The weirdest places I've lived: a trip down Memory Lane, via shops, restaurants and fashion photographers

I somewhat unbelievably just bought my first flat. It's not something I ever thought would happen, perhaps partly because I've spent most of my adult life in London, where even the idea of saving up for a deposit seems unfathomable. The London housing market is insane and the political aspects of it used to frustrate me immensely from an ideological and socio-economic perspective (still does), but me buying a house was just so unlikely that I never even really considered it.

And then I moved to Sweden. Malmö, that is - the housing market in Stockholm is not too different from that of London. All of a sudden, buying didn't seem like some sort of fairytale idea. After spending weeks and months analysing the housing market (which was a lot more fun than I would've expected) I finally bought my own piece of real estate dream. I can't believe I'm going to get to decorate MY VERY OWN FLAT in whatever way I want. That hasn't always been the case - I've lived in some, err, pretty interesting places. I've typically moved at least once a year over the past ten years - below are some of the weirdest places I've lived at.

2008: Pre photo session with our very own internationally renowned fashion photographer

2008: Pre photo session with our very own internationally renowned fashion photographer

It was my first summer in London and I'd managed to get hold of a tiny studio flat on a council estate in Camden. It was about £900/month and there was no way I'd be able to afford that on my own (particularly as I wasn't working), so I teamed up with four(!) other troopers - including Yvan Rodic aka Facehunter -  and the five of us lived there over the summer - three people slept in the bed and two in the sofa bed. There was little other space for a wardrobe (not that we would've been able to afford one anyway) so I remember dragging back a shopping trolley to keep our clothes in.... Grim. That said, we had a pretty epic time in our slack den - we'd only just moved over and spent whatever little savings we had on shoes and booze. There were plenty of good preparties before heading out in Camden, or less typically, to the West End. It was the first time I lived abroad, and honestly, who needs a wardrobe or personal space when you're 18 and full of life, amirite.

2009: At my "house" aka shop, getting ready for a night out

2009: At my "house" aka shop, getting ready for a night out

SICK: 2008-2009
The clue is in the name. I was three months into living in London and had just given all of my savings (err, a full £1200...) in cash to a landlord who turned out to be the scam of the century as, apparently, the flat we'd just paid for didn't exist. I was fairly devastated, but never really thought I'd end up on the streets. I didn't - I moved into a second-hand shop called SICK which was run by a 65-year-old former punk whose main claim to fame was that he, apart from being the founder of Boy London, also used to work with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren back in the 70s. SICK didn't have a shower, central heating, hot water or a kitchen. It did have a toilet though, and the walls in the loo were covered in pages from 1980s porn magazines (as you can see in this photo... lol.). My best mate and I lived there for a year and a half, slept on a mattress in the middle of the store and took turns in opening the shop in the mornings. Customers would walk into the shop and nervously go "err, there's someone sort of... sleeping in the bed?". Haha. Brilliant. I'm not sure exactly how we did that for so long, but I think being drunk for most of it probably helped.

2013: Weekly visit from the chicks

2013: Weekly visit from the chicks

LA FOUNTAINE: 2013-2014
Two months after I'd moved to Uganda, I was attacked outside my house as the guard had fallen asleep and didn't open the gate quick enough before some punk saw his chance of mugging a mzungu. Although I was physically fine (-ish...) I realised it probably wasn't the safest housing option since there was no lighting outside the gate and anyone could hide in the bushes. I consequently decided to move into a guest house on top of an Indian restaurant called La Fountaine, located literally twenty centimetres away from a nightclub called Iguana. Because of Iguana there were always bouncers outside my front gate, and although it was incredibly loud and noisy constantly, I felt safe. Living there also developed my ability to sleep through anything (a few months ago I fell asleep in the dentist chair while getting a filling done - should say something). I had no furniture apart from a bed and some hangers, though I did get a lot of in-house visits from the chickens that the La Fountaine family bred for the food. Very organic. Mind you, they did have the best Biryani in all of Kampala... I stayed there for eight months and when leaving I remember already thinking "I'll look back at this and think it's really fucking weird" - particularly as I then moved into a diplomat mansion for an eight-week house sitting session.

