Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Extract

     We sit next to one another, side by side on a bench. Leaning against one another, shoulders and arms pressed together, thighs touching. Half turning our heads to face one another, we smile, and I, forever awkward, drop my gaze to where your right hand rests on your knee, clenched into a tight fist.

     I take your hand in mine. My short stubby fingers, the skin brown and calloused, hold the pale smooth fist, and I insinuate my right forefinger into where the tension is tightest, pushing outwards, forcing your fingers to uncurl, until your palm is exposed, fingers splayed outwards, facing upwards.

     Lightly, delicately, I trace around the lines, tickling slightly, the smoothness of your skin. I feel, rather than see, you smile and I smile too. I look like I’m focussing intently on your hand, as though I’m not aware of anything else. Untrue.


     I am aware of my heart pounding, my shallow breathing, my blood racing through my veins. I am aware that I quiver in your presence, still.

The girl who

     The thing about shit stuff happening to you when you’re a child is that it doesn’t just fuck up that one thing. It fucks up everything, in variously different ways. Your relationships, how you see yourself, your inability to trust, how you then behave when you become a parent, just... pfft. Everything.

     That’s what it does, see. It’s not so much about what actually happened to you, as what surrounds it. Firstly, the circumstances that allowed a young child to wander off from her siblings whilst on holiday. And then what comes after. In my case, I was never asked what had happened. My parents were annoyed with me. I told them ‘I went looking for you, I got lost, I met a man, but he wasn’t very nice.’ And that was it. I was missing for forty minutes. And they left it at that. As a sign of how seriously they took it, I got accidentally separated from them again a few days later. I got told off.

     Subsequently, years later, I found out that they guessed that something had happened to me. But they didn’t ask. To them, they didn’t ask because they worried about upsetting me. But at the time, I took it as a lesson. They didn’t ask, because they didn’t care. That’s quite a big thing to take in at such a young age. I know I never thought of it like that, children can’t articulate their feelings in that way. But moods, feelings, suggestions have a way of sinking their hooks into your mind, and distorting the way you view the world and your place in it.

     They didn’t ask, because they didn’t care. They didn’t care, so they didn’t notice how I changed. They didn’t make the connection when their loud, stroppy, confident youngest daughter, unfazed by anything, became a girl who cried and clung to her mother every school morning for the next four years. The girl who refused all invitations to play at friend’s houses. The girl who wouldn’t attend sleepovers.

     The girl who, when asked how her day had been, replied ‘don’t worry, I know you’re busy.’ Not accusingly. Just with a shrug and an understanding smile. I was six. Still makes me cry to think of it. I don’t even remember that conversation, that’s how unimportant a moment it was to me. A dagger through my mother’s heart though. The girl who used to get into her parent’s bed every night. The girl who asked her sister two questions. ‘How many months does it take to have a baby? And how many months is it since we were in Tunisia?’ The girl who escaped into reading instead of staying in the real world.


     The thing is, I can look back on all of this now. I can understand that my parents were trying to protect me, in their own way. But by trying to protect me, they reinforced the opposite. I thought they didn’t care. I thought that the people who should have loved me most, who should have protected me, who should have cared, didn’t. And I just accepted it. I wasn’t worth caring about. I’m not worth caring about. And I can be as logical as I like about things, I can tell myself that’s not true, I know it’s not true. I do know it. But it doesn’t change the fact that to the core of my being, I am not worth caring about. That's me, that's how I feel, that's how I've spent most of my life feeling, and that's why I'm not robust, that's why I'm oversensitive, that's why I get so hurt and disappointed when I cautiously trust people and then they let me down, or hurt me, or ignore me. Because it just reinforces that.


      And I’m not writing this for attention, or because I want people to swoop in and shower me with affirming things, because firstly, your words won’t change what’s in my head. And then I’ll have to pretend that you’ve made me feel better when you haven’t, and it’ll get all awkward and you’ll offer to listen if I want to have a chat, and I don’t because there really isn’t any point, but I’ll thank you again, and then we’ll feel a bit uncomfortable, and nothing will have changed. I’m writing this to get it out of my head, where it’s been sitting for a bit too long. I have other, happier, better things to write about. But until this fucker gets fired out there, all’s cheerless, dark, and deadly.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Morning has broken. Me.

