Thursday, 21 August 2014

The woman who

     If you follow me on twitter, first of all, I am so very sorry. Secondly, you might know I'm on holiday at the moment. Thirdly, you may have seen I had a bit of a meltdown on Saturday...

     It's a long story. A long, painful story, that I try not to think about, because it reminds me of a deeply unhappy time in my life. But Saturday kind of slapped me to get my attention, vomited it into my face, and then skipped off laughing. So I'm writing the fuck out of it now, because it tore me apart.

     The Girl. My daughter. My beautiful, wonderful, amazing daughter. I saw her. She was out with my mum, my brother, his partner. And she was holding hands. With her. Mortal Enemy Number One. The woman who destroyed me. The woman who dismissed my suicide attempt as my 'little stunt'. The woman who told Alistair, as I lay dying, that I was attention seeking. Her. That woman.

     The woman who never acknowledged I was pregnant with The Girl. The woman who didn't meet The Girl until nine days after she was born, despite coming to my house twice a day. The woman who, on the day I was diagnosed with severe post natal depression, told Alistair that I was pathetic, and he couldn't go home an hour early to support me. The woman who caused the mother of all arguments between her, Alistair, and my brother the same afternoon. The woman who refused to come to my disciplinary when The Girl was twelve days old because that woman was too upset.

     The woman who initiated the disciplinary process, because I 'should' have been back at work full time with a week old The Girl. The woman who said that other mothers do it all the time. The woman whose first question to Alistair when he told her The Girl was born, healthy, and beautiful was to say I had to be in the office, twelve hours after giving birth. The woman who rolled her eyes when I winced that afternoon.

     The woman who tsked when other people suggested that a newborn, a three year old, a full time job, and severe PND might be too much. The woman who told people I was crap at my job, who flagged up every mistake I made, who started my every working day with a mountain of passive aggressive notes, who undermined me at every opportunity. The woman who had no understanding of my job, no idea of what I had to do, the plates I had to spin, the significance of certain meetings, people, phone calls.

     She destroyed me. She systematically worked her way through everyone close to me. Those she could, she befriended, and turned them against me. Those who could see her for what she was had their work doubled, their lives made just that little bit harder, treated poorly, until they resigned, or were sacked. She made sure I wasn't just overworked, isolated, doubting myself. She made me worthless.

     That woman didn't want The Girl to be born. That woman didn't just resent The Girl's birth, she hated it. Because she hated me. I'll never know why. It's painful. Fuck, it hurts, to be hated, really hated. To know someone doesn't want to just avoid you, but to bestow an empty, joyless, and bleak life on you. Thanks to her and PND I got to the point where death seemed my only option. The woman who made me know, with absolute certainty, that feeling like this was entirely my fault, and the only thing I could do about this life was to remove myself from it. The woman who warped my feelings about myself as a parent so much that I knew it was better that The Girl would grow up with no memories of me, her mother. The woman who did this.

     Do you still wonder why seeing The Girl holding hands with the woman made me cry?

Monday, 18 August 2014

He matters to me

     I go out every evening. Usually between seven and eight. To go to the shop. That´s the purpose of the walk. But the reason is a need to escape. Just to get out of the house, have twenty minutes to myself, away from The Blondies, away from the house, away from noise. It´s an interval. Time to think.

     I always walk the same route. And often I see the same people, people who have their own reasons for being out at the same time. The dog walkers. The joggers. The woman in her 50s who walks slowly around the block, smoking a cigarette.

     There´s been a new person added to the cast list just lately. The old man. With the return of the warmer weather, he´s taken to sitting on a chair at the front door of his terraced house, catching the last of the sun´s rays before it sinks behind the row of houses opposite. In an ancient, motheaten grey jumper, and brown polyester trousers, his wrinkled face lifted to feel the warmth, rheumy eyes watering.

     From the little I can see, he lives alone. There´s a bed in the room behind him. The net curtains hanging at the windows are tattered and dusty. The front door was once painted a deep bottle green, now faded to pistachio that´s cracked an peeling. There doesn´t seem to be anyone who cares for him, his house, or the overgrown small patch of front garden.

     It started with a smile. One evening, on my way down the road, I caught his eye and smiled. He smiled back. A few days later, we started to wave to one another. Then a ´good evening´from both of us. A few times now, he´s commented on a flower in my hair, or I´ve said something about the weather. He´s not there every evening. Sometimes it´s raining. Sometimes I go to the shop earlier or later than normal. But on the evening´s when it´s sunny, when I´m in my usual routine, but I don´t see him, I feel uneasy. He´s old. I think maybe mid or late eighties. He looks frail. I know nothing about him, beyond the little I see from the outside. Yet I feel concern for him. That his days are drawing to an end, and when he goes, who will care? Who will mark his passing?

