Mid-twenties

Last weekend I got my second tattoo.

Not all those who wander are lost

The quote is from Lord of the Rings, and has always been one of my favourites. For me it means that although I travel and seem to lead a slightly unconventional life, I am never really lost – I know myself, who I am and what I want, and that grounds me.

Now I just need to look at my foot to remind myself of that!

I got my upper ear pierced, too, a couple weeks ago. Jokes were made about a ‘mid-twenties crisis’. Tom and I were talking about this the other day, and he pointed out that actually it’s not a silly idea at all.

As people poised on the edge of 26, tipping over the barrier that separates “almost 20″ from “almost 30″, this is a confusing and (it seems to us at the minute) important time. Your teenage years and early twenties can follow one of a couple of fairly standard paths. You go to sixth form and university, or you choose not to go to sixth form and/or university and get a job instead, or you take a year or two ‘out’ to travel or work and then go to university. Literally everyone I know in my age group did one of these three things. So far, so standard.

So now we’re in our early twenties. Some of us are finishing degrees, others working their way up in their job. Some of us choose to study further, but most of us find work of some kind or another. Maybe it’s our dream career, maybe not. We’re living with a partner or with friends (almost all of us having escaped the confines of home). Our lives are still broadly parallel; at the very least, we understand what the others’ lives must be like. Even if it’s not the path we took, we can imagine ourselves having ended up in that situation or those circumstances.

But then your mid-twenties hit and suddenly it feels like there is no certainty anymore. One thing is for sure – we are all imagining that by 30, at 30, things will have ‘settled down’. By 30, we will know what we want to spend our lives doing. By 30, we will have found the person we want to have children with; or, by 30, we will know that we do not want children at all. By 30, we will own our own house, or be well on the way to it. By 30, we will have a good idea of ourselves and our plans.

But time is running out. We only have five years left. If we have any doubts about the path we have followed until now, or the person we have become, now is our last chance to change. Now is our last chance to try something new or unexpected, our last chance to rebel, our last chance to be young and reckless. Because once you hit 30, you can’t do that kind of shit.

Whatever you chose to do with the end of your school years fed nicely, neatly, into your early twenties. But your early twenties don’t necessarily feed into anything. They spit you out in your mid-twenties, and you have what feels like a free choice. But it’s only a small window, and you have to decide quick if you want to take it.

I think this is why I look round at my friends and I see relationships we all thought would last forever breaking down, see people in apparently good and satisfying jobs suddenly unhappy with what they’re doing but not knowing what else to choose, see people suddenly acting ‘weird’ or making apparently crazy choices.

Basically, your mid-twenties are a bitch.

[I'll get back to you in my mid-thirties and let you know if I feel the same way then, too, but with all the grown-up stuff pushed back to 40. It seems pretty likely.]

Memories of Kyoto

Framed boar print

Tom and I just got this print framed. We bought it in Japan, at a tiny shrine in Kyoto – the name of which we never found out.

We were in the Gion district, known for its geishas, and in fact later that afternoon I had an appointment booked to dress up as a geisha, complete with the theatrical makeup and beautiful kimono. We had about half an hour to spare, and had read in the guidebook of a lovely shrine nearby that sounded worth a visit. Although I try not to make it a priority, I can’t help but enjoy the feeling of ‘ticking off’ the best-known or most-recommended sights. So we set out, maps and books in hand.

Shrine entrance

We came to this gate, and thought we had found it.

Boar shrine

We quickly realised it could not possibly be the right shrine. It was far too small, and had none of the features we’d been told to look out for. But it was raining, and we didn’t feel like continuing our search.

Prayer boards

Besides, this shrine had a quiet beauty of its own, hemmed in on all sides by city blocks.

Boar statues

It was full of boars.

Shrine in the rain

We took shelter, and watched some people lighting incense and making their prayers. We spent a little while admiring the beauty around us, relaxing into it.

Lanterns

Boar statues

Camellias

Thinking back to it now, I wonder if there was some sort of spell on the place. I can transport myself back there so vividly; the sound of soft rain, the scent of blooming camellias and burning incense, the gentle light of early evening. I feel like the quiet and the peace of it seeped into my bones. It felt ancient and timeless, a tiny nook of tranquillity in a busy world.

Camellias

We spent only minutes there, but I know that feeling, awakened every time I look at our lovely print, will be with me forever. That is something to treasure.

Wrestling cats

Or, an alternative title: The Incredible Patience of Murphy.

