Slow Living, City Living
I used to think of myself as a city girl. This, despite hating going to crowded bars and sweaty clubs; despite being on too tight a budget for all the new, fancy restaurants; despite not having much in the way of career goals or an interest in red-soled heels.
I considered myself a city girl because I thought it was essential to live near a cinema, didn't want to need a car and hated spending my teens in a small town where (I thought) there was "nothing to do but take drugs and get pregnant in the graveyard".
When I got pregnant (not in a graveyard), I suddenly saw a point to the small town. I remember getting off the train after visiting my mum and feeling overwhelmed by the noise and smells and right in your ear foul language and slow, crammed bus journeys of city life. I wondered for a little while whether we wouldn't be better off raising our child somewhere less hectic, somewhere with fields she could run in safely and activities within walking distance and schools which don't have security measures in place to stop parents coming in and beating up their children.
I had this idea that life could only be slow if we left the city.
And then I went on maternity leave.
There are still times when small town life appeals. Those are the times when I realise the activities I most want to take my child to are 90 minutes away by bus; the times when somebody's passed out in the park, beer cans in hand; the times when the pleasant, leafy walks around our neighbourhood appear in the press for all the wrong reasons.
There are other times when I appreciate the city. I can take my child to any sort of group or class I can imagine; I can take her to see Mary Poppins on the big screen; she will be surrounded by different cultures and ideas.
Either way, I no longer think that we can only live a slow, quiet life in the countryside.
I'm detached from the city bustle now. I've got no idea what the newest restaurant is or where the trendy cafes are; I can live here and not even try to keep up and I can feel more relaxed because of it.
More often, when I meet up with friends now, it's in my home or their home or one of the same handful of kid-friendly places; the pressure to come up with somewhere impressive and pay for something exotic is gone.
I live a life now where most of my socialising is done in casual clothes, sat on a carpet, eating simple cakes and fiddling with children's toys.
I live a life now which involves a lot of trips to big, leafy parks, which will feature days on the beach when the weather improves, which sees me walking whenever I can because there's rarely any need to rush along by bus.
MM has found her feet now. We're toddling around our neighbourhood oh-so slowly. She stops to examine every leaf, every stone, every gate, every wall. She squeals when she spies cats. She gapes when gulls fly overhead. She can't walk fast or she will trip over her feet; she can't walk fast or she might miss something new.
This isn't always practical. Sometimes we're going to the shops and I need my hands free to carry bread and milk and bananas; sometimes we're going further than she can walk; sometimes we have an appointment to get to on time. On those occasions, we use the buggy.
But it's nice, this toddling pace.
It's enough just to be outdoors.
And this doesn't require a child, this slow, quiet pace.
You can live in the city and not rush, rush, rush. You can meet friends at home; you can pile your sofa with blankets and light your rooms with lamps; you can play board games and you can have a favourite pub where you always order the macaroni and the bar staff know your name. You can go for walks; you can stay home on Friday night and not make self-deprecating "rock and roll" remarks about it on Facebook; you can sit on a bench; you can sit on a bench in a gallery; you can leave weekends wide open and you can read instead of watching fast paced TV and you can wear comfortable clothes and let your skin breathe and let your hair go wild.
You can tell people if you want; you can not tell people if you don't.
Because I think the secret is this: you can stop trying to keep up with everybody else and how cool you think they are; trendy new restaurants are not the key to contentment.