Thursday, 13 December 2018

The point at which we vanish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Goodnight Poogy x

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Crucible

     'Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life.'

     I was mooching about at Norwich Cathedral last week, because apparently I don't spend enough time hanging out in freezing cold medieval places of worship, taking crap photos of graffiti on my phone. I could add a few examples of these photos here, but you seem nice, and probably don't deserve that.

     Anyway, as I lurked in dark corners and stalked around cloisters and reflected that I definitely do require a far more dramatic coat to make an impressive entrance (my £20 much abused Primark overcoat is fantastically warm & waterproof, but it does make me look a bit as though I'm wearing half a sleeping bag intended for someone of more generous proportions than I. Or, as my son put it 'Your legs look like two pieces of string hanging out of a sack'), I snapped a few later bits of graffiti too. Like this one.

     Lovely handiwork, I think we can all agree. And because it's historic, it's important, so most people assign it not to 'vandalism', but instead as a 'vital record' or 'human heritage' or slightly less charitably (and almost certainly wrongly) as 'bored choirboys/parishioners' etc. The same people who would have a fit if 'J. Brown November 25th 2018' were to appear next to it.

     As we know that's – perhaps ironically – a modern attitude to have towards graffiti. As we also know (shh, you do know, I've told you often enough) 'graffiti' only entered the language relatively recently, only appearing because a term was required to describe the inscriptions being found in Pompeii during its exhumation. It held no negative connotations then, it was just a handy term for people leaving their mark.Now, of course it's anti-social and a sign of how far society has fallen. You know you live in a rough area if it's described as 'riddled with', 'covered in' or 'besmirched by' graffiti. In these times, Banksy would surely replace Pestilence as one of the horsemen of the apocalypse. Except that the pale horse traditionally featured wouldn't be pale these days, but tagged to spray-painted indecipherability, because That's The Way of The Modern World.

     And it is, to a greater or lesser extent. Graffiti creators these days tend not to leave a calling card of full name, date, or anything that could be considered as personally identifying. Instead we have nameless political statements, street art created by someone whose greatest identifier is their alleged anonymity, endless tags. No one signs their name any more.

     'I mean to deny nothing.'

     Seriously, when was the last time you saw a piece of graffiti that was just a simple entry in the visitor book of walls, that was in any meaningful way 'recent'? A carving, pen stroke, or scrawl that actually states nothing more than 'I was here'? If you want to make a 'Kilroy woz 'ere' joke right now, please do so only inside your own head.

     These days, people leave only first names or initials or tell you whom they love or hate. They make statements, or daub political slogans or tag themselves to be seen, heard, read, left for as long as their message is allowed to remain. Left behind, yet very rarely recording who they are, or when, only where. Whether passing through in a brief moment, leaving it to be seen by an intended audience, or just because it gives them bragging rights over a location. Be seen on the scene as The Young People almost certainly wouldn't term it, unless they're hipster wankers who'd say it ironically at their pop up crowdfunded start up heads up... thing.

     What we don't get are things that mark out individuals, as people that future generations might be able to trace. We are always told by people these days that graffiti is antisocial. I, for once not trying to be contrary, disagree. I think it's interesting that the rise in people viewing graffiti as antisocial seems to coincide with graffiti being seen as something subversive, a little bit naughty, something to clutch your pearls over. It also coincides with people becoming more anonymous in how they choose to communicate with a wider, unknown and unknowing world.

     Yet still, graffiti is created, by & for people. Still people find that texts, emails, blogs, forums, social media as a whole, is not enough to say what matters to them, not if it can be traced back to the author, if it leaves any kind of footprint that can be followed. And that's even without considering the age old method of one person making noises out of their mouth and those sound waves being received into the pink and shell like area of another. Graffiti still retains the honour of hiding its face from the world whilst shouting at it. Like a snooker player plotting the trajectory of a ball at The Crucible, the end result is what matters, not who holds the cue. Those who still leave these marks have told us what matters to them. We don't always have to know their name to understand their message.

