Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

I had high hopes for this final post of 2011. Full of insightful wit and charm; something that pushed my readers into the realm of wonder and thoughts and dreams.

But I'm going away for New Year and, consequently, I am surrounded by un-ironed clothes and mismatched shoes, tired thoughts and a mind wired in lists of things to do and to be and at this point, Hamlet always resurfaces in my memory and I am not sure if it is entirely possible to string a plausible sentence in this state.

So I shall leave you with this; this pithy thing that has played through my mind, dashing and delving between the lists and the inappropriate thoughts of Shakespearean soliloquies:

As a little bud with shallow roots
You filled me with wonder
Found in every shard of sand
Handful of dirt,
Speck of dust.
Clouds were friends
Stars were dreams
The sky was my future...

In this dawning of a shiny new year, untarnished and unwrapped, let's look at the world with childlike eyes again. Let's see its potential.

Happy New Year, dearest Readers. Here's to a good one...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

There is still no cure for the common birthday

On Wednesday I began my 27th year crying. Midnight arrived as I sat at my computer. My fingers hovered above the keyboard, my eyes narrowed on a date that used to give me such butterflies as a child. I remember the sleepless night before; the fluttering of hope and excitement for a brand new age. Eight was always better than seven-and-a-half, ten was better than nine-and-three-quarters, and every birthday was welcomed with such unmitigated joy.

As a child you know nothing of responsibilities and the difficulties that adults face daily. Life is a playground and there is so much time left to explore it that you never questioned its passing; the increasing age. You welcomed it with as much excitement as the scores of presents and cards and candles on cake.

But it is different now. The older you get the more a birthday sheds its skin and shine until it is just another day in a week, month and year. Presents are nice and cards are appreciated but the age? The increasing number is no longer something I greet so readily. There are a number of reasons for this: I am not where I want to be in my life, or doing what I always dreamed. I don't currently have someone special to share my day. Imagination and reality are conflicting. I feel so damn stuck. And while it seems like everyone around me is doing the job of their dreams, getting married and having babies, going off on world adventures, I am here. And it is not where I want to be and I am not who I want to be. Now another year has flown by too swiftly and I did not think to reach out, to grab it and go along for the ride. 

I feel engulfed by quicksand and though I've been in the pit for a while now, just the fact that it was my birthday seemed all the more resonant.

At 12.01am the thought of this was like a sharp pinch to soft flesh, a heavy punch to my gut; it knocked the breath from my chest. The thoughts - so many rambling thoughts - bubbled up and tumbled down my cheeks. The realisation of all these things that I had considered fleetingly over the past year; vague moments and wonderings, sporadic feelings of failure, suddenly aligned like the sun and my zodiac. Before me they sat; accumulated like a line of bitter pills I had to swallow. It was not pleasant

By 12.10am the sniffling had decreased and I actually managed to settle down for some sleep. In the morning, when the light was white and my head was clear, I opened cards and presents and felt okay. Later there was cocktails and laughter, dinner and a trip to the theatre to see Driving Miss Daisy. And though we sat up in the heavens with the realisation that my long distance vision had declined (damn you, age!), I thought about how James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, was treading the boards below me with an expertise that amazed and 'well, this isn't so bad'. Not at all.

At the end of my birthday I dropped tired into bed and thought more about the play I had just seen; about Daisy and Hoke and how old they were when they realised they were best friends. Once again the thought struck me; I might not be where or who I want to be but I am only 27. I've still got plenty of time to figure that out; to explore the playground. And even if I am still waiting until my nineties for all these things I have stacked with such importance, surely the journey there will be worthwhile. 

I sometimes wonder why I worry at all. But isn't reflection the very nature of birthdays? Reader, what say you? 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Get cape. Wear cape. Fly?

I was six when my mum found me rifling through the airing cupboard in my room. We kept towels and bed linen on the slatted racks, despite the musty smell that lingered inside. Balanced precariously on my desk chair I stretched upwards, tiny hands lost within soft folds of clean laundry. The floor beneath me was littered with duvet covers, Christmas themed table clothes and doilies. I'd finally found what I was searching for - just one last stretch - when the floorboards groaned behind. 

'Louise, what do you think you're doing?'

Uh oh. Trouble. There was always a little edge to the way she said my name; an extra emphasis on the L. I spun around with a push and twist of glee. That old chair provided me with hours of room-spinning fun.

'Looking for a pillowcase.' I said, as if it was the kind of thing I did every day. It wasn't.

'Are you going to make your bed?'

