45. Cuckoo

There was just under an hour’s wait before my train and I really needed a rest and something hot and restorative. I love London, but it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. A sit-down lunch, I thought, but I didn’t want to spend too much, get looks of pity from strangers for eating alone, nor get booted out of the restaurant as soon as I had finished. So, I settled for one of those Vietnamese Street Food noodle bars that have sprung up everywhere. Cheap, tasty, quick. Light enough so I wouldn’t fall asleep on the train and end up north of Sheffield.

I am so over a posh burger.

It was quite busy, so I was seated next to a couple of men on a long communal table. I ordered a one-chili rated chicken and mushroom Pho with a coconut water. Occupying myself by playing on my phone, like everyone does these days, I couldn’t help but overhear them talking. I tried to be discreet but figured if they didn’t want to be heard, then they wouldn’t have had this conversation in public.

The Scottish man sat next to me had recently split up with his wife and it appeared he had moved in part-time with his friend, the man he was dining with. Fortunately, his ex had no intention of going back to the States, so he felt he wasn’t going to lose his children.

“Thanks fer renting oot yer back room tae us. Ah’ll no be there half the time.”

“It’s no problem mate. It’ll be like the old days. PS4, a couple of beers and a pizza.”

“We cannae afford tae sell the hoose an the weans are all settled in at school.”

“Jeez. Nah, you don’t want to be messing about with catchment areas now, not now they’re in school and house prices are shit. I thought we were going to get negative equity at one point.” He took a swig of Saigon beer. “How’s it gonna work then?”

“She calls this ‘birds nestin’, if ye can believe it. Ahm there Monday an Tuesday, she’s goat it Wednesday an Thursday. An then we take turns every weekend.”

“That’s actually a bloody good plan. I’ve never heard of it before. Less disruption for the kids and you get half the time each with them. And there no chance that their PE kit will be at the other house. Is it a California thing then?”


They pause for a while to finish their beers and reflect on what’s been said.

“We agreed nae partners can come over, what with the weans an aw.”

“I bet that’s the last thing you want right now. It’s definitely over then?”

“Aye right, nae chance we get back together.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“Naw, it’s aw in the past. It’s for the weans sake.”

This seems such a civilised, if not temporary, solution to a desperate situation. To allow all parties breathing space and time to adjust. I hope it takes off in the UK and becomes as regular as weekend Dads taking their kids to the park and Maccy D’s on Sundays.

I thanked my waiter as he brought me a huge bowl of steaming hot noodles, then smiled sympathetically at one of the men as we made eye contact when they got up to leave.

*Thanks to ma pal Joni Hunter for the brilliant translation into Glaswegian.

42. Sonder

sonder, n. the realisation that everyone is living a life as complex and separate as your own.

It was a shock to find out that I didn’t mean as much to them or was not as important in their lives as I thought I was. Lower down in the pecking order. I think the term that is kindly used is “people have different priorities.”

They said they were keeping it quiet in case it didn’t work out. Then they just assumed I already knew and was cool about it. Being discrete and respecting their privacy. Polite.

It’s difficult to be calm and collected when you’ve just found out that two people you’ve known since you were kids have, (deep breath), been going out for six months, got married yesterday, and the first you hear of it is right now at her birthday party when they announce they are having a baby together.

“We wanted to wait until after 12 weeks, to make sure everything was ok with the baby.”

The words hung in the air. Time slowed. My mind was speeding. Like the time I saw the taxi come towards the car and I knew we were going to crash into it but I didn’t do anything to stop it happening. I could have shouted to the driver to “look out!” or grabbed the wheel myself, but I did nothing. It felt like I had so much time, but it was a fraction of a second at most.

I joined in with the clapping and smiling. Hugged them when it was my turn and kissed my congratulations to her parents.

I had no idea. At all. Of any of it. I don’t recall that one had ever even mentioned to me in passing that they thought of the other in that way before.

I know people keep whatever they like private. I’m not entitled to know anything about anyone.

An anxious conversation starts up in my head. “It’s just that… you would have thought… it is me after all… I’m not just anyone… It has nothing to do with me… am I really that naive? Stop making this about me. I don’t factor in this. Get over yourself woman. It was their choice to do the whole “ta-da!” thing. I’m not taking that away from them. People can tell people whatever they like, whenever they want. Or not. It’s up to them. They’ve shared a house for years. Half the people here thought they were going out anyway.”

I feel like the young Briony Tallis in ‘Atonement’ when she doesn’t understand what’s going on, or know what to do with the information she has, but no-one will explain anything to her because it’s none of her business.

Right now it stings. I’m winded. I need to catch my breath. This is going to take a little time to process, of which I will have plenty, during these next few months.

In the meantime, I’ll top up some glasses and mingle with the guests.

“No, I had no idea. Yes, it is a surprise. A lovely surprise. Yes, I’m a bit emotional. It’s a lot to take in. Look, my hand is still shaking. I know! Like a whirlwind. You must be delighted. I never expected tonight to turn out like this.”

I hate surprises. My blood drains cold at the idea of spontaneity. I need time to prepare. My mind has to marinate, soak, absorb. I know myself so well. I know that my first reaction is not always my true opinion. I only have to be here for another 45 minutes, an hour at most. Everyone knows I always leave a party early, that I get overwhelmed by too many people. I am genuinely well chuffed for them, I really am. I can’t always have advance warning of a surprise though, because that’s the point, which for an INFJ poses a dilemma.

I just need time for it to sink in. I don’t know how I feel.