2014: A rare skull-free zone in the House of Skulls - my room

2014: A rare skull-free zone in the House of Skulls - my room

HOUSE OF SKULLS: 2014-2015
Once I was back in London I moved into a house in Walthamstow which looked beyond lovely. Unfortunately the person I was moving in with had only just bought the place, so I never got to see her interior style until we'd both unpacked. BIG MISTAKE. HUGE. There were skulls bloody everywhere. Everything interior-wise you can imagine, my live-in landlady had skull shaped. Vases, glasses, curtains, rugs, cups, pillow cases, candles, shower bottles, tiny booze bottles... I got a new-found respect for the number of things that come skull shaped or with skulls printed on it. She also liked to decorate the walls with bats(?!). It was her house though, so I couldn't exactly complain. She did, though - when I put fresh flowers in the bathroom she threw them out and said "this isn't a showroom" haaa. I kept all the flowers in my own room after that...

So yeah, my housing career to date hasn't been particularly straightforward. It's kept things interesting though, but for now I'm looking forward to having my very own place with no skulls, chickens or fashion photographers... Just me and my cat.

How to ask busy people for help - a guide

I work in PR. Though I love it, it's at times the most ungrateful job you could ever do. It's been great for me as it's forced me to stop taking things so personally, but still - sometimes it feels a bit like everyone hates you. Journos who won't get back to your emails/calls/tweets/etc, or clients who refuse to believe that their sheer existence isn't news worthy of headlines, or spokespeople who resent a young woman showing them why they should say what - I've worked with them all. Work isn't always like that (if so, I would've changed jobs), but often enough for me to realise pretty quickly that the easiest way to get what you want in the world of PR is to be nice to people.

That's perhaps why I've been so baffled by two random men who've recently contacted me out of *nowhere* in the truly strangest of ways. I used to bump into Man #1 at London house parties back in 2009(!), and Man #2 and I went on a date - as in, one (1) date - once. They both contacted me on the interwebz and it looked a bit like this (Man #1) and this (Man #2) - you could also call both those screenshots "How to not ask for help - a guide".

So, since I myself ask for a lot of people's help (I'm a one man team and whether it's introductions, or getting the right data, or brainstorming storyline ideas, I often reach out to others for help) and since I seem to get a lot of requests, I decided to write a guide on how to ask busy people for help. Here it is:

1. Don't be a dick
This one's easy (you'd think). If you know the person from before but haven't spoken to them in a while (in Man #1's case, it's 7ish years), perhaps start off by asking how the person has been. Even if you don't care, the person you're reaching out to clearly has something you want, so just some pleasantry to butter them up might help when you're reaching out. After all, you want them to think you're a pleasant person to deal with, because why else would they want to help you? Another important thing here is to give the helper the choice of how to help you. If it isn't for work, I'm a pretty messy writer, but I don't want to come across as messy - therefore I'll always prefer doing a Skype call or a quick coffee as opposed to having to write a long reply on something you want my help on. Other people might work differently, so simply asking whether they'd be able to do a quick Skype/coffee/whatever they prefer will probably increase your hit rate.

2. Do your homework
Before reaching out, think about how you can make it as easy as possible for the helper to help you out. You don't want to add a chore to their to-do list - unless you do, in which case, go back to point 1, or expect to get this blog post sent to you. Why are you asking the person you're asking? Tell them. Have you done any research on this yourself? Tell them, and give them something to comment on as opposed to "I've asked other people and no one knows anything about this super general thing that is the Swedish job market" (as was the case for both Man #1 and #2). 

