Ode to Scraping Pennies

Two months ago I lived in quite possibly the biggest house I’ve ever set foot in. The property was enormous, and there was a lake at the foot of the garden with a little red boat for rowing in. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman had once famously inspected the house for potential purchase. I had the entire third floor to myself, including a large turquoise bathroom that Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason renovated when he owned the place. Apparently, the man who drummed his way through The Dark Side of the Moon can also be credited to building the sauna that I would later sit in for hours, reading books on the hot wood while coals steamed around me. The woods were just a five-minute drive away and my god, they were beautiful. I once took a boy I fancied there in the wispy ends of summer and we spent all day nestled in the deepest, lushest nook of the wilderness we could find. Picnics and packed lunches at the ready. Conversations spilling out and crunching up the leaves. 

Then I moved to Brighton and the luxury seeped out of everything fast. I now lived in a hostel dorm room cramped with three-tier bunk beds. All the facilities were shared, and it wasn’t uncommon to emerge from a shower cubicle in the morning to be met by a strange middle-aged man standing at the sink. In his underwear. Shaving. When I wasn’t there I spent my time in and out of that same boy’s basement flat, huddled together on floors and couches because at times there were more people than there were beds. Instead of having unlimited access to a fridge that resembled a very cold walk in wardrobe, I was suddenly living off Sainsbury’s Meal Deals and one pound containers of soup from the convenience store across the road. Counting my copper for beer and vices. I got a wonderful job in a fancy dress shop, but my heart still sank a little each week when I got my pay slip and remembered how low wages are in England compared to back home. In the countryside I was technically ‘financially independent’, but this was another ball game altogether. Life strings from heartbeat to heartbeat, we all know that. But no one ever mentioned it lives paycheck to paycheck, too. 

It’s strange to realise the contrast between the two like that, almost comical really. But what’s even stranger is the conclusion so strong I didn’t even have to rummage around my head to find it. I am so, so much happier now. Because the life I’ve built for myself is the one I came over here to live, and this is my ode to that. To scraping those damn pennies together if I have to. 

Because now I get to wake up each morning breathing in a strange combination of frost and sea. I wrap myself up in furs, in dresses. I stomp through the streets in too-big boots and puff away on my nicotine machine until the little blue light flickers out then dies. These are the days of warm arms and cold coffee breaks, of mulled cider and spiced wine and sitting round a table laughing so hard your sides open up. Of waking up drowning in a blue duvet sea. Of coming home to some of my favourite people, beer cans littered around the floor, letting each episode of Twin Peaks roll into the next until it’s way past midnight and we’re too tired to keep it up without a little kick these days. I’m reading less and writing more. Time is on my side. Time trips me up by jerking the rug from underneath my feet. 

It’s no more fancy than that, I promise. But it’s enough. So I’d like to write a scattered little love letter to these stolen months, because that’s what they are. A paperback with limited pages. A sentence that you say knowing it will surely change everything. I’m going to have to leave one day, that much is inevitable, but for now the skyline of my pulse is dotted with rows of off-white apartments. With paint peeling off. All standing at attention to the sea. And each moment will curtsey as it crumbles to the next, and the rent will be hard to make, and we’ll keep spending what’s leftover on stupidity and love. But so what? I’m free here. And everything I have is mine.

with Jack Mark on the pier

my darling Kate

home away from home

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