     I wish I was The Boy. No, honestly, I do. Instead of being my cynical, sarcastic, unimpressed self, I wish I could wake up every weekday morning in the same mood that he does. Instead of rolling out of bed, grumpy, underslept, and already fed up, I wish I could greet the start of every day in his own unique fashion. Every day is a new, unexplored box of mystery, waiting to be unpacked. What will the day bring? What will happen today? Who knows where the path will lead? It is Monday morning! What new delights await me?

     Seriously, it’s amazing. He’s ten years old, he’s been going to school now for nearly a full six years. And yet… every school morning, it’s as though this is a brand new experience, unheard of, undreamt of, a constant reel of surprises. What’s even more impressive is that The Girl, only in Year 2, has lost this capacity, and yet her brother remains stunned by the daily routine.

     The Girl’s morning goes something like this: Get up at some ridiculous eyewateringly early hour. Shout at me for breakfast until I give up ignoring her. Whilst waiting for me to make toast, get dressed in the clothes I laid out the night before. Eats breakfast. Reads a book. Puts shoes on. Gathers school stuff. Leaves.

     The Boy, however, shuns such mundane and predictable routines. What is life for, if not for rollercoaster adventure? For white knuckle rides, and crashes of emotion? Live a little! By contrast, his mornings vary, but the overall narrative arc remains the same.

     Seven o’clock. Alistair and I are up, barely functioning, but out of bed, shuffling around the kitchen and making coffee. Alistair goes up to shower, and gently shakes The Boy’s shoulder ‘Darling? Time to wake up.’ The Boy responds with a sound that suggests we have constructed a Wicker Man and filled it with everything he has ever held dear. Alistair showers, gets dressed, leaves for work.

     Half past seven. I am showered and dressed. ‘The Boy? Darling? Darliiiiiing? It’s half past seven sweetheart. Time to get up.’ A noise, perhaps best described as ‘GNARRRRRRGHHHOHHH’ rumbles from under the duvet. I spend several minutes lacing up my boots before returning to the scene. ‘The Boy? Come on, you need to get up now.’ There is silence. A visual check confirms that the Boy has gone back to sleep. It is now quarter to eight. ‘The BOY! Come on! You need to get up! School today!’ He stirs. His first words, upon greeting the glorious new day that has broken ‘Alright! JESUS! I’m getting up!’ He remains in bed. I stand over him. ‘WHAT? I’m GETTING UP.’ ‘No you’re not.’ His response to this is to rub his cheek against the pillow, make a comforting ‘mmmm’ noise to himself, and then extend his arms ‘Mummy? Cuddle?’ I bestow a cuddle, and then stand back. ‘Are you getting up now?’ ‘Yes. Can I have a cup of tea?’

     It is now eight o’clock. A cup of tea has been made. ‘The Boy?’ Silence. ‘THE BOY?’ THE. BOYYYYYYYYYYY.’ There are noises, suggesting that The Boy has got up. Or perhaps a manatee is attempting to take a crash course in tap dancing on the landing. Around three minutes later, a sullen ten year old male child galumphs grumpily into the living room. The effort required to complete this task means a full physical collapse onto a sofa is deemed necessary. ‘The Boy! It’s nearly ten past eight! You need to get dressed!’ ‘A pale, wan voice, better suited to a querulous academic in his eighties, is heard ‘Where are my clooooooothes?’ ‘ON THE BLOODY CHAIR WHERE I PUT THEM LAST NIGHT’. For my efforts, I receive a pleading, hurt face, and mutter to myself in an undertone ‘oafuhfuxake…’ Go upstairs, retrieve clothes, bring them back down, place on sofa next to the Child of Woe, and resume getting lunchboxes prepared, swimming and PE kits together, checking that The Girl has everything she needs in her bag. As I walk past the living room door I call out cheerfully ‘Five minutes Blondi… WHY AREN’T YOU DRESSED YET?’

