November 15, 2018
I started my day with porridge and Whoopi Goldberg. I alternated between different YouTube clips of “The View,” stirring porridge and listening as Whoopi talked about some awards show or charity event she went to, or showed us a cute picture of her cat. If there’s a difficult topic, she always puts up her hands and says, “Listen!” and that makes me feel better. The cut comb honey on my porridge was beautifully chewy and had a smoky, sweet flavour; a jar of honey a week is now one of my most expensive habits.
I squeezed into slightly uncomfortable jeans, prayed for a blue sky, and headed out, stopping to stroke a few of the neighbours’ cats on my way to a café.
The good thing about being in a café for a freelancer is overhearing people. I like working to the background noise of chatter and conversation. But it doesn’t always work out. Today, a woman and a man sat by the window, arguing over a contract. They were getting more and more frustrated with each other, and every time one spoke, they wove the same contract in the other’s face. I was tempted to ask them to be quiet, but worried that might make them flip.
Ah, the coffee high. From that first sip, my world felt full of possibility. My to-do list looked do-able. I typed out the first draft of an article, my fingers as busy as a squirrel eating a chunk of banana. Then I lost steam: I fiddled and twitched for a bit, and started to freak out when I actually got replies to the barrage of emails I’d sent. I thought about how I could get on a lot faster in life if I didn’t watch so much Whoopi Goldberg.
I only work in a café half the day, otherwise I would be as buzzed as that guy who landed on the moon. I stocked up on a few items before heading home, like olive oil soap and a bamboo toothbrush without plastic packaging. (After watching Blue Planet on BBC, I’m on a mission to reduce my plastic consumption). I bought one for my partner too, with a different coloured label. It’s a quicker task than the previous week, when I spent at least an hour scouring shop shelves for chickpea flour and liquid stevia to make Gwyneth Paltrow recipes I’d ripped out of the Sunday newspaper.
Over lunch, I caught up on a cheeky episode of Grace & Frankie and got back to work.
One of my longer projects lately has been looking into my grandfather’s past. He wrote a memoir called “A Boyhood Apart” about his experiences at a prison school in Scotland in the 1930s. There is a national child abuse inquiry happening in Scotland, raising awareness of the abuse of thousands of children at boarding schools and in residential care over many decades. The inquiry starts from the 1930s, so my grandfather’s story is relevant to the inquiry. I made notes from his memoir, sent some emails and planned a trip to Scotland to look through the local newspaper archives. I still wasn’t sure what form this project would take in the end, but I just want to share his story as widely as I can
I squeezed in a few minutes with my novel. I’ve been working on it for almost two years, and a year of that has been editing. I’m still shuffling chapters like a deck of cards, always hoping the structure of the novel will emerge magically from the 70,000 word-long Microsoft word document.
I closed the document and began wrestling with the ironing board. Nothing in the wardrobe looked semi-decent and I needed to dress up tonight.
I left the house with plenty of time to spare – anywhere in London seems to take at least an hour, and you should probably chuck in 20 minutes for good measure. The event was celebrating the launch of a report that has collated data from thousands of companies relating to their gender equality. I met some interesting people: a venture capitalist, two women who work for a company that calculates other firms’ gender pay gaps, and a woman who I thought could be my mentor. I got her business card and made a mental note to email her.
Canapes quaffed, I headed to the tube. Outside a fast food joint in south London, the outreach van was waiting for me. I’ve been volunteering with this charity for about six months, doing outreach shifts with sex workers.
I sat in the van, handing out condoms, wet wipes, cigarettes and packets of Haribo. The weather was getting colder, so we also gave out donated hats, scarves and jumpers. No one was keen on the brown bobbly sweater. They were polite and chatty, and mostly glad to see us.
My supervisor drove me home at the end of the shift, around 1 a.m. I was as quiet as I could be with the sticky lock on the front door. I didn’t want to wake my boyfriend up. The house was cold but luckily I’d remembered to put my pyjamas on the bathroom heater.
Popula is 100% ad-free, reader-supported journalism accountable only to you. Every dollar of your subscription goes straight to our work. Thank you for supporting Popula.