Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Fighting Talk

     It’s my birthday tomorrow. I shall be 37, which feels like an odd age to be. No, not ‘old’, I’m not one of those wankers who bleats about feeling ancient because it’s their 23rd birthday (as an aside, fuck, those people are annoying. The temptation to pat them on the head and say ‘really, poppet? Are you a bit too dense to realise the choice is aging or death? Which would you prefer?’ can be a little overwhelming). Anyway, yeah, birthday, me, 37. A strange age, no longer really young, but certainly not old. It’s not really one thing or another, which is kind of how my life feels at the moment.

     I have more freedom in my life now than I have ever had, and yet I seem to be incapable of actually using it. I banged on and on and bloody on about how now I would have time to write, to really commit properly to writing and throw myself into it and JUST FUCKING GO FOR IT like I’ve never been able to. And, yes, you have guessed it, of course I bloody haven’t.

     I do write. I write every day. It comes out just like it always used to, except that for the most part it never gets read by anyone, not even me. I’ve filled over 30 notebooks so far this year with all sorts of meandering bollocks and notes and ideas and just… stuff. And yet I haven’t blogged since September, for fuck’s sake. I am frustrated with myself.

     I am frustrated because I know I’m just being lazy and doing a bit of a halfarsed job on everything. The house is still only partly furnished because I couldn’t afford to buy all the things we needed when we moved in, and well, we seem to fill the space ok, so why bother to get bookshelves? My sofabed is perfectly comfortable, so why bother to buy bed slats and a mattress? The clothes I’ve been wearing since March are pretty much my favourites, so why bother unpacking the other boxes piled up in the wardrobe? No one ever comes round, so sod the mess on the living room table. I’ve written what I wanted to say in my notebook, so what’s the point in adding it to here, or emailing it to the person who should be reading it? It’s lazyarseness, pure and simple.

    It is Not Good Enough, however. The Blondies deserve better, Maisie* deserves better, I pissing well deserve better. Something I realised in the long drawn out process of sorting our lives out is that I need something to fight against. Whether that was the CPS, the disturbingly intense colour scheme of our new home, or the utter carnage that was moving day, I need to be riled up and fucked off and fierce and kickarse to achieve anything. Lately, I have been a mopey, anxious twat who struggles just to leave the house. Because there hasn’t been anything to motivate me. There hasn’t been anyone telling me that I can’t do something, that it’d be too much for me, that there’s no point even in trying. I haven't been galvanised into trying to prove someone wrong, I've had nothing to fight against, there is nothing to defeat.

    Except that I’ve just realised there is. There’s me, telling myself that. God, me can be a wanker at times. The type of wanker that really pisses me off, a moany, droopy, energysponge. Bastard me, I will not let you win, just to spite you, you malignant arsehole. I can fucking do this. I can fucking sort Maisie out, I can take this on, I can sit down and write and not just to myself. So yeah. I’m fucking taking myself on and I’m going to fight myself to our mutual death. And there will only be one winner. Me. 37 year old me.

     *Yes, my house has a name, keep up at the back, and if you think it’s naff, yes, it is, and I don’t give a toss what you think, so actually, don’t keep up, sod off.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Works like a charm

     When did we stop guarding against disaster and start hoping to attract good fortune? Not me, obviously, I live life in a default BRACE! BRACE! position, hoping that whatever comes next won’t leave permanent damage, or at least the kind that can be artfully disguised. I mean ‘we’ in a broader sense, people, them, us, you.

     As the type of person who loves folklore and superstitions and bollocks like that, what has struck me lately is how much of the old lies derived from fear. Fear of demons, witches, ill health, misfortune, all things people felt they needed protecting from. We don’t seem to cling to these superstitions these days in the way I remember from not that long ago, even as recently as when I was a child. Instead we have lucky things. A lucky scarf for football matches in the hope of our team securing a win, we have our lucky jacket for interviews, we may even have our lucky pants if on the pull. All of that is in the hope of attracting good fortune, rather than avoiding bad.

     It’s a reflection of modern life, I suppose. For the most part, illness can be treated, natural disasters can be anticipated and the aftermath dealt with (not always very efficiently, obviously), curious natural phenomena can be explained by the appliance of science. In the main, the world is not something to be feared. And so, in the absence of fear, we allow hope to enter instead. We hope that Norwich won’t crash and burn in the Championship, hope that we will get that job, hope that tonight will be The Night. Even though we consider ourselves to be rational, educated adults, there is still a part of us that clings to hope.

     Why do we do this? Why, when in the cold raking light of day, most would never admit to keeping to our private and personal little four leafed clovers? We know (at least I hope you do) that not doing something, or not wearing something will have absolutely no impact on the eventual outcome of a situation. In the case of lucky pants, I’d say that revealing a saggy, faded pair of Homer Simpson boxers, so ancient they’ve become almost crotchless is likely to significantly decrease your chances of being invited to reveal anything more. But yet, we hold on to these things. We ignore the times our ‘lucky’ charm didn’t work, and only remember the times when it did.

     I could be scathing about this tendency we have. I should be. I should be logical, and rational, and I should point out how flawed our (lack of) thought process is. But I won’t. What I will say is that we cannot scoff and sneer at the beliefs of those who lived in the past, and the actions they took to protect those closest to them, to avoid dangers they didn’t fully understand. We ourselves are just as guilty, keeping things for sentimental reasons that have no root in practicality. I should say that we, all of us, have our own little set of private beliefs and superstitions, some founded in our everyday lives and experiences, some that have arrived on  the slightest of whims, but ones that we observe religiously. I should say that we ought to abandon these silly little charms, these hopes, but I won’t. Because it is those illogical and irrational acts that make us, define us, what makes each of us the individuals we are. It is our beliefs, gathered over time, careworn yet precious, that truly reveal what we hold most dear.

