Well, last you heard from me, I'd spent an intense month disposing of what felt like half a house worth of detritus before loading the other half into a van and heaving that van over to the other side of the country. (Technically, other people did most of the heaving, for which I am eternally greatful, although I hopefully more than made up for it with my detritus disposing...)
I don't live in Brighton any more. Which still doesn't feel like a true phrase. This feels weirdly like an extended holiday. It's got the good bits of a holiday. I'm in a nicer house. It feels like a house more expensive than I could ever actually dream of living in. It's got the vague sense of escapism. Like I'm going to have to return to real life at some point. But on the other hand, much like on most holidays I take, maybe some part of me quite wants to return to real life. And I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that THIS is real life now. I can't buy silken tofu or tamari soy sauce in the local supermarket (but am aware of how poncey I am for complaining of such things). I can never have another lie in again because there's a dog who needs a pee and is relying on me to let him out. I have to climb 95 OF THE STEEPEST STAIRS IN THE WORLD to get to my house. I have nearly no friends. I haven't had a full day off work in about 3 weeks. (In that sense it doesn't really sound like a holiday, does it...)
Anyway. Here's how life up north is going.
After heroically driving one of our moving vans, Anna went to stay with Amy, baby Albert and Fred in Manchester for a few days. She, Amy and Albert came back to Hebden for the day as our first official guests. (Manchester is 35 – 45 mins away on the train, so nice and close)
I can't entirely remember why I was feeling so anxious but I think it was probably a combination of things, not helped by the fact that I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, couldn't get to most of my clothes so had been wearing the same skirt and top for nearly a week, and was unable to have a shower due to leaky bath sealant. On the bright side, actual functioning oven for the first time in 5+ years. Cannot get over how good this oven is. Gonna have to adjust all my cooking techniques to cater for the fact that everything doesn't burn on the bottom any more (i.e. by actually cooking things for the time/at the temperature they say on the packet and not constantly having to flip them)
And while we're at it — this kitchen. There's a KITCHEN ISLAND. There's space for everything. There's one of those sinks with a big loopy tap so you can actually rinse things. It's clean, and I can keep it clean. There's an extractor fan. I am LIVING THE KITCHEN DREAM.
I decided I should cycle a bit. So I cycled over to Sowerby Bridge big Tesco, where I filled up my panniers with vegan cornettos and other trashy freezer food to soothe my stresses. Turns out Sowerby Bridge is a bit further away than I thought, and part of the canal path was closed which meant a faintly perilous turn on the main road for a bit, but I survived, and did most of the journey home with two slow punctures like an absolute hero/fool.
And then Charlie arrived.
You guys, we got a dog. (I can't draw dogs, let's hope this improves, eh?)
Charlie is a beautiful border collie who belonged to one of my BFFs Sarah. Due to various life circumstances, she had to give him up, and my other oldest BFF Naomi had been fostering him for a couple of months till I could take him.
As a vegan I'm faintly conflicted about owning any animal, BUT, I grew up with dogs, love dogs, and here was a doggo who I already knew and loved in need, not to mention a friend who wanted to know he was going to a good home. I knew it would be a huge commitment, but still, I wasn't quite prepared for the intensity of this little chap. He's a tad needy, and for the first few days he was basically all up in everyone's business all the time, just making sure everything was cool, and okay, and we weren't going to leave him, and he was going to get fed, and walked, yes? And cuddles also? Okay cool.
Let's be real here, he's still up in everyone's business all the time (right on cue, he just popped his paws up on the side of my chair to check that everything's good) but he's slightly more chill about it now. If that's possible to imagine.
Suffice to say though that I have experienced some self doubt about all my life choices.
Some of this anxiety and stress was definitely compounded by household factors, most notably, inability to shower (I hate baths) and unreliable/terrible internet. Aside from obviously wanting to keep up to date with the latest dank memes, reliable/fastish internet is basically crucial for the whole 'working from home' thing, and I was starting to freak out that this was going to be impossible. (In the end we got a second line put in and that seems to have mostly resolved things, touch wood)
Alex is great though. Never doubt that.
Charlie's great too, many pros (blue) despite his equally many cons (red)
Went on a mad ikea spree and then remembered how much I hate self-assembly furniture. Luckily Alex and Justin are heroes.
I think this was around the time we re-did the sealant and got the shower up and running, and this went a huge way to make me feel better about everything.
Started back at work. I think I like working from home. I'm simultaneously more and less distracted, but I think overall my productivity is better. Still early days though, and I do miss my office buddies a bit.
Very helpfully, a whole bunch of freelance stuff rolled in around this time. Helpful because I really really need the money (did I mention that Ikea spree?), and I love fun new projects... But also stressful because there are only so many hours in the day, and now another 2 of them a day are taken up with walking a dog. (But don't let this put you off commissioning me. Hi, hello, am very good at time management) (But this may be why some of my visual diaries are a bit shoddy this month...)
