It was my sister’s birthday recently so I met up with her yesterday to celebrate. We met up in Manchester, and did some shopping and then went for a meal. We happened upon a random food market and I discovered Manchester Tarts, which turned out to be a little sickly but delicious. My sister also took me to this awesome book and music store and I splurged on several new DVDs and books but they were so individually cheap I can’t feel too bad. I also bought new makeup, because there is no such thing as too much skincare and makeup (ahem.) Did I mention my sisters’ boyfriend came along? He was extremely patient whilst being dragged through the shops by my sister and me. I felt a little awkward with him there but I tried to nice, and I’m hoping he wasn’t too uncomfortable/wishing it was just my sister too much. Later, my mom and dad also joined us for the meal and it was a little overwhelming to have us all together (and so weird to be single whilst my sister is there settled into her relationship and bringing him into the family. I felt a little bit like a hanger on, OK. Group outings should always be even numbers.) But it was fun and the food was delicious. We went for Thai food at Chao Phraya. We last went there for my 21st birthday. It’s a good place to go to for special meals- with food that is a little up there in price, but extremely tasty, a lovely drinks menu including delicious mocktails, a good atmosphere and very nice staff too. Afterwards my mom and my sister insisted on going to one last shop, so they did, and myself, my dad and my sisters’ boyfriend sat on the comfy couches outside the changing rooms and waited. Then we all headed to get our respective trams/trains to get home. I got home late, and was sleepy, but happy.

Despite having high hopes for last weeks worth of work, I ended up having a terrible week (for various reasons I won’t bore you with) and it was great to have a nice day out with my family, not thinking about work, being a little frivolous, eating good food. I am a little nervous for this week at work, as last week has definitely kicked my already low motivation, but I’ve taken Friday off and I am going to look forward to a nice, long (much needed) weekend.

“Warm spring that left, won’t you come back to me?”

The past weeks have been swinging between extreme highs and extreme lows. Work is…there is a situation I cannot talk about but which is crushing me right now. I am stressed out and anxious. But in other ways things are good right now – my flat is not looking like a complete disaster for once, I have been getting into reading again and enjoying some good dramas too, my neighbour’s cat has taken to coming into my flat and letting me play with him and cuddle him, and I’ve had some pretty good weekends spent actually doing stuff and not holed up at home feeling sorry for myself (see: work.)

One of my goals when I moved to this city was to take advantage of the cultural elements available to me, and take advantage of my salary, to see more shows. I love going to the theatre to see ballets, plays and operas and I don’t do it nearly enough. So I’m doing something about that now. Opera North are currently hosting a Fairy Tale season and I’ve got tickets to them all. I love fairy tales, especially the dark originals. For these shows too, I admit I was drawn in by the posters, which show the main characters in traditional costuming, although I have been confused as to how different the operas are turning out to the posters. (Very confused.) Anyway, I also bought tickets for Turandot in May. This gives me something to look forward to in these stressful times, and gets me out the house, which is also good (see: no moping.) It’s not too expensive either. After all, you can get a seat for just £15, and I bought a three opera package which meant that both Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella were £13.70 each! (Lets not talk about how expensive Turandot was even with a three opera discount – I wanted a good seat and I better have got one!)

So, the other weekend I saw the first of the fairy tales: the Russian “Snow Maiden”. My sister came up to my city and we went out to supper and then to see the show and it was all awesome. The Snow Maiden was extremely odd – it felt like it should have been sung in Russian, and the costumes were a bizarre mix of traditional and modern that made little sense (I don’t get why the Snow Maiden was in jeans for nearly the entire show whilst all the other characters got to change into different costumes. It was in stark contrast to the beautiful dress that Snow Maiden is wearing in the posters for the show. Shouldn’t the main character be the most beautiful, the one that stands out the most?) But it was short and funny and wonderful. My sister and I went shopping the next day which was also great fun.