Me make beds? I assumed some kind of bed fairy did that while I was at school. I explained the complexity of my problem; a pillowcase was needed to complete my very special outfit. With a glance at the carefully ironed table cloths now in disarray on the floor, mum reached above my head and pulled from one of the stacks without any dislodge. Mums really could do everything. Or maybe not.

'No, no, no!' I said, head shaking. 'I don't want a white one.'

'But brides wear white on their wedding day. Don't you want a white veil?'

I may have married off Barbie with Ken a few times (and Ken with Sindy once the divorced had been finalised) but I never wanted to be a bride. Boys were stupid. Did she not know me at all? She stared at me with an increasingly crinkled brow. 

'I need a red one for my cape. You can't fly without a cape!'

At this moment she noticed the rest of my very special outfit on my bed. A bright blue Minnie Mouse t.shirt that I had turned inside out and a pair of red cycling shorts. Beside it a hand-drawn S that I had coloured in, badly, with yellow felt-tip and cut out with kid-friendly scissors that always tore paper rather than cut it. Briefly, mum considered me and flipped through a pile of sheets beyond my grasp. She shook out one of my sister's red bedsheets. I imagined it fluttering in the wind behind me as I soared through the sky and bounced off the clouds. I snatched it from her hands.

With a roll of her eyes, she left me; my behaviour nothing new. I always had a vivid imagination. When I wasn't shouting at my dolls in my makeshift 'classroom', I was entertaining the Queen or pretending to fly on Falkor the luckdragon from The NeverEnding Story. 

My very special outfit now complete, I got dressed with a sense of accomplishment. I secured the yellow S to my chest with a couple of strips of Sellotape and sank my feet into red Wellington boots outgrown the previous winter. As my sister tied the sheet around my neck in a double knot, I was so overwhelmed by the excitement that I forgot the pinch of my toes and the skin growing raw at the backs of my heels. 

It was cold when I stepped outside. At the top of the garden steps I felt the score of goosebumps, the tug of my cape as it toyed with the wind. Hands on hips, I focused on the large tree by the end fence. That was where my mission would begin.

I dragged a rusty paint-splattered step ladder down to the grass leaving a two line trail of flattened green blades behind me. My hands scrapped the roughened tree bark as I wedged the ladder against the trunk. The trail of ants usually would have stopped me from climbing but I had my cape now; I had to finish this. I had one muddy boot on the step when my mum called from the top of the garden. She was watering potted plants. 

'Louise, what do you think you're doing?'

'Climbing the tree.' 

I pushed off from the grass and the ladder wobbled. A few trailing ants didn't survive my sudden grasp for the solid trunk and I wiped their corpses down my top. They looked like dirt. 

'Why are you climbing the tree?'

'Because birds fly from trees.' 

'You're not a bird, Louise. You can't fly.'

'I know I'm not a bird.' I continued to climb.

'Well, you're not Supergirl either.'

'I know that! I'm Superman.'

At the top of the ladder I stretched upwards to a low hanging branch but something tugged and I toppled and tumbled to the ground. Laughter tinkled from every direction and when I opened eyes my sister appeared, all five versions of her head shaking. 

'You're no Superman,' she said. 'He wouldn't have got his cape caught in the bottom of the ladder!'

Well. There was always next time.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Remember, Remember

Every year on November 5th the British skies are lit with colours and sparks, and gardens warmed by the amber glows of firelight. The ground is usually muddy wet and littered with autumnal leaves and there is always a fine mist grazing the milk of a half moon. The air is filled with the cold scent of winter approaching and the lingering dust of burning wood and smoke. It's the kind of night which makes you avoid dark alleys and abandoned streets to seek the comfort and familiarity of tradition.

We learned of the tradition at school. Pencils in hand we'd chant: 'Remember remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.' There were brief mentions of a man called Guy Fawkes but any embellishments of his story were cut short by the excitement the night would bring. Colourful fireworks, explosions and sparklers were all a kid could wish for. 

When I was little we could rarely afford the fireworks but we always had a permanent supply of wood that my Dad built into a large nest at the bottom of the garden. Our friends would arrive with their own Guy Fawkes; a set of old clothes stuffed with newspaper and a plastic mask attached as the head. We'd sit him on top of the bonfire and slowly watch him crackle and flame. 