     Not to mention that it would be utterly hypocritical of me to rubbish old folk tales too, because since the morning of 4th November 2015, I have worn around my neck a long thin piece of red ribbon, attached to which is a Spiderman button badge. I haven’t taken it off once. And although many triumphs and disasters have come my way since I first put it on, nothing has been quite as terrible as the events that caused me to first start wearing it. So on that flawed, unsound, sophistic basis, it stays. Because it has kept me and mine safe, as all charms and superstitions should.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tinned ravioli


     Here’s a story that will tell you how much of an over empathic twat I am. When I was about eight or nine, dinner was quite often just me on my own at the kitchen table for one night a week. My siblings were then sidling along the paths of teenagehood, so were probably up to some kind of illicit, forbidden behaviours, and my parents were the weird type of grown ups who work all day and then ‘relax’ by being sporty and athletic. Playing tennis, squash, that kind of odd, slightly worrying behaviour. One night, Mum, in a rush, had grabbed something from the shelf of the local shop to give me dinner, something that could just be heated up on the hob. Not something she’d bought before, but thought it’d be ok. Tinned ravioli.

     I’m not going to lie. I’m not even going to exaggerate, although you’ll think I am. It was disgusting. Flaccid, slimy mush. The type of thing you’d perhaps offer to a six month old as their first Real Meal after a week of baby rice, except that this food tasted preowned and definitely preunloved. The shudder that engulfed me as the pasta pillow dissolved on my tongue without me even having to chew is still ‘yeah, childbirth wasn’t great, but was it as bad as…?’ vivid now. Then the full horror of rehydrated, overhydrated mechanically recovered meat that was probably more eyelash and toenail of ferret than farmyard.

     Swallowing it was like downing a cup of cold sick. Keeping it down marks as perhaps the greatest single triumph of my life. It was eating as suicide because I no longer wanted to live in a world where such a food could exist. The severity of it was such that I put my book down on the table (unheard of behaviour), dropped the fork, and prepared to push the dish away, suppressing the primal urge to hurl it into the back garden and kill it with fire. How could this even happen? How could anyone come up with something so hideous? Had no one thought to taste it before it was unleashed on an unknowing and unsuspecting public? Had no one considered what could happen to a society where such atrocities are committed on a daily basis? How the buggery bastarding hell had this goatfuck of food been conceived, brought into existence, dressed in a pretty picture, and ushered before, holding out its pleated skirt, smiling shyly and waiting for me to express approval? Who was responsible for this and how can I destroy them and all that they hol…

     …d on a second. Someone, somewhere. This is their life. This is their job. In some monstrosity of a factory somewhere, doubtless windowless, airless, noisy and uncomfortable. Day in, day out, making this fetid slop, knowing that a complete stranger will hate them to their grave for what they’ve done. How terrible to have that on your conscience. How awful.  That poor bastard. Tears filled my eyes. A new realisation pricked my tear ducts harder. One day, they’re going to run out of victims. One day, everyone will know what they’ve done, no one will buy tinned ravioli, the factory will go out of business, they’ll lose their job, their innocent children will suffer, they’ll end up homeless, they’ll actually die of death. Because no one will buy tinned ravioli.

     This put a new light on my situation. Now I had to shoulder some responsibility. As vomit-inducing as I found it, I could not accept the blame for my rejected tinned ravioli tearing a family apart. I had to help, I had no choice, it was my duty.

     ‘How’s the ravioli?’ Mum asked as she swished past, resplendent in polo shirt and tennis skirt.

     ‘MMMMPPPFFF!’ Double thumbs up, mouth full, eyes rolled heavenwards to indicate the ecstatic state I was in with this delicious tinned pasta.

     ‘Good! I thought I’d give it a go, something different for a change. As it’s a hit, I’ll get it again.’

     ‘!!’ My enthusiastic whimper may have sounded like an involuntary spasm of primal fear and distress, but I can assure you it was just the dying whelp of my tinned ravioli foodgasm. Honest.

     And that is why for about six months I went without dinner every Tuesday evening. I had to time my run carefully, and make sure I had stuff to put over it once I’d silently scraped it into the bin (plastic spoons are your friend in this situation). Even the dog wouldn’t eat it, and there were times when he ate, variously, a whole packet of butter, a catering tin of chicken fat, two frozen rolls, and most memorably to my eight year old self, another dogs poo. So convinced was I that only I could secure the future of the tinned ravioli factory, I gamely pretended, every week, that this meal was the greatest treat of all.

     What a bloody twat. What an overly empathetic twat, and from such a young age. I want elderly, grey-haired, saggy titted me as I am now to go back and shake Young Me by the throat and bellow ‘STOP THIS MADNESS. You are not responsible for the livelihoods of people working in a fecking tinned ravioli factory. You hate this manure masquerading as food, and your sole weekly tin will not have any impact on sales. CEASE.’