I went to see the second of the fairy tales last weekend: the German “Hansel and Gretel”. This was a full on modern production of the opera. Again not as advertised, at all, though I did end up loving it. The music was stunning, and the opera itself was…surreal. It was very odd and slightly disturbing (young children singing happily after brutally burning to death a witch OK then) but it felt true to the dark spirit of the original fairy tale. I thought it was a more successful modern rendition of the opera than the Snow Maiden – the snow maiden swung between traditional and modern, which was confusing, but this one went all out modern. So OK. It was also hilarious… and I loved some of the odd details, like the witches wand being an electric beater (so random) and the use of video and cameras. It was really great. I also appreciated that it was also short – as much as I enjoyed 5 hours of parsifal, it can be a big demand on your time to sit through such a long show! I missed my sister, my default show-going partner, but she let me text her throughout the evening so it was like she was right there with me anyway. :)

I am looking forward to Cinderella, although I was drawn in to that by the gorgeous poster (the dreamy dress Cinderella is wearing, with bare feet) and from these two I can tell already that the actual product is going to be very different. Cinderella will at least be sung in the traditional Italian. Both Snow Maiden and Hansel and Gretel were in English. :( I can understand that for accessibility and drawing younger crowds (a goal of this opera season, if I’m reading the programmes correctly) it makes sense to present the operas in their English versions, but one thing I enjoy about the opera is getting to hear different languages. I would have loved to have heard Russian. Oh well.

This weekend though I am…actually holed up at home. I had plans to go out and buy some more fish, but it’s too cold and miserable. Winter is starting to get to me – dark mornings, grey, dull days and then it’s only a matter of time before its dark again. Last weekend there was actually some sunshine and I felt optimistic that spring may have finally started to come…the bulbs are starting to show… surely it should be time? I need some sunshine already. I’m starting to get cabin fever. I pace through my own flat, filled with restless energy. That’s maybe just the anxiety though. I wish work would be better. Then everything would be so great. I suppose it’s an impossible dream to want everything to be going perfectly well at all times. Come spring, hopefully things can settle down at least. Being pushed to these extremes, often quickly, is exhausting. I try on focus on all the good things going on in my life right now, those highs, but the stress of the lows leaves me so tired out and makes even being happy feel too effortful.

“Because nothing is so fearful as giving up”

St Michaels Church and Hungarian National Museum

{Nine more pictures under the cut}
BUDAPEST, DAY TWO – Woke up fairly late today then headed out to the Szechenyi spa. Enjoyed the spa for about five minutes then became acutely aware was sat in a hot bath with a whole bunch of strangers, all of us barely clothed. There were so many people too. It was claustrophobic.

Afterwards had a great lunch at a nearby cafe and then popped into Vajdahunyad Castle. Vajdahunyad Castle was insane – a mixture of every fairy tale castle and horror movie castle you can think of. Totally bizarre. I wished I had my camera on me to take some pictures, but I had left it at home because of the spa. (That’s why there are no spa pictures either.) We headed back to the apartment to get changed and take a little break. I ate some cake that was way too rich but too delicious and I wish I knew the name of it. We then set off to find St Michaels church. We wanted to buy tickets to the organ concert being held there that night. Usually, there are organ concerts every week at the St Stephens Basilica, but this week being Easter, there was a break in that programme. I had managed to dig through the internet and find out about a organ concert being held at the smaller St Michaels. I was quite determined to go to a Hungarian organ concert, and my sister and her friend were reluctantly allowing themselves to be dragged in. It was a compromise – I hadn’t wanted to go to the Spa, but I did for them, and in return they would go to the concert.