The night was meant to be a celebration of victory over a plot against our country's King but, in spite of this, I often remember feeling deflated. The slow melting of the plastic mask on the Guy, the drip and droop of his smiley face in the heat made me sad and wistful for something. The way my sparkler never lasted long enough to write my full name and the singe and spit as I threw its heated stick into a bucket of cold water. The way the fireworks died just as soon as the colour hit the black night sky. Watching the dying embers of the fire; the charred remains and soft drifts of grey smoke as if something was gone forever but never knowing what that something was. 

Our supply of wood died sometime during my early teenage years and with it, the childish excitement. The older I got the less significant this tradition became until it evolved into another November night, with only the loud bangs in the distance to serve as a reminder.

But due to my sister's recent desire to make new traditions, on Saturday I found myself dragged along to the Bonfire Night celebrations at Leeds Castle in Kent. Dressed like my younger self all those years before; coat, scarf and gloves, I trailed my Wellington boots through a field of mud, lugging a camping chair on one shoulder and a desire to be indoors on the other.

We set up our chairs beside the lake before buying bags of roasted chestnuts and cups of hot chocolate. There were thousands of people around us; some stood eating candy floss and hot dogs, others sat on picnic blankets on the grass. As the night darkened and the crowds built further, I blew steam from my cup, legs stretched ahead, waiting. I thought it would be like all the other times; pointless. 

But there was no bonfire this time. No newspaper-stuffed Guy Fawkes or melting mask, no dying sparklers. The music started and the fireworks exploded in the sky and around me kids waved flashing lightsabers that made their faces glow red and blue. For just 40 minutes everyone put their lives on pause to watch the spark and fade in the sky above, illuminating the castle behind and the water below.

And I didn't feel sad or deflated or wistful for something I didn't know. I felt the spark of something new, something long forgotten and suddenly I realised I had come full circle. I wondered why it took me twenty-six years to finally embrace what I should have done as a child; the excitement of tradition. The idea that you grasp fistfuls of these brief celebratory moments (as minor as sitting in a camping chair in the freezing cold with your family) and enjoy it while you can because, honestly, the experience is so fleeting.

And there is one thing that I'll remember now that I never did as a child; soon we can do it all over again. There is always next year. Perhaps because I'm older now, it doesn't feel like a lifetime away. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Little Things

Two years ago my Nan was a blanket of shrivelled skin; wiry tufts of white hair spilled over the edges of starched sheets. Her eyes were the bluest I'd ever seen; as if she'd stolen all the pigment from ocean and sky. I don't remember how we came to be sitting there in hospital. All I remember was the rough grip of her hand, the feel of her bones as we connected. The watery glaze of her eyes joined with mine as she told me I was beautiful. It was the first and last time.

Sometimes it's the little things...

At 21, I was consumed by a plague of tiredness and endless tears, where the days ran into months and my mood never changed. I don't remember what led me to the kitchen at 2am, how the bottle of bleach came to be in my hands, or why I was so focused on the warning sticker above the barcode. All I remember was the guilty inner debate and the explicit realisation that I truly didn't want my life to end. The dance of hope in my chest was like the first glimpse of sun after a long cold winter. I shall never forget one thought; I wanted the chance for an afterwards.

It's the little things that give you faith...

When I was nine and it was my Granddad's birthday party, I was most excited to see my Great Uncle Tom for the first time in months. I don't remember all the fuss or why he had to leave half way through the day. I remember the stiffening of his slight frame as I hugged him, the fleeting wince of pain across his haggard face. It was the last time I saw him. I never said goodbye.

It's the little things that make you cry...

I was eight years old when I woke early that Christmas Day. At the end of my bed an old pillowcase spilled colourful presents like dominoes. I attacked them with fevered hands and widened eyes. I don't remember exactly how it happened. All I remember was thinking it strange how Father Christmas had the same wrapping paper as my mum. It was the slow dawning of that revelation throughout the day; something else I once believed in was not what I thought. I felt the loss of something I could not put a name to.

It's the little things that you regret...

Three years ago we visited Prague to celebrate my Dad's retirement. On our first day the weather clothed us like a second skin, the air was heavy but the sky was clear. I don't remember how or why we ended up drinking beer under a gazebo in Old Town Square. All I remember was the sudden torrent of rain that engulfed us and the clamour of twenty waiters holding up the gazebo with broomsticks as it threatened to fall. Soaked and shivering, I remember we were the only ones to laugh at the sudden change in weather. Sometimes, being British isn't all that bad.

It's the little things that make you smile...and thus the big things seem worthwhile.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

There is no place like home

Home is where the porch door warps on a hot day and refuses to close. It's where the TV plays to ghost audiences once the living have left the room, while the cat sharpens claws on the carpeted stairs. The bottom step has felt the wrath like no other.

