Tuesday 16 August 2022


It turns out that the best way to get me to do something is to behave like an arsehole towards me. Last night I was told to ‘shut the fuck up’. I responded by not shutting the fuck up. I replied, at quite some length. And then I blogged, for the first time in years. About Dad. Dad. We only get one. Or if you’re my eldest brother, you get two (my eldest brother was adopted, I didn’t meet him until I was well into my 30s). But I only got one shot at it, and I ended up with Dad, my dad, my make, Mac. 

 Difficult, annoying, argumentative. Smoked too much, drank too much, fuelled by coffee and the need to be right. The need to know you had done the right thing, however hard it might be. Excruciatingly honest at times. Able to perform in public, but hating the limelight. Stupidly softhearted at others and hang on a minute I’m supposed to be writing about my dad, and I seem to have ended up talking about me instead. 

We were a bit too alike. Which is why we argued, endlessly. Oh my god, did we argue. I am faintly proud that ‘doing a Jess’ has now passed into the family lexicon, meaning ‘to stand up during a heated discussion, tell the other party to fuck off, and then storm out’. I am very mature. Very. I can’t tell you how many times I did a Jess when I was with Dad. No, I literally can’t, it was kind of expected of me and I would have hated to disappoint him. Actually, thinking about it, I should have done it at his funeral. Bugger. 

 We always worked things out though, eventually. Usually by him saying ‘I’m a stupid old git, I shouldn’t have said what I said. I love you to bits, make.’ And then we’d both get a bit tearful, and I’d call him a silly old arse, and get him a glass of Merlot so we could both have a bit of a weep without the other one seeing. We were too alike. What he didn’t like in me was what he didn’t like in himself. 

What did he like in me? He liked my determination. He liked my honesty. He liked my refusal to back down when I knew I was right (aside from the whole ‘doing a Jess’ thing). He admired me for my strength, my intelligence, and my intuition. He loved that I can think around corners, that what seems so obvious to me is something that eludes others. He loved me for my voice, my love of words, and the joy I took in writing. He loved that I am, and always have been a contrary little bastard, and he regularly would tell me to move on to another subject when I’d got the best of him. Quite often by telling me to shut up. At which I would fold my arms, jut my chin out and say ‘No.’ 

 So being told to ‘shut the fuck up’ last night was a bit like Dad re-emerging from um… his urn actually. I wish I could make that sound slightly more dramatic. Would it help if I knocked my ashtray over, to make it seem like some kind of spiritual apparition? I could pick the fag butts out, and then chuck the ash in the air with a bit of decent lighting. No? Ok. 

 Shut the fuck up? No. You should know me better than that. Dad did. And if he were here now, he’d laugh & tell me to get another glass, give me a hug and tell me that he loves me, stupid twats that we both are. And I would give a shaky laugh, and it would be ok. It would all be ok. It doesn’t feel ok right now, but I have to have faith that it will be ok, somehow. I don’t know how, but it will be ok, because it has to be, because I have to be. It will become ok.

Monday 15 August 2022


My dad died. At some point I know I will be able to articulate that better. I’m still not really sure how to tell people that Mac isn’t around any longer. He died. Suddenly, horrifically. I’ve been spared much of the immediate pain, it has fallen entirely to my beautiful, kind, generous Doobs to deal with, my darling Biggus Sissus. I’ve just been thinking a lot about Dad this weekend. Because this is exactly the type of weekend that Dad & I would have spent an afternoon having lunch together, getting gradually down units of alcohol, arguing, telling each other to fuck off, then him teaching me how to do crosswords, and being so kind, so encouraging, so proud when I got a clue right. Eventually I would have tottered off home, having poured him into a taxi, having seen how out of breath just the 10 yard walk would make him. Then I’d get a text from him ‘hoho make, safely home. Love you to bits.’ I miss him. I miss him so much. I miss my dad. I regret every time I didn’t let him know how much I loved him, I regret not telling him to fuck off more, I regret not just holding his hand that little bit longer. I regret not protecting him, when I should have done. But I look out across the people I know, and so many people are only families because of what Dad did. He had his children, his family, his friends who made me laugh so much at the wake. But he changed so many lives with what he did, and that is his legacy. I just miss him so much. Hoho make. Safely home. Love you to bits.

