First of all, readers, sorry for the late postdate. The excitement for daily blogs is still there! I have in fact been making audio notes to myself or written bullet points but a combination of being busy and having poor time-management explains the tardiness of this post. The same applies for the following few. Flying Sunday may cause further delays but I hope to be on track this time next week.
I opened the second of the two front Airbnb doors and a cat rushed out in the inner space. Afraid to touch it and fearing its imminent death if allowed to wander outside, I shooed it indoors, reclosed both doors. Stepping outdoors and calling the host, immediately afterwards. He answered straight away, apologised profusely for not being present and explained that the cat was allowed free reign and had a kennel which it could choose to sleep in outside if it so chose.
He continued speaking on loudspeaker as I fumbled around with the keys, trying to get the front door open. As he started to talk about the other resident I heard a “this is me” in a feminine distantly mainland European voice down the hallway. A curly haired brunette emerged from the kitchen and I hastily uttered my goodbyes and thanks to the host as the brunette European had begun to talk to me.
I retrieved my bags from the yard, got some help closing the doors and took in the place that would be my home for the next few days.
Immediately apparent were the cold temperature and rough interior of the house. I’d grown accustomed to a certain standard of décor and cleanliness in previous Airbnb stays and so although I was confident it was habitable, I wondered if I should have gone to a pricier but less shabby place. My room, at least, was clean enough. It was slightly colder than the ground floor, however there was at least a duvet that I soon lay under to warm my weary muscles.
The following morning, today, I had only one thing that needed to be done in the afternoon. To fill my morning, I reached out to a friend with the proposal of brunch. Fortunately, he was willing to meet, and we made loose arrangements starting with my arrival at his house later in the morning. I’d made an internal promise that except for visiting a relative who lived in a distant Mancunian town, I would not use public transport, in order to get in more daily steps. But ravenous as I was, I was all too eager to get the bus – a walk would have taken 40 minutes longer than by bus – when he showed a strong preference for my more immediate arrival due to his own hunger.
When I’m really hungry, I go all out. Unsatisfied with just one dish, I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and toasted tea cake from North Tea Power, a café I occasionally frequented when I lived in Manchester. I started going originally as it was the venue of an unsuccessful coffee date that I’d had. But so impressed was I with the grilled cheese that I kept going, on occasion. But this time, I found the rich cheese to be rather overwhelming. I had to stop eating after just one half and decided that I’d save the other for later. I started on the tea cake, all the while sipping on my liberally sweetened tea. It’s interesting to note how one’s palette changes with weight loss. I think that I’ve consumed 2 of the things and even wanted more when I was larger and yet I now struggle with half!
The teacakes were a little disappointing – not as sweet as they could be due to a lack of raisins, nor crispy – merely warm. Conversation flowed easily with the friend. We discussed our unwelcome singledom, his work frustrations and other aspects of adult life that are too boring or personal to note.
He had to leave prematurely to get on with his Sunday chores. I refused his profuse apology, noting that our meeting was quite spontaneous and a few moments of contemplation later, I opened my sleek new laptop and began to work on my slowly shortening list of last-minute errands. It’s amazing how many things have to be sorted out before one leaves the country!
It feels strange to say, especially as I’ve now owned it for a couple of weeks, but each time I crack open my laptop, I marvel a little at the feat of engineering. It would appear my appeal for slimness does not just stop at the human physique. The thin machine houses an impressive 2500U Ryzen Processor with integrated Vega graphics capable of powering many titles at low or medium settings. It boasts 8Gb of Ram and has 128GB of lightning fast SSD storage, upgradable via SD (which I now discover goes up to 521GB, albeit at a staggeringly high price). And it doubles as a tablet – the screen attached to the keyboard by a 360 degree-rotating hinge.
I was barely into my list of errands when my friend announced that she’d arrived in Manchester. I cursed my carelessness as moments before, while scrolling Facebook, I realized that her birthday was a few days later. I’d neglected to get her a card and it was unlikely I’d be able to purchase one during our time together, write in it and deliver it without being discovered. I had no desire to get a card if she knew what I was doing.
It was lovely to meet her again. She immediately noticed my weight loss and that observation brought a smile to my face. Despite my own knowledge of the slow changes on the scale, it’s still slightly validating having the change noticed by others. She’s one of the few people with whom I can be honest about my love-life and it was such a relief to express my frustrations, hopes and doubts.
Our gossiping was set to a backdrop of window shopping. It truly was a waste of time as nothing was bought but I did find a couple items such as a man-purse that I resolved to buy at some point, either in Japan or before leaving the UK. Cheap as we were, we made a stop at Poundland to get some contraband before making our way to the cinema to see “Crazy Rich Asians”.
When a friend told me they cried during the movie, I was dubious. It’s called “Crazy Rich Asians” for goodness sake. But despite the atrociously named title, I found that I too shed some tears in the final half hour. I felt a variety of emotions throughout the film- disgust, sympathy and happiness; the latter, a weird, sickly sweet romantic joy, that caused my tear ducts to erupt.
I rather enjoyed the shared experience. It made me think about the fact that I don’t often do activities with friends. Much of my socialisation takes place in cafes, restaurants or malls. And while I absolutely enjoy watching films and doing a variety of other activities alone, there was a certain pleasure in sharing the experience with another human – the shared gasps, the glances, the furtive smiles.
Although I was cognisant of the fact that it was no short flick, the time didn’t drag unduly. But the 2-hour length did mean that my time with my friend had to draw to a close sooner than I’d have preferred.