The route to the church was a pleasant walk that took us along the river and past the white bridge. The church was on a pretty touristy bit of street with plenty of souvenir shops and people standing outside of restaurants that would call out to you and try and lure you in. We found the church and purchased the concert tickets we wanted. I had been very worried they would be sold out but there were no problems. We then walked to the nearby National Museum of Hungary. This was a fascinating museum. Unfortunately I went through the first section backwards which was very confusing – I know enough about history to have realised I was doing so, but not enough to be certain of it. Once I’d realised that I could enjoy it knowing I was reading about Hungarian history in the proper order. Going to this museum also helped to clear up lingering confusion from the Legislation Museum the day before. It was a big, grand museum stuffed with artefacts and information. I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately though I lost my sister and her friend fairly soon into the visit and thus spent most of my time worried about where they were, whether they were worried or annoyed. I couldn’t text my sister as you have to give your bags in to enter museum and I had forgotten to get my phone out and take it with me. When I finally spotted my sister, I ran over to her and gave her a big hug…which was inappropriate but necessary.

Reunited, we went back to the tourist street and allowed ourselves to be suckered in to one of the tourist traps…I mean restaurants for supper. We really wanted to find somewhere else, but we decided to stick to the tourist street so we would have enough time to eat before the concert. The food turned out to be pretty good actually, and not too overpriced.

Afterwards we went to the concert. The church was very impressive – much smaller than St Stephens Basilica obviously, and still in the midst of its renovations. It was interesting to see the contrast between the parts that had been restored and the parts that had not. There was something a bit more sombre and slightly more severe about this church. Also, the pews were extremely hard. We sat for two hours on those extremely hard benches, completely unable to get comfortable. This was a long concert. My sister and her friend were pretty bored by it. And as for me, I was interested but also confused- where was the organ? Well, turns out that there wasn’t one. Or at the least it wasn’t connected to its pipes. I waited and waited and listened out for it but it never showed itself. It was a very good performance – a full orchestra, a full choir with some very good leading singers – but the uncomfortable seat and the fact that it dragged on without ever really climaxing was a bit disappointing. The balance between vocalists, choir and orchestra was not quite right too and didn’t utilize the space correctly. I wanted something grand. I wanted to feel the floor shake with the power of the music, as it had the last time I had heard an organ played. Ah well. It was still brilliant, even if the reality was quite different from what I had expected. I did feel slightly bad for dragging my sister and her friend to this. However, I became quite excited to go to the opera the next day.

Because nothing is forever

The summer is going past at breathtaking speed. I am feeling overwhelmed by all the changes going on in my life right now, and struggling to keep track of it all. I want to sit down and write but I don’t even know where to begin,and then the next thing happens, and the next.

I went to my new city again, and this time I was successful in finding a place to live there. I saw a flat I liked and was already so done with house searching, that I asked to apply for it right then and there, and was allowed to do so. A few weeks of paperwork and sorting out references (and much more time spent on the phone than I really feel comfortable with) I have a flat to live in. Its a first floor apartment, two bedrooms, set in communal gardens, in a nice area of the city, in a quiet development surrounded by other flats that all look exactly the same, but white washed walls with red details and well maintained gardens means its attractive. Its close to a main road so I should be able to get the city center and work without any trouble. The flat has plenty of windows to let in the light and there is a full sized kitchen, and thus a full sized fridge which means I will finally have a freezer.(My old house did not and life without being able to freeze meals or have frozen vegetables was possible, but annoying.) There are wooden floors in most of the room and a built in cupboard in the bedroom (I love built in cupboards – my room in my parents house and my uni house both had them, coincidentally, so I am glad to carry on the trend.) It was love at first sight, and I am a bit worried that the flat harbors some terrible secret I didn’t catch during that brief viewing – perhaps a really loud neighbor, a mold problem, especially cold and drafty in the winter, large windows but no light. I am very nervous about it. But also very excited to have my own place, having started to really panic about how terrible house hunting was going and beginning to resign myself to settle for a house that wasn’t quite right or deal with a house share for a while. But no, I will be living on my own in a really nice place. I will have my own space, and I do have a lot of furniture, but I’ve already got plans to take my artwork and hang it up, to bring my CDs and Hi-Fi, to buy a really nice bookcase, to really make it into my home in a way that my old place was not quite. As settled as I felt in my last house, it was always a temporary place and I lived in it on a student budget. Now I look at this place as somewhere more permanent to settle down in, to make my own …with the help of a salary. ;)