     'I have given you my soul; leave me my name!'

(yes, congratulations if you also had to study The Crucible at one point).

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Black dog on my shoulder again

     There's a black dog on my shoulder again.
     Licking my neck and saying she's my friend.

     She's not though. She is very definitely not my friend. She is the Megabitch to my Snotface, a Snotface without a Drop Dead Fred to lighten things. The Megabitch who just won't shut up.

     Solitude the one thing that I really miss.

     And it is. Because she's always there, the black dog, the Megabitch, that persistent, insistent voice just slightly behind me, growling poison into my ear that becomes intolerable and impossible to ignore.

     Guess my life is a compromise.

     Which is why she's here again, the hound. I don't feel in control of anything, so I've let the leash slip, and now she's running circles around me, making me doubt myself, every thought, word, deed. I can't step forward because I'm scared she'll trip me up as she runs so freely.

     There's a black dog on my shoulder again
     I'm playing with it but it's gone to my head.

     Not much seems to be helping. I can throw a stick as far as I can humanly hurl anything, but she always comes back to play some more, she never tires of this game even after all of these years. If I get the chance, I'll chuck her a treat or two, and then run REALLY fast in the opposite direction, but...

     Like Carlito's Way there are no exit signs.

     And the Megabitch is there with me again, a faithful frenemy, whose loyalty I get so tired of running away from that I stop and just give in to whatever rough-housing she feels like inflicting.

     Freeze me there until I'm numb.

     And that is what I become. Whilst living in a constant state of fluttery, panicky anxiety, I lose all motivation. I just stop. Everything grinds to a standstill. I get nothing done, there is no maintenance carried out, and I crumble, internally at first, before the cracks start to appear on the exterior, as the Megabitch continues to run amok, chasing cats, squatting everywhere, moulting and generally being a pain. And I don't want to talk about it or look at it.

     My mouth is so dry,
     My eyes are shut tight

     Because maybe if I don't acknowledge her, she'll go away and find some other sap of an owner who'll indulge her needly nuzzling, and I'll be left in peace. If I don't look, she's not real. She is, though.

     Black dog is coming tonight.

     She's always there, really, but the nights are the worst. That's when I give in to her, when she's too strong for this wee short arse to control. The Megabitch stalks me all day, but it's night time when she pounces and makes me entertain her, over and over again with the same old games. Regret, jealousy, paranoia, guilt, fear, self-loathing, confusion, sadness, anger, all her favourite toys and treats, that will keep her happy as I sink lower into myself, wondering why other people don't have this bloody black dog to take up so much of their time, or if they do, they at least have it better trained than I do. That constant feeling of not being good enough, not skilled or talented enough, not being funny, or clever, or interesting, that everyone else is better, worthier, more important, more cared about, so they don't have to put up with their only companion being the black dog.

     My dilemma, but not my choice.

     It isn't. I don't have a choice in when she's going to reappear. I might be able to give her the slip for a few days, weeks, months, even, but like the bloodhound she is, she will always track me down and pin me to the floor. I don't know what to do or how to do it, but I'm faced with something that I can't control or influence, still less call to heel.

     Winston Churchill, can you hear my voice?

     Probably not, because he died before I was born, but he understood the black dog, he knew how it feels to be the unwitting and unwilling host to the Megabitch. How things that should be simple become overwhelming and insurmountable.

     Melodrama there in my kitchen sink.

     To give you some idea, my kitchen sink has been blocked for over three weeks. I've tried to sort it out repeatedly. Nothing's worked. I could – should – call out the council to sort it out. But I can't. I physically can't. The black dog is splashing about in my kitchen, having a great time whilst I wobbly carry the washing up water upstairs to empty into the bath. Because I don't want people in my house. I'm scared they will judge me, accuse me, blame me, because the Megabitch is so out of control that it's embarrassing.

