Cold Water

I am four years old, in a darkened living room, a grown up party, surrounded by adults. My mother is near me, my father across the room. I don’t remember other children, just the tall legs of adults, some of whom I loved. My uncle’s legs, in my periphery. They are talking and laughing. Smoking and dancing.

There is a sheet draped across the wall, a projector. We are watching a film. A song plays, the chorus echoes: COLD WATER!

Standing, I watch.

My mother appears on screen with my uncle, packing to go canoeing. I shift uneasily, unable to reconcile my mother onscreen with my mother with me in the room. They review foods to bring out to the bush, basic safety equipment: mirrors to signal airplanes, whistles, matches. I remember it still.

They drive out of town, get in the boat, they push off. They hit rapids. The canoe overturns, my uncle is hurt. My mother pulls him to shore, head bleeding, boat lost. She treats his head wound, but he in unconscious. She signals a search plane. She keeps him warm. I look to my mother, my uncle, both safe, both here. I look on screen, at the horror unfolding. My uncle dead, my mother alone in the woods.

I wail. I hyperventilate. I am inconsolable.

Years later I learn there is a subsequent scene in this film where my father’s car breaks down in winter and he passes out from carbon monoxide poisoning by leaving it running while snow covered the tailpipe. He also dies.


I remember my parent’s honest astonishment at my traumatised reaction. It remains to this day one of the most dissonant experiences of my life.

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Standing on a mat

For two years, up until the middle of 2014, I was pretty devoted to a self-led ashtanga morning practice. At my height I was practicing 5 days a week. I travelled with my yoga mat.  After I lost my dad, I liked to say, yoga was my church.

And over the course of the last shitty year, my practice got away from me. Circumstances conspired – shoulder injury, upheaval, homelessness, travel.

Then last week in Istanbul, in our 2 star hotel lobby, in a conservative part of the city, a little old hijabed lady came and sat next to me on the leather sofa and discreetly prayed. She didn’t do everything – she remained seated and stood a few times, but did not get on the floor – but she found the time for her faith, in that moment of inconvenience and travel.

I remembered then when I lived in Jordan – where I saw so many people take time to practice their faith despite modern life. Taxi drivers praying in the shade of their cab in on the side of the road, the Fitness First gym which had special prayer clothes for women you could borrow from a basket, so while other women changed post-Spin, some prayed, right there, in the locker room.

I remembered then, my devotion to my practice through inconvenience and travel. How I practiced alone, with no teacher in Jordan for four months. The rug burn from practicing without a mat on a hotel carpet in Seattle, gawked at while I practiced poolside in Dubai, the hidden practices in my bedroom in the compound in Islamabad, where I used the AC to get the room down to a bearable 35 degrees. The one pathetic practice on that work trip to Ethiopia, before I became to ill and overworked to continue.

And I remember waking with the call to prayer in Amman at 5am and occasionally, getting up to practice to what was, very often, the most beautiful sound in the world.

This morning, after almost 8 months without a solid practice, I unrolled my mat and breathed for 5, 10, 20 breaths. And I did a sun salutation.

Hard part’s over, I thought.

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Why I’m grateful for this shitty year

So I had already written a draft of this post, a week ago, when I thought I’d had about all this year could throw at me. Of course, I was wrong. Fast forward a couple days and I was feeling a bit poorly, and things went swiftly downhill – I cried Christmas morning when I felt too ill to even open presents and then yesterday I finally felt human and then coughed so hard I threw my back into spasm giving me two more days of bed rest and ice and that ever present question when you’re ill: is this going to be forever? We cancelled our trip to Scotland today. My mum has bravely hung in there with me, taking 12km walks as her only respite from me and my new flat, for days. What a trooper.

That blog post remains below, but I’m happy to have had these last couple days in bed – I think I maybe even achieved a little personal growth. First, I read Kate Gross’ words about her last Christmas before her death (which happened on this very Christmas morning): that Christmas is about the bad times (bickering with your hubbie over present wrapping duties, the fucking souffle that falls etc) as much as it is about the good times, and how she would cherish ALL those things during her last Christmas alive.

Of course, I realise: I am alive, with reasonable assurances of having another Christmas with those I love. I am not a horrible burden on my mother for being ill and rubbish company this past week, that is fucking Christmas. And that is life, and we should cherish these inevitable deflated times.