Monday 4 February 2019

Don't need a reason

     If she were here now, she'd tell us to stop being such a puddle of wusses. If she were here now, she'd tell us to rattle our dags and get the hell on with it. If she were here now, she'd deliver the twitter equivalent of a clip round the ear & tell me to get the bollocks on with writing again. So that's what I'm doing.

     She's not here though. Like an awful lot of people I woke up on Sunday morning to the news that Dr Dianne Tillotson – or @hipbookfairy as many of us will always think of her – had died. I cried a bit. I suspect I'm not alone in that. If you didn't know her, then that loss is yours. If you did know her, then that loss is ours. Because she was one of the best people I've encountered on twitter. She was funny, she was clever, she was kind, formidable, gentle, straight talking, fascinating, full of knowledge, yet she always wore her learning lightly, and despite being hugely appreciative of other people and their work, never once do I have a memory of her showing off all that she knew and had worked on. All she ever wanted to do was share her own enthusiasm in the hope of encouraging others.

     And she did. She truly did. It didn't matter to her how many letters you had after your name or how many hours you'd spent in dusty archives researching esoteric brasses or church crawling in ever increasing selfimportance, she just cared that you cared. About anything. If it was important to you, she took an interest, because despite her searing intelligence and rock solid understanding of so many things, what fired her most were people. I don't think there have been many I've come across who were so joyfully engaged with people, regardless of subject. There were no airs and graces, no pretensions, no false front with Dianne. And she didn't entertain it from others either, her legendary bluntness coming to the fore as and when required, but always with a gleam in her eye, and the unspoken understanding that she would forgive you almost anything, but wouldn't let you get away with much.

     She told me off a lot. She told me off when I was being a brat. She told me off for swearing too much. She told me off for being lazy, being silly, for being a bit of a twat. But always with kindness, and always with generosity.

     Generous is the word that keeps coming to mind when I think of her. She gave so freely, so easily, so simply that it never felt she was doing it as a favour or an obligation. Her generosity was really altruism. She saw an opportunity to help others, so she did. She never thought about receiving. Never thought about what she got back from it, just a natural reflex to help, and to make things better. And she did, she always did. The number of word exchanged between us pales into insignificance when I think about what they really meant. She was an absolute one off, one time, one individual who took her own path and forever was drawn to those who did the same. She inspired and encouraged so many others, and we are all diminished by her loss. She was, in her own words, a volunteer with attitude. I shall miss her, and I lack the eloquence to truly pay tribute to her. All I can think is that if she meant so much to me and others who never even met her, then how much did she influence and shape the lives of those who really knew her best, who benefited from her calm, witty, insightful wisdom?

     A better person than I reminded me last night that 'No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away'. With Dianne, those ripples will continue into the foreseeable future, for at least as long as I strive and endure. She pushed me forward whilst holding my hand. I shall miss her presence, almost more than I can say, the kind consideration for everyone she came across, the humour, the biting wit and silliness that never once hid just how good a person she was, and just what a hinterland there was behind every insight.

     If she were here right now, she'd be wagging a gently chiding finger at me, telling me to write more, telling me that I have the same spirit in me, telling me to put my boots on and kick the arse out of the things I can do to make the world a better place. If she were here right now, I'd know she was right. She always was. But she's not here, and won't be, so instead I've written this. Mawkish and self-indulgent it may be, and she'd almost certainly give me a good ticking off for it, but I know the difference she made to so many of us. So I am writing this in my most bright and colourful clothes, with my biggest boots on, flowers in my hair, being that 'spunky chick with attitood' that she said I was, because she believed in me. And I never took the chance to tell her how much she meant to me, and to so many others.

     RIP Dianne. We've lost our irreplacable twitter fairy, so instead we've been calling angels down to earth in your stead. Because I believe we need them.

Friday 11 January 2019

Fearless Girl

     I think we've covered how much fun I had over the festive period. If this were a film, we would now cut to a montage of me crying, staying in bed, listening to Madness on repeat, having an eight hour bender with my Mum the day after my birthday, opening the fridge door & shrugging before closing it again, chain-smoking, staying up into the wee small hours and then an absolute storm surge of wine.