     Will there be distant relatives descending, to claim the house by default? Will his belongings be gathered together and hurled into a skip? One or two things hawked around junk shops for a bit of cash? Will the house be stripped, modernised, new kitchen and bathroom, put on the market? Will the neighbours breathe a sigh of relief that this little corner of the Golden Triangle has been tidied up, made a little more respectable?

     And who will mourn this man? Who will remember his life? Who knows his stories? To whom has this man mattered? Was he loved, once?

     I don´t know. I don´t know him. I don´´t know his life. But it matters to me that he matters to someone. And now I am away on holiday. I won´t be back for a further three weeks. I wanted to see him before I went away. I wanted to tell him not to worry that he wouldn´t see me for a while. But I didn´t see him on that last night before I left. It matters to me that he´ll still be there when I get back.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Blog twattery

     Hey bloggers! I think it's time for a chat. I'm not a writer, I'm not a social media expert, I don't know clever things. But I am a tweeter, a twatty blogger, and I do know people. I know more about people than most. I am your target audience.

     There are rules, bloggers. Unwritten rules, variable rules, rules that no one tells you about. But still, RULES. To break one is forgivable. We all make mistakes, especially when we start blogging coughEDBALLScough. Look, people blog for all sorts of reasons. I'm not going to hoik my judgeypants at anyone, to employ the literary device known as lying. But assuming you're writing a blog because you want to, here are the rules.

1. Write because you have something to say. Do not write to be read. I spill all kinds of blog twattery out on here. Sometimes in sorrow, sometimes in anger. Sometimes because I've found something interesting and want to write about it. Sometimes* I'm just twatting about. But I write because I have to, not in expectation of being read. Not for attention. Yeah, I know we've all read the stories of bloggers who have gone on to find fame, fortune & six figure book advance deals. Who end up on This Morning and Question Time. They are the exception. But you should have one thing in common with them. That you love/hate/ feel REALLY passionate about what you write.

*All the time

     2. Blogging shouldn't be a chore. 'Oh! It's Saturday! I haven't written my blogpost! It'll be up in two hours, folks!'. Firstly, and I cannot emphasise this enough, NO. ONE. CARES. Secondly, if you're blogging to schedule, you don't need to blog. I know I have the very great luxury of an empty, unfulfilled and meaningless life, so I can write as and when the compulsion takes hold. Not many people are as fortunate. But if blogging is something you do, then rethink. It should be something you feel, need, must.

     3. Blog stats. Ignore them. This isn't a popularity contest. I got 2k hits on a post a few weeks back, and a load of comments. A lot of  those comments really pissed me off. But another post, a small, sad lost post that I didn't tweet about elicited a text from a friend. A text of solace, comfort, and understanding. Which do you think meant more? 2k hits in a day? Or a message from someone who was one of only 12 to read a post?

     4. Be honest. Please. I'm a chronic oversharer. Not everyone is quite so prone to open soulbearing. But if you feel something, say so. Say why. Tell people. Say 'This fascinates me, it's amazing, it's incredible. I love X because Y.' But if I read 'This is what speaks to me', with no further explanation, no real feeling, no bloody passion, I guarantee I will have only one response. 'You big hairy arsed LIAR. Don't lay claim to thoughts and feelings you do not have.'

     5. I'm going to say it again. DO NOT WRITE FOR ATTENTION. Blogging, tweeting, however you do it. Attention seeking is obvious, desperate, and pitiful. There is nothing intriguing in it. Nothing is a greater turn off. So do NOT tweet me a link to your blog, demanding I read it, demanding comments. In the context of a conversation, fine. Anything else, rude. Really fucking rude. Like a dog sticking it's nose in your crotch. If it's my kind of blog, trust me, I'll find it. I'm good like that. Another thing I'm good at is overenthusiasm. If I like you, you'll know about it. And so will everyone else. Like my hair, I have no control. If I like you and what you do, you will never find a more annoying advocate. But I am also a contrary bastard, and if you shove your blog equivalent of a toddler pasta shape self portrait in my face, I will smile, tightly, nod, and despise you for eternity.