3. What's in it for them?
A while back I reached out to an acquaintance of mine I hadn't spoken to in 2-3 years. I needed to get some insights into her field of work, so I messaged her and asked her if I could take her out for lunch somewhere close to her work and pick her brains. This required minimum commitment from her end - she just had to walk over to her chosen cafe, sit down over paid for lunch, and talk to me about what she does. In exchange, I bought her lunch (and coffee because I'm lavish like that) and hopefully she felt good about being able to chat about her area of expertise. I also said to her that if you ever need to chat PR, hit me up. If you're going to ask for busy people's time and help, you need to give back - or at least demonstrate a willingness to do so. Just saying "would love to take you out for a drink next time I'm in town" would suffice - which the helper can then turn down, but at least you're not a dick. 

Asking people for help is the best way I know to extend your network. It's an opportunity to make people feel good about themselves while essentially doing you a favour - an excellent win-win. Personally, I love helping people out. That said, I'm not a doormat.

Which is why I love the final option of

From Uganda to eternity.

I'm a restless soul and it's the curse and blessing of my life. I'm always happy but never satisfied, and sometimes it feels like it's eating me from the inside. I don't know what to do with myself because everything's brilliant and everything's way off from something that can't be identified.

It's exhausting, and a privilege. It's an oxymoron that's wildly alive.

And sometimes I meet with friends and I ask them the most inappropriate and intimate of questions that would be allowed in no ordinary social setting, and without batting an eyelid they look me in the eye and go "we're polar opposites, and exactly the same".

It's an oxymoron that's wildly alive.

From Uganda, until eternity, and with all my love.

From sofa to Palestine in 14 weeks - or, you know, not.

Remember that I started training for the Palestine half mara about seven months ago? Probably not, considering it's seven months ago. Having never run further than six kilometres in my life and also having a bit of a cinnamon bun baby going on, I decided to use the half mara as a way to get exercising again - and I also thought it was a great excuse to finally get to go to Palestine.

Race day. Or, as it turned out, walk day.

Race day. Or, as it turned out, walk day.

I made it to Palestine, but I never ran the half mara there. Why? Well, three weeks before the race I headed over to SXSW in Texas and had a jolly good time, which unfortunately resulted in me coming down with bronchitis from hell. I was gutted, but not that gutted as I travelled to Palestine on my own, and the only one who'd suffer from my being annoyed would be, well, me. Instead I walked the 10k with an old acquaintance of mine, which was pretty great.

Last week - six weeks after the race took place - I finally ran the 21.1k on my own, right here in Malmö. At that point I hadn't run for nine(!) weeks. So yeah, it was interesting. All in all it took me about seven months from starting training to finally getting across that imaginary finish line. Here's what I learnt.

Don't underestimate the power of tech
You'd expect this one from someone who works in tech amirite. In all seriousness, my running app was really helpful, particularly in the beginning. I hadn't done any exercising in months at that point, and since the app told me "congratulations" and actually cheered me on when I ran my first eight minutes (which, mind you, was pretty hard at that point) I didn't feel like a loser for only running for eight minutes. The app also helped me avoid procrastinating - I had to run only four times a week, and every day I had a run to do it was a bit like Russel Brand going "you only have to get through today being sober, who knows what happens tomorrow". Every time I dreaded going for a run (which, surprisingly, didn't happen that many times), the app somehow got me to just do it. Lol. And I actually started quoting Nike. That's how you know someone's branding works.

Steer clear of the dickheads
This goes for most things in life, but I find a reminder to be helpful every now and again. Some people - they were very few, but still - actually said that I didn't train enough, or that I wasn't strong enough, or that a half marathon is "very hard" (thanks Sherlock, really appreciate it). Most people were really supportive - impressed even - and that helped me ignore the BS. More than anything, knowing that I was well on track according to my app convinced me that I would be able to run it - and this goes for even when it turned out I wasn't going to be able to run the race in Palestine. Generally though, talking to others about the challenge brought out other people's anecdotes and running tips, regardless of whether they were beginners like me, or pros who'd run several maras already. At one point I even felt like maybe I was approaching the running community, but lol who am I kidding. 