     And then, just at the end, before it fades to darkness, one other little image would creep in too. A little image of a little thing (no, not me). A small statue that I've never seen in person, probably never will. A tiny thing, a seemingly insignificant thing, a silent thing that nevertheless speaks to me and holds my hand in the bleakest of moments.

     Her. Fearless Girl. I love this figure so, so, so, so SO much. I love her, just for being her. I love her boot clad feet standing apart, her fists planted on her hips, her chest out, her chin jutted up, the calm defiance of her face. I love the way the billowing of her clothes suggests movement, the sway of her ponytail. I love how even with that susurration of a breeze doesn't distract from the fact that she is planted solidly, ready to take on whatever is coming at her.

     Then you do see what is coming at her, or perhaps considering taking her on. Older than her, bigger, stronger, heavier, seemingly more dangerous, unpredictable & ferocious, harder, more powerful. The Bull of Wall Street was there first, intended to represent all of those aggressive, macho tendencies, that need to overpower and conquer, to be ruthless and feared.

     This girl came along with her response. To stand in front of something meant to intimidate her, something she can have no hope of defeating, and her response is instead to stand her ground and with every fibre of her being say simply 'I am here.' In contrast to her small, slight frame, the bull now looks clumsy, dull witted and lumbering, his body turned as if he's no longer ready to charge, but is weighing up his options as this girl stands there and says 'I am not afraid of you.'

     And somehow I know with absolute certainty that if he did decide to run at her, she would prevail. Either he would screech to a halt at the final moment or she would neatly sidestep – possibly even with an arm flourish of faux-politeness – and again, he would be the wrong-footed one, not this bold girl facing down the world with no hint of fear, her dress rippling, hair swinging, her boots linking her to the position she defends. For all of her lack of stature, she is stronger than than the Statue of Liberty, because she has freed herself of gestures and of being scared. You could bounce rocks off her, but I doubt you'd even consider it.

     I love her. She's become iconic, and I also appreciate she's been controversial too. Even as I write this, despite what I've just written about her refusal to back down and move away, she is, ironically, doing just that very thing and will no longer be facing her formidable foe. No pasa nada. She'll still be out there somewhere, that spirit and blithe determination living on, inspiring and encouraging others to follow her lead. Her beauty lies not in her face, but in her power, not in her size, but in her strength.

     When it comes to fearsome vs fearless, I'll always back fearless. For she is small but mighty.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

It must be love

     The Blondies weren't with me for Christmas. A bit longer than that, really. They left the day before my birthday (which is 22nd December, just in case you'd unaccountably forgotten to add it to your diary), and they didn't come back until the 27th. That's an awfully long time to be on your own, and a fairly painful one too.

     I'm not bleating in the hope of sympathy. My family offered, in various ways, to host me, and I refused all offers. Because if I can't be with those whom I love most, then I don't want to be with anyone. Alone I can choose to sleep or not, eat or not, get dressed or not, drink (yeah, there was never going to be a 'not' attached to that one) or just sink into misery and cry endlessly, sitting on the second bottom step of the stairs, reflecting on everything that has, could, and will go wrong. Again there is no 'not' attached to that scenario. It happened. Quite a few times.

     But I tried not to let it, or at least not to give into it too much. The temptation to listen to tear jerking music so that I could descend into solo self pitying snivelling was strong with this one. But I Jessed up as much as I could, listened to endless podcasts, went into hiding on social media because I didn't want pity. Trust me, I was already wallowing in that. I attempted to only listen to happy, upbeat music instead, to at least provide one less excuse for leaving discarded tissues all over the house.

     Trying to stave off insanity, I plunged headlong into madness. Divine Madness, the soundtrack to my childhood and early teenage years, introduced to me by my brother, and never unloved since. The first nine tracks take me back to being 13, playing Sonic 2 on the megadrive with my best friends, glasses of Ribena in front of us, right up to track 10. It's such a simple song.

 I never thought I'd miss you
half as much as I do.
And I never thought I'd feel this way,
the way I feel about you.

     I can't quite write those words without having to swallow a bit too hard. Idiot. But sometimes the simplest lines are – like love – the best. They cut through pretentious, self-conscious referencing or airy-fairy metaphors, to what is open, direct, honest. What is true. And sometimes it is as easy as a hot knife slicing through butter.