     Christ, ah, I wish I could. I wish I had. Because being empathetic to the degree that I am is a right pain in the arse. For one thing, I cry all the time, about everything, always, especially when it has nothing to do with me. I cry at game shows. I cry when I see people shouting at their children (although I still retain the ability to get shitty with The Blondies). I cry at sports things sportingly sporting (one reason we don’t have a telly is that I can barely cope with the radio commentary. Seeing athlete’s faces would completely finish me off). I cry at architectural graffiti inscriptions. I even – here’s a bucket to laughvomit into – cry when I see things like unused playgrounds. ‘Where are the children?’ I sob. ‘Mr Happy Tree just wants the children to play-ha-hay wiiiiiith hiiiim…’

     Yeah, piss yourselves; I know I’m a twat. Twatty Mactwatface. Thing is, as embarrassing as I am to be around, and as fucking annoying as I can be, I am aware of other people in ways that perhaps most are not. And life gets complicated when you’re like that. You are attuned to picking up every possibility that someone may be feeling. And it’s far, far too easy to forget that other people don’t see the world like that, that I’m the odd one, that I’m not touchy feely by any stretch so keep your fucking hands where I can see them, but I’m used to thinking about people with consideration. And when I feel I don’t get that in return, it stings like a bitch. I deal better with reassurance than rejection. Sometimes perspective is better than the moral high ground. And absolutely fucking anything is better than tinned ravioli.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The truth about love Part II

     I wrote that nearly 18 months ago. 'The truth about love'. Seems a bit glib now. It was true, still is, in some ways. There are no lies in it. But the truth as it is now, is that it was based upon a false premise. I was not loved then, and I am certainly not loved now. This is a hard truth. I could soften it with mentions of The Blondies, my parents, friends who care, readers, etc., all of whom play their part in understanding and encouraging me. I cannot lie and pretend that this does not make my life richer and more enjoyable. But the truth remains: I was not loved.

     I may have been told it twenty times a day 'loving you'. I may have received a text every few hours 'loving you'.I may have been assured of it in the way his world was nothing more than work and home, no friends, no outside interests, no distractions or complications. But I was not loved.

     Cared about? Then, yes. My welfare was important. Consideration was given. Things that I did not request or require were done 'for me'. He would 'let' me do certain things I wanted to do, as long as I knew there would be a price to pay, a reckoning, in my own fashion. He was a good father to The Blondies on holidays, their interests and wants coinciding, allowing me the time and space I jealously, selfishly need in order to write. I cannot say he was wholly unsupportive in every way, because it would be unfair and untrue. But I was not loved.

     Love shows itself in unexpected and unthought of ways. The ways in which I listed what love truly is are still true, still what I believe, still what I will shout from the rooftops (or just hammer out onto a laptop in Spain whilst The Blondies are out with Mum for half an hour). And for that reason, I know I was not loved.

     Because with love comes care, consideration, compassion. Love cannot be love when it involves telling the world the other persons darkest secrets. Love was not love when after it is over, you repeatedly fail to do the right thing. Love was not love when you ignore the implications of your past behaviour. Love was not love when within weeks of the end of the relationship you move onto someone new, as you said you would.

     Love was not love, for either of us. I did not love him either, by the end. I don't know when it stopped. Most likely, it ebbed away, a slow but pervasive drought of the delta of a love I once thought defined my life, the little channels of the same love that once spread so broadly, gradually being extinguished as each stream became a trickle before dying, unnoticed until it was too late. I too have my share of blame, and have apologised, felt remorse, tried to make amends. I have received nothing in return, only a freezing out by many, and certainly no apology from anyone. And that it how I know I was not loved.

     I know I was not loved because I still care, yet receive no consideration. I was not loved, because I try to help, yet receive no assistance. I know I was not loved, because I cannot see myself ever allowing anyone close to me. And yet, I was replaced, overnight, without a backward glance, discarded. I am happy that he is happy, and that is what I wish for him. But lately I have realised that I was not loved, and I mourn the loss of my innocent belief that I was.

    Love and I have many things in common, it would seem. Recherch√©, elusive, unfathomable. Annoying, difficult, impertinent. But love and I are strangers, it seems to me now. Because I am not, never was, and probably never will be, loved.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Historical Romance

     Hnnnyeah, it’s not for me. If I want history, I’ll read a book by a historian. If I want romance… be grateful you can’t see my face right now, because romance can fucking fuck off and do one as far as I’m concerned. I am not at home to Mr Hopeless Romantic (that said, if anyone fancies wining and dining, I’m more than happy to watch you eat whilst I sink a bottle of Chenin Blanc). So no. No historical romance here, thank you.

     And no historical romance when it comes to the past either. I’m bored with it. More than bored, actually. I’m tossily fecking pissed off with it. There seems to be a strand of people who can’t accept that A Small Thing is just A Small Thing. I’m talking mostly about graffiti, of course, because that’s what I do, but you can apply it to pretty much any Old Thing that people talk about. An old building can’t just be an old building, no; it has to have a bedroom that Elizabeth I reputedly slept in. An old book can’t just be an old book; it has to have reportedly once belonged to Shakespeare. Strange markings on church walls weren’t caused by a dangling light pull installed in 1973, but instead hint at some mysterious occult practises that may relate to tales of witchcraft in the village during the 16th century.