     6. Your words, your voice, your blog. I've had blogposts ripped off in the past. And trust me, it did not end well. I am not cool with that. If you've read something of mine, and it's given you an idea for a post, great. But do not fucking ever rip me off, and expect me not to notice. I will see it, I will hunt you down, I will fucking destroy you. I don't take myself seriously. But don't be fooled into thinking I don't care about my words, my thoughts, my writing, MY fucking blog. This blog is me. My voice. Do not ever take my voice. Because ventriloquists are creepy as fuck. And I will never lose my voice again.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The visitor book

     For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
     And palm to palm is holy palmer’s’    kiss.

     Take my hand. Come with me. I want to take you back in time. Let’s go to Binham. It’s a halfway place. Ancient and modern. It’s not just in the here and now, so whilst we’re here, neither are we. We’re in the middle. And it’s not just the building that’s here. The people are too. Half-glimpsed ghosts, even the builders. Don’t believe me? I’ll show you. But patience first.

     G Drake Nov 26 ’99. Disgraceful. Vandalism. Shocking. Fifteen years old.

     P Astor, 1993. Disrespectful. A desecration. Shouldn’t be allowed. 21 years old.

     Herbert Burton 1948. Doesn’t seem so shocking, does it? Doesn’t seem like such an intrusion. 66 years old.

     And now, a mystery.

     Who were you, G Smith and P Hooper? What’s the significance of ‘FD’? What was in your mind to make you scratch this into the surface of the wall of this church? And why add ‘NFK’? The church won’t change counties. Why was it important to you to include that? Does it mean something that it was 1941? Significant that it was in wartime? What was happening in your lives that you needed to record your existence in this sacred place?

     It’s a very human thing, graffiti. Not just in terms of a name, scratched, written, or otherwise recorded. But because of what it tells us about people, their need not to be forgotten. To say ‘I was here’. This place, this spot, this floor upon which you, the reader, now stand. Someone else was here before you. Maybe only a short time before. Maybe yesterday. Maybe centuries ago. But just by viewing these marks, you are connected to them, in a way you might not realise or appreciate.

     There are other markers of people past at Binham. The truly old stuff. Steps worn smooth by feet that used them, long ago.

     Text so faint it’s barely possible to make it out with the naked eye.

     Things I don’t understand and can’t explain.

     Things that might have been made deliberately, or just happened by accident.

     I’m not well informed enough to know. But these marks were made by people. People just like you and I, people who lived, who came here, who were in this building. People who may never have considered the possibility that others would come here, so many years later. Ten years, twenty years. A century. Centuries. And look upon these tiny little traces. These little fingerprints of life. We can reach out, touch and be touched by these people, palm to palm.

     But the inscription that moved me most was unexpected. I had read about it. Seen pictures of it. I knew where to find it. This wasn’t a graffiti hunt. I wasn’t seeking a prize, or something new. Whilst the others looked around the church, I found it.

      One of the men who helped to build this church did this. As he stood and planned the window, one day, centuries ago. Just getting on with his work. I didn’t expect it to move me. I didn’t expect to cry. I didn’t expect something so simple to leave me feeling so overwhelmed, that something left by a man, standing here, so long ago, could have such a profound effect. But it did. The connection. He stood, just as I did, here, in this spot, in this place. And he helped to construct a building that has housed so many people, their hopes, their dreams, their prayers. Their existence. Everyone who has crossed the threshold since then, owe that man something.

     And by standing, right there, just as he did, in 2014, I can reach out and touch him. And all those who came after him, and left their mark, their shadow of their presence there. It’s not just an old building, a church, a haunt of ancient peace. It’s very walls contain a visitor book of humanity through the ages.     

Friday, 8 August 2014

Haunts of modern noise

    It’s a strange place, Binham. A church, still in use, still cared for.  But like Beeston Priory and St Benet’s Abbey, it has ruins of former glory, old, crumbling walls you can reach out and touch but…

     I may have had my phone facing the sign, but my face was glaring at the smug and entitled Second Homers with their bouncy springer spaniel that was scrabbling up and down walls, barking, racing around The Blondies, and generally being a pest. No, of course it wasn’t on a lead, and no, of course, they did nothing to restrain it.  Dark mutterings from me…

     The Blondies loved exploring though. Up ancient steps, through long destroyed doorways, looking out across unchanged Norfolk fields from what were once windows. And of course there were questions. For some reason, as I’d been the one to suggest visiting Binham, they persisted in the happy delusion that I had some, any, idea of what each individual room was once used for, who would have used it, how it would have been furnished, what would they have eaten, Mum, what was this for? And Mum…

     I wandered off, lost in thought for a while. It may seem selfish, but I had a need to be alone. I wanted to take in the atmosphere. The feeling that these old places fill me with. Knowing that I’m just one of many, following in the footsteps of those who went before. I took a deep breath, and a feeling of peace began to cree…

     ‘Mum! Mum! MUUUUUUUMMMMM!!!! Can we go over here, Mum? Mum, look! Mum! Mum? What does ‘dorter’ mean, Mum? And Mum? Why would they have had different sets of stairs, Mum? And Mum, I’m hungry. When are we going to have our picnic, Mum?’

