Turning 25 in Canada.
Stories from my 24th year.
I summarised my 23rd year of life through a poem. The year was tumultuous. I gave up the first real career I’d ever had, I spent five months working my way through Europe, picking fruit on farms, landscaping chateau gardens in France and cleaning yurts in Portugal, amongst other things such as learning how to float in a swimming pool, learning to love myself and beginning to accept life alone after breaking up with my first long-term partner. I moved back to my hometown and back to my childhood bedroom after five years of other homes in other towns. I found a job I loved in a bar I loved with creative people who inspired me and shook up what I knew. These people celebrated with me as my 23rd year slipped into my 24th. I stayed at home more than 5 months longer than I planned to, but I built a new relationship with my parents, my home, and myself. I met a wonderful bunch of new friends. I fell in love with poetry again, frequenting slams where I laughed so hard I cried and I played judge one time. I learnt a lot about beer, and I learnt what it felt like to stay up all night in a closed bar and talk about life with the right people and the wrong ones too – sometimes, these people were the same. I cycled home as people were cycling to work too many times to recall. Somewhere, early on, I didn’t mean to, but I fell in love with two people at the same time.
As I look back, my twenty-fourth year flew by faster than any I recall before. It’s been slower in terms of constant upheaval, but included … ya know … the casual act of moving 5000 miles from home. In my 24th year, I moved to western Canada, kind of unsure as to why I was doing it, but in search of something else. In search of some direction or inspiration. I ran away from love – I wasn’t ready for it. I ran away from home – I wasn’t ready for that. I am now. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life – I now work in a restaurant as an assistant and a bartender – I’m happy with it, for now.
24 included writing. Almost every day. I journaled like crazy, I wrote poetry and blogs, began a handful of long-form essays that are currently relaxing in my drafts, and chipped away at a novel I’ll one day focus on…I think. As well as self-publishing, I had three pieces published this year. Having two pieces published in the space of two months led to a false sense of momentum I didn’t keep up once I began working full-time. I wrote about giving up my graduate job to travel, what to do when you’re not sure what your passion is, and a letter to women encouraging them to get out and travel. I still love, and am driven by, the written word.
24 included love. I briefly shared my life with a wonderful, charming and driven man with whom I spent lazy mornings drinking tea and evenings watching movies that stirred debate in us; debate that was fuelled by beers in bars I frequented as a teenager. I found myself getting comfortable with this man, a man whose house I cycled to after finishing work in the early hours, who brought me coffee every time he picked me up to drive me somewhere we hadn’t travelled together. He helped me find the words I needed to conclude poems, I offered thoughts on records he was producing. One night we ordered Persian food and watched Taxi Tehran whilst he smoked cigarettes and his cat meowed at his bedroom doorway. I told him a lot about me and he told me a lot about him. I wasn’t ready for how much he meant to me. How happy I was to see him in my kitchen talking about music with my dad, or how much I loved how, for a change, that all of my friends loved him too.
I left the relationship because I wasn’t ready and because I was about to move to Canada. A few weeks after I arrived, I found myself intrigued to see who I might meet.
24 included dating. Dating a lot to find out what I do and don’t seek. Dating musicians, academics, navy engineers and carpenters. I went on a date with a preschool teacher to a bar I liked so much, I ended up working at. My first date drove me to the top of a mountain I can now see out of my bedroom window every day. I went on a date with a guy who lifted me up and I dated guys who put me down. When I was asked, ten minutes left of my 24th year, what the best thing was that happened this year, I surprised myself by replying, unflinching, that it was falling in love with one of my closest friends. Love has played a big part in my life this year, as always. After deciding dating apps weren’t the way to go, I found life calmer and more fulfilling. I no longer embraced the grass is greener phenomenon so wholeheartedly. I embraced what and who was around me. I am learning about life as a single lady.
24 included travel. I explored parts of England I hadn’t been to before, or I hadn’t been to for years. I ate chips and mushy peas in Hull and when I went to the bathroom, my friend was threatened by a bunch of men with nothing better to do. I wandered around the university campus and felt nostalgia for a life I never had. I shared a picnic at Brimham Rocks surrounded by a few too many crows. I went to Whitby and watched the tail end of a coastal rescue as I walked hand in hand down a windy pier. I walked with a bunch of lovely people in the grounds of Castle Howard one morning, exhausted from staying up late to look after a crying friend who I felt, in the end, let me down. I revisited Birmingham, the city I first fell in love – in so many ways.
24 saw me unwittingly embark on a new career path. In England, I served beer and I cooked sausages, burgers, pies and stews in a wonderful old pub where I met people from around the world, and people who made me smile each and every time I saw them. I had to clean up drunk people’s predominantly pasta-based vomit and get help removing a racist man who also harassed me. I changed kegs, tapped casks, burnt toast and kissed my colleagues as the new year rolled in. I served pies to my parents and a platter to my auntie and uncle on their date night. I mopped up leaks from a bodged–up pipe so many times, leaning over the flooded bar to serve customers pints of IPA or pilsner.
I drank a lot of coffee, a lot of beer, and I taught myself to like gin. I ate a lot of Cornish pasties, Pret sandwiches, and chips from various chippies sprinkled liberally with salt and malt vinegar. I sat and ate dinner with my parents at the dinner table, eating different food to them, determined to experience a year of life without eating meat. I said goodbye to them over dinner in The Lamb & Lion, a little hungover from my leaving party the night before where I laughed, I sobbed and I hugged a load of people who changed my life for the better.