     People often preface these evidenceless suppositions with ‘it is tempting to imagine…’ or ‘it is entirely possible that…’ or to put it another way ‘I don’t like not knowing everything, so I’m going to make up some complete bollocks, based on nothing other than a) my own inability to accept we’ll probably never know the truth and b) that I insist on everything being significant and important because I’m scared that I am myself insignificant and unimportant’. Which would be a bit of a long-winded way to start a sentence to be fair. I privately refer to these people as ‘Pritchards’, thanks to a certain book [dark mutterings]

     I can understand why. People like certainty, facts, neat little endings, and links to Big And Important Events. When they encounter a piece of history that on the face of it isn’t clear cut or glamorous (in their opinion), they feel a little disappointed and their mind issues an ‘…oh’. The temptation to therefore make something seem more than it is appears to be fairly universal. And nowhere is this more true than with graffiti. I’m going to contradict myself slightly here by saying that all graffiti has meaning. All of it, from the humblest spraypainted tag to the most beautiful and impressive 14th Century SHIP GRAFFITI!!! If it didn’t have any meaning, it wouldn’t exist. If someone creates something by a deliberate action, it intrinsically has meaning, even if that meaning is only known by the hand that created it and the reasons behind it leave every other soul on the planet baffled. So even just a pair of initials on a school playground wall has/had meaning. Where the problems seem to arise is in determining what the meaning is.

     Let’s take those initials, shall we? We can guess at the age of them by how weathered and smooth the stone around them has become. We can guess at the age of the person who carved them by how high they are, and the fact that they’re in a school playground. We can observe that they are surrounded on every side by similar initials, and nod sagely that yes, graffiti attracts graffiti. Meaning? That’s a bit trickier. It’s just a very human thing to do. To say, in the phrase I try to avoid but never bloody do, ‘I was here’. There are other things we could add, about how people copy others, how it’s ‘just what you do’, we could speculate that the child who created it may perhaps have been experiencing upheaval in their life and wanted to make some part of themselves more permanent. But ultimately, it is just a pair of initials on a wall. Does that make it any less interesting? Any less meaningful? For me, no. For others, yes. For others still, it’s clearly the sign of some cult that brainwashed children in the 1970s and forced them to create physical damage to buildings associated with authority in an attempt to bring down society to achieve anarchy in the UK.

     I wish I was making that sort of bollocks up (I did, to be honest), but it’s actually just an extension of so many comments and wild speculating that I read again and again when it comes to graffiti. A cross found in a church porch can’t be a straightforward as a record of a transaction or agreement. It has to be related to pilgrims, even when there’s no record of pilgrims ever visiting, or even a nearby shrine. A tally chart can’t just be a basic tally chart of someone who needed a handy surface to keep a record on at some point prior to 1500. No, it has to be the record of deaths from the plague during an outbreak in the village in 1426. A drawing of someone in a hood is actually a satirical representation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, based upon one piece of marginalia written by someone hundreds of miles away at the time, and whose handwriting is dodgy enough that it’s possible to read key words in four different ways. Or, it’s just someone in a hood. A woman carved into the walls of Norwich Castle isn’t just another carving of a person, she’s there for good fortune, significance, importance, wild speculation, theories that make no sense and are based upon no actual evidence other than the person who’s talking about her determined to prove that actually it means more than that because ‘I’m clever too, you know!’

     Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s one I actually didn’t make up. 

Look! A graffito of a… hat. 

Here is another… hat. Clearly, they must be linked. Except that one is in a church in Essex, and the other is in Bethlehem. But, ‘it is impossible to ignore the resemblance’, apparently. And to give you some idea of the logic at work there, the first theory considered is that it might relate to the Knights Templar. This happens quite a lot. Anything unusual or not immediately explicable is very, very, very often assigned to Templars and some kind of mysterious plot hidden from us that continues to this very day. They are the generic fruit based listening device of graffiti theories by the bored and ill informed, and they are also very tedious. The same author also decides it’s ‘possible’ that daisywheels represent badges of a religious or knightly Order, and I’d better shut up now before I really go off on one (but before I do, I’m just going to add that the text next to the first 'hat' reads ‘god help me’ which I’d say is rather more interesting than FIVE PAGES of discussion of a hat which is actually a knight’s helmet with a plume and not a hat at all).

     Graffiti does have meaning beyond what is on the surface. It’s never superficial. I can bore on for days about it (and as we know, frequently do), but endlessly talking about it has to be grounded in what we actually see, not what we think we know, or what we want to impress others with. Graffiti always has meaning, is always important, simply by its existence. But what it isn’t is a peg on which to hang your need to show off how much you know, nor is it always going to mean more than anything mundane and simple. Some inscriptions do. Some inscriptions require knowledge, experience, research and a twatty blogger getting annoyed and saying ‘bollocks is it fuck’. Some inscriptions we will never be able to understand wholly, and that’s fine. No one is ever going to know everything. But sometimes, it is as simple as a child carefully scratching their initials onto a wall in a playground. No more, no less. And it’s important – just as important as the inscription itself – to not overcomplicate our interpretation of it by automatically assuming it means anything beyond the fact that it was created in the first place.

Thursday, 7 July 2016



 Look at that. It’s not much, is it? But whilst it certainly hasn’t changed my life, unlike another little graffito not so far away, it perhaps explains why graffiti exerts such a hold on me. I don’t get out graffiti hunting much, but I do see a lot of it and of what I see, it is the simplest finds that seem to stay with me.

     Daisywheels. If I was trying to impress you with just how intelligent I am, I’d call them hexfoils, or compass drawn designs, and wank on about principles of Euclidean geometry, but I’m not and it’d just be embarrassing for all concerned, so I’ll stick to calling them daisywheels (also because it pains some people to see them called daisywheels, and I am cruel). The idea behind them is relatively simple. Demons are all around us, stalking the earth, bringing pain, suffering and death with them. Evil bastards, basically. But also stupid bastards who are highly curious (yes, got there before you). If they come across a line, they are compelled to follow it until it reaches an end. If, however, the line is endless, then the demon must forever retrace their steps and is effectively trapped within it forever. A simple idea, a simple design, a simple solution.