     I could write on and on about love, about how it feels, what it is, how it changes us forever. I could tell you all of that, and god knows I have done in the past, self-indulgently and at length. But it really is the simplest of things that convey our truest feelings – a look, a handhold, an understanding. An appreciation of what someone gives to us, even unknowingly. It seems so little, yet means so much. But being small doesn't mean it's not mighty.

     How can it be that we can say so much without words? Because we know. Because when The Blondies finally came home, they followed me around the house like a pair of not so little turtle doves, gently cooing, and I quietly, secretly rejoiced. Loves of my life, I don't need to say it, do I? You know. You know what it must be. It is madness, to love you as much as I do. But to me, it and you are divine. Promise.

Monday 7 January 2019

Time wounds all heals

     We went to Horsey Gap to see the seals. Along with pretty much every other person in Norfolk, or so it seemed. Christ, it was mobbed. The slowest part was just inching down the track into the car park, and then following the traipsing hordes up onto the dunes, where you're securely held back by constantly having to sidestep family groups, and are, in any case about half a mile from the seals. Compared to Winterton or Blakeney Point, both of which have utterly captivated us all over the years, this was decidedly underwhelming.

     The Girl expressed this most openly, by sulking and trudging and saying 'when can we just GO?' because that always improves a situation, and makes everyone in the vicinity radiate patience and joy. But not too long after this, both Mum & I conceded she had a point and began the walk back to the car, our route taking us past that familiar Norfolk landmark, a coastal pillbox. Usually rubbish strewn, graffitied, left to moulder away in the landscape, smelling of wee. This one was no exception.

     But maybe it was. Built as a solid, squat, defensive structure, over 70 years on the Norfolk coast had done its work, and the outer shell had been weathered and beaten into submission, revealing the structure beneath, which again, faced with the elements had begun to buckle and corrode, facing outwards like an offensive weapon, not the protective construction it was once supposed to offer.

     Sharp, curling, cruel little spikes rippling metal, perfectly placed to take out the eye of some unwary seal porn enthusiast, or catch on your coat, or scrape the legs of those children whose parents thought it would be a perfect #makingmemories photo opportunity and had hefted their offspring up onto the roof of the pillbox without quite formulating a plan as to how to get them down again (clue: not easily). Prongs really, to hack into delicate flesh, to catch and harm. The hurt beneath the benevolence, the steel beneath the outer skin. That which is its strength and support is also that which damages.

     'Well now' I thought to myself. 'there's a HANDY METAPHOR. That something that from a distance looks blunt and solid has been so ravaged by time and passing circumstance that when viewed up close proves to have scars and open wounds that are in themselves capable of wounding. But you have to be close enough to see that, to feel that. That's the only way it will touch you, or you touch it, although everything in you screeches 'noli mi tangere'. Or in my case JESUS CHRIST THE GIRL DON'T PUT YOUR FACE THERE EVEN AS A JOKE.' Not that I'm anxious or anything.

     But it is a handy metaphor. We hurt the ones to whom we are closest, or those we touch. We let them in, or let them near, and they see us in our weather, eroded state, the cracks showing, spikes and all. And that it why it hurts, and that is why sometimes we are cautious – because we fear being hurt again. And that's also why sometimes it's so familiar that we forget the danger of not approaching things as delicately as we should. We assume familiarity equals safety.

     You just know I'm going to end this with some other kind of clunking great metaphor, don't you? Yep. Because having tested if a certain prong was indeed at a level certain to take her eye out, The Girl turned to me and said scornfully 'It's totally blunt Mum. Not sharp at all. It just looks like it should be.'

Thursday 13 December 2018

The point at which we vanish

     I've held off writing this for a while, deliberately. Partially because at the time, I didn't have the time to do so. Mostly because I didn't want to piggyback on what was someone else's moment – because it was their moment. More than a moment really, it was their triumph. Whilst those of us who were around during it had our own little moments, it was pretty much down to one person that it even happened at all.

     If you follow me on twitter or we're friends on facebook, you probably know I broke a fairly prolonged period of silence in November to talk about an exhibition that was open for some of those brief moments at St Peter Hungate in Norwich – Vanishing Points, the landscapes, archaeology, artefacts of the Western Front. It was supposed to be solely a photographic exhibition, but like work, it expanded to fill the time & space available, and instead became something far more expansive, personal yet distancing, brutal yet sensitive, visceral yet haunting, the ghosts still flitting past us out of the corner of our eyes, just as long as we didn't watch, still moving.