     The Boy is standing, completely starkers, scratching his stomach absentmindedly, a faraway look on his face. My howl of outrage pierces whatever distant galaxy he currently inhabits and he proffers me the socks I had thoughtfully provided him with ‘Mum? Mum? Mum? Do we have any other clean socks Mum? It’s just that these are like, really hard to put on, and they’re quite tight, and I’ve got swimming today, and it’s, like…’ To my eternal, maternal shame, I swipe the socks from his paw, run upstairs, return them to his sock drawer, select another pair of socks more suitable to beginner level, run back downstairs, and hand them over ‘…and it’d just take too much time, and I’d be feeling really stressed out about putting them back on…’

     He’s still standing completely naked in the living room, having made no effort to dress himself in any way. ‘WE NEED TO LEAVE IN TWO MINUTES. GET DRESSED. GET DRESSED. GET DRESSED. GETDRESSSSSSSSED.’ Infuriatingly, The Boy adopts a hurt look, and yelps ‘Sorry!’ as though he’s accidentally punched me in the face. I drop my shoulders, exhale heavily, and give him A Look. ‘Oh yeah, sorry, I’ll get dressed now.’

     In order to be at school on time, we need to leave the house at twenty past eight. It is 08:19. The Girl is waiting at the front door, immaculately attired, coat and shoes on, schoolbag on her back. The Boy… is slumped on the sofa. I bark ‘SHOES!’ at him. ‘Where are my shoes?’ Somehow, without swearing, I suggest his shoes are likely to be in the place WHERE YOU LAST LEFT THEM FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.  A full five minutes passes, during which time school shoes are located, and agonisingly, painstakingly donned. By this point I’m hopping from foot to foot by the front door, uttering a chant of ‘come on come on come on we’re going to be late come on come on WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?’

     ‘I need to fill in my reading record. Um. What have I read? Hmm… what. Have. I. Read… Ooh. I know! Oh. No, wait. That was the other week. Hmm…’

     ‘JESUS CHRIST THE BOY, WE NEED TO LEAVE NOW.’

     ‘But I have to hand in my reading record. Can’t find my pen….’ He ferrets, unproductively in his bag, for what feels like several days. Wordlessly, I hand him the stub of a pencil. Tongue sticking out, he carefully, s-l-o-w-l-y, fills in five days’ worth of reading. Then ‘You need to sign it, Mum.’ I just about manage to resist the urge to draw a massive speedcock in the box allocated for parental signatures, and shove the reading record in his bag. ‘Alright! Jesus, Mum, someone got out of the wrong side of bed!’ An odd, not unfamiliar, sense of boiling frustration fills me. I avoid looking at my precious first born to prevent the simmering from erupting.

     ‘O-kay! Ska vi ga!’

     ‘Mum? Where’s my hoody?’

     ‘Which. Hoody. Do. You. Mean. You have at least five.’

     ‘The one that I normally wear. Y’know… the um. The one that… I think it might have been you and Dad got it for me? It’s…’

     ‘HERE. IT’S HERE. I AM HOLDING OUT IN MY HANDS RIGHT NOW. IT IS HERE. PUT IT ON AND WE NEED TO LEAVE AGES AGO SO COME ONNNNNNNNNNNUH.’

     As I speak, I unlock the front door, The Girl steps outside, and we stand as The Boy wrestles fruitlessly with the final article of clothing. ‘Tsk’ he smiles. ‘Tried to put it on over my bag.’ Unable to multitask, he has stopped attempting to put on his jacket or remove his bag to provide his crucial piece of commentary. Never having really been a footstamper before, I can now empathise really quite sincerely with Rumpelstiltskin. I am beyond words. Instead, I do the universal gesture of despair, mixed with frustration, annoyance, and JUST GET A FUCKING MOVE ON that is holding up both hands, palms facing me, fingers splayed, accompanied by a face that would curdle milk. ‘Oh, yeah.’

     And then, having pushed me beyond the bounds of decency, to the point that I’m seriously considering homeschooling because I can’t face yet another bloody morning like this… he’s ready, and bounces alongside me for the full twenty minute walk to school, chatting away happily as though none of this ever happened.

     And the final, killer, suckerpunch, as I drop him off... 'Love you, Mum. Sorry I was late getting up. Bye!'

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Splinters

So. It’s over. Nine years of doing a job I was patently unsuited for, a job that stretched me beyond endurance, a job that I took great pride in, even as it broke me. A job that took me to the point where I chose death over living. Then five years of struggle, and fighting, and arguing. And now it’s gone. All I can see from those five years is wreckage.

What do I have, from all those years? I’m unemployed. Unemployable. I have no skills, no talents, no experience I can transfer. I briefly entertained thoughts of being a writer. I wrote. Then I realised it was just another way of wasting my life. Blogging? All well and good. Doesn’t mean anything though. It’s not going to change my life, or yours, or theirs. It’s not going to earn me any respect, in fact, rather the opposite. I’m not going to win prizes, have doors opened, have people who value my words, my opinions, my rambling on about a load of bollocks.