Then, I read Rachel Dratch’s memoir where she recounts experiencing mind-numbing 3-day invalid-inducing back spasms mid-rehearsal for Saturday Night Live. They rehearsed around her, while she waited for pain killers, but she eventually got better. In darkest night, when you are alone and in pain, reading words that help you remember ‘I will get better too!’ suddenly make things tolerable again. And whether you want to or not, sometimes you need to stay in bed for 3 days and cancel your plans and life and the world is not going to end.  Take your big movie-star plans, and save ’em for another day.

See? growth.

I had an awful year, but I’ve had worse – 2011 was the horrible, tragic year when I lost my father. However, surviving that year was a triumph, a relief, a respite. I was a phoenix rising from the ashes. 2012 was still autopilot where I picked up the pieces, bit by bit. 2013 was unexpectedly glamorous – trips to Ethiopia and Dubai and Switzerland for work, a placement in the Middle East, a dashing Arab boyfriend with a Mercedes, food markets in Jerusalem, work in refugee camps and desert trekking and yoga and weddings and dance parties.

And 2014- well, how could it not be a major bummer? I came back to my old life, back to the grind. But I can’t help but feel I allowed many things to be taken from me this year simply by pursuing the purchase of a flat. The misfortunes were petty and some of them my own making. My eagerness to reclaim and rebuild my life is palpable now, but I lie here, frozen with back spasms, weakened with flu, being forced to be patient. And FINE I GET THE MESSAGE.

So my intentions in 2015 are simple: to build on the good stuff, reclaim everything I think I sacrificed, to write a bit more, to play music a bit more, to keep getting in better shape. To chill the fuck out. Sorted.

And here is what I originally wrote:

The WORST (and best) of 2014:

I’ll start bluntly, just cause I know this post is going to gain views purely based on pathos and schadenfreude – I hated 2014. I think I gave up on the year around August – when I left the flat I’d lived in for just under 3 years to put my things in storage and float around housesitting, catsitting, subletting and finding reasons to leave the country for work until my flat purchase finalised. The year, I thought, could not be redeemed.

Here are a list of the worst things that happened:

1) The process of buying a house: from looking at flats online in January, to viewings through february and march and april, to 7 additional months of conveyancing, of requests for 5k bribes, the snooty estate agents reducing my family’s life savings to nothing, to viewing cesspool-flats of overcrowded abject poverty (and sometimes actual crime scenes) on sale for more than I can afford, to the young men who doused me with a bottle of soda on me from a car speeding past on a road in stratford at a viewing, to the time the process took from the rest of my life, to the 3 months of homeless wandering about London, the stress, the cost. Even now, it is one of the hardest things I ever accomplished, I cannot believe it all came through and I’m still, STILL not sure it was worth it.

2) Terrible, terrible dates and disappointing men. It says something when the best date you went on in 2014 was with a 25 year old in an open marriage. He remains the only person I dated who expressed any capacity for empathy during the entire year. I spent the first six months wasting time with a long distance ex, then came the man who wanted me to buy my own ticket to the opera (as his date – though sitting seperately across the theatre), the sad guy who’d had gastric bypass surgery who got way into me too fast, whatsapping inspirational memes 3-5x a day, the honest-to-god sociopath who called me a bitch ‘playfully’ 3 times on our first (and only) date.

3) I got mean girl’d – in a special twist of crazy someone I didn’t know forwarded me emails ‘friends’ had written about me saying not very nice things. It was a favour, in the end.

4) I stared down the abyss of a deeper, more profound sadness. In April, in a soulless work weekend in Paris, adrift with loneliness, I ate a foie gras salad thing for dinner that was *a bit* too rich, and drank *a bit* too much wine and the waiter’s ‘flirtation’ turned *a bit* too much into HORRIBLE HARASSMENT and the bar where I had a drink I found myself cornered in conversation with a 50-something divorcee, who laughed at my accent and monopolised the conversation. I felt at the bottom of the world. I missed my dad, I didn’t know where I belonged. I vomited when I returned to my hotel and I wrote THE BIG SAD EMAIL to all my friends saying please, help.

5) My cat died. I held her close.

6) I couldn’t complete the sprint triathlon I spent 6 months training for after getting briefly hospitalised for salmonella poisoning a 10 days before the race.

And here are some of the good things that happened in 2014:

1) I got a new job, with great coworkers, a lovely boss and lots of amazing travel, all over the world.

2) I played a lot of amazing music with my amazing band. The best girls I’ve ever known.

3) I met Lola, my London rent-a-dog, who has grown to love me more than I thought anyone could ever love me. She has made me laugh her with her antics, and let me cry as much as I needed to when times were really hard and she felt like my only friend.

