper, then I knew, in time we would learn to agree on other things too.