Here, the walls were once my canvas and diary. Beneath the scores of wallpaper lies a hidden wealth of drawings and childish ramblings; forgotten secrets only unearthed by some far away future tenant. Somewhere in the box room, the wall was kissed with pink-painted lips to see the effect of my mother's stolen lipstick. In the kitchen by the door, two sets of heights compete in efficient pencil scrawl. Eventually, mine won.

Home is where the cups and plates never match and the best china is only used on Christmas Day, much like the dining table. The rooms are always littered with forgotten activities; cups linger beside a cold kettle, the ironing board is only there to hold laundry and stub toes, and the vacuum cleaner remains at the end of the living room, plugged in waiting. It often waits for a long time.

Here, we keep useless things; rusty keys, books with lost pages and ceramic figurines with missing heads and feet, just in case. There is not just one messy drawer in this dust glazed place. They all are. The yellow papery entrails of encyclopaedia's, history books and the archive of Reader's Digest dating from 1972, spill out from bowed shelves on bookcases. And there's more upstairs.

Home is where I can trace the length and curves of the garden path with eyes closed and still feel it necessary to repeat the hundreds of cartwheels I did as a child. It's where the swing seat is always the hub for chats over cups of tea or glasses of wine as the sun sets and the breeze rises. Whilst mum bemoans the state of the neighbour's fence, we sit underneath the umbrella at the garden table enjoying barbecued meats, despite the rain trickling down our uncovered backs. 

Here, hugs are offered without question and a shoulder sought is given freely. Laughter is first on the agenda and there is always music, whether filtering through the garage wall or tinkering down the stairs. There must always be music. 

Home is where I feel free even with the doors locked and the windows closed. It's the one place where you only ever know its scent once you leave and just the reminder of it makes you long for its comfort with a smile. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Top Ten: Things I can't live without

I know that I can't live without food or water because, well, I'd be dead. But this isn't that kind of list. This is more of an 'I could live without them but I wouldn't want to' list. Indulge me for a moment and read on...

1) Sleep:
As evident from previous posts, readers will know I have lived without sleep for days, many times. The results? Not pretty. Hallucinations, holes in memory and angry tirades directed at innocent family members. If you value friends and sanity, make sure you get your 8 hours while I try to get mine. 

2) Music:
Music is my best friend. She's there when I'm happy or sad. She's at the gym, urging me on for just five more minutes. Within the same breath, she can inspire and move me to tears. She drowns out the silence on long car journeys and is as much a memory as the memory itself. I can't see her but I'd be lost.

3) Books:
Learning to read opened the door to my imagination. All the stories - the hundreds of world's I've visited without having to move - has enriched my life and the way I see the things. As long as I have a book - I don't care what it is - I'm content. 

4) Memories:
Memories make us who we are on good days and fuel us on the bad. Idle insignificant moments of my life where I am lost in banality, stress or sadness, can be altered by the recall of a distant memory. The smile, the happiness evoked, flicks the switch. Without memories, life would be very poor. Just ask patient H.M

5) Pen/Pencil:
We might live in a technological age where handwriting is that swirly thing kids learned in primary school (and left there) but I would hate the inability to write things down. I don't even need paper -  the skin on my arm is sufficient. I might not be Shakespeare and his quill but I have the right to try, damn it!

6) News:
Reading it, watching it - I'm not fussy. Good or bad, I'll take both. The thought of going a couple of days without access to the news gives me palpitations. Not knowing what's happening in the world? Excuse me while I go get my Sky News on. It's for the good of my health...

7) Internet:
How else can one watch TV, book a holiday, buy a new wardrobe and read a list of the most unusual deaths (and anything else weird) without leaving your desk? Impossible!

8) Passport:
I might not like the picture inside but my little burgundy book represents a wealth of opportunity. The instant access to hundreds of destinations provides untold possibilities. All I need is my passport. Money helps too, of course, but that's another matter. 

9) Laughter:
Handing out smiles makes me feel like a decent human being. Nothing else will remedy a bad day (or an awkward situation) that laughter. My mum taught me to laugh, particularly at myself, no matter what the occasion. So I do. A lot. Most people laugh at me too but I can deal with that; as long as they're happy. 

10) Writing:
I suppose I could have put this with number 5 but writing is so much more than the physical act of using a pen. It's a whole process; thoughts, creativity, imagination. I can't bear to think of a life without the time or opportunity to write. It's a fun, sometimes cathartic, activity that prevents my brain from exploding. Needs must and all that...