4) Back in April, when I needed my friends, I actually reached out and said something and  they picked me up and held my hand, just for awhile until I could walk again. It was terrifying to ask, and wonderful to see the response.

5) I got my lobster tattoo.

6) I got in way better shape. I trained for a sprint triathlon, started to run again, and rediscovered the joy of exercise beyond yoga, post-crossfit. it was great.

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LIVE: The Nightmare of Privelige

NEW LIFE AMBITION: I will no longer discuss the ins and outs of my impending flat purchase in person. Its boring and stressful and I will not give over any more of my life to discussing it. However, I’ve aware some of you want to know because you’re interested or you want to know because you care about me and you know I’m homeless. So therefore, if you DO want the play by play, you can find all the update to date information below.

March 29: I view the flat. I email an offer

April 5: my offer is accepted I proceed with my mortgage application.

April 30: The flat is valued below my offer, I adjust my offer.

May 5: My revised offer is accepted and my mortgage offer issued. The agent says ‘the only thing now is to get the tenants out’.

May-June-July-Aug: Hackney council delays rehousing the tenants in the flat, despite the lease ending April 16. We begin court proceedings, and are given a court date of Sept 10. Meanwhile, my solicitor doesn’t like that the lease plan for the flat has a wall that isn’t present in the real flat, so the owner rebuilds a wall, and gets it approved by the council.

Aug 27: I move out of my flat and begin housesitting across london. All believe that based on the eviction timeline we should complete the sale mid-October.

Sept 10: The paper work for the eviction is bungled. We do not get a possession order for the flat. The owner writes to the council threatening legal action and begins calling them daily. We believe pressuring the council to rehouse will be faster than getting another court date.

Sept 23: My solicitor informs me he is going out of business and offers to represent my sale from a new firm. delaying the finalisation of the sale contract.

Sept 26: realising my mortgage offer expires Nov 7 and the completion of sale delayed, I begin proceedings to get a new mortgage offer.

Sept 29: My agent informs me he is leaving the current agency but will still manage the sale to completion. My solicitor believes he will receive the final paperworld to finalise the contract of sale.

Sept 30: I’m informed that the tenant in the flat is put first on the list for a flat in a peabody estate.

Oct 2: my lawyer says the draft contract will be ready for me to sign on Monday (sadly I’ll be in the USA)

Oct 6: It is revealed the tenant was not offered the peabody estate flat due to £20 in rent arrears.

Oct 7: My 2nd mortgage offer is rejected because the bank doesn’t like the ex-council property.

Oct 10: My mortgage offer is extended until Dec 8.

October 29: The tenant is offered, and accepts a flat in a property being developed. They tell us he will be moved ‘at some point soon’. We get agreement for him to move into temporary accomodation with his family…IF we pay for his moving costs.

October 30 (my birthday!): The tenant moves out. On my way to the airport to fly to mexico I inspect the flat to ascertain possession is indeed vacant. It is. I go to the bank and transfer my deposit to my solicitor and I fly to mexico.

October 31: We exchange contracts

November 7: We complete

November 14, I return from Mexico and I move in. And move on.

In summary: there is no date for the tenants to be rehoused, therefore no date for exchange or completion. I am still homeless. But I am fine.

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The Shore

the shore

The Shore (Qikqitarjuaq, Nunavut)

The shore is a place I can see from my window, only in the summer when the days are long. On this island of bare mountains, it hugs my home from all sides, caressing and stroking or fighting  and hurting and it tries to break us and love us too.

The shore is a place where I jump from rock to rock in my rubber boots and wool sweaters on long summer days gathering neon orange jellyfish in a glass jar and tiny shrimp to be their friends. I sit them on my windowsill, with a view of their home, but after 2 days they always grow still and Mum says it is time to catch some more.

The shore is a place that is not always safe. Everyday is not for jellyfish because some days the shore has angry tantrums. One day it slammed its waves against Linda’s house all day and threw seaweed like long tangled wigs all over her windows. She collected it and ate it – she wasn’t even mad.

The shore is a place where treasures are found. One day there was a shark and all of us jumped on its dead body. We peered into its mouth at its long rows of teeth. We examined its strange eyes.  It was from the deep water, they said. The shore was its grave and it was sad about that. My teacher Tyna said the hunters caught it by accident and now we don’t know what to do.

The shore is the place where we cut up the seal after hunting, where its insides spill open all soft and we sit around it and cut and eat and move around different parts until it is empty and we are full. We wipe our mouths and smile and say ‘mmmm’.