We DO have one friend, and that friend is Keith, and he's great. (And also Charlie's new BFF)
As a modern empowered woman, surely it's okay for me to 1) buy a satellite GPS for all these elaborate country walks and 2) just pay someone to fix it x 3? (Oh yeah wait money is a thing)
Had a bad day. I have always prided myself on my pretty much unbroken track record of not getting locked out. Then I got locked out of our Brighton house a couple of months ago and was pretty devastated, and this time was even worse. (Because both Alex and Justin were far away, and Charlie was locked in). I had the upsetting realisation that a) we didn't know anyone local well enough to have given them a spare key, or b) even well enough for me to have somewhere to go and sit and wait while hero Justin came back from his day out in Manchester to let me in/Charlie out.
Felt very sad and alone. Went and sat in a cafe opposite two amazing women having coffee. Wished they were my friends.
Don't worry. I'm not going to become to dependant on Alex and Charlie (and Justin) for my emotional support needs. At some point I will meet people locally. But making friends, how does it work? (Basically I need more time/money to do things, we'll get there)
Went up to Manchester for the day to meet a friend of a friend about some potential future work, and it was like a breath of fresh air. Hebden is good but cities will always have my heart, I never want to stray too far from a huge urban mass. Manchester is proper lovely and I spent far too much money (that old thing again, damn it) in incredible Fred Aldous art supplies — genuinely the best art shop experience of my life.
Still can't draw Charlie. But this was deeply distressing/hilarious. For the first few days we had him he kept going to the edge of the canal like he might go in, and I kept sternly reminding him that it would be a terrible idea, which he seemed to agree with, on balance. I thought we'd reached consensus that going in the canal would be bad, but a spur of the moment impulse overcame him while I was looking elsewhere, and he dived in. And very quickly realised that he couldn't get out again. And panicked. He was right by a lock so the surface of the water was all covered in twigs and litter and scum and other detritus. I hauled him out. Covered in grossness. The love in his eyes. I've never felt so heroic.
We walked home, shivering and sneezing and apologetic, and it was pretty apparent he was going to need a bath. Me and Alex steeled ourselves, expecting panic and flailing legs and mad scrabbling (based on his behaviour with the other big-scary-bad-thing in his life — trains), but in fact the moment we closed the bathroom door, he basically became limp with horror, and we had to heave him into, and out of, the bath, while he remained totally paralysed, with sad eyes looking up at us while we bathed him. After we heaved him out it took him about 5 minutes to recover, and lots of cuddles and us telling him he was our 'brave bath boy' and generally reassuring him everything was okay. My heart.
One thing you'll have probably noticed, if you follow my instagram, is the huge proliferation of scenic walks we go on. Yes, it's all very pretty but sometimes I wish I was just following myself on Instagram rather than living it, because at least then I wouldn't have to deal with ALL THE BLOODY MUD. I'm simultaneously already so looking forwards to summer, while already dreading next winter. The darkness, rain and general dampness are dragging me down in a way they never have done anywhere else but the end is nigh. But it's pretty hard to avoid vast quantities of mud when you have a dog, and I'm finding the ceaseless battle to keep the kitchen floor free of dirt basically beyond me, and thoroughly disheartening. (Not to mention laundering a constant stream of dog towels and resigning myself to the fact that we'll never get our deposit back)
Justin's friend Sarah came to stay and we went on a lovely long walk. Proud that I was the only person who didn't slip over on my butt on aforementioned mud. I'm like a mountain goat. (Just wait. I'll be in A&E with a broken ankle before the month's out...)
Still can't draw dogs. Practice makes perfect though, hopefully. Charlie's been with us nearly a month now and we're all settling into our routines. At first I found the whole dog ownership thing quite intense... Like, this little being is depending on me for EVERYTHING. And is he even happy? Is what I'm reading as excitement actually desperation? Is what I'm reading as relaxed affection actually despondent ennui? I'll never know the answers to those questions but I'm working really hard on believing that he's happy. He certainly seems utterly loving and devoted... Unlike many dogs, he has no interest in other dogs, or such base pleasures as fetching things thrown for him. He basically lives for walks, his dinner, and being all up in his companion human beings business all the damn time. With love. And cuddles. He loves being cuddled, which is pretty great. Initially I was worried the anxiety of caring for him would be too much for me — and I still do worry about his wellbeing and happiness an undue amount — but it's starting to balance out with the joys of loving him very dearly and feeling loved in return, which is all I could hope for really.
Made pancakes today, of my own volition, for the first time ever. Never been a big fan, but our friend Lou made an amazing spread last year, of sweet and savoury vegan American style pancakes, and I was won round. Spent a long lunchbreak making savoury avocado pancakes, sweet banana pancakes, and a whole load of tasty sides. Quite proud of myself.
Any February is short. And we're done. And on we go.
I'm available for freelance work, just shout. And if you live within an hour's radius of Hebden Bridge, let's be friends.