Date: 28 March 2015.
Location: Bed, at a decent hour, on a Saturday night. Good girlscout.
‘Excuse me, I think you dropped your jumper?’
The Australian accent is unmissable and I spin to respond, a thank you and a playful smile on my lips. And freeze dead still.
It’s a Friday night and I’m on Upper St, at a bar called John Salt. I had been intending to go to the gym and then perhaps for a shop — it’s Bunky’s birthday soon — then head home and have a virtuous green smoothie for dinner. But then, you know, London happened. Instead I meet Paris and Twiggy at Gordon’s Wine Bar on the banks of the Thanes. It’s just two days before we change our clocks and the evening is gloriously light. The Strand and Embankment area are alive with people: people running to the theatre, people drinking beer against pub walls, people with wine in hand spilling out onto the cobblestones. Gordon’s is certainly no exception. This ancient pub is half carved into a cave and boasts a long terrace by the river, an epic wine list and a cheese room. We order a French white, soft cheese and baguettes and settle in. Paris is concerned about the men who adoreher possibly all coming to Oktoberfest this September (try not to hate her). Twiggy is all frustrated and confused because the boy she’s been seeing doesn’t want a ‘relationship’ — but still wants to take her for dinner and hang out (so I think he needs to be shown a spade and later told its a spade). Food all gone and wine glasses empty, we head back to Islington but Joey and friends are out so it’s impossible to head straight home and we take a diversion via John Salt and more wine. Gym had turned into wine and cheese for dinner, which had turned into more wine and then eventually vodka sodas with Paris and Chuckles …so it was little wonder that I’d now let my jumper fall off the bar.
What was a wonder was who picked it up.
‘Excuse me, I think you dropped your jumper?’ I The Australian accent is unmissable and I spin to respond, a thank you and a playful smile on my lips.
‘Oh my god!’ I say, ever so wittily.
‘Oh my god,’ she returns, also demonstrating an enviable mastery of the English language.
We stare at one another. Before me is a skinnier, older, less red-haired and yet utterly recognisable version of a girl I’d been to school with at a little private girls’ school in a primly leafy inner suburb of Melbourne — and then hadn’t seen since graduation day.
As we begin to chat and the shock wears off, I think we both recollect around the same time that there’s good reason that we haven’t seen one another since graduation. We’d never got along particularly well. Despite that, and because we’re now suddenly neighbours in a foreign city, I think we’re both willing to give this a second try and she extends the twenty-first century equivalent the olive branch: her UK mobile number.
‘How small the world is!’ We both exclaim in different ways.
So this got me thinking, on my tipsy walk home from Upper Street later that night, about the landscape of the life of a twentysomething these days.
It’s cliched, sure, but this world is shrinking, guys. Not in the same way that the universe and all of its dark matter will eventually shrink back in in itself, but in that physical distance is no longer the insurmountable obstacles it once was. Want to go to Australia? Cool, go. Hate it and want to come back? Cool, easy. Not choices our nineteenth century forebears had. Having a pleasantly uneventful day in Australia and log on to Facebook to see friends cavorting in Croatia, shredding at Silverstar or sharing a pint in Islington? How does that make you feel? Not something our forebears had to dwell on. They did not get FOMO. (Actually, they probably did. I can too well imagine being Lady Alexandra in the early 1800s and having to go some dumb card party with my aunt and sit all fidgety and nervy because all my pals got to go to the duke’s ball and then all they do the next day is talk and talk and talk about it. But I bet they got less FOMO.) So perhaps as the world shrinks, it squeezes.
I’ve spoken about the paradox of choice and the jam study here before I think, but it’s an illustration that stays with me. I’ll skip the research and get straight to the good bit: the more choices a human has, the less likely they are to be satisfied with the choice they eventually make — and they’re more likely to abdicate their choice. Shoppers confronted with three jams in a gourmet supermarket usually chose one, and generally reported being satisfied with their choice. Consumers presented with 18 flavours of jam often left the same grocer jam-free and those who did purchase reported being less enthusiastic about their choice. What do we make of that?
But I massively digress. I bet the high school chum who picked up my jumper from a bar floor wasn’t expecting to see me, let alone that her impulsive kindness would provoke this kind of soul-searching.
In general this has not been a soul-searching kind of week, so far better I end this post with something more representive: I have agreed to go on one date with a French boy (in direct contravention of Lady Lovely Locks’s express sanction on dating boys who are not Australian nationals who will eventually be keen to return home in the warmer colony). Stay tuned.