     An awful lot of you visited. It was like the biggest, longest tweet up that Norwich/Norfolk/even further afield has ever known. I hugged a LOT of people. Sometimes more than once. I grinned lots, I did a happy dance more often in public than one should ever do, I even performed a Charleston around the Visitor Book. I cried too. So many times.

     The comment that kept coming up again and again from people was 'moving'. And it was. Despite having been recruited to help with 'generally kicking arse', having known pretty much every detail of every feature, of every element – sometimes in the most nitpicky fashion – I still, when first faced with it all, burst into tears. And I don't mean I got a bit mimsy mouthed, and let one tear trickle down my face, artistically. No. I properly went. That sort of involuntary response that makes both hands fly up up in a gesture of prayer to cover your mouth, the noise that comes out of your throat that can only accurately be described as a strangled 'mmmpppfff!!', followed by an inevitable and instinctive 'Sorry!' in a high-pitched quavering register that no one would ever recognise as your voice. Twice, in two minutes, that happened, before regaining control of myself, the back of my hand pressed against my mouth to prevent further outbreaks.

    It has previously been recorded, both here and in other places, that my emotions are never far from the surface. I laugh easily, can be a mopey lachrymose twat at the brush of a feather, bridle & swear with no provocation. But in this case, I wasn't alone. For all of my irrational, fractured behaviour, I am sometimes capable of being disciplined, and in this case and place I was, assiduously totting up visitor numbers, and people who, like me, cried.

     1,019 visitors came in through the door in a little over 60 hours. On average, one person an hour cried. Not including me, or anyone else making it a new reality (I say 'new' reality, because it is/was always a reality, but Vanishing Points gave it a new life). And some of those people who cried, made me cry too, just seeing their responses, seeing what it meant to them knowing what that response would mean to the person responsible for it. Sometimes it was old men I can only describe as Paul Whitehouse characters. Sometimes a relative of the deceased. Sometimes when I saw people realise the reality of war is not numbers, but stories.

     But the reactions, despite me knowing how good the exhibition would be, despite understanding it, despite doing my best to help – those reactions took me aback. I realised again the power of stories. How one storyteller can create a narrative that changes us, for the better. I know that's not an entirely popular opinion, it hasn't hasn't found favour with others, and the storyteller could not have done his job without help, insight, and support from many others, playing their parts in different ways. But I was there, as much as I could be, not as much as I wanted to be, and I saw the impact that it had. People who wandered in, smiling & laughing, before departing, slightly hollow-eyed, tearful, and so obviously captivated by the words and landscapes. It lingers in me still. I find it strange that those hours of mine I so gladly gave are no longer so consumed by the stories I wanted to be told, whether visually, with long interpretation boards, or the starkest of words under a monochrome sky, they're ghosts now too. Not just of the places they died in, but the place where people came to meet them for the first time. I miss them.

     I miss them, and I miss talking to people about them, about lives and memories. That will slip away so easily, if other people don't take up the baton of carrying on memories and telling those tales. That was what Vanishing Points did. It told stories, various stories, in various ways, and it connected. It was beautiful and bone shaking, hilarious and heartbreaking, terrible, yet terrific.

     So thank you, to those who came (Hi Mum!). Thanks to those who kept me company and kept me in coffee. Thanks to everyone who played a part. I owe a pint at least to Julian S and Andrew 'no I'm not Nick' M A stupid & ridiculous amount of thanks to Matt for all of the negotiating & facilitating he had to do. Nick... mates, innit. I'd go to the cross for you. Actually, I did, which was the first public snotting I did. After all of the build up there he was, our predecessor in looking a bit arsy, and fighting pointless battles. His spirit lives on, even if the exhibition doesn't.

     Goodbye Francis. Different stories took hold of different people. Yours will never let me go, so I suppose it's not goodbye, not really. It's thank you. All we have left of you are footprints, fragments, fingertips. But what more can anyone hope for than to have left some kind of trace of their story?

     Goodnight Poogy x