Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Relay race

     For S, who is running her own race

     I’m not, never have been, never will be sporty, athletic, or even especially healthy. I skived off as much PE at school as was humanly possible, and the idea of willingly joining a gym is an alien to my mind as a day without coffee and cigarettes. I don’t do fit.

     I have, however, just completed an especially personal endurance event just lately. A really fucking long endurance event that’s taken quite a toll on me physically (lost 15kg, since you don’t ask). And you lot have been through it with me. The ridiculously laboured analogy that occurred to me this morning is that whilst I’ve been running this marathon, you lot [extends arm to encompass blog readers, tweeps, facebook peeps, Mum, friends, The Blondies, and most of all you, yes, you. You know who you are] have run parts of it alongside me, keeping me company along the way as I ran down the miles. Some of you pretty much dragged me over the start line in the early days, and then kept pushing me on when I dropped to my hands and knees and went into reverse. Others have handed me bottles of water as I’ve passed, or given me a bit of kitchen roll to blow my nose in. Some of you have pointed out where the portaloos are. You’ve cheered me past milestones as onlookers, and dragged away those who were trying to sabotage my progress.

     I kind of see you lot as being relay runners, passing the baton on and around, keeping me company and always keeping me moving onwards. And I’ve ticked off those milestones in my head as I’ve passed them. Ending a relationship. Making it through a day without crying. Fighting for what had to be done, telling The Blondies, kicking the motherfucking shit out of Maisie, and navigating the obstacle course that was moving in (it’s six weeks later, and I am becoming increasingly attached to my sofabed). At least one of you has been with me every day, even when I was taking a breather from always running uphill. And you helped to keep me motivated and focussed as I’ve approached the finish line, my eyes finally able to see the prize.

     And the prize is this. Being able to write again. I need to write. It’s not simply something I enjoy (although fuck, YEAH, I do, I love writing, even when it’s painful). No, I mean I need to write, to ease my mind. Something that was hard in the early days was not being able to blog freely. I ended up with a private blog instead, which helped, and no, there is NO way that anyone else is going to read that. I have to write, and I need to. I love to write, and it helps me, and sometimes it helps other people too, maybe if they think something is funny, or honest, or it tells them things they didn’t know, or is just a little reassurance that someone else feels the same.

     I’m not being Bessie Big Bollocks when I say that I don’t write for an audience. That’s not me being wankily airy fairy and pretending to be above nice comments or replies. I honestly don’t write thinking about who might read it when I blog, because if I did, I’d feel too inhibited. But in the days just before this race began, I was, very tentatively, starting to write for other people. One of those is Outline, a local magazine that’s fun and sassy, and cool, and all of the things I’m not. You might have seen me squealing a bit last night that for the very first time, something I’ve written isn’t just words on a screen, but actually physical print. It might not sound much, but to me it’s a small, but important step.

     The other magazine, to which I owe so much, was Standard Issue.

     Yes, the one started by Sarah Millican. I’m part of the gang that is the fairly eclectic, varied, and engaged group of women who contribute articles, and quizzes, and round ups and just… generally write about real stuff like mooncups and being the other mother and home schooling, and [cough] why I love Norwich, an article that gave me an odd mini fame for a few days.

     And as much as you lot have been here with me all this time, so has Standard Issue. The reaction that I had to the article I wrote about Norwich has been another one of you in some ways. It was a reminder that I can write, that I can get my message across with written words, that things I write sometimes resonate with others, and as I focussed on the finish line, the reminder that soon I would be able to write again gave my feet wings.

     I love Standard Issue. I love the ethos, the woman’s mag that is no bullshit, no advertorials, no circle of shame. It’s straight up, feisty and empowering writing by women for women. It’s a fucking inspiration to me, frankly. Principled, passionate and proud, as it deserves to be. You can pretty much sum it up with this video  

     And you know there’s a but coming, because you know there has to be. This stuff doesn’t come for free. It costs money to keep this show on the road/magazine on the internet. And if you don’t accept vast sums of moolah in exchange for your editorial policy soul, then it’s always going to be a struggle. I’m not going to twat about. Standard Issue needs money, to keep going. To give women like me and not like me, a magazine that reflects us as we are in our infinite variety, not the way we’re told to be by the other magazines out there that will tell you the top 10 key aspirational coat themes for this season to make you feel rubbish about yourself.