So reader, what things can't you live without? 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Voice of the Unheard?

When Mark Duggan was killed in a Police shooting last Friday, the news barely scraped my consciousness. I did not know him. He was yet another face to match another front page headline. As awful as it sounds, though I fleetingly thought of his family, I went about my day like any other. 

And when the riots started in Tottenham, seemingly in protest to Duggan's death, the same happened. I'd seen this before: the student riots were not that long ago. I didn't fully understand their motives and I had a head full of questions (and a mouth full of rude words) but it did not affect me. I was unconnected. 

But then Monday came. It was 8.30pm. There was a chorus of sirens - Police, Ambulance, Fire - and they were edging closer. In the distance a helicopter hovered above a thick stream of white grey smoke. The air was acrid and heavy and it wasn't the weather. For the first time in my life I decided to stay indoors for fear of what might happen outside. Instead, I watched the news. 

Businesses and homes were looted and vandalised. Hooded youths of all age ran amok with the kind of adrenaline only a riot could provide. Antagonised Police tried to contain the problem with their meagre hands of power but it was never going to be enough. 

Within minutes, a furniture shop built through generations of one family was nothing more than charcoal. Children carried by their parents, cried, as their homes and belongings drifted up to the sky in a flurry of black ash. Everything earned during a lifetime of hard work vanished in seconds.

What started as a problem elsewhere slowly crept in to my vicinity. In an instant I was connected. It makes me ashamed to admit such superficiality. Initially uncaring, I shrugged at the issue as if it were trivial.  It was beyond my realm of comprehension because it was way over there in someone else's street. It wasn't in mine. I had no experience.

But as the evening darkened and the sirens grew increasingly frequent, I felt it; the fear of the community, the wonder if it would ever end. There was one image in the newspaper that really struck me; a shopkeeper had posted a note in his window: 'Due to imminent societal collapse, I regret to inform you we'll be closing at 6pm'. The words made me laugh but in the seconds it took to process, I wondered. Could society collapse? Was this just the beginning? Disaster has to start somewhere.

Martin Luther King once said 'riots are the voice of the unheard'. People riot when they have exhausted all other means of communication. If I was to examine the riots across the UK recently, I wonder if I could put them in this context. If these riots were about unemployment, budget cuts, or a real desire to truly know what happened to Mark Duggan at the hands of the Police, this context would be true. Sadly, it appears the real motive behind the riots has dissolved. In all I have seen and experienced, it seems to be nothing more than an excuse to steal, vandalise and have a good time fighting for fighting's sake. And that's even more frightening.

Reader, what say you?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


It's 3.30am. The heat of the previous day has yet to fade and I am restless hot and sweat. In the dim yellow light of my bedside lamp, the artex pattern on the ceiling mocks me. One swirl has joined with another to form what looks like a boot. It jumps out to strike against my head. A dull thud settles at my temple. 

The light flickers to distract. I put my hand up to the bulb, so close that my hand glows red. My fingers; they're almost see-through, as much as skin can be, except for the threads of blue veins. I feel the heat - the slow burn of flesh - and yet, I can't snatch my hand away. I am compelled to leave it there a while,  watch it glow. I feel like E.T.

The sheet, which I tucked in tightly at the end of the bed, suddenly feels like lead. Within the coffin confinement I wonder how it would feel to be buried alive. I imagine the earth, chalky thick and brown, crumbling as it tumbles around me, clogging my eyes, sapping me of air as it fills my throat. I inhale deeply to make sure I can still breathe. I watch the rise and fall, rise and fall of my chest. I think of my veins knitted through my fingers, the job they do. It's all okay. I am alive. 

My legs are heavy with unease and fight with the sheet above. Air licks my feet and toes wriggle with delight in their freedom. My body has a fidget fit and for what seems like an age, I turn and turn and tangle within the sheets. The pillow is not a friend and I punch it with fists until a stream of white feathers graze the air in a soft dance. For a while, all is still. 

But then, the door moves within its latch - a slight hitch back and forth sounds as loud as thunder in the morning silence. There must be a breeze, though surely it's a sinister kind never to grace my flushed skin. I throw my leg over the edge of the bed. It's there all of three seconds before the creep creep of unease; the loss of protection, the feeling that something will snatch and bite and I'd be legless and not in a good way. It doesn't matter how old you are; deep down, a person will always wonder what exists beneath their bed.

I curl into myself with the knowledge that insanity is a real possibility. 

