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Change number 4: I’m cool to travel solo

Girlie holidays were not only mandatory in my early twenties but they were also a much needed medicine; a tonic to gulp heartily after a break up, a tense year of study or as a prerequisite for my quest for sunshine.

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Endless hours filled with researching, comparing, asking, haggling and finally, after booking, anticipating. The present day lost its value in the fervent wait of the future; nights out were drained of their appeal, standing for nothing but squandered money that could be better spent on our holiday. Summer wardrobes were thought about well in advance, our pale skins growing darker in front of our very eyes, the visual of the sun drenched versions of ourselves taking precedent over anything else. And then, early airport drives and surreal aeroplane conversations later, we found ourselves in our chosen exotic place. Rising earlier than we ever would have in London, racing ourselves to the beach, worshipping the sun, sky and waves. We’d stay there until sun set, marvelling at the different shade the dusk made our skin. The face loving light of twilight. We loved it.

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And for a long time, that’s what holidays meant to me. I associated them with friends, beaches and nightclubs. So when a decade later, I found myself on an aeroplane about to embark on a ten day break alone on the romantic island of Santorini, my excitement matched my fear.

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Was ten days too long? Would I feel completely isolated? Beyond this, would I even be safe? Three and a half hours and a Caldera view later, my worries were burnt to nothing by the brightest sunset I had ever seen. I soon found my routine within no routine. Sleeping for as long as I wanted, eating a daily breakfast of bread dipped in honey, taking hour long hot showers and dressing at my leisure. When I left my hotel suite for the day, I often had no idea where I was going, deciding only when I reached the bus station. I slept on a beach of black volcanic sand, read until sunset and wrote. When I met a local village boy, there was no guilt attached to my spending time with him and I spent an afternoon on the back of his of moped, zooming past vineyards and mountains; the island an open air museum. Even a simple green hill offered romance and we sat overlooking the Aegean as he filled a city girl mind with the ways of small island life.

He told me that when it rained, the mountain changed colour, proving that even things that can’t move have their own way of evolving. We kissed goodbye and I never saw him again after that lazy day, but I carefully folded the memory away for when I would need it again.

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The days stretched into one long moment and I soon forgot which day it actually was. Clocks and watches lost their role as I woke when rested, ate when hungry and slept when tired. Sure, it was weird at first asking for a ‘table for one’ and I can’t pretend I didn’t crave the comfortable chatter of other adults, but being alone forced me to spark up a conversation with people I would have ordinarily dismissed when in the comfort zone of my friendship. I listened to taxi drivers who regaled me with stories about the local area, found out about the lives of people from the other side of the world and I walked for hours, popping into quaint shops and spotting a donkey or two on my travels.

I left in the middle of the night, hoping the island would forgive me for going. As the plane touched on home land, I felt with it an empowerment that came from giving myself a great opportunity. I knew I would always love the bonding that came with holidaying with friends but in the end, it was important to know I could go it alone sometimes too.

I felt different after and trying to live the same life on my return was weird. The grey pavements bored me and the red bricked houses seemed to block something. But within time and as expected, reality won the race and I grew used to my surroundings again. I suppose they were here first. I could only take what I had learnt about myself and add it to my way of living.

There was nothing else left to do other than to keep dipping my bread into honey because in one way or another, it had rained and I’d changed colour.

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Change number 3: I’ve outgrown old friends

We’ve all got that one friend. You know, the one whose doorbell you ring on repeat, whose house you go to and before you’ve even sat down, you’ve already raided the fridge, slapped the kettle on and changed the tv channel. The kind of friend that remembers you when you had a mono-brow and bad teeth. The friend whose Mum you have a nickname for and whose face is an indelible etch on the wallpaper that houses your childhood memories.

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But what happens when, after years of hanging out on their sofa in comfortable silence, you no longer have anything to say? Or you realise that you disagree with their way of thinking and that somewhere in between cups of tea and drunken nights, the friendship that you once thought was so strong, had been slowly chipped away at with the passing of time and the changing of ideas?