I’m 35. I have nothing to offer. I can’t ever see myself in a position where I have anything to offer. Constantly comparing myself to those who are valued isn’t helpful. But that’s what’s going on. I’m not depressed, I’m just realistic.  I can spend whole days trying to help other people, offering my ideas, but in the end… What I say and do counts for nothing. Poor, obscure, plain, and little.

I thought I was clinging to the wreckage. But the wreckage was splinters.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A single tooth

     The area of Norwich, north of Dereham Road. I spent the first few years of my life here. Learnt to walk on these streets. Picked siblings up from first and middle schools here. Played in the park opposite the dark and dingy corner shop. Went to playgroup at the Belvedere Centre, Quest Club at the Baptist Church, played in the cemetery just up the road. I remember, aged three, visiting Dr Leg at the surgery to have various inoculations, and Mum buying me a Feast ice cream as my reward for not crying when the needle was stuck in my arm. I still recall feeling queasy with chocolate overload as we walked home, Feast only half eaten, but forcing myself to finish that special treat through sheer bloodymindedness, so Mum couldn’t say ‘I told you it would be too much for you’ (I was me from a very early age). But for all of the early years I spent in this area, I never knew of the secrets in the streets.

     I’m not going to go into the stories, not really. I’m sure to get facts wrong for one thing, and if you really want to know more about Norwich during the Second World War, then you’ll find nothing better than NickStone’s writing. What I can tell you about is how a tip off led to a discovery of something that’s both pitiful and humbling.

     This part of Norwich has been the less affluent side for a while. Small, cramped streets, filled with Victorian terraces, the occasional odd gap, or 60s ugly modern housing, like a gold tooth in an otherwise straightforward smile. There are reasons for that. Anglian Water have their headquarters here, on the appropriately named Waterworks Road. And just opposite is this.



St Bartholomew’s. Taken out by the Luftwaffe in 1943, it had stood for centuries, offering solace, comfort, a place for celebration and contemplation, a place for a community to gather. And then gone. Almost. All the prayers and sermons, all the hopes and admonishments, all the teachings and thought, wiped out, erased, vanished. Almost.



The congregation moved on, Norwich City Council finally pulled down the walls that had survived after ten years. But the tower, considered to be of historical importance, was s left. Windows blocked up, the bell tower still stands, alone, a few remaining memorials left as a reminder of those considered important enough to have their existence recorded. Nothing for those like you and I, who walked these streets, grew up, lived, died…



One wonders how the old congregation felt, in those years after the war, when what had been their church was left to moulder, left to decay, a jarring every day reminder of the brutality and pointlessness of war. The arbitrary nature that saw some houses destroyed, some people killed, some places of peace and community obliterated. I can only think of it as something that must have been a painful reminder of terror and loss. Not a place to think of as happy. But there is a little something. A small park, where children play now, ancient and modern side by side. A reminder of all the history that Norwich holds, packed so tightly together. Cheek by jowl, there’s a single tooth left in the mouth that was once where a community came together to give voice to their faith.




War is unkind to churches named after St Bartholomew, it seems. But that’s another story.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

How to Blog

     Just lately, I keep seeing blogposts about ‘how to blog’, or how to increase your blogging reach’, or ‘how to make your blog more successful’. And they irritate the shit out of me. Seriously. I really don’t like them. I’m sure they have the best of intentions, but frankly, it comes across as patronising, for one thing. But the main thing that annoys me about them is the assumption that people blog purely to get attention, or to reach a wide audience. Do they bollocks.  I can’t offer any blogging advice. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s not. My own blogging process is chaotic, contradictory, and frankly, all over the bloody place. Sometimes I write at home. More often, I have to get out of the house and force myself into a situation where I have no choice but to write.

     Sometimes I type straightaway, my fingers fused to the keyboard, hammering out thoughts I didn’t know I had until the emerged somehow, skipping the process of being articulated, considered and hovered over. More often, I write by hand, in one of the far too many notebooks I keep running, meaning that there are a ridiculous amount of blogposts I’ve scribbled down, then lost my nerve over, so they linger in the ether of half writing. Written, but not delivered. Written, but forever unread. Consigned to the recycling bin of an unopened page.