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Death Effect

The passing of death always serves as a reminder of how fragile life is. It's a swift jolt to brains caught up in the monotony of everyday existence. Suddenly we remember that death is scary and final; death happens.

The death of Amy Winehouse at the weekend, sadly, did not shock me. It was everything that happened afterwards. It was the news channels spitting out the news only an hour after she was found dead. It was the gluttonous purchasing of her music on iTunes, sending an old album flying back up the charts, as if people hadn't had access to it for the last five years. It was the media lionising her unforgettable talent when previously all they did was berate her for her addiction, despite the messy tabloid gold it provided. 

It all just felt wrongly childish; as if we lived in a giant playground and everyone had decided it was okay to like that person again. It didn't matter if they knocked them to the ground and kicked them while they were down. That was yesterday.

Still, it is not the first time this has happened. Michael Jackson's death two years ago induced the same surge in his popularity. In recent years, condoned by the media in light of the allegations surrounding his private life, he was ridiculed and vilified. And yet, within hours of his death he was a renewed figure of appreciation; a talent the world would miss.

Take Marilyn Monroe. During her career she was never really viewed as an exemplary actress; her job was a 'sex symbol' and nothing more. But since her death at age 36, she is cited as one of the greatest female stars of all time. Her estate is probably richer now than it ever was when she was alive.

What is it about the effect of death on a person's significance? Seemingly, an untimely demise renews our interest in their contribution to the world. Where was all this caring and appreciation when it really counted?

Suddenly everyone remembers that person actually mattered and, perhaps surprisingly, that person was human; not some figure of greatness to perch on a pedestal. They were flesh, blood and bones; their hearts could break and their souls could hurt. They were just like us

Maybe that's what this is all about. Glorifying someone after their death is just a reflection of how we would want to be treated. Maybe this rush to celebrate Amy Winehouse and remember her talent is because we ourselves want to be celebrated when we're gone. We don't want to be forgotten.

Reader, what say you?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Is that you? This is me...

This was my Granddad two years ago on his birthday. Despite the hot weather, he insisted on a jumper, jacket and a blanket. He wore my old sunglasses and a hat my mum made from newspaper as a joke. He even wore it on the ride home.

I post this because last Saturday would have been his 96th birthday. I can scarcely believe that he's been gone nine months; not because time slips through our fingers like sand but because I still feel like he's here. Every day we repeat his old-man sayings and laugh at the things he used to do. Even answering the telephone I still expect to hear a little pause before he says, 'Is that you? This is me.'

The thoughts seem so unnecessary - silly even - but it's surprising how some things never leave you. 

For years I never really had a solid relationship with my Granddad. When I was a child it was his brother, my Great Uncle Tom, whom I had real affection for. He was the one who came to stay for three weeks every summer; who told me bedtime stories and gave me custard cream biscuits before dinner when my mum wasn't looking. And when I was nine years old and Uncle Tom died, I was bereft. Suddenly, I had to carve a relationship with my real Grandfather who hadn't really been around at all.

It would be unfair to say he was completely absent. He tried to visit once a week, on a Tuesday, and always bought a huge paper bag of penny sweets. We ate them as we watched TV. Granddad never really said much - he preferred to fuss over his three Yorkshire terriers - and would always leave at the end of Quantum Leap. 

This was the extent of our relationship for many years. I guess I never thought much about it. Sometimes I would yearn for the bond I shared with Uncle Tom but such thoughts from a child were always fleeting - and forgotten just as quickly.

Much later, like most relationships, things changed. As I left my childhood years, it was as if Granddad saw me for the first time, as if he thought: 'At last, she's an adult; we can finally talk on a similar level!'

With hindsight, he probably wasn't a 'kid' type person. Not every Grandparent is the typical cliché. Perhaps he found it difficult to communicate, struggled to relate. His sense of humour and way with words were certainly better suited to an adult mind.

Soon enough, he wasn't just my Granddad. I came to appreciate the person he was beneath that label. I learned how he didn't let his physical disability (caused by a motorbike accident aged nineteen) destroy his zest for life. How everything he did was for the future benefit of his family and how important it was to know we would be cared for. I appreciated his wittiness and the cheeky glint in his eye.

We had our disagreements - he didn't think women needed higher education - and he sometimes got on my nerves (yes, Granddad, I'll make you a cup of tea; you can stop with the dying-of-thirst charades) but he always made me smile. 

Even on the passing of his birthday, with glasses raised to his empty chair, just the idea of him