Two weeks into January and this month is living up to expectations; this week has exclusively involved going to work, eating dinner in the office, then coming home and going to sleep, with a distinct lack of daylight in between. In the absence of a hard-hitting topic, one thing I have genuinely been grateful for is the lazy present-buyers dream, Amazon. I’m not a lazy present buyer at all; I love spending weeks finding the perfect gifts, but Amazon has saved me this week.
In amongst one of my many emails to customer service (don’t ask, I promise I’m not actually one of those people), I realised you can view every single order you’ve ever made. That’s 13 years of my buying history right there! And wow, does it tell a story. A capitalist version of the Facebook timeline, if you will, I can remember every single one of these purchases (bar a couple – why did I buy Union jack bunting in 2010 and who on earth were the ‘Comfortable Dust Mop Slipper Shoes’ for?!). So much of our lives is now saved on the internet, but trawling through my Amazon history brought back a different set of memories.
2004, age 18 – the days of studded belts and mullet haircuts and hanging around with my brother’s band desperately trying to be cool (if the definition of cool was showing the waistband of your knickers above your jeans and covering the entirety of one of your black-ringed, Barry M Dazzle Dust-ed eyes with a side-swept fringe); desperately trying to be noticed by the guy in the striped jumper (update: I never was). I bought numerous CDs: Streetlight Manifesto, Reel Big Fish, The God Awfuls (who the heck were they?! I actually daren’t listen), Capdown, Mad Caddies (it was a ska punk band; my friends and I were extremely committed to wearing predominantly black & white checks and skanking for an entire two hour set on a Friday night). These were the days of mySpace and MSN messenger, of disposable cameras and Blue VKs; being on the cusp of ‘grown up’ without actually being anywhere near.
2005 – I started university, where nobody else wore studded belts or mullet haircuts – so things quickly changed and the mullet was no more. It’s testament to the complete and utter easy ride that was first year English Literature that I bought just one book. One book! Henry V – and I’m pretty sure it was never properly read; my main memory of this play is going to watch a film screening in the English Department prior to a night out, and using it as a pre-gaming opportunity – plastic bottles of vodka and lemonade, hooting in the back row, more concerned about which denim skirt and chunky belt to wear later. My uncle told me they would be the best days of my life and they really were; never again will we be that carefree, that irresponsible, that innocent. University friends are different to all other friends – we transitioned from childhood to adulthood together; we learnt how to cook something that wasn’t a cheese sandwich, how to rent a house (the wrong house, as it turned out), how to build a flat pack table, how to operate in a grown-up world.
2007 – things got a bit more serious; my friends and I were quickly realising that an English degree didn’t exactly catapult you into a well-paid and glamourous job. I bought lots of books, started going to the library, actually read the books. We became committee members on the English Society, basically an excuse to wear cute red polo shirts, strutting from pub-to-pub followed by a trail of freshers who possibly thought we might know what we were doing. Suffice to say, we did not set the world on fire (one night, two people came) but it went on the CV, we graduated, got on with life.
2009 – 2011 – I moved to London, got a job, accidentally became housewife (not literally) before my time; I bought lots of books, stayed in. Looking back at it now, this says a lot.
2012 – newly single, this year saw a fresh phase in my life; new home, new friends, new experiences. The black eyeliner actually came out again! I bought flight socks, in preparation for a trip to New York with six girls I hardly knew, some of whom are now my best friends. I bought a Pilates DVD, having started going to Ballet Pilates with my new friends (one of whom was the teacher – I was in awe); it took me an hour to get there each week but I didn’t care – I was somehow surviving on my own, doing things, meeting people, being myself. I hadn’t had a group of girlfriends in London before, had been reliant on the ready-made group that came with my ex-boyfriend – this was a revelation and I wondered why I hadn’t bothered to cultivate these kinds of friendships before. I bought prints for my new bedroom, Velcro rollers for nights out in Chelsea, Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, because I wanted to know! I started wearing heels again; went to house parties, went on dates, partied with my neighbours, went to a drum and bass festival, blagged VIP access at a polo match, drank way too much, spent way too many Sundays in bed until 3pm. It was a fantastic year.
2013 – 2014 – Mum was diagnosed with cancer; the fun slowly stopped. I bought books, games, DVDs: distractions to while away the time at home with my family. I bought a laptop case for work, my amazing boss telling me to go home whenever I needed to. Life went on; it wasn’t all horrible, nowhere near – we had days out, went on trips, celebrated birthdays and Christmases.
2015 – Mum became more poorly, the drugs stopped working; I purchased an air bed so that my Dad could sleep downstairs at her bedside. I bought things for myself: make up brushes, nail varnishes, books – distractions to make me feel normal. I drifted away from London, living at home four days out of seven – my friends’ lives moved on with frustrating normalcy, plans were made without me, memories that I’ll never be part of. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and neither would they. Both the worst and best thing about having something so traumatic happen in your life is that everybody else’s life just goes on around you. But you’ll catch up with them at some point, and I did. The first Christmas without Mum was always going to be hard (and always will be), but we got through it, and I started to feel more at home in London once again.
2016 – Life carried on, I bought birthday presents, books, an earring for my new piercing. Dad had a stroke; life stopped again for a while. But he got over it and went back to volunteering at the hospice; I bought a name badge for him to wear during shifts because people kept asking for his name. I’m so proud of him. We made it through another year, slowly finding a new normal.
And here we are, 2017 – who knows what story this year’s purchases will tell when I look back on them in a few years (providing we don’t experience an apocalypse which sees the death of the internet and a return to the Ice Age in the meantime – I’m not ruling anything out). For many, the consumerist world we live in probably looks like a nightmare, but I feel lucky to have so much at my fingertips, if I choose to buy it!