     And because Standard Issue is just as much about the readers as it is the writers and the articles, this isn’t a one way street. Give them your bloody money and they’ll give you something too (depends how much you can spare, see here for details) But you won’t get something purely in material terms. What you’ll also get is a website that features the best, most brilliant, boldest writing to devour. And now that my endurance event is over, now that you can take my stabilisers off, it’s time for me to take the baton myself and thank you all for getting me here, to a place where I’m not just writing again, but being able to take writing more seriously than I ever could before. You lot did that, just by being here. I’m not good at asking for help, and even worse at accepting it. Plenty of you have offered in the last six months, and I haven’t taken many of you up on your offers. But if you wish you could do something, then please think about joining the Standard Issue gang. You’ll be giving writers like me and not like me a real platform, and more than that, you’ll be giving readers the magazine we all deserve. My race is run, but writing is just beginning.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Southern sky

It’s been a long time that I’m waiting,
It’s been a long time that I’ve blown.
It’s been a long time since I’ve wandered
Through the people I have known
And if you would and you could
Straighten my new mind’s eye.

     Yes, it’s still my favourite song, that one, 22 years later. I deliberately ration listening to it now; concerned that overexposure to it will somehow diminish the soaring swell of love within me as the dying notes fade. I don’t honestly think that will happen, but I’m not taking the risk.

     Thing is now, I no longer have a northern sky. The first day I saw Maisie*, it was a cold, grey and bleak January morning. Uninspiring from the outside, then the full on horror that was the technicolour yawn on the walls. Jesus. I still shudder, just thinking of it.


     And yet… I knew it had potential. Underneath the grim flooring and multicoloured walls, doors, and skirting boards (or more accurately, over the top of them with a fuckloads of magnolia paint and beige carpet). And mostly it was because of the view. From my bedroom, and The Girl’s. From the living room and balcony. South facing. 3rd & 4th floor, on top a small hill, looking out across the Rose Valley.



     It gets the sun all day, stunning sunrises and sunsets, cloud formations, the ability to see where the weather’s coming from and what it’s bringing. Because of our location high up in the sky, I see sun and rain most days. Rainbows too, at least five since we moved in a month ago. No light pollution either, so clear nights show me every constellation. A thunderstorm a few weeks ago happened in full Dolby surround sound widescreen HD.




     And if ever I have doubts or worries about whether we were right to move here, about the direction I’ve taken our lives in, I look out at that view again. All of the houses, every rooftop, every home, hundreds of them, if not thousands. Every front door closed behind people who are living lives I know nothing of, whose paths I will never cross. I don’t know anything about what they have had to deal with, what has hurt and damaged them, nor what quiet words bring them comfort and joy, what raises a quick smile to their face when they check their phone. And they know nothing about us either, how when The Blondies saw Maisie as she is now, with furniture moved in and most traces of paint gone [side eyes the still pink crackle glazed kitchen ceiling], they knocked me to the floor with a rugby tackle, and we all cried (me mostly because they really fucking hurt my broken foot, which spoilt the moment a little). They don’t know that when I finished painting**I sat on the stairs and cried for an hour, wondering what the hell I was doing and who or what I was doing it for. They don’t know how one text message can change a life.



Those people, whose lives I get a tiny little glimpse of, don’t know me and I don’t know them, but I see the lights go on in their houses every night, and I feel at home, here. I look out at that great expanse of lives, spreading out as far as my eyes can see, and I love it. I love it, all of it; I will never tire of this view. I love this feeling of all of these lives happening around me, all of these people, all of these stories that may never get shared, but still they happen. I love this place. I love the light that streams in. I love this. This brightens my southern sky.




*Yes, I call this place Maisie. No, you fuck off. It’s not a house, it’s not a flat, it’s a maisonette on t he 3rd & 4th floor, it has a number, but I needed to give it a label, to help The Blondies feel more of an attachment to it, so ‘Maisie’. No, seriously, fuck off.