     Daisywheels are one of the most common medieval graffiti finds; most people who go hunting in even the most halfarsed way will probably have found one. They don’t rank up there with the ‘WOW’ factor when you pit them against the more unusual and intricate inscriptions. People don’t ooh and aah and talk about how stunning they are, or devote time to talking about them even, because they are simple, they’re common, and to most people, they are dull.

     But because I am a softhearted contrary twat, I adore them. Especially the simplest, most basic design, the Tesco Value of apotropaic marks. The beauty of them is that they are balanced, whole, complete, and the intention behind them is pure. To protect loved ones from harm. To turn aside evil. They are a testament to the two emotions most likely to cause us to act – love of someone, and the fear that harm may befall them. The fact that daisywheels are so widespread and easily found bears eloquent silent witness that so many people felt the way we do now about those who are special to us. It’s not a great big shout of ‘look at me, look what I’ve made, aren’t I great?’, but instead a gentle little whisper of hope and love. Something about that bypasses my (admittedly limited) rationality and brings tears to my eyes.

     I’m such a twat about them that I even get a bit upset when I see daisywheels that have gone a bit… wrong. I imagine the horror that the creator would have felt at seeing something that had the best intentions do exactly the opposite and the guilt they may have felt if Bad Things happened, thinking that perhaps they had caused it by not being as careful as they might have been. Or the pointed finger of judginess from others that It Was All Their Fault And They Know It. Stupid, I know. I never claimed to be logical.

     If I’m honest, though, I just feel protective about daisywheels. That people ignore them, and instead go after the big showy treasures, the impressive stuff that’s guaranteed to gain attention. ‘Just some daisywheels…’ is the disgruntled mutter of a thwarted graffiti hunter, unimpressed by the thought of a love and intention that was etched into stone centuries earlier. An intention that was shared by so many people, in so many churches, a widespread belief and devotion that we see time and time again. People overlook them in favour of the three ring circus things, in favour of the stuff that was made with the intention of gaining attention, quite often the graffiti that weren’t made with any real meaning or significance behind them beyond showing off. That leaves me cold. I’m aware that this means I’m not a true graffiti person, that I’m out of step with pretty much everyone else on this because I’d rather think about wallflowers than find a unique graffito of national significance. But wallflowers tell me more about people than almost anything else. They’re nothing special. But then most people aren’t either… except that we all are. And wallflowers remind me of that. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Passing notes

     Quite a few months ago now, in what seems like a hideously distorted dreamscape of events I’m no longer certain took place; I had a Very Bad Day. One of my worst days, in fact. As bad a day as is possible, to the point that it nearly was my last day. It took someone I’ve never met to make sure that there weren’t local news reports starting with the words ‘A body has been found…’ Yeah. That kind of bad. But, as I say, a very wise man was very wise and very kind (‘and that’s how I got picked up by the Police from Beeston Priory at one in the morning’ is usually how this story ends). So, with no trace of hyperbole, I owe my life to the kindness of that person. He knows who he is. And I hope he knows how his consideration that night kept me going in the very tough weeks that followed.

     There was another stranger that day too. Although I was trying to be discreet during my phone calls with Kind Man (or at least I think I was, my memory is distinctly hazy) someone on the bus to Sheringham (yes, the arse-aching glamour of my life) heard me sobbing and trying to explain why the horror of everything had overwhelmed me and my mind had splintered. And they obviously realised that they couldn’t do much to help, but as their bus stop approached, they got up, took a few steps back to where I sat and handed me a scrap of paper.

     I’ve kept it. Of course I have. I put it in the notebook I had with me, and I’ve kept it there ever since. I carried that notebook with me for months, everywhere I went, although I haven’t written in it since that day because I don’t want to be reminded of the words that were spilt into it. But I did read that note a lot.

     I didn’t take in anything about the person who gave it to me. Male/female, old/young, alone/part of a group. All I remember is a disembodied hand passing it to me. And me snotting everywhere because I was at the point of knowing that these were my last few hours on earth, and there would be no more days, let alone better ones.

     I hadn’t planned to tell anyone about that stranger. It was just going to be a moment between us. But I sort of feel like I have to now. Because the world right now seems a bleak, empty, hopeless place. For family, for friends, for strangers. And I feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. Helpless. But I’m not, not completely. None of us are. We might not be able to change much in a wider, more meaningful sense, we can't change what has happened, nor what will come, but we can each do small things. Smiling at strangers, kind gestures, challenging people when they are casually racist or discriminatory. Stepping in when abuse is happening in front of us. We can even pass a note to someone we know is in distress. We don’t have much else, and even those small things can’t change the terrifying and uncertain present we’re living through, still less whatever it is the future holds for us. But if you see someone who needs helps, offer it. Posturing and pontificating on social media is all very well, but it doesn’t do very much to reassure people that they are welcome, they are cared about, that they matter not because of who they are, but simply because they are. Because they are, and we value that. Because they are, and we want them to be. Ignoring things only makes people feel even more isolated, before we can start to think of a way forward together. And come what may, we need to be together.

     This isn't my usual stance. Normally I'd be shouting and RANTSWEARING and telling everyone just how soul-twistingly angry I am. I have been, doubtless will be again. But tonight I am just sad. Tonight I am alone. Tonight I am despairing that everything I see seems to be a relentless and unforgiving stretch of misery, bad news, and unkindness. 