I couldn’t admit it at first because I liked having a friend who had known me for years. It was the warmest of safety blankets and gave me instant trust factor; I must be a good person if I can keep a friend in my life for almost two decades, right? But we had reached the stage that all long friendships must pass; the ‘who are you becoming?’ test. School had passed us by, college was a distant memory and we were now working hard in our chosen careers. Throughout it all, we had stayed friends long enough to have to make the decision; what next in our lives? We were either going to get married and start a family or just continue on to become who we were destined to be. The transient pit-stop in-between teenager and adulthood was drawing to a close. She chose marriage and I chose me.

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Her life began to involve wedding dresses and seeking out semi detached homes in suburbia and my life involved enrolling on writing courses, spending hours walking around art galleries and meeting new people. People who hadn’t grown up in an insular community. People who were different to me, who were better than me. Just their presence encouraged different sides to myself. Dimensions that had always been there but had lain dormant in the hope that someday, they would be allowed centre stage.

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Prenovias and Wang dresses may have dominated many a conversation but I knew it wasn’t her imminent marriage that made us drift away from one another. After all, many friends have different lifestyles and desires and they make it work. In many cases, the differences are what keep friendships together; various facets complementing one another to provide a solid basis for a strong partnership.

No, it was more the fact that she no longer understood me. She couldn’t understand why, at the age of 30, I had not shown an inherent desire for marriage or children. She couldn’t fathom why I chased a career in writing as opposed to being wholly sated by my comfortable teaching job and she never got why I would well up at the sight of a full moon or falling snow. Instead of challenging me, she ignored this whole new part of my life. She ignored the texts asking her what she thought of my new blog, her face met mine with disdain when I attempted to delve into deeper issues and in the end, she ignored me. Not in the physical sense, no it was a different type of neglect. She was always available to me and open to meeting up but the silences that floated between us were an echo of a dying laughter and punctuated only by comments on television programmes or questions about people we both once knew.

It took a while to admit it to myself but the palpable truth was, we had both changed and we could no longer reserve a space for one another in today’s version of our lives.

But how do you tell an old friend that you no longer want to be friends? That you find their company uncomfortable and that you don’t really know who you are together anymore? It was impossible to speak out without hurting someone.

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In the end, I fazed her out. It wasn’t an overnight thing of course and certainly not symptomatic of the vast friendship that we had, but it was the only way I could do it. I did still text her but ceased to suggest meeting and ignored her suggestions of doing so. I didn’t ever call her of my own accord and I declined invites to birthdays and family events that I was once expected to go to.

When I changed my number and didn’t include her in the text to let people know, I knew it was over. And like a person just about to die, our friendship flashed before me; nights spent on holiday lying under the stars on a Mediterranean beach, two teenagers smoking weed on a flat roof and evenings turning into mornings playing cards and laughing. My heart fluttered and I felt a wave of emotion at the line that was being so indefinitely drawn. But I knew. I so knew. Changes would be happening a lot from now on and this was one of them. I was evolving but the me that loved her was still inside and so the love I had for her would always be there. Her laugh, the way she drank her tea and where the spoons were kept in her kitchen; I’d never forget. But it was today’s truth that I couldn’t keep a friendship alive with the insalubrious water of the past.

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Change number 2: My mum is also my friend

I love a lot of people. No, not like that. I simply hold an interest in others and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been aware of people. Of their feelings, of their differences, of the skin they live in.

And for every truly loved person in my life, I have an image that I associate them with.

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Take my brother for example; the fact that he’s a successful 36 year old man doesn’t stop me from perpetually picturing him in a baseball cap holding a joypad. For my friend Emma; it’s a cup of tea, for Stella, it’s laughing on a couch, for Eva, it’s baking cakes, for my dad it’s whiskey and for my mum, it was – and always will be – copious amounts of potpourri.

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Everything she wore and owned always seems to be redolent of a vague floral fusion. A scent that now, when I catch a whiff of it, sends me back to monkey bars in a suburban park or Saturday trips to Trocadero.

Much like many children before me – adult or otherwise – I loved my mum. Mostly, I loved her face because somewhere in that pallid sea lay a permanent reminder of the child version of me. As a kid, I loved pleading with her rotund belly to let me be a child for just a while longer, or running up to her bedroom window to say goodbye when she left and knowing that as she reached the top of the road, she would always turn around and wave. And I loved her smell. That unmistakable mum smell that nothing can compare to.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a saccharine soliloquy about the wonder of mothers. There was a time when every little thing my mum did annoyed me for no reason and I didn’t understand her. I found it impossible to comprehend why she had made certain choices in her life and why she had accepted her fate so obsequiously. Ashamedly, myriad years were spent upsetting, hurting and making her already difficult life even harder.