     Then there’s the ‘Ooh. Fuck. YES!’ notebook. Small enough to fit in the pocket of my bag, not suited to writing at length, it’s where I frantically scrawl the realisation of an idea a fleeting thought that occurs as I’m doing the school run, the hook of a post. Observations, moments, solutions. The small notebook is their net. I scribble six or seven words in there, to record that precious second when something suddenly makes sense. I say to myself I do it so that I won’t forget  what’s just occurred to me, but that’s bollocks. I don’t forget those moments. But when I get to the point of actually constructing something from that thought, then it’s a good place to revisit, to capture the idea I had. By recording it, I make it solid, tangible.

     God, this sounds so wankily pretentious. I’m not, honest. I’m the woman whose first real blogpost was about shagging Ed Balls. But… look. Your blog is your blog. It’s your own little corner of a room. Actually, scratch that. It is a room of one’s own. Your room. No one else is going to be responsible for it. You decorate it how you like. Stick in whatever is important to you. Some things, loads of people will like. Some things only a few people will. There will be things in there that mean nothing to anyone else but you. And that’s fine. Because although this is a room that’s open to the public, it’s also your place, your space, your refuge. You’re not doing it with anyone else in mind. So if there’s ugly stuff in there, so what?

     I’ve blogged before about what writing is for me. It’s a release. I do it because I have to, because writing it down helps me make sense of the world. I blog when the words force themselves out. I’ve blogged a few times when I’ve forced it. And it shows. Not only are they bad posts, about bugger all, but the words are wrong and it doesn’t work. But that’s me.

     I suppose what I’m leading up to is that you can’t be taught to blog. You’re not a ventriloquist. You have a voice, maybe similar to mine, maybe completely different. Your views and mine may be diametrically opposed. You may be more comfortable sticking to facts and photos, whereas I’m lazy, half-arsed, and emotionally incontinent. Doesn’t matter. If you want to blog, then, FFS, BLOG. If you want to blog, and the words aren’t there, leave it. I go through weeks where I don’t feel I can even write my own name with any confidence. I gave up on writing fiction a few months ago. It’s gone. Not just metaphorically. I threw out the notebooks, deleted the files, pretended I didn’t feel crushed by the events that made me take that decision. But the truth is, I’m not a writer, I’m a twatty blogger. And to be honest, blogging is too personal for my advice, or theirs, or any so called ‘blogging expert’ to mean anything to anyone other than our own selves.


     So blog. Blog about what matters to you, what’s important in your life, blog about your passions. But don’t blog to be read, don’t blog to grow your audience, don’t blog because you feel you ought to. You have a voice. You have a room. You have a blog.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The devil in the details

     Doing some reading for a friend lately, I realised that with each piece I read, there was a pattern developing in my responses to it. I kept thinking of an inverted pyramid, with each piece starting with a grand opening, before working its way down, by each successive paragraph, until it concluded with a single final story of one family, or one group, one community, or merely just one person. And each time, it provoked an emotional response in me (yeah, I know. Who’d have thought that, eh?). That’s what the best writing does, in my opinion. Even in a dry and distant text, the best writers use their empathy to create something evocative and moving.

     I’ve been brooding over writing advice just lately. Some of it works for me, some of it doesn’t. It’s always an individual thing in any case. But what I think is that stories need to be narrowed down for them to work, at least for me. I learn more about the writer who can write like that, and so their work is more likely to hit me harder. Hmm. Empathy. There’s a thought there that I can’t quite articulate yet.

     Narrow it down. Start broad. Start wide. Put in the background. Fill in the landscape. Add the buildings. Sketch out the trees. Apply your hand to the sky. Paint the clouds in. The ground. The light. Then the details of the larger elements. The architecture. The colours of nature. The bits that provide context. Get the broader picture in.

     Then the bits that matter. The details. The human touches. The bits that tell the story. The tiny bits, the fragile little shadows and half-hinted at secrets. The people. Their form, their posture. The way they stand, how their hands are captured at a certain moment. The interplay between them. How they react to one another. What is written on their faces. What emotion is conveyed through their eyes. Where do they look, and why do they let their gaze fall there? Tell me why. Tell me why they matter. Narrow it down, with every word you deploy. Tell me why they matter. Tell me their story, and I will know yours.

     Details, always details. Who, what, why, motivations, thoughts, feelings. The devil is in the detail. But then I must be in love with the devil because that is what I need.