I have been living with my parents these past few weeks. My father came to pick me up from my old city with a ridiculously large van, in which my entire house was packed up into, then there was a mass scramble to get the place clean before handing it over to the letting agents and driving away. Just like that, I left behind what had been my life. Well, packing was terrible and I left it all too late so I’m sure I’ll never find anything again, and my father was angry for me not having packed, and angry because my house was untidy. Meanwhile, I was stressed and overwhelmed by packing, and reacting to him, so actually it wasn’t pleasant, and it was a long two days to get it all done. But it got done and my full deposit on my old house is being returned, so it must have been done well despite being so last minute.

Living with my parents hasn’t been too bad, a little stifling as to be expected, but also nice not having to worry as much about bills and chores and food. There are other people to share the burden with. I am enjoying lazying around and eating in excess, because there is always food here.

I am also not looking forward to moving to a new city and starting work. Panicking is putting it mildly. I am desperately trying to ignore the passing days and how the time between then and now is narrowing so quickly.

Learning to drive is not going well and my test is next week, but I am resigned to not passing it and having to put up with public transport for a longer while. I can get the bus to work, well two buses, and it will take an hour, but I have commuted for an hour and a half before, I remind myself, and was always on time then, so I can do it. I can do it and am fine with it. But my parents are expecting me to pass first time and that I cannot handle.

As a belated birthday trip, my sister took me to the aquarium which was as fun as ever, and then we went shopping. I think we shopped from about 2pm until 8pm. We were absolutely on a mission to find nice work clothes, the both of us, as well as a few other things. Powered by a delicious lunch of American Diner Food (Hotdogs/burgers/fries/shakes) we shopped and shopped and burned through crazy amounts of money. I now have a killer work wardrobe, even if I say so myself. My sister guided me as to what looked good and was appropriate both for work and for my age. I thus now have two skirts, a handful of dresses, nice shirts and tops, and a couple of pairs of pants for work. All of it in materials I can handle or loose enough to utilize cotton camisoles and slip dresses underneath. (I am allergic to polyester and most synthetics, which usually makes shopping hard, but as it turns out when you have the money, and you take the time to really hunt through the shops, it is possible to build a work wardrobe around this issue.)

I also bought perfume for the first time. My mom says its the grown up thing to do, to wear a light, subtle scent. It’s so strange, wearing those clothes, doing my makeup just so, putting on perfume. It doesn’t feel like me. But this is how I want to present myself. No, I need to present myself well in my new role. I need to look put together and professional. I know that. Its just so strange.

My mother and I took the cat to the vet the other day, and it was uncertain whether it was the cat or myself who was the most anxious. I took the cat and put her in her cage and sat with her in the car, and she protested the entire time. Sitting in the vets, she continued to protest loudly. (At least we were the only ones in the vet, and there were no dogs) She was good during the appointment though. And she was healthy – apart from a flea problem, and the fact that she has lost 1/4 of her body weight. This shocked us. She has also changed color. This surprised the vet.

Our cat came to us from a friend of my mothers, who had kept the cat indoors mostly. When she came to us, she was a black cat, a little plump, very shy and scared of men in particular (or maybe just my father, who is very big and very tall), wouldn’t go outside at all. When we installed a cat flap for her we had to work hard to coax her outdoors. Now, this summer, we have hardly seen her. She comes in to eat, but spends her days outdoors. She is confident, no longer scared of men (she loves my father). She is playful and friendly when she feels like it. She has thinned down and her coat has turned what we call a coca-cola color – dark red, turning redder or even orange in bright light, still just about black in the dark. Sometimes it feels like we’ve ended up with a changeling cat, a creature entirely different from what we originally had. We love her to death, but she is constantly surprising us with her growth.

“A stone on the path means the tea’s not ready, a stone in the hand means somebody’s angry, the stone inside you still hasn’t hit bottom.”

I haven’t really done much this week.