     So be kind. Be brave. Be thoughtful. And not just to people you know, but to anyone who needs it. It will be appreciated; I can assure you of that. And to you, whoever you were, on that bus … I wish I could tell you what that small gesture meant, and how I clung to it. Because if a stranger cared enough about me to do that, then I allowed myself to dare to believe that perhaps I was worth saving after all, despite everything. 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Memo to Turner

     I get it. He’s your friend, your son, your brother. He’s been accused of doing something terrible. You don’t believe it. You can’t believe it. You won’t believe it. That sweet boy with the blue eyes and blond hair. The boy you knew, no, the boy you know, he wouldn’t do that. You know he wouldn’t. You know him. He wouldn’t.

     There must be some kind of misunderstanding. It couldn’t have happened the way they say. He says it didn’t happen like that. He says he didn’t do it. He says he was there, but it wasn’t like that, despite the evidence. He denies it. You believe him. You accept his version. You don’t question the parts that don’t make sense, the facts that exist. Blindly, you believe what you see, that boy you say you know. You close ranks.

     You close ranks, and you absolve him of any wrongdoing, any responsibility, any guilt. You don’t make him look at himself and what he did. Easier to blame someone else, everyone else, but not the boy you know. You weren’t there, but you believe you know what happened.

     Do you think you helped him? Do you think that your refusal to accept there might be some truth in what other people said was wise? Do you think that maybe if you’d considered that he wasn’t the innocent, ill-treated victim, he might have thought about what he’d done? Have you thought that people don’t often want to let their masks slip, that they lie about what they’ve done? Or are you always going to stick to your belief in the boy you know? Never doubt him, never question him, always defend him.

     Never allow him to consider that what he did was wrong. What he did, no one else. No one else did it. It wasn’t a big boy who ran away. It wasn’t a series of events that went wrong. It wasn’t a misunderstanding. It was what he did. But no, in your world, your family are entitled to behave as they wish, and if anything goes wrong, you’ll bleat that it wasn’t your fault. Nothing to do with you as parents, nothing to do with you as people, nothing to do with the boy you know.

     It is, though. And all you are doing through your misplaced sense of loyalty to your son is reinforcing that he is always going to be that golden haired, blue eyed boy who is never in the wrong. And because he’s never in the wrong, he’ll never have to apologise, never express regret or remorse. He won’t even be able to do the right thing, even now. Will you ever accept being in the wrong yourselves? Because if you don’t, he can’t. And if he can’t grow up and accept the blame, he’s always going to be that stunted little child who lies his way out of trouble every time. That selfish and entitled man who puts his needs and wants before anyone else. He will stay that boy, I promise you. That boy you know. Except that you don’t know him at all. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Daughter of time

     Happy 8th birthday, my delightful daughter. Happy birthday, my darling.

     I got it wrong, didn’t I? I’ve always said you’re tough, resilient. I never worried about you in the way I did about your brother. You’ve always been the strong one; the one who shrugged off upsets and insults, the one who didn’t need reassurance.

     But you do.

     The problem is that you don’t like to admit it, and so I’ve missed out, so many times in recent months, on being able to give you the time and words that you’ve needed. Sometimes it’s been because I’ve just been too caught up in everything else that’s going on, sometimes it’s because your brother has got in first with his feelings and need for cuddles, but mostly it’s because you hide your feelings too well. Your real feelings, I mean. You’re never quiet, we always know when there’s a triumph or disaster unfolding, but you don’t often open up to me. And that’s my fault.

     I have always believed that of the two of you, The Boy is the one most like me. Quiet, shy, reserved, so I’ve always given him more attention to encourage his confidence. He gets my time because he’s always asked for it. You never do. It’s taken me a long time – too long – to realise that you are more like me than he will ever be, because you have that sheer bloody minded refusal to depend on other people for help, and an iron will to Just Get Stuff Done. Remember that time on the climbing frame a few weeks ago? When you got stuck and panicked a bit? And I said to you, in exasperation ‘Why do you always have to go on it, when you always get stuck?’ And your reply was ‘Because I was determined I could do it on my own.’ Sums us both up…

     It doesn’t have to be like that, though. Honestly, sweetheart. It’s probably a bit late for me to change too much. But you’re so young still, even as you seem to be racing through the years. It is ok to tell me when you’re not ok. I’m your mum. I want to make the world as easy for you as I can. Sometimes I won’t be able to help, but I’ll always listen. I can’t bear it when I see your face crumple with disappointment and how you turn away to hide that from me. The times when I see that you're upset, but you tell me that whatever's happened doesn't matter. You don’t have to live a life where the only person you can rely on is yourself, please believe me. I will almost certainly let you down without meaning to, because I’m just as human and fallible as everyone else, but I am here, I love you, and I will do anything for you.

     I treasure every moment I have with you. The hours we spend in the grotty pub next to school, waiting for your brother to finally traipse out of whatever after school club he’s doing. The times you come with me to the shop in the evening, and carefully buy sweets with your pocket money, the pride showing on your little pearl of a face. It touches me even more that you always buy something for your brother too, unasked and unprompted. I am honoured when you give me your notebook to read a story you’ve been writing. You are a writer, my beautiful, precious girl; you have an almost unnatural talent already. I know that one day your words will change the world of other people, not just me. I am so proud of how you are, who you are, and what you will become. I’m sorry that I cry over you as often as I do, but I don’t always have the words to tell you how happy you make me.