     I rejoined the 20th Century with a sigh, and continued walking round with the Blondies, answering the questions I could, fudging answers to the ones I couldn’t.

 It was only when we went inside the church that the volume level subsided. The levels of interrogation remained pretty much constant, but:

     Me, in normal tones: The Blondies? Why are you whispering?

     Them, whispering: We don’t know… Mum? Is that medieval graffiti?

     Me: Hmm… could be... Keep looking…

     My evil plan worked, and kept them busy for the rest of the time we were in the church, whilst I went off on a little journey of my own. I could have happily spent the rest of the day there.

     But all three of them were hungry, we’d said we’d have a picnic on the beach, so we went on to Weybourne, ate, they giggled, were frozen into silence by wasps, clambered around looking at pillboxes. I was briefly amused by a mother, clearly at the end of her tether, barking instructions at her three children to ‘stand up straight, look at me, no, Ethan! Stop pushing Ella! Look at me! Jonah! Will you STOP doing that! Just stand still for a moment, will you! For god’s sake… Just look at me! Yes, that’s it. Now SMILE.’

     But mostly, I sat a little apart, enormous sunglasses in place, feeling overwhelmed, emotional, and more than a little bit haunted. But that’s another story.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A grim day out

     Remember when The Blondies and I went to Stranger’s Hall? And all the signs were that it was shaping up to be an absolute horror of A Day Out? That was Sunday. Alistair and I had decided to visit Binham Priory, an absolute gem of north Norfolk I’d visited briefly a month or two ago.   That was fine. Loading up the car was fine. And then it started…

     ‘Mum? Mum?’


     ‘Mum? I feel carsick, Mum.’

     ‘Mum? Mum?


     ‘Mum, my shoulder hurts, Mum.’

     ‘Mum? Mum? MU-UM!


     ‘Mum? How much further is it, Mum? Mum, and how long will it take Mum? And how long is half an hour, Mum? Mum? How long is thirty minutes, Mum? Mum? If I count to sixty, thirty times, will that be thirty minutes, Mum?  Mum, I’m hungry, Mum? Mum? Mum? MUM! I still feel sick, Mum. Mum, where are we going, Mum? Oh yeah. Mum? Mum? The Boy's annoying me, Mum. Mum? The Girl's being a pain, Mum. Mum? MUM! I still feel sick, Mum. Mum, The Boy just drank all the water, mum. MUM! The Girl's lying, Mum, I didn't, Mum! Mum! Mum! MUUUUUUMMMM.’

     My shoulders were hovering protectively by my ears, trying to protect me from the onslaught. Alistair was clearly starting to get annoyed too, judging by the whiteness of his knuckles, I noted resentfully. It’s not like they were badgering HIM. For some reason, he was insisting on using the sat-nav, which had obviously decided to reset itself to ‘Scenic Route’ mode. Norfolk in August is beautiful. Very beautiful indeed. But I’d rather just reach my destination. Especially when:

      Me: Oh look, there’s a sign for Binham!

     Him: The sat-nav’s saying straight on.

     Me: But that way is the right direction.

     Him: But the sat-nav says straight on.

     Me: We ought to go right though. Where that sign is.

     Him. The. Sat. Nav. Says. Straight. On.

     Me: But that sign we just passed was for Binham. And it’s quite a small village. So we can’t be far away.

     Him: SAT. NAV.

     Fifteen minutes down the road…

     Me: We haven’t seen any more signs for Binham. Just thought I’d helpfully point that out.

     Him: You saying you know better than the sat-nav?


     We were now at the ‘dangerously silent’ point of  being completely narked off with each other. Rather like a jumbo jet sits at the end of the runway before take-off, letting the engine build up power, immediately before I lose my temper, I go very, very quiet. If I’d had the opportunity, I would have married him there and then, just so I could divorce him immediately. From SPITE. And The Blondies were still Mum? Mum? Mum?ing at every opportunity. I was just about to tip from ‘dangerously silent’ to ‘overflowing wave of poisonous fury with swears’ when we turned the corner, and there it was. Binham Priory. A collective ‘WOAH’ arose from all three DEEPLY ANNOYING Blondies, and silence reigned until we got to the car park.