I went to Japanese class on Monday evening, and I went into uni for the day on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday I overslept and missed lectures, and then I had to rush to get ready so I could go to my driving lesson before catching the bus to go up to Leeds. I had another assessment centre on Thursday. I wasn’t looking forward to it, although I was looking forward to a night in a fancy hotel.

The train ride was fairly quick but it was boring. And packed. I was packed in with another lady, both of us with our suitcases wedged in front of us, both of us reading. It was quite nice in a way, to be doing the same thing. But not particularly comfortable. Eventually I felt a little sick and more than a little moody, so I sat and listened to music and stared out the window for the rest of the train ride. I got into Leeds in the evening, and it was strange being there again. My sister had gone to university in Leeds, so I associated Leeds as her city, and as a place I have many memories of spending time with my sister there.

As I stepped out through the ticket barriers I fully expected to see my sister waiting for me there. I’d never been to Leeds and not had her there. I saw her so clearly, right down to the details- her clothes, her silly hat, her smile- that I had to stop for a moment and try and bring myself back to reality. Nothing had changed in that station and it was like stepping back in time. There was my sister waiting, there was the McDonald’s she brought me to for breakfast before I got my train that one time. That memory made me smile: it had only been around 7am but I had insisted that she buy me a mcflurry, and naturally I felt nauseous the whole train ride home consequently, much to my sisters amusement. And then the other memories came and I longed to be with my sister. I wanted to go back to her house and spend the whole weekend lazying about marathoning The IT Crowd. I wanted to go buy cheap £1 cheese pizza slices with her. I wanted to go see bizarre French films at her local art cinema with her. I wanted to take selfies with her in front of her uni. (Well actually, it was our reflections in a glass building, which only made it that more ridiculous.) I wanted to go see Dir en Grey with her again, my first concert, taste vodka for the first time with her at that concert, curl up and go to sleep beside her and wake up to my sister annoyed because I’d punched her accidentally whilst I’d been sleeping, although we were so tired we ended up laughing over it. We’d always laugh over the fact that she slept like the dead whilst I am a violent sleeper who moves around a lot, all flailing arms and cold feet pressed against her.

There were so many good memories. I remembered that one weekend I went to hers after fighting with my mother, how she took me in on less than a days notice, the way I went to see her on my birthdays – she took me to see Dir en grey and complained the whole time, but sat through it and took videos for me. She took me to a comedy show for my 18th birthday and introduced me to different types of alcohol and let me get drunk, but also told me when to stop. That that was my limit and I must always stick to it. (I decided after that not to drink at all, but I still appreciated it. )

OK maybe I’m making the memories more glossy than they should be. There was that time she wanted to go to a bar with me and some of her friends, but I was too young so we all had to go back to hers. Her friends were being drunk and rowdy and I hated it. But even then my sister made sure to attend to me- to give me something to eat, to tell her friends to back off if they were being too much. That’s why my sister is my sister, but also my best friend, and even a second mother to me. I was always aware of how she nurtured and protected me. It made me feel so loved. It blew me away really- how much she loved me. How lucky I was to have that kind of relationship with my sister. I thought things would always stay that way between us. That we’d never drift apart. Other siblings, but not us. Nothing would ever be able to break us up. She would always be there. Her standing in front, protecting, and me standing behind, being protected.

Except something did change. She grew up and entered a new stage in her life. I remained the same. And I am taking the changing nature of our relationship hard because I need my sister so much. Probably more than she needs me. Grief is such a weird emotion. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so devastated over something so intangible and hard to describe as sisterhood, and the loss of whatever it is.

Arriving in Leeds was like arriving home to something, something familiar about it, but also strange because that familiarity was long gone. I stepped out of the station, shook of the memories and focused on finding the hotel.