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Know the difference between giving up and being an idiot
Three days before the race I was in the office, having a cough that sounded like it was about to kill me, but I was still pretty adamant I'd make the race - until a colleague sternly looked me in the eye and said "don't be an idiot" (Swedes aren't usually that vocal). To be fair, it's probably the wisest piece of advice anyone gave me throughout my training. Dropping out, giving up, whatever you want to call it, isn't equivalent to it being a failure. Had I listened to the dickheads (see above point), it probably would've felt as such, but it would've been such an epically shit move to try and do the race while really ill. If I'd tried to do it, I would most likely have had to drop out during the race, which might have put me off running for good.

Last Saturday I finally ran my half mara. I ran 21.9k in 2 hours and 27 minutes, including five pit stops at different restaurants to fetch water, a couple of red lights, and helping an old lady out finding the hospital (no joke - that's what happens when you run your own little race).

Needless to say, it felt pretty fucking epic.

Why I stopped reading blogs - confessions of a fomophobe

I stopped reading blogs a while ago, and ironically I was reminded of why this is when Linn Instagrammed about a blog post she'd written, where she outlines how she at times feels jealous of some of her best friends. I think we've all been there, and to me personally, reading other people's blogs could very well push me over the edge of me thinking that my life is just so, epically shit.

London Fashion Week 2009, during my 2 year stint as an international fashion buyer (it sounds a lot fancier than it was...) Also check out that feature phone!

London Fashion Week 2009, during my 2 year stint as an international fashion buyer (it sounds a lot fancier than it was...) Also check out that feature phone!

I've been fortunate enough to be able to make active choices about my life and how I want to live it. Me living in Malmö, Sweden, and working in the field that I do, are both the result of me choosing and pursuing that particular life. In a former life, I seriously considered pursuing an academic career. In a life before that, I worked in the humanitarian field. And in a life before that, I worked in fashion(!). I chose to leave all those fields, yet when I read other people's blogs I can't help but wonder if I would've been happier, more successful, more content, if I'd chosen to pursue one of my previous lives instead of the one I'm living now.

And it doesn't just stop at blogs. Because I've had all these previous lives, I've met some spectacular people. And no, I'm not talking about partying with Amy Winehouse (though that did happen, back when I was super cool - or at least hung out with people who were), I'm talking about my friend who's an international peace broker (I mean she's negotiating deals with the likes of IS and Hamas - literally what am I doing with my life??), or my acquaintance who's a humanitarian officer in Jerusalem, or a former colleague who's heading up the PR at one of Europe's largest VC firms back in London, or an acquaintance that's a super successful lifestyle blogger, or another one who's doing academic research in Lebanon, or another close friend who's pursuing a career as a foreign correspondent, or another friend who's a civil servant in Westminster... I could go on. I'm so fortunate to know all these people, and they inspire me daily, but they also make me wonder whether I've settled too quick, too soon. If I'm missing out. If there's something bigger and better out there, something I'm missing out on because I've chosen to live in this tiny city in southern Sweden.

Hard at work in Karamoja, Northern Uganda

Hard at work in Karamoja, Northern Uganda

Constantly being bombarded with other people's success - however happy I might be for them - brings about a level of anxiety and questioning of my own life and my own being to a point where I become overcritical of everything I do. Since people rarely share their struggles or hardship on the interwebz, it feels like you only get to see rainbows and unicorns - and by comparison, my life feels pretty shit.

As a consequence, I stopped reading blogs and I stopped consuming other people's seemingly perfect lives. Instead I try to prioritise meetings with these people, because ironically, I find that a lot of people are fairly open with the ups and downs that are inevitable to leading a successful life, in a way that they don't tend to be online.

And a shout-out to the very few blogs I still read - they mainly have a focus of personal and/or professional development, and I feel that they actually add value to how I think and pursue my thoughts (which sounds meta, but life is pretty meta). So thanks to Mark, Hampus, and The Muse - you make my life richer. And if you have any favourite personal development blogs up your sleeve, would love to hear about them.