The shore is a place that can take you to danger. When the days grow long and the shore shakes free of the ice, it brings in moving ice floes that my friends jump and race on.  The shore tries to keep them, but then so does the ice and sometimes they are too fast and sometimes a friend doesn’t return and the ice has them and we all cry for days and eat seal in the town gymnasium but it isn’t a feast. I stay away because I promised my mum but the kids play anyways.

The shore is a place where the boats come in, with fish or walrus or whales, or the Sea Lift Boat that has all our food for the year in a box it puts on our doorstep that is filled with so many little boxes I can’t count them all. The shore rises and falls and the boats move up and down and my mum says this is the ocean but I think it is a lake because I can see another shore not too far away, hugging another island. We saw a polar bear there once.

The shore is a place I can see from my window, it is magical and dangerous like this place we call home.


My high school friend Courtney has grown up to be an amazing artist. Like so many of us who grew up in the North, our homeland is her muse and our relationship with the land inspires her work. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to an amazing interactive project she exhibited in Scotland last year called (stolons).

Stolons are horizontal connections between organisms (whether a skeleton or a root), and from what I understand this exhibition traces the connections between the people of the North and the land they call home. I’ve not been lucky enough to see it, but its about to finally be exhibited in my hometown and I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part.

This news made me revisit my contribution, and I present it here. It is the shifting memory of my time as a child living in the remote Eastern Arctic, ages 4-7 and how I interacted with the defining feature of a small Island community: The Shore.

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Pursuit of the British Dream

I arrived at Islington Town Hall, early and awkwardly alone. The ceremony was attended by glowing families, partners, former refugees and a handful of lone young professionals, who seriously harshed the graduation-type vibe of the occasion. When I took my oath to the Queen they played the Beatles, and I stood alone, shaking an Islington Councillor’s hand as I received my Certificate of Nationality and the freelance photographer took a photo that he would later ask me to purchase for £10.

After almost 7 years , I was British. Whatever that meant.

They were not an easy 7 years, I arrived a year before the housing crash, fresh-faced from Korea and ready to start my studies at the LSE. Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister; the economy was going to grow forever. But that quickly changed. In subsequent years I found myself holding down two jobs, an unpaid internship and my studies to ‘get my foot in the door’ and struggling to pay off my Canadian student debt as the value of the pound dropped. I prayed repeatedly the latest round of redundancies wouldn’t hit me, and I went home in sadness as I lost first my grandmother and then my father.

Labour’s open arms to immigrants shut quickly with the new Coalition government. I could no longer count on doing my time and earning my passport as increasingly fellow migrants like myself were refused on the smallest excuses. I found myself weeping at the Home Office’s immigration centre one December day in 2011 in Croydon when they suggested my application for indefinite leave to remain would be rejected due to the prolonged absences I took when my close relatives had died.

During those 7 years I felt I grew to understand the UK, and that the UK shaped and adjusted the adult I was becoming. Now that I could stay forever – what should I do?

And so I decided to buy a flat. I mostly did this as I suddenly had the opportunity – a new job with a good salary, a loan from my mother, a good prospect of finding somewhere. The hardened truth that home ownership does make SENSE.

I did not realise that I was both endorsing the national obsession with property ownership and embarking on the most frustratingly British of bureaucratic nightmares. It was to become a baptism by fire, courtesy of my adopted homeland.  I knew now, what I was getting into, I’d probably refrain from trying at all.

In Canada, housing purchases are completed within 60 to 90 days of the initial offer. There are no surveys or valuations, and the process is legally binding from the moment your offer is accepted. No gazumping. (almost) no cash-buyers.

I began looking in January of 2014, one of the worst times since the housing boom of 2005/2006 to begin looking. Soaring prices, fanatical and desperate Londoners finally able to access credit after those dark years. I would struggle to get agents to even register my details once they heard my budget, and I would consistently call them every Wednesday, hoping to be booked in for some random open house they had over the weekend.

I saw flats where 9 people lived in a 3 bedroom maisonette in Stratford. I had a soft drink thrown on me from the window of a passing car while walking from a viewing in Forest Hill. I was taken so far into Upton Park I couldn’t imagine living there as a woman alone. I made 4 offers on ex-council flats, only to be swept away by cash-buyers paying far above the valuation.

The worst came when Foxtons took me to a flat on the market for 30k more than a flat I had just offered upon. It was located in an almost identical building, a maisonette in a high rise right by Homerton Station. ‘Its just come on the market’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen inside’.

