The day we landed in Tunisia, there was a horrific terror attack in Tunis. We were far removed—in a hotel by the sea—but the reverberations of the horror reached us and the sadness was not far behind. It felt almost wrong to be relaxing and for a while, the few of us in the hotel walked around with sombre faces while discreet but prevalent extra security was put in place to put us at ease. We received more than a few frantic calls and messages from loved ones who wanted to know we were safe (thanks for checking up on me, guys) but after that, we hit the brick wall of helplessness; where there is nothing left to do but say a prayer or twelve for the families of the lost and say over again how people like the perpetrators deserve nothing but hellfire, repeating to ourselves how does this keep happening?

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My work phone, which I check maybe 700 times a day.

When I step out of the office, on the days I am there, after a full day of work, the sky is milky, often struggling to be blue and the temperature has not yet bottomed out. When I step off the train and start the short walk home from the station, darkness is daubing the sky with its inky fingerprints. In another few weeks, Spring will arrive in earnest in all its bright, welcoming, seven-in-the-evening lightness and I can finally stop wishing for days when the SAD lamp can stay in its drawer.

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Cooking is time consuming. I think this even as I am doing it; slicing vegetables, browning chicken, dipping my pinky finger in my giant tub of sugar-free peanut butter while I wait for my black beans to simmer. This time, I think to myself as I baste the pork shoulder for the twentieth time, could be spent writing. Or sleeping. Or marathoning 48 Hours Mystery which I now affectionately refer to as my murder programmes. Cooking is time consuming. But rewarding. Knowing where the food I eat comes from and how it has been prepared has made a great impact on my body; I am sleeping better, my joints ache less and I have the kind of energy that means I am often awake before my alarm, like some kind of godawful morning person.

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My brother is getting married and the first of his two weddings is less than seven weeks away. I watch him on the nights he is home as he peruses his to-do lists and checks off an item here or adds one there. There is so much to do and we are all in this; handling websites, corralling guests who have not seen fit to RSVP, sending measurements to dressmakers for the creation of traditional outfits. There are disagreements over weave (and how I refuse to have it in my head, wedding or not) and grand plans for a far-flung honeymoon and I watch as my brother takes it all within his stride and I will wash his plates or roast his chicken because I cannot imagine what it is like to bear the twin responsibilities of a fiancée and not one but two weddings on the same shoulders that must carry a demanding career and the plans needed for taking that career to another continent. These are the little things.

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For a long time, I avoided mirrors.

It started off when I was a kid—around four or five years old—when I first realised that I didn’t look the same as all the other kids in the playground and that a few of them had a real problem with that. I wasn’t used to it, didn’t expect it and considered myself just another person trying to get some time on the chalked out hopscotch squares, and searching for friends that also enjoyed Capri Sun and picture books. I hadn’t been taught to hate and figured that nobody else had either. And even though my parents tried to prepare us for what they suspected we would face when school changed from a sea of brown faces to white ones, there’s nothing like a pigtailed schoolgirl calling your skintone dirty to drive home the fact that you’re different.

This was the catalyst for my first breakup with the mirror.

If I couldn’t blend in then I didn’t want to look at myself. There was nothing I could do to change my hair texture, my skin, the shape of my lips and nose and so my appearance, like the jibes from peers and sometimes even teachers, became a reminder of everything that was “wrong” with me. I also became painfully shy and retreated into books and TV rather than doing what other children were doing like going on play dates and terrorising their parents; y’know, healthy behaviours.

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When I bought my house at 19, I did so on the advice of my very wise, prudent and financially stable parents who were there every step of the way to help me make the transition from university student living on campus, to university student owning a large house and being the live-in landlady to five friends.

It went pretty much as well as you’d think it would.

The learning curve was steep and I had to grow up really, very quickly, because my decision not to hire an agent to manage the property meant that I had to deal with things like boiler issues, renovation, the shower breaking at 3AM and having irate friends beating at my door demanding it be fixed at once. I had to grapple with building and contents insurance, builders, rent arrears, accounts, dishes that had not been washed since Adam was a bachelor because people are lazy as hell and expect me to have to deal with it.

There have been numerous tenants since then. And there have been ups (the tenant who was a gifted cook and made me cheese-stuffed meatballs for no reason), and there have been downs (the tenant whose boyfriend tried to sell drugs out of my house and who I had to physically eject from the premises) but I wouldn’t change owning this house or the lessons I have learned as a result of it; not for the world.

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