Mouse and Murphy wrestling

He can hardly sit down or take a nap anywhere without Mouse jumping up next to him and rolling around provocatively.

Mouse and Murphy wrestling

I couldn’t get Mouse to sit still for a picture. He’d freeze for a minute, then remember that he had to try and get Murphy to play, and start shimmying around again.

Mouse and Murphy wrestling

When all his theatrics didn’t work, he just went straight in for the kill.

Murphy taking a wrestle break

But Murphy is nothing if not unflappable.

Mouse preparing to pounce

So Mouse tried a different approach…

Mouse preparing to pounce

(while Murphy looked on with detached curiosity)

Mouse jumping over Murphy

…but sort of changed his mind at the last minute…

Mouse jumping over Murphy

…and had to pretend that he’d never really wanted to pounce on Murphy anyway. He went off somewhere and played by himself for a little while.

Mouse and Murphy wrestling

The temptation of Murphy was, however, too much to resist.

Mouse and Murphy wrestling

This is Murphy finally saying, “Dude, GET OFF.”

The cats really, really like Coco Pops

I think it’s the chocolate milk that they like, actually, but either way it has a powerful effect on them.

Cats waiting for Coco Pops

They’ve just realised what I’m eating, and they gather on the coffee table to watch for stealing opportunities. Murphy’s yawning and playing it cool…

Cats waiting for Coco Pops

… but he sniffs hungrily when he thinks I’m not looking. Mouse is doing nervous laps of the table, unable to contain his excitement.

Murphy gets to the bowl

I cruelly hold the bowl a bit closer, to taunt them, but Murphy is surprisingly fast and manages to swipe out a couple of chocolatey grains with his paw. I am temporarily incapacitated with laughter at his smugly self-satisfied expression.

Mouse wants Coco Pops

Ever the good apprentice, Mouse tries the same trick, but starts off a little more politely.

Mouse wants Coco Pops

His thirst for chocolate milk gets the better of him.

Mouse wants Coco Pops

He’s reached the bowl! Murphy is still munching on his spoils somewhere on the floor.

I decide that it’s time for me to eat some of my breakfast, and do so, with great relish. Mouse sits confused on the coffee table. Murphy tries approaching me with great dignity and manners.

Murphy wants Coco Pops

I have spent too long laughing at the boys and taking photos, and my Coco Pops are soggy. I decide I will donate the rest to the cats’ worthy cause, but continue using the bowl as a tool to try and get some nice pictures of them together. Most of them are ruined by the cats’ now frantic attempts to get at the chocolate milk, but one turns out alright.

Waiting for Coco Pops

So I put the bowl on the table, and enjoy the peace and quiet…

Cats drinking chocolate milk

Cats drinking chocolate milk

… broken only by very refined and decorous slurping noises.

Cats drinking chocolate milk

Murphy inna tree

Mouse still isn’t going outside (Tom has agreed to have A Conversation about this in February – you can forgive us for being a little over-cautious, I think, after what happened to Hobbes), so for now the garden and all the surrounding lands are still Murphy’s private kingdom of peace and tranquillity. Sure, he shares his kingdom with the many neighbourhood cats, but since none of them act as his personal shadow slash unpredictable sparring partner, I think he enjoys his solitary time outside.

Murphy in a tree

He likes to climb up in a tree and survey his domain.

Murphy in a tree

And I like to stand underneath and admire his fantastic whiskers…

Murphy in a tree

… and marvel how, the more uncomfortable and tiny a perch is, the more Murphy likes it and the longer he stays there.

Murphy tree-scratching

Sooner or later, what goes up must come down.

Murphy tree-scratching

And he usually uses it as a scratching post on the way.

Northfield farm

Like in 2011, I joined the annual family pilgrimage to Northfield farm to pick up our Christmas meat: gammon this time. We never have turkey since we have it at Thanksgiving.

Countryside

Instead of a pleasantly crisp, cold winter’s day, this one was grey, wet and miserable.

Hay bales

The hay bales were dusted with a fringe of fresh green.

Cows in a barn

The cows snug and cosy in their barn.

Northfield farm shop

We made our way to the farm shop, picked up the gammon, and were talked into buying all sorts of extra delicious things.

Honey

I did not know this fact. Amazing.

Hurrying back to the car through the rain, we spotted these pheasants hung up on the fence, and paused to admire their beautiful feathers.

Pheasants

Pheasants

“You can have them, if you’re prepared to pluck and gut them!” shouted one of the farm workers, cheerfully.

We declined.