I did a literal double take when I saw the hotel – the company had booked me a room at the Queens. Which is one of the best hotels in Leeds, according to both google and my sister. It had a red carpet to the door and spotlights shining down on the entrance, a concierge in a top hat and suit waiting before the door. I couldn’t bring myself to enter for a moment and when I did and the concierge greeted me as madam and wished me a good stay I felt desperately anxious that maybe I’d got the wrong place. That only got worse when they couldn’t find my booking. Thankfully they eventually did and I went to the lifts – which were lined with golden mirrors inside if you please – and to my room. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Lets just say that 4 star in Bangkok is very different from 4 star in the UK. It was nice though. I was taken with the décor – all bold patterns, reds and creams and dark wood. I looked forward to a quiet evening in doing work.

I went out to get Mcdonalds, how classy am I eating cheap mcd’s in my four star fancy hotel, and then sat back and did not work – but watched kdramas and enjoyed my crappy food, being able to have the heating on really high and the quiet, clean atmosphere. The next day I couldn’t get the shower to work and had to phone reception to get someone to fix it and lets just say it wasn’t broken. That was embarrassing. I think I realised why it was a four star hotel then, and even more so at breakfast. The service was impeccable. From the polite front desk staff, to the friendly concierge (who remembered me the next day!) to the service at breakfast. Man, this was the first place which has had a disclaimer about allergens on the menu. So I didn’t feel too uncomfortable asking the waiter if I could get porridge made with water. And he was so nice about it. I got my porridge with water. I got green tea. Fresh cut fruits. It was delicious and the service was friendly and helpful and so wonderfully aware of and accommodating to different dietary requirements. It was the first hotel breakfast buffet where I had that luxury. After that I packed up and checked out and waited for the taxi. There was a mix up with the booking which was stressful but I eventually did get to my assessment centre, even if I was unfortunately 20 minutes late.

It didn’t go badly but it could have gone better. Of all things to go wrong I ended up having a coughing fit in the middle of my technical interview- a full on eyes watering, snot dripping, cannot breathe, choking, kind of coughing fit. I had to excuse myself from the meeting it got so bad. It was not the image I wanted to present. The day was turning out to be embarrassing in all kinds of weird ways. After the day ended I went back to the hotel to pick up my luggage and get changed in the cramped hotel bathroom stalls, into something comfortable, because I still hate wearing work attire. This time I wore a skirt and it was good for keeping me sitting up straight, but also so tight around the waist it was hard to move or like, breathe. I was wearing stockings too and they kept shifting down. Such a pain. I got subway for a hasty supper at the train station, very healthy eating these pasty few days right, and joined the crowds waiting for the train. The crowds were so thick that they came almost to the edge of the platform, and I felt worried watching anyone walking past, as they did have to walk right on the edge of the platform to get past. Eventually the train came – late- and I was squished up into my seat again as it was again packed. I have always wondered, ever since I commuted by train and every time I use the train since, where all these people are going and what for. Train stations get so busy, even the long distance trains get packed up daily, where is everyone going? Why? It fascinates me.

I was exhausted, too exhausted to really care about being uncomfortably cramped, and so exhausted even that I passed out and only woke a few minutes before the train pulled into my stop. On one hand, lucky me for waking up then. On the other hand, I could have easily ended up in Plymouth. Can you imagine? I dragged myself and my bag to the bus station, it was pouring with rain just to make my life that more fun, and very dark and quiet in the back streets I had to walk along, which was scary. I got the bus and eventually got home, went to bed.

Haven’t really done any work this week. Have managed to send off a few more job applications. Have mostly spent a lot of time in bed, exhausted and not feeling very well. (I have my third cold/possible virus in three months. My body hates me right now.) It does not really feel like I’m at university right now. I feel distant from it. I feel distant from everything, to be honest. I am aware that I am becoming reclusive. I haven’t been to work in a couple of weeks, I have only just been keeping up with my driving lessons, I have been skipping a lot of lectures and meetings and not studying. I get this way when I get sad and start feeling like whats the point. I start withdrawing. I want to quit everything and just stay indoors and never, ever leave. Its not good. Again, I’ll have to set the deadline as Monday and hope that this week will be the week I can do better.