     So, today, on your birthday, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to buy all of the presents you asked for. I wish I could have done. But I can offer you something I haven’t been too good at doing up until now. I promise you that I will be a better mother to you, in that I will make sure you know that you don’t have to do everything on your own. And I hope, in time, you will give me the gift of telling me honestly your truth, and asking me to help you.

Friday, 27 May 2016

The canary

     There is a bird that lives inside my chest. I call it my canary. It’s the first warning sign to me that a situation is potentially dangerous. When I feel the first flutter of wings against my ribcage, I know. This is what living with anxiety feels like.

     It’s not ‘worrying’. It’s not ‘oh dear, hope things will be ok’. It’s not even an ‘be careful’. Anxiety becomes a physical entity that takes hold of my body. I have problems walking properly. The muscles in my legs tense and I end up taking odd, stiff legged little steps, knees unyielding. I feel as though I’m tottering along the street, about to trip at any given moment. And because I’m scared that I’m going to fall, I become more nervous, more tense, and I usually do stumble, and my brain flicks a V at me and says smugly ‘See? I knew you were going to do that.’ Brain wanker.

     I stop eating too. My throat closes up and to consider swallowing anything vaguely solid causes a ripple of panic. It’s not so much not wanting to eat as being unable to contemplate eating properly. Small nibbles, possibly, if I have a few minutes of feeling calm. Three or four wine gums, one at a time. Half a biscuit. On an average day, two crumpets with cheese. But because my body is locked into an overwhelming surge of adrenaline, the food goes undigested, and within half an hour, I’m uncomfortably full, feeling sick, and have to puke it back up into the toilet to have some relief, for a little while. I have no idea why, but it does help.

     When you have anxiety, every sense is heightened, every threat magnified, every potential for danger is laid out in a detailed risk assessment, including bibliography, references, and acknowledgements. Absolutely everything is something to be feared. We have a fourth floor balcony with solid concrete walls that are at least four feet tall. But if I find a Blondie standing near the ledge that is pretty much nipple height, I freak the motherfuck out. ‘GET AWAY FROM THE EDGE’ I shriek, in quavering tones, somehow convinced that they will manage to vault over the wall and hurtle to a splashy death below. It’s even as simple as walking past a spiked railing and automatically thinking ‘bloody hell, if one of us tripped we might fall in that direction and accidentally hit that and HOLD MY HAND BLONDIES BECAUSE WE’RE ABOUT TO DIE.’

     It’s bloody ridiculous. I expect every situation to have the worst possible outcome, so I am perma-primed against disaster.  Everything braced for impact. And the worst part of it is dealing with people. And the worst part of dealing with people is disagreement. Which is stupid, because I’m gobby, opinionated, and I don’t give a toss what people think of me. But I’m not good at confrontation (some of you may be breaking off from reading at this point to scoff incredulously. All I’ll say is that I’m good at hiding my feelings sometimes). And I was a bit taken aback by some of the responses to a (now removed) blogpost I wrote last week. More than a bit, to be honest. I felt under attack. One comment was deleted by the writer almost as soon as it was posted – wisely, as it identified a few people in it – I left the others up until I deleted the post, because I generally have a halfarsed policy of allowing discussion on posts, no matter how upsetting I find the things that people say to and about me.

     Maybe because I’ve become used to people being kind to me for the last few months. Maybe because I’m not as robust as I used to be. Maybe because for the next few days and nights I was on my own, and didn’t have anything to distract me. But those comments – both here and in other places online – really scored into my head. There are ways of making your point without being unkind. I doubt those people would have said such things to my face, and the fact that the worst comments were made anonymously pretty much sums them up. But it’s set my anxiety off in a way I haven’t experienced for a few months, and I feel ashamed.

     Ashamed that I have hardly eaten this week. Ashamed that I’m finding it hard to leave the house just to take the rubbish out. Ashamed that my face feels strained. I know this is a temporary panic, even I can’t maintain this level of catastrophising for too much longer. But since last week, I have been braced against disaster, expecting something terrible to happen at any moment, waiting for it to happen, constantly on edge, constantly expecting the worst, seeing everything through hyper eyes and feeling that everything is personal, every action and word is just one step away from someone launching a full scale attack on me. It’s fucking exhausting.

     There is a bird that lives inside my chest. I cannot release the canary from her cage, as hard as she beats her wings. If I could let her fly away and never return, I would do it in a heartbeat, I would do it without ruffling a single feather ever again. But the canary is always here. She is just as much my prisoner as I am hers. 


     I am fucking starving. Absolutely fucking starving. Literally, starving.

     I don’t eat much, these days. In the early days of What Happened, I managed, a bit. Then Mum came and took over cooking. I managed to eat the dinner she cooked, most nights, trying to set a good example for The Blondies. It felt tasteless, though. Lumps of food, sitting in my mouth, chewing endlessly until they became mulch that had to be forced down, then sitting heavy in my stomach, feeling as though it was gaining mass as my body gave up on the whole process of digestion, my stomach feeling distended. Sometimes the bloated, stuffed feeling would pass. Sometimes it wouldn’t, and I’d end up puking secretly in the toilet.

     Unsurprisingly, I lost weight. I wasn’t huge to begin with, and I’m far from skeletal now, but I’m smaller.  The weight kind of fell off without me noticing. It’s stopped now, because even though I don’t eat much, my body’s worked out that food is a rarity, and jealousy guards the slim pickings afforded by two crumpets a day and a fuckload of coffee.