     Double vision the way it is.

     And it is double vision. I seem to see things as the Megabitch does, twisted and confused, everything in an altered state, always with the worst possible interpretation on events and actions, always the negative to everyone else's Instagram. Her eyes become my eyes, misted with self-pity and her unbearable weight on my back. But the thing is, I'm still here too. I still see (in a screwed up, squinting fashion) who and what I am, the stupid things I say and do under the pressure of her, and I tell myself 'it's not me, it's HER' but I can't stay clear-sighted enough to prevent her from behaving the way she does and dragging me down with her as she basks in the mud. And I know she's wrong with what she says, but she barks too loudly and distractingly. She needs to be rehomed.

     Am I coming home to you again?

     NO, but yes, but no. She's still living here, but it's just not suitable any longer. My circumstances have changed, I don't have the right kind of house, let alone a garden, and I can't trust her around The Blondies. I can't afford to keep her.

     Or am I stupid just by design?

     See? That's her yapping away again. I may have some fairly fundamental flaws in both my personality and brain chemistry, but I'm not stupid, I'm not dense, I'm not 'a wee bit dumb'. I do, just about have enough insight into what is happening to me, and how I can try to escape it. That's the worst part, I am not what she tells me I am, but whilst I host her, I behave in ways that make me seem as awful as she tells me I am. Deep down, I'm not.

     Does it matter if you really ever know?

     Yeah, it does. It does matter that I keep telling myself I'm better than her. It does matter to me that I remember that when she's bounding about. It does matter to me that I try and stop her from pushing me into these awful self-destructive figures of eight, where the only tail being chased is mine. It does matter to me that I don't let her win, because I am better, and I've beaten her before. It does matter, because I'm the only one fighting this, and because I can't rely on anyone else to tell me, and being a responsible dog owner, it's up to me to try and keep her under control. Except...

     This black dog is out of control.

     Too fucking right mate. And whilst I am going to try and take her to obedience and agility classes to exercise her, eventually, I'm going to have to exorcise her. She has me exhausted and angry, tearful without crying, irrational and erratic, and I'm done with her. The Megabitch, snuggling up to me and telling me she's my friend, briefly seeming like she'd be good for me, only to turn and snap, sinking her teeth down to my bones. I have to shake her off, my shadow, my shade, my dark side, my black dog. She's not a pet, she's a parasite, eating away at me and hollowing me out, destroying the foundations of things I am trying to do. New beginnings, fresh starts, something I can call my own, that only I can do, and be proud of, instead of being unseemly, an embarrassment, a space of silence with no words, no contributions, just an apathetic emptiness of a black dog that overwhelms me, as her noise and frolics press me down into the waves.

     I am not the black dog. She is not me. She is just my shadow, dogging my heels. But I will put my boots on and kick her arse, and keep kicking it until she's gone. I might lose the odd battle, but I will win the war. She is not my friend, she is the Megabitch, and she might make me a bit snotfaced at times. But I will write the fuck out of her. She can howl all she wants, but I will roar the black dog down.

And just to add, as a PS... I'm ok, so don't worry about me. If I wasn't ok, this would have just stayed in the drafts folder, and never made it out to the wider world. The fact that I have kicked my arse into gear enough to blog is a good sign, promise. Even if it doesn't make for the most fun reading. It means the Megabitch is at least back on the lead again.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Bee Day

     I cried the other night. That’s nothing especially out of the ordinary. I cry a lot. But just over a week ago was a bit special. My anniversary of adding yet another burden to an overpopulated planet that urgently needs a Malthusian style cull in order to maintain the fragility of life and ecosystems in order to survive, still less to thrive. Or, to put it slightly more cheerily, it was The Boy’s 13th birthday.