**yeah, not finished, to be honest. It might get done one day. Fukkit.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Hopes and fears

     It’s the middle of April, so I thought I’d tell you that my favourite Christmas carol is O Little Town of Bethlehem. I can’t truly say why. Something about the combination of lyrics and music, the memories of singing the descant in CHOIR perhaps, the yearning nature of it, maybe. And that quiet line ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’

     I think of that line every time I enter a place of worship, like some kind of mental jukebox, soundtracking my life. Because essentially, it’s true of every church I visit, from the smallest, humblest, most out of the way ‘one service every four weeks’ little village church to the overwhelming and soaring beauty of Norwich cathedral. They don’t even have to be that old either – I sobbed a fair bit in the hideous late 1960s environs of Xabia church not so long ago. Churches are places we turn to when we are celebrating, when we are grieving, and most of all, when we are troubled. A place of worship, yes, but also crucially, prayer, communicating our thoughts to some higher being, a saint, a deity, a some Other whom we believe may bring us comfort, deliver us from evil, and bless our endeavours.

     And that thought, that appreciation of what has brought so many other people to this place catches in my throat every single time. The thought of all those souls, some long dead, some present in the same place and moment as I; all of them have sought solace here. That haunts me. Even thought I know that many happy events will also have taken place within these walls – christenings, weddings, celebrations – it’s the unspoken awareness that these stones hold the secrets of so many people. That people whispered their prayers to a god I don’t believe in, and the only witness to their private torment was this building. If only walls could talk, eh?

     And of course they do, as I’ve discovered, having fallen head over heels in love with graffiti from any and every when. But that is nothing more than a glimpse at those other lives. It tells us more than we knew before, but we can never fully know the horrors of so many lives, the impulse within them that sent them here, to offer up that which weighed upon their mind, whether in trembling expectation, or quivering anticipation.

     And that is why I cry in churches. Every time*. Because just stepping inside reminds me that the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. And when you feel the weight of that thought, how can you not cry?


*Salthouse has thus far proved the exception, because exceptional.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Wibbly wobbly timey wimey

     I knew this time would come. I knew it, I expected it, but I didn’t anticipate it. I am Having A Wobble.

     It’s well overdue. You don’t go through the sort of crap I’ve dealt with in the last six months without there eventually being a reckoning. This should be the easy bit. What it is instead is the hangover.

     Thing is, when you walk through the storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm, there’s a golden… sorry, I’ve got You’ll Never Walk Alone as an earworm today. You’re lucky you’re not in the same room as me.

     ANYWAY. What I mean is, for months, I’ve had to just ride out the storm. Of everything life has thrown at me, from assault to access, from family disintegration to The House Of Many Colours, from ruptured relationships to bewildered Blondies. Annnerrrmmm [whispers] I’m pretty fucking proud of how I’ve managed and coped and the things I have achieved (photo below was an especially cathartic moment).


 I’m not saying I deserve a medal or anything like that*, but everything I did, I planned, was methodical. I got my head down and told myself ONWARDS. Always ONWARDS. Don’t be distracted, don’t overdo things, trim it all down until you know what you’re facing, deal with it, ONWARDS.

     I was offered a lot of Proper Support by the relevant types. Counselling, advocates, an IDVA, therapy, a place in a refuge, GP appointments, Victim Support, the whole shebang. But after the first ten days or so, I refused all offers of help. Because I knew I needed to be as robust as I could be, and talking about things would upset me too much. It was bad enough with the things I had to talk about, let alone the things I was asked if I wanted to talk about. I couldn’t afford the emotional energy, and I really couldn’t afford to fall apart again. I’m not going to pretend that this was a healthy way of dealing with things, but it worked. Shit got done, stuff got sorted, The Blondies didn’t miss more than two days of school, and I got the case stopped, ditched detritus, and redecorated almost an entire house on my own, armed only with a chair, a vat of magnolia paint, and, as it turned out, a broken foot.

     So now I should be freewheeling, right? The dark days are over, spring is sprung, I should be able to relax. And I am. But by relaxing, I’m allowing myself to experience emotion again and FUCK ME, I’VE GONE FUCKING MENTAL.

     I sort of suspected it a bit last week, when a considerable number of niggles and annoyances led to me spending most of Friday with my lips clamped together, trying not to cry. I was a bit concerned when I realised on Saturday, just before giving a tour of medieval graffiti at Norwich Cathedral, when I realised I had absolutely no enthusiasm for it (yeah. Within five minutes I was flying man, totally flying, and by the end of it, my victims were preparing to fashion me a ball gag from a scarf and devotional candle, just to get me to SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP TALKING ABOUT FECKING GRAFFITI).

