At this year's Oscars, amid a sea of Barbie feminism dressed in bubblegum pink and Cillian Murphy's architectural bone structure, the two films I was gunning for were Perfect Days, written by Wim Wenders and Takuma Takasakiabout, and Celine Song’s Past Lives, both exploring roads not taken, regret and what it means to choose to live on your own terms.

Perfect Days tells the story of Hirayama, a toilet cleaner in Tokyo who's found peace and joy in the smaller, the miniscule even, moments of a very routine life. At the midpoint in the film it becomes clear he might have chosen a very different, and potentially much easier, life for himself.

Past Lives is a critically acclaimed romantic drama about a Korean woman who immigrated to America in her teens being reunited with her childhood sweetheart from Seoul. It examines with perfect subtlety all the things that we choose for ourselves and also the seismic things that are decided for us by circumstance and fate.

The Herald: Perfect Days tells the story of HirayamaPerfect Days tells the story of Hirayama (Image: FREE)

I was captivated by these films for many reasons but most of all because lately I've been thinking about the decisions I've taken too, those sliding doors moments in our lives when our future tilts on an axis. The day that I sold my second novel and wrote my resignation email for my 9-5 office job, even though the first instalment of my book advance was barely two months' rent.

Or letting my friend log in to my OKCupid account so they could pick a date for me – she thought she was joking when she selected a gangly man in a series of hipster jumpers with a beautiful face. Reader, I married him. Had we not moved to Prague in 2019 I don't believe I would have ever been a mother. After two years of infertility, 100 book gigs for my memoir Lowborn and living on a diet of G&Ts and McDonald's eaten alone in chain hotel rooms, Prague allowed me much needed space and peace to show my body I was in a safe place mentally and physically to grow a child.

Thinking about the past is perhaps inevitable when you start clutching your knees when you stand and you get lustful over shoes not because they’ll give you Taylor Swift’s legs but because they have good arch support. Maybe it's also because I'm more settled than ever. I have a beautiful kid, a cat, a dog, we’re getting a mortgage and next year my husband and I will mark our 10th anniversary by renewing our vows – that’s the stuff that sets you on a motorway with no turn-offs in sight.

Keeping with the Oscars theme, as Barbie says in the film, ‘Do you ever think about dying?’ Because I have, a lot over the last two years. When I went from, I thought, disgustingly healthy to almost fatally ill, I got a taste of actual mortality. It tastes like a petrol station microwave burger washed down with a tepid Red Bull – it might be inevitable at some point but it’s not something you really want to ruminate on.


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I’ve also had a lot of time to think about what I regret while staring up at a dusty corner on my bedroom ceiling. The times that I didn't treat people as well as I might have done because I was going through my own fractured, complicated, healing process.

Conversely, my years of people-pleasing and smiling politely while folk with no understanding of my background said almost outrageously rude things to me, ‘Well, you don't look or sound like you grew up on council estates.’ I definitely regret the asymmetric haircut I impulsively got at a trendy South London salon which will live on in every single one of the Lowborn publicity photos.

Then there are the things I’ll never regret, no matter where they have taken me on the roller coaster of human challenge and experience. I have never regretted my marriage, motherhood or travelling.

This prioritising is even more vital now, because I simply have fewer resources to achieve all I might want to with my precious days. In chronic illness circles, this finite resource is often called your ‘spoons’.

I like to think of my spoons as the tiny, impractical souvenir kind topped with a little map and this year I decided to use my spoons for myself.

The Herald: Past Lives is a critically acclaimed romantic dramaPast Lives is a critically acclaimed romantic drama (Image: free)

Before chronic illness, I could do everything for everyone and I did. As a working class woman in an ever elitist publishing industry, I've spent years trying to live up to the miraculous good fortune of being allowed to write for a career.

I left school at 15 with no qualifications, I grew up on the worst streets and the worst estates in Scotland, and it felt important to meet that good fortune with endless productivity. And that was all well and good when I had unlimited spoons, spoons coming out of the caboose, drawers full of them. But now I have, let’s say, eight tiny spoons topped with tiny flags a day, I prioritise what is important to me.

What do I love? What brings me joy? Crucially, when that final slideshow of my life flashes before my eyes, what film do I want to be watching? For me, the most amount of time I can have with my family, work that inspires me and lastly the wonder of travel and new experiences. The film of my life is on a far smaller scale than Oppenhiemer or Barbie but it is mine. It makes me grateful for every road taken and not taken.

Each day is a ‘perfect day’ because it is one I’ve chosen.