     I should eat, I know that. This isn’t a healthy diet, and my body’s not going to thank me long term for the lack of vitamins, fruit, vegetables, fat, water etc that it’s being denied.

     But I can’t eat. I don’t feel hungry; don’t have those pangs that tell me I need to eat. I have dizzy spells. I feel weak. I get tired easily. But I can’t eat. My throat has closed. I have to force myself to swallow the bites of crumpet, and I feel sick. Sometimes I am.

     And the thing is, I loved eating. Loved food, cooking, feeding, snacking, stuffing my fucking face. I used to eat a whole baked Camembert with four slices of toast. And now I can’t. I wish I could. But I can’t.  And if I’m entirely honest, I like not eating. There was a prolonged period when my life was completely out of my control. When I lost every secret I had, every vestige of privacy, and my distress and vulnerability were exploited, scoffed at, dismissed, even used to attack me with. I could not control anything that was happening to me, and I was blamed for that loss of control. The only thing I still retained any power over was what I ate.

     Not eating becomes a pattern. You don’t eat because you can’t. You feel a misplaced sense of pride about not eating. Your appetite shrinks. You don’t eat. Then, things improve, you eat a bit more. Things slide, you revert to the coping strategy that is not eating.

     This isn’t a good week. There have been a few too many days when I haven’t eaten. When The Blondies aren’t here, it seems pointless. But I’m not feeling in control of things at the moment, so I suppose that for now, so until I feel better, I will be starving.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Udderly unthinkable

     A couple of people have suggested to me recently that I ought to start dating. Hang on, sorry, you’re not going to get much sense out of me for a bit, admire the view, talk amongst yourselves, have a three course meal and go for a walk, because this fit of hysterical laughter will be prolonged.

     I’ve never dated in my life, and I’m honestly not about to start now. No, nope, nup, not happening. The reasons are LOTS.

     To kick off, I’m not ready. Not even ready to think I might ever be ready, despite being born ready. It’s less than six months since I ended a 16 year relationship, and the post-mortem in my head is still inconclusive. Awaiting test results. Lab analysis incomplete. But the one firm conclusion I have reached is that cause of death is unlikely to be established by embracing some other stiffie. Nah. I need to live with myself for a bit. As easy as it would be for me to distract myself with fun and bounciness, it would be the equivalent of having two pints to treat terminal heart disease. Not healthy. Fun at the time, maybe, but it’s not getting to the root of things, even if I entered into it with my eyes pinned open, loins girded, and a grim determination to have fun.

     Jumping into something new would be cowardly, it would be me trying to avoid thinking about what went wrong, what that says about me, about how I contributed to the failure. Being happy and flirty and having fun is all very well, but not when you’ve destroyed a family. Putting on my fancy clothes and going out might give me a boost, but it’s immature in this situation. It would be avoiding responsibility, and absolving myself of any blame. I’m not into relentless miseryporn, or self flagellation, but neither do I want to be the type of person who has chocolate smeared across their face, hair, hands, says 'Chocolate? No... I haven't seen any chocolate... Although actually I think that A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away.' No. I’m supposedly a grown up. For all that I twat about, I should at least have the grace to accept blame, not avoid it with ‘you hang up, no you, no you hang up’ teenagery twatting about.

     And then, awkwardly, there’s the physical matter. The last time I did the whole ‘WOAH I’M NAKED WITH YOU FOR THE FIRST TIME’ thingy I was 19, a size 10, lithe, lean, and toned. Now I’m 36, I’ve had two children, and I’m (briefly) a size 8. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit withered. I have stretchmarks, and scars, and sagginess. Recent weight loss means I no longer have a comfily rounded little Buddha belly, but I do have the skin to prove I once did. If I go down on all fours, my stomach neatly cleaves in two from my bellybutton downwards to give me udders. Seriously. Like fucking jowls, but on my stomach, actual fucking udders, freely swaying like the unravelled old socks my teeny tiny tits now resemble. I look like some kind of sodding rare mammal, four teats on display, dangling swags of loose and empty skinnage, a sort of dried up once doubly efficient wet nurse. The thought of revealing this too, too solid flesh to anyone is enough to want to make me seal myself into a frogsuit for all eternity, never mind all of the other loose and freewheeling parts of me.

     The real reason though is Them. Yeah, The Blondies. Because of decisions that I took, and choices I made, they have had their lives turned upside down, inside out, dribbly arse cheeks over saggy tits. And what they need now is security, stability, and the knowledge that I’m not distracted by anything else. They need to know that they are paramount and that I won’t fail them by devoting serious energy to anything other than them. I have friends, interests, I have writing, and that’s enough, more than enough. I have a charmed life these days, and the magic of the charm is sharing my life with them. Beautiful, bewildering, bewitching Blondies. I don’t want to share this with anyone else, because it’s entirely mine. No one else has any right to it.

     I’m not saying never. Maybe, one day, when the storm clouds have been chased off the horizon, when this sea of troubles becomes a millpond once again, when this little ship is ready for haven, I will be ready to think about a new relationship, perhaps, maybe, possibly, with caveats. I might let someone close to me again, and be a bit selfish, a bit selfindulgent, and perhaps I will rearrange things in my life to suit me, not automatically cleave to what other people ask. But not now, not yet. And certainly not for a long time (and definitely not until I've worked out how to rid myself of these fucking saggy bastard UDDERS).

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.


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.