     But then my downfall came. My debit card. It was due to expire at the end of this month. Replacement card arrived. And I burst into tears. Big, proper, full on, fat, hot, face soaking tears as I got out the scissors to cut up the old one. Because we’d been through so much, that card and I. It’s been my bank account weapon of choice since I first started writing. It’s been there, been a constant, a source of both joy and sorrow. It’s been there when I’ve been told I’m loved, and when I’ve been told I’m nothing. It’s humiliated me in shops; it’s delighted me at cashpoints. All of the silver has worn off the letters and numbers, the chip is more akin to mash, and my signature on the back has worn off. But saying goodbye to it made me cry because, symbollockly, I was saying goodbye to the old me, the me I once was (or wasn’t), the life I had (or didn’t), the life I had that I shared with someone (or not).

     So fare thee well, 03/13 – 04/16. You were there when I had everything, nothing, and an all the times in between. I shall never forget the times we shared. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til debt do us part. And saying goodbye to you made me realise that perhaps I’m not quite as ok as I thought I was, and this is just another storm I’m going to have to ride out. And I’ll be alright, I know I will. Just a bit wibbly wobbly for a timey wimey.


     *But YES I WOULD LIKE ONE THANK YOU.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Cold calling

     An unwelcome reminder of normal life arrived last night. Announcing itself with a RAT A TAT TAT on my double locked front door, with security chain on. My immediate thought was that it must be a neighbour – perhaps they’d taken in some post for me, or wanted to ask if I’d seen their cat. You can only gain access to our floor via key fob, or entryphone to the home you wish to visit, which is just a handful of us, and I knew I wasn't expecting anyone.

     So it was something of a shock to open the front door and be faced with a strange man I didn’t recognise, towering over me and launching into a long spiel about how I ought to give money to the Marie Curie charity. I listened to him for a few good minutes until he paused to draw breath and managed to inform him that actually, for me, that is quite a lot of money, thank you, good luck, hope other people can help, good night.

     I was annoyed, I had a bit of a chunter about it on twitter, I went to bed, I woke up this morning feeling fine.

     And then I got coldcalled. By someone on twitter. Someone who doesn’t follow me, nor anyone I follow. Someone who, now I look at their other tweets, clearly searched out a few people annoyed by cold callers, chuggers, charity door knockers, and decided to challenge them. And I was taken to task for not appreciating the social interaction of a complete stranger turning up on my doorstep at half past eight in the evening to ask me for money. Because I should appreciate my life being intruded into. I should value my time being taken up with someone suggesting that £30 a month ‘isn’t a lot of money’ (Mate, listen. I’m a single mother, on benefits, renting a council maisonette, and I haven’t received a penny in child maintenance since October. £30 is more than I spend on food in a week for three of us).

     And this person on twitter seemed to think that I was the one with a problem (yes, I know, but shush). That cold callers and their like should be welcomed, engaged with. This person didn’t seem to grasp that actually, it can be quite distressing to be forced to engage with someone. And to prove that, they just kept going. On and on and fucking on at me. They didn’t seem to pick up on the fact that actually, I’d had enough of the conversation now, I’m starting to get upset, and part of that upset was caused by the dawning realisation that I’m not as secure in my home as I thought I was, and last night, I could have opened the door to someone who could have inflicted pretty serious fucking damage on me and The Blondies, without me even thinking about it. It also hasn’t helped that I realised last night that a murder I thought had happened over there, actually happened… just here. A house I pass every time I go in or out. Focuses the mind, that sort of detail.

     In the end, to get rid of my cold tweeter, I had to reveal stuff I normally wouldn’t, especially not to a stranger. I had to do it, because I realised I was getting more and more upset, and I wasn’t coping. And not long after I sent that tweet, I did something I never wanted to have to do again – I protected my account. And I’ve spent most of today in tears. Quiet, hand over mouth, silent tears, angrily swiping away at my cheeks so that The Blondies won’t see.

     Because I hate this. I fucking hate this. I hate feeling like this. I hate being reminded of how vulnerable I am, how insignificant I am, how people see me. I don’t need fucking protecting; I’m not some droopy little flower, waiting in her tower to be rescued. Fuck that shit, frankly. But I hate being reminded that I am not in control.