     My Precious First Born is now a teenager. I can’t pretend I wasn’t listening, head tilted and ear cocked as 06:59 ticked over to 07:00 to see if The Curse of Kevin would kick in and my golden-fluffy haired moppet would suddenly transform into a lank, greasy, groaning pile of BO, acne, and hormones, swearing and seemingly having no control over how his arms swung. The Fear was real indeed.

     In the event, the minute passed without incident, other than realising that for the first time ever in his life he’d set an alarm on his phone to make sure he was  awake for the momentous notification that he’d officially passed from childhood to the terrible teens. Also, for the first time since he started school, a weekday morning saw him sitting up in bed when I went in to his room.

     Beautiful Boy. Far more beautiful now that he ever was as a baby, although of course to me he was the cause of infinite gaze, admiring the delicate perfection of his every millimetre. Growing more beautiful by the day, seeing those features, so dear to me, develop and unfurl as he’s grown. That face, those eyes, those hands that have held mine, those feet that have walked beside mine for so long, and are bigger than mine now. The reassuring, solid comfort of his hugs, the way he still leans his head against my arm for comfort. I’m not sure how much longer that can last for now, because he’s barely an inch shorter than me. So for now that’s still something to treasure, as long it is there, as long as it’s a reminder that he’s my boy.

     A lifetime ago, or so it seems, I wrote about him growing up, and growing away from me. That was my fear. That he would slip through my fingers and I wouldn’t be able to hold onto him, that I would lose him as he flourished.  It seems odd to remember that now. Because that’s not how it’s happened. Even allowing for the upheaval and changes in our lives, that’s not how things have become.  It could so easily have been the case, it would have been so easy to make different decisions that placed barriers between us and meant that I didn’t spend the first ten minutes of his 13th birthday giggling and cuddling, and the two of us sharing silly memories and words of happiness.

     It was a moment, just a moment, the same as millions of moments that we have shared between us since the first time I saw his face. The same as the moments when I’ve shouted, or he had a tantrum, or I changed his nappy, or cooked a dinner he didn’t like, or walked him to school, or read him a story, or made him groan with a terrible joke, or told him off, or cried with pride over him, or had to listen in excruciating detail to something about Pokemon. It was just another moment in the journey from infant to adult, with me as a witness to his every triumph and disaster, every failure and accomplishment. But those moments count, because each and every one adds up to a life. A life I am privileged to share and know.

     And he hasn’t changed, not really. He is still that same affectionate, loving, considerate, honest, tactile and thoughtful little person I remember from the lunchtime he asked ‘Why doesn’t Mummy fucking need this at the moment?’ I have no doubt that the next few years will be more trying than those than preceded them. But those times too will eventually be no more than moments either.

     And that is why I cried, then (bit choked right now, tbh). All of those moments, hard, difficult, fun, loving, all of those moments  brought me to the point where I looked through his bedroom door to see him, my newly teenaged son sleeping as he always has, in a state of utter abandonment, arms above his head, and I had my own moment, like a slideshow on fast forward, seeing all of those moments together condensed, concentrated, compacted, all of those precious, countless, forgotten but unforgettable moments that have now added up to teenage years. Seeing it all unfiltered, that life I could not be without, and those moments that have made it this way.

     Happy birthday for the other day, my beautiful boy. You are what keeps me honest, because you don’t know any other way to be. You make me brave, because you always are, and you never pretend not to be scared. You remind me to be kind, because that’s all you know. You never hurt, because I love you. You make me laugh, you make me proud, you make me cry, because I am an embarrassing mum who threatens you with public displays of affection. I could not ask for any more from you than just years more of moments together.

      You and me, Bee. I’ve learnt more from you than I could ever teach you. Happy Bee Day – you brightened my northern sky more than I could ever have known, and you make me want to be the best I can, for you. I love you OBeeWanWookieBee. You are, and always have been, as everyone tells me ‘such a lovely boy, he really is’. Please don’t turn into a little shit now though. Fingertips, matey boy. Fingertips, always xx