I must admit that music and book shops are my Achilles heel. Some people have their museums or their fancy restaurants but when I see Waterstones or a shop with pianos inside, I can’t help but go on to browse through the books I won’t buy or starter e wonderingly at the pianos I won’t purchase but might attempt to discreetly play. Knowing my weakness, the friend I was with was unsurprised as I dragged her into Forysths music shop.
This time, I did intend to buy a piano. Not then, but I asked the relevant clerk about their electronic piano recommendations as I think it’s come time in my pianistic development to have a piano in my residence with which I can practice. Acoustics are too loud so I would almost certainly have to use a silent system. Grands are too big and even uprights are too heavy. Which leaves electronic pianos – a stage piano to be specific.
I tried a few models but ultimately concluded that a Yahama, priced at around £1200, was the most suitable option. I was also advised to check out the Nord brand. There weren’t in the store any in the store, but it was explained that they were easily identifiable by their distinctive red colour. I don’t have a grand to burn now but as remarked to my friend at the time, it’s something that I can look to save for next summer after my year abroad. Certainly, in my priorities, piano ranks higher than driving lessons which are something I had thought about using next summer’s earnings for. One other thing, I love about her, as a artist herself, is that she is in full support of and lacks judgement of my musical pursuits. Sometimes it can seem that others devalue the hobby :/.
After a rare moment of decisiveness on my part and that long movie, she’d had only half an hour before she had to be picked up. We got tea at a Costa. Served in a teapot, by the time I poured myself my last mug of the energy-restoring elixir, it was my 6th the day – quite a feat! Saying goodbye was difficult and I accepted her offer of embrace with little, if any, of my usual reluctance.
It was now time for me to make my way back to my accommodation where I began to work on this post.
A little while later, I became aware of the disappearing sunlight through the skylight in my attic room. That, and the desire to return before midnight in order for any steps recorded to be on the right date made me get ready to leave. I resolved to run there to get a warm up.
2km went fine and I self-congratulated myself for my improved fitness. Half a km later, I found that I’d come to a dead end at a cul-de-sac. I changed the suggested route and started to walk, resolving to run again once I came to a new stretch of uninterrupted road. But breaking my pace had killed my motivation and I never again ran that night. In addition, the hip joint soreness that has become oh-so-familiar began to flair up and so I started to limp.
As I walked along the moonlight night, the pebbles biting into my feet through my cheap amazon-bought trainers, my groin screaming out me in protest due to running on it in the cold with my robust weight, I thought to myself “Does being desirable really matter that much?”. I paid no heed to the thought but as the route took me along a deserted park-adjacent road I began to wonder if I’d subjected myself to mortal danger for the sake of a workout I wasn’t that enthused to be undertaking.
My mind focused on the sore joint. As I inched my way towards the gym, my limp grew ever more pronounced. I wondered if I had some sort of arthritis. I certainly seemed to have some of the symptoms. I had joint pain, it grew worse with the cold, light exercise relieved the symptoms, but heavy exercise aggravated it. But I’m quite accustomed to my medical anxieties and quieted that line of thinking.
After what seemed like an eternity, I saw the familiar fluorescent blue of the PureGym logo. It was the largest gym of that chain, I’ve seen yet and with my multi-site membership, I’ve seen several. It was also the cheapest with a 0.00 joining fee and 9.99 per month membership. Noticing a rotund personal trainer exiting the gym with a client I snidely thought to myself “perhaps they save money with a lower quality of staff”. A mean comment, I know.
It was quiet when I entered. Something I much prefer. At my home gym, I’d have to get there by at least as late as 1am to get that level of inactivity. My pelvis was crying at me for relief, so I headed first to the mat area are to do some stretching. As I got there, someone was making love to an exercise ball, but they paid me no heed as I clumsily made my way through various yoga poses.
The weights area was similarly deserted, much to my liking. My workout went okay for the most part, my pain somewhat relieved by the extended stretching session downstairs. Between upright row sets, someone asked me to spot their bench press. I hesitated for a moment, worrying that I wouldn’t be strong enough for the task. But, perhaps unwisely, I followed him to the squat rack and stood behind, shadowing the bar with my outstretched hands. Besides helping him with the off and reloading of the bar, I didn’t have to intervene and was pleased that the stressful task went smoothly.
On the way back to the Airbnb, I wanted to take a direct route. It was late, I didn’t intend to run but the route I’d taken getting to the gym would be about an hour and I really didn’t fancy getting home past midnight. The more direct route was initially unremarkable, but it took me to a long dark alley, one much darker than the one I’d encountered earlier on in the evening.
I began to make my way along it, my heart thudding in my chest, as I made my way towards the distant light at the end of the alley. My phone’s torch was little comfort against the night’s darkness which seemed to press against me omnidirectionally. Again, I thought to myself “is this really worth it?”. A few minutes passed, and it felt like I was getting no closer to the end. This made my anxious mind flit to thoughts of Tartarus of Greek mythology where criminals were doomed to work on task befitting their crime, to no avail, in perpetuity. I began to feel more and more vulnerable and more than once, I thought that there would be a certain cruel irony if I were to meet my end on the way home from an activity I didn’t particularly find enjoyable.
That anxiety stayed with me even after I’d escaped that surprisingly long part of the journey home. At the very least, the following alleys I encountered were at least partially illuminated. “Really”, I thought sleepily as I trudged along, “Google Maps should take safety and time of day into account when suggesting pedestrian routes”.
I felt a great sense of relief when I reached the main road. A few minutes later, I was at the Airbnb. My room was tremendously chilly, but I was only too glad to kick off my clothes, curl into the foetal position and fall asleep.