As the door opened we were met by total darkness.  As the agent flipped various electrical switches to no avail I observed 4 very large plastic drums (the kind bodies are disposed of in Breaking Bad) in the foyer, along with 2 large fridge freezers. The kitchen had dishes piled high and a rank odour.

As our eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed that all the windows in the lounge had been blacked out with rubbish bins and tape. It was permanently dark – but I began to make out piles of clothing, up to the ceiling filling the room. It was overflowing. It was the home of a hoarder, put on the market, as is.

“I can’t go in there”, I said. The young agent breathed a sigh of relief saying “I’m scared too.”

Worse was the conversational mundanity, the constant need to give progress updates and boring details over and over again. Genuine friends asked because they cared, and expressed concern or interest where appropriate. But I suddenly had strange acquaintances and non-friends taking special interest in me. They wanted to ‘perv’ on my progress, snoop at my viewings and budget, monitor my success. They were the ones desperate to buy with no reasonable prospects of ever being able to afford it, they were the ones who might pull down a fellow crab in a barrel who had managed to pull herself above the fray, given the opportunity. They were desperately jealous and deeply suspicious and smiled without their eyes.

I did eventually have an offer accepted on a flat, and I currently wait in limbo for us to exchange contracts sometime in the next month. I am, inadvertently, making the family in the flat homeless, and I believe it will be a year start to finish before this is finished. Will it be worth it? To have a home secure from the exploitation of private landlords and London’s rising rents?

Ask me when I’ve completed. For now, I just think – man, I am SO fucking British right now.

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Mushroom Foraging: Avoiding Death Caps, Encountering TASTE

Andy’s species samples ahead of our foray, Nov 2012

It took me two years to finally get my act together to get a place on Andy Overall’s ‘Fungi to Be With’ mushroom forays. You needed to fill in a paper booking form! Send a CHEQUE! by post! It was like 1892, and I just couldn’t seem to get my shit together – I had no idea where my chequebook was, let along a first class stamp.

In the end I mooched a stamp off a colleague and sent cash, and last November I went on my first foray in Epping Forest while yesterday I went on an introductory workshop on Hampstead Heath where we covered some identification techniques in a more in-depth manner.

Andy’s wife described the forays as ‘a walk with a purpose’ and I think thats probably why I loved them so much.  We tromped off trail through the heath and in Epping forest for hours – sometimes absorbed in a clutch of edible mushrooms that we madly stuck in our bags, sometimes crowded around large, beautiful inedible specimens or as a highlight of Epping Forest’s foray: a clutch of young death caps.

My haul for the day in Nov 2012: Amethyst Deceivers and Jelly Ears

I quickly learned that when mushrooms abound, there are very few you can eat – and in most cases you only need to become very familiar with how to identify edible varietys (and any ‘ringers’ they might have) alongside confidently identifying the most poisonous mushrooms and you can probably get by ok.  I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet, with about 4 edibly varieties in my portfolio and reasonable deathcap knowledge, but its a start – and a super fun hobby.

Hilariously (or ‘hilariously’) last year I got food poisoning quite badly after eating a mushroom omelette for breakfast followed by raw oysters in the half shell for an indulgent lunch.  While I knew I had been very careful with my wild mushrooms (and they had gotten the green light from Andy), I had no idea whether my bad luck had been caused by norovirus laden shellfish, or mushroom poisoning.  In the end I decided if it was mushroom poisoning I was likely to die regardless of medical help, so I might as well relax.  Within 24 hours I was back to normal.  But it was bad timing, to say the least.

Yesterday’s Haul

People freak out when they hear on the news that a woman made soup with a death cap and died. While this is tragic, I’d be interested to find out how experienced they were in identifying mushrooms – the risks aren’t worth the soup. I’m confident collecting the above St. George’s mushrooms at the moment, if only because the time of year means no death caps are growing – no major poisonous mushrooms (that are white) are growing yet.

In fact, I did despair mildly for the evolutionary potential of humanity when follow course participants described their mothers picking mushrooms from their garden and eating them after ‘the man at Sainsbury’s reckoned they were ok’ or professing that they always followed the edict ‘if it smells good, it won’t poison you’.

Seriously, are we living in medieval times? Are you looking to become seriously ill? Why did generations of humanity develop scientific approaches to this if idiots will just ‘use their nose’ and see what happens? I won’t be picking any mushrooms without Andy with me to double check my identifications for a long, long time. Luckily, he does this handily via his facebook page, when in doubt.

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