Aged 24, I moved to Canada. I was thrown into life with young children, and I learnt how to handle it (as an outsider). I collected eggs with a 2 year old sat on my shoulders, I hunted for treasure with a dog and a wayward 5 year old. I held a 1 year old as she pulled laundry off a drying rack and put it back on again. I stopped the aforementioned 2 year old from crying when his brother hit him by pretending cushions were flying carpets and we travelled to “Mexico” (aka the kitchen) on them. I learnt more about beekeeping, babies and real beauty – I sat by the water in View Royal looking out to the Olympic mountains most evenings in awe of what I saw.
I started eating meat again after 18 months with my best friend’s family in Vancouver as I acclimatised after three solid days of jet lagged haze. I read about returning to meat-eating after vegetarianism, and this book summarised my experiences more eloquently than I was able. In my first week in Canada, I watched hockey, I drank a shaft and a Caesar, I sampled numerous flights of beer and I took the most beautiful ferry ride of my life.
I spent five weeks in Tofino learning about the Pacific North West through reading Long Beach Wild, through listening to talks by local Nuu-chah-nulth people and through taking boats out to see bears feeding on crabs. I learnt about B&B operation through working in the most beautiful location I think I’ll work in for a while. I met a family from Kent who invited me to spend their final night with them and stayed up so late in the hot tub that the lights lining the path through the forest auto-switched off. I got too drunk meeting strangers from Couchsurfing at Tofino’s brewery and spent a night in an oceanside cabin after I forgot the keys to my rented room. I watched as its tenant drunkenly cooked chicken wings in a toaster oven as I listened to waves lap against the shore and took Advil for my recurring carpal tunnel syndrome. I sat atop a rock on a beach without my shoes and looked out to the wild. I learnt the true contradictions of the term ‘wild’. I spent a lot of evenings walking down Chesterman beach, listening to the Barr Brothers, after cycling the ten minutes down the road on a big blue mountain bike. I wrote letters on that beach I poured my heart into. I began to pass my phase of distracting homesickness on Chesterman.
On my way up to Tofino, I Couchsurfed for the first time in Qualicum Beach, where I spent a lot of time avoiding the rain by playing Blackgammon with my host’s son. Later, friends of my host invited me to spend their holiday in Tofino with them. We went to Schooner’s Cove and watched whales from the shore and I got this cool picture of me with a load of squishy starfish.
After being stuck in Tofino for an additional day due to an overturned jet-fuel truck blocking the only road into town, I moved to Victoria in search of a bit more anonymity but also a community.
I picked up three jobs in my first three weeks while living on my best friend’s couch. I’d walk home past families of raccoons and homeless people with drug problems screaming in the street. I couldn’t get used to it. I worked so much, that I’d return from work and sit with my feet in a roasting tin filled with iced water and bandage up blisters whilst sat opposite my couch-ridden friend who had just broken her leg – we were a ridiculous picture of two girls in their twenties. I chose one job to keep after deciding to stick around in the city for a bit longer. A job at a farm-to-table restaurant where I met my community. I tried out most roles I could, I met people from most countries of the world and held one couple’s newborn baby, Damaris, as I chatted to them about life abroad. It warmed my heart.
I found my dream home this year, the kind of place with a lot of light, a lot of bikes, a big social kitchen and a wood fire. I met people through this house who took me sailing, who took me to beaches, who cooked me breakfast, who picked me up from trips away and who will one day take me dancing. I bought plants and paintings for my walls.
24 included realising what is and isn’t important right now. And learning, slowly, the importance of cultivating the right kind of relationship. A chef at work told me I was beautiful as I told him I felt radiant after two weeks coffee-free, and it made me smile and feel happy, but not necessarily validated. And that made me proud. The three relationships I wanted to nourish this calendar year were with myself, with the friend I moved here for, and with the first friend from home who came to visit me. The kind of relationships I need.
I went to friend’s houses to watch movies, I went to friend’s houses to nap after big nights. I ate ice cream in the garden of my friend’s house; a friend whose wrinkles around his eyes when he smiles make me weak at the knees. I went to parties in ridiculously fancy housing complexes where I drank gin and ginger ale and made new friends by being emotional and vulnerable. At some of those parties, I watched people I knew only in a professional setting snort coke from plates in the corners of the room and noticed how their disposition didn’t even change.
I met fellow creatives who were dedicated to their projects in ways I was not and they inspired me to return to my library life, surrounded by the unusual folk of Victoria and I began writing a 5000 word essay on the concept of home that I’ve got a week to finish and send off as an application to a writer’s residency. I’m finding it tough as my concept of home is continually disrupted.
In comparison with 23, when I ended the year in a different house, without my partner, without the job I defined myself by, this year seemed somewhat quiet. But 24 brought me so much.
I sit, aged 25, having celebrated my birthday by whale watching with friends from around the world and across the country, and then spending the evening on sofas around our wood fire, drinking a lot of bottles of wine, talking about illustrating cooking books, and eating homemade carrot cake. I sit, aged 25, surrounded by Canadian things (and a can of Old Jamaica Ginger Beer to settle an uneasy stomach in cold and flu season) in my new home away from home. I sit, aged 25, thinking this age suits me, how I am in another country, learning how to live a life I am proud of and satisfied by, learning I don’t always need to wear a brave face and how I hope the years ahead will be less tumultuous but as adventurous.