     And then, just to push me further towards meltdown, Alistair decided he was Taking Charge. And led us, not towards the priory, but the graveyard. Every headstone was to be inspected. I stood, deliberately to the side, lips pursed like a dog’s bottom, every atom of my body quivering with ‘WHAT are you DOING? The most AMAZING ruins and church are right THERE and you are IGNORING them and this is making me ANGRY’ vibes (to be honest, I quite like poking around in graveyards too, but not when the purpose of our visit was something else entirely. And the graveyard would still be there after we'd looked around the priory).

     The Boy, as usual in tune with my moodiness, took one look around and announced ‘I hate birds. They’re so disrespectful, pooing all over graves.’   To illustrate this, he pointed out the following headstone

     Now that’s a name to conjure with!  The pair of us edged away from Alistair and The Girl, and towards the entrance

     I don’t know why I find the ‘Any reasonable time’ opening hours so amusing. Something about it suggests a middle aged stout woman in walking tweeds demanding to be permitted to visit at half past three in the morning. But my mood shifted, the sun came out, and we began to explore…

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Two roads diverged

     A while back, the Royal Mint announced plans to put EdithCavell on a commemorative £5 coin, and the reactions I saw across twitter fell broadly into three categories.

    Norfolkers: Yay! Hurrah for the local girl!

    Feminists: Yay! Hurrah for women!

     Historians: Hmm…

     Shamefully, despite being a feminist, a Norfolker, and a history obsessed moo, I knew very little about Cavell, beyond the basic story. A nurse in occupied Belgium during the First World War, she is believed to have helped over 200 people to escape. She was betrayed, executed by the Germans, and now there is a monument to her just outside Norwich Cathedral. She’s best remembered for her words the night before her excecution:

     ‘I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

     An admirable sentiment, and her bravery is not in question. What I hadn’t realised is that she is rather a controversial figure to be commemorated, as she was nursing in a Red Cross hospital. Her assisting Allied soldiers to escape went fundamentally against Red Cross principles of neutrality and impart5iality – principles she adhered to as a nurse, by treating soldiers from both sides. Cavell herself wasn’t a member of the Red Cross, but her hospital was commandeered by the organisation, so essentially she represented them. By acting as she did, she put those working for the Red Cross in serious danger. You can see why some people may not view her as the heroine she’s usually written up as being.

     However, in that situation, having to make that decision, to help or not, who can say what they would do? Do you risk your life and those of others to help one person? Or do you keep yourself safe, knowing that by lack of action, you could be condemning someone to death? It’s unlikely that you or I will ever have to face that situation so plainly. And to follow on from that, it wasn’t just the 200 or so people she aided. What happened to those men? Did they end up returning to the front? Did they make further contribution to the war? Did they die on their way home, meaning that Cavell’s actions weren’t just misguided, but ultimately pointless? Or did they survive? Are their descendants amongst us now? Did Cavell lose her life, so that many others might live? We’ll never know, I suppose.

     That’s a very stark, and black & white decision to have to take, which had clear and obvious consequences for Cavell, and misty, half secret ones for those whom she helped. For most of us, the decisions that we make every day, often without really thinking, are the ones that have life altering impact. The decision to walk home, which means you were later, so you missed that phone call from a friend, asking you out for a drink, to the pub where you would have met the love of your life. The cold you had that meant you went to the chemist and bumped into an old friend who tipped you off about your dream job. The time you didn’t bother checking the post, and your other half found their birthday present, which caused a row, so you didn’t have sex that night, you didn’t get pregnant, and didn’t go on to become a parent later that year. The decision to make a joke on twitter that got retweeted, and gained you a new follower, who became one of your closest friends.

     We like to think that it’s the big decisions, the university we go to, the person we decide to spend out life with, where to move to, that has the biggest impact. It’s not. It’s the smallest of margins, life, the tiniest things that change our lives, and so often, it’s hard to trace it back to the root, place your finger upon it, and say ‘Yes. That was where things changed.'

     I wish I could remember the first day,
    First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
    If bright or dim the season, it might be
    Summer or Winter for aught I can say.
    So unrecorded did it slip away,
    So blind was I to see and foresee,
    So dull to mark the budding of my tree
    That would not blossom yet for many a May.
    If only I could recollect it, such
    A day of days! I let it come and go
    As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
    It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
    If only now I could recall that touch,
    First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!

     Christina G Rossetti