Dancing on the Southbank

So, we’re rolling into September, and the weather is all over the place. As I type, I’m looking out into a glorious blue sky, that just half an hour ago looked absolutely Wintry. I always love September. I suppose years of being in the education system have made me consider it to be the real start of the New Year, a second opportunity to right wrongs, to change the way you live, to make new promises. I like to think it’s never too late in the year to make resolutions.

It was in this spirit that I considered my life at the moment. After a very strange period in the middle of the Summer when everything seemed to be going drastically wrong (and therefore I felt like a total fraudster writing a blog on happiness), things have almost completely changed. Touch wood, cross fingers, kiss elbows etc, but I’ll just say that recently, things have been looking up. Extremely up. When I get in this frame of mind, everything is exciting, I throw myself into everything I do, and I skip around feeling totally energised. I become untouchable, and nothing can begin to bring me down.

One of my most defining characteristics is my ability to only experience extremes of emotion. Either things are heartbreakingly awful and I’m wailing mascara-ed tears, or things are bloody brilliant, and I’m wearing a perma-smile. As I’ve got older, I’ve levelled out a bit. Sadness visits much more rarely, and when bad things happen I’ll cry, hit rock bottom, and then I’ll start sorting things out again. Happiness is my more frequent companion, and I’ve learnt to work at it so that I now know how to fix things in my life, how to take charge of myself and not just be at the whim of those ghastly things known as teenage hormones.

Anyway. I was, as I say, contemplating the recent upturn in events in my life, and I started thinking about university. I have to admit, I’ve struggled to come to terms with not being there anymore, and with not being a student. Royal Holloway bred a real community, a fierce loyalty, and a desire never to leave. For months after graduating, I didn’t really think about it. I was both enraptured and terrified by the idea of the ‘real world’. I ploughed on and on, enjoying my first proper paycheck, not having to read stacks of books every week (not that I necessarily always did that….) And before I knew it, a year had passed. It’s been the year AFTER the year after graduating that I’ve struggled with. Suddenly it all seemed so far away – the all night parties in the wonderful Founders building, walking home at 8am listening to bird song. Climbing onto the roof of said Founders building and doing everything that was wrong, but right too. The sound of the College chapel bells ringing out, through the window of my tiny student room. The amazing girls I lived with in third year, and the way we weathered any of the many storms that came our way.

I also missed…well, thinking, I suppose. Being self-consciously artsy. Revelling in the way that anecdotes about my ‘crazy drama stuff’ sounded when told to my friends doing more buttoned up degrees. When I visited the Southbank yesterday properly, it really hit home about how much I’d lost, or rather – given up on. In my first term, I’d often visit the BFI on my own, overjoyed that I had the freedom to do so. I saw a season of Isabelle Huppert films, wandering in my long black coat and piled up bun, feeling so….so like a student. So exactly how I thought I should feel, and look, and act. I took opportunities. I went to unusual places, took up strange invitations, talked to people I never thought I’d get on with,  just experienced every new thing I could, and I learnt.

When, and why, did I stop? It must have been the second I took off that graduation gown. I really believed I had to become an ‘Adult’, and all that entailed. Which was what? Working? Going out every other weekend? I shut down the creative part of my brain, and I lost that willingness to experiment. I suppose I was always preoccupied. First by getting a job – then a better job. Then any job. Then a better job, again and again. Then friendships, relationships, clothes, parents. I plunged deep into an entirely predictable identity crisis, and didn’t even start to think I might already know who I was. I knew it when I perched, feet over the edge of the huge, chateau-styled building at uni. I knew when I could be on my own, watching French films. I knew when I stayed up all night at the Summer ball. I’d just lost it.

Yesterday I began to find it again, and it took a trip to the Southbank itself to smash me back there again. My friend India and I just gave in to the atmosphere. Spying a crowd under Waterloo Bridge, we inveigled ourselves in. We could smell frying onions, hot dogs, a sweet but deep flavour that will naturally invoke fairgrounds and the seaside. We heard live music. ‘This is lovely’, we said, but made to move on. And then we stopped ourselves. We’ve made a collective vow to start experiencing life, to take those opportunities that constantly present themselves if you only look for them. So we stayed. We bought large cocktails in plastic cups that froze our hands, from a man in too-cool sunglasses. We stayed and watched a live band, seeing the sunlight bouncing off the architecture of the bridge and the blonde halo of the lead singer. We watched too, as a homeless man in camo gear danced, played his harmonica and stuck his middle fingers up in the air in a grotesque pose whenever a camera was produced.

Men started dancing too, elbows sticking out, first avoiding looking at the crowd and then gradually gesturing for people to join in. A dapper elderly man in flat cap and snakeskin shoes asked me to dance. I have to say, I turned him down, only because the homeless man was hugging everyone dancing. I regretted it instantly – he stepped into the centre, and proceeded to do a soft shoe shuffle with the mother of a young girl in tiara and pink dress. The girl began to dance too – the homeless man handed her his harmonica, her mother wincing slightly before the girl handed it back. We stayed, we absorbed, and we sang very loudly to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, belted out by a beautiful redhead in leopard print scarf. After the music was done, we moved on to our destination, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, to see Adam Buxton presenting ‘BUG’, a showcase of funny and bizarre videos. We finished the evening with hot chocolate and lemon tart from Le Pain Quotidien on Waterloo Bridge, and slunk off into the night to plan more adventures.

My point is this – life is happening all around us. I feel like I’ve just woken up. Engage with everything. Look, really look. Say ‘yes’ to everything. And when you’re ready to wake up, give me a call.

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