And then, 2 months before my 30th birthday, after years of arguments and slammed doors, I finally moved out of home and into my own flat. And for the first two nights, I cried because I envisaged her lonely; taunted by empty bedrooms.

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But, as expected, I soon loved independent me and once settled, the experience of doing all of my own washing, cleaning and cooking made me not only be thankful to my mum for all she’d done but it also made me be her. I would make mugs shine with bleach the way she did, I would berate myself for spilling tea the way she once berated me and just like her, I took to turning the heating on full blast and opening all the windows (this was all before the first electricity bill, naturally). And pretty soon, the two of us found our own routine with my mum visiting at least once a week; a visit that I looked forward to and planned for.

Today, when my she visits, it is I who cooks and washes up for us. We no longer sit there in comfortable silence because I’m used to her presence. Today I ask her questions – and not just about being my mum. I ask her about what it was like growing up in a Cypriot village where fun was picking fruit from trees in a field. And I ask her what hopes she has for the future – because people near 60 need to know they have a future.

And when she describes how she fled the war when she was only 18 and how, even amidst the uncertainty and fear, she loved being on a boat and seeing Europe, I kiss her face and thank her for giving me the untold optimism she’s had since birth.

And when she leaves, I run to my bedroom window and wait. And yes, she still turns and waves and that’s when I get it. There will be few people in your life who, when they’ve left you, will still turn and wave and your mum is one of them. It’s a breath giving thought.

And then I go back to clean up the pool of tea I spilt earlier and see a bud of potpourri swimming in it.

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Change number 1: I don’t like the things I used to

I don’t like going to nightclubs anymore. There, I said it. It’s taken two years to admit, but I finally made it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy standing in a sweaty box being slowly deafened by the overpowering, pervading music. Nor is it that my heart doesn’t fill itself with joy when boys half my age approach me for a dance all the while rapping the lyrics to Drake’s new masterpiece. (Not to mention having to pay £12 for a watered down cocktail that my Gran would mistake for juice).

I suppose, and excuse me as I delve into my deeper psyche, it’s more to do with my current need to be doing things that involve meaning. Stay with me here.

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In my early twenties, it was okay to watch a film about fast cars (or were they just furious?)  as I scoffed popcorn watered down by a bottle of Coke large enough to give a small country diabetes. It was okay to dance on some random person’s table at a nightclub and throw tissues in the air, (this actually happened), and then proceed to go to work the next day still bright eyed and bushy tailed as ever. It was also okay to spend an entire evening talking to a stranger as if he were the most important person in the world; nodding and humouring his new venture involving something to do with opening up a fish shop that also sold pizza. But doing all of the above in my early thirties? Definitely not okay.

Friends who still haven’t derived past the ‘I pray we get into the club’ days often laugh at my new found evolution and I have, on myriad occasions, felt the need to justify myself.

I mean, come on; it’s not as if I’ve enrolled on a crochet making class and I haven’t yet bought anything from QVC. I’m constantly on the go exerting all of the social skills that I’ve accumulated over the years.

The energy I had ten years ago is still as fervent as ever and is consumed in much the same capacity; the difference being that these days I do so in a way that feels natural to me for where I am today. I might decline an offer to the opening of a new nightclub but if you mention anything cultured or varied, my response is very different. London Fashion Week? I’m there. A new exhibition at the Tate? Book me in. A play followed by cocktails in a Soho Bar? Just let me know a time.

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Night clubs, for me at least, have been replaced by atmospheric festivals, hedonistic holidays, long lunches and talks with friends, literary events, shopping trips, fine dining, courses, exercise classes, live events; the list goes on.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy dancing on tables and talking to random people. In fact, at the time, I loved it and I can only truly appreciate the things I do now because at one time in my life, I walked home at sunrise with my shoes in my hand and kebab sauce stained clothes. And what a memory that is.

But today is different. Today I notice a beautiful building I once would have drunkenly thrown up outside of. Today I comment if I happen to drink really good coffee. Today I look at the ingredients on the back of face creams. Today I’m in my thirties.

This is me; a grown up bidding adieu to her youth. There I said it. Join me in my quest to find some meaning in some things in some city some place. Word.