     I am not in control of who knocks on my door. I was not in control of who replies to my tweets. I am now, obviously.


    Cold tweeters, kindly fucking do one. I am, until such time as this horrible feeling has passed, ex-directory.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Dear A

The Mulberry
28th February 2016


Dear A,
            That was a bit fucking weird, wasn’t it? One the one hand, we’re so used to each other that coming to your house tonight and having a drink whilst The Blondies farted and giggled around us seemed completely normal. On the other hand, we had That Conversation. Did I want to sit down with you one day, to discuss things, to talk about what happened between us? For both of us to ask one another all of the questions that have doubtless chased around your mind, just as they have done mine? Would it help?

     I know that both of us have things we want to know, need to know. ‘Did you really say that? Why did you do that? Didn’t you think of that? Why did you… I felt like… That hurt the most… This is the thing that I can’t… Did you ever…’ Both we both know, and we both agreed that we’re beyond that point now. That it might have helped, once. But the two of us grubbing about in the ashes of something that once burnt so brightly and with such warmth won’t help either of us, not now. We’ve come a long way, and I don’t want our fragile fledgling friendship soured by what we both said and did, then. It might resolve past hurts, but it’s more likely to twist our futures in ways neither of us want. We’re better than that, even if you and I are no longer ‘we’.

     I meant what I said about being friends. We don’t have to be, of course, but I like that we think we can be. Not just for The Blondies, but because of what we’ve shared. We’ve been through a fuck of a lot, not all of it great, admittedly. But I have no wish to whitewash my past, and a significant part of that past is you. And you’re no longer my future, but I hope you will at least be a part of it.

     I am sorry, A. Sorrier than I can say that we hurt one another so badly, and the storm that followed caused so much pain for everyone around us. But we both know that we’re happier now, even allowing for the bad days, and the bumps in the road.

     Be happy, A. That is all I ask of you. Just be happy, whatever it takes. You deserve to be happy, and I stopped being the person who made you happy. I have so many regrets; things I wish had turned out differently. But I do not regret you and I, not just because of The Blondies, but also because of the time we had together. So please, for me, as one last promise between us, I will promise to be happy as you asked, just as long as you are too.

     And yes, that last sentence of the email I sent you – I do still, I always will.

Love,

Jx


PS I just wiped snot into my eye writing that last bit. Yup, still classy.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Today's the day

     

     This is becoming something of a tradition. I’ve started marking today. Because today is the day I didn’t die, six years ago. Today is the day I lived.

     For the first few years afterwards, I didn’t mark it. Didn’t think of it. Didn’t want to think of it. I felt that I was still too attached to the date. That as much as I pulled away from it, all that I was doing was stretching the elastic between then and I; that one day everything would snap and I’d be back to where I was then. Like a bungee cord, I could only get so far before being yanked back again.

     It was two years ago that things changed. I realised that I wasn’t waiting to be pulled back. I realised I was relieved I hadn’t died. More than that. I was glad to be alive. More than that, even, I was happy to be alive.

     The rush of elation that accompanied that discovery has been embarrassingly recorded for posterity, both here and all over the internet. Whenever I try to describe how it feels, I know that it sounds like trite motivational bollocks, ready to be superimposed over the sun rising across the ocean. Trust me; I’m not given to that sort of soppy wankchoppery. All I can say is that I feel euphoric. I could be dead. I should be dead. But I aten’t dead.

     If anyone had told me six years ago ‘You won’t just be alive. You’ll be thriving and happy to be alive’ I would have nodded blankly as tears ran down my face and known that they were lying to me. If they’d then gone on to add ‘Oh, and you’ll be a single mother, living on benefits, about to move into a council flat, and although you’ll still have depression, you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been’, then at least I would have known that they’d got me confused with another person and directed them elsewhere.


     But no, that person is me. Writing this now, through a flood of tears of genuine happiness. Smiling, thinking about my Blondies. Thinking of our future. I don’t fear the future, not now, nor do I worry about facing it. See that tangle of limbs, with Mane freeflowing, a booted silhouette racing towards the horizon? That’s me. Running joyously to embrace the future, my future, whatever it may hold. The future I would never have had. The future I shouldn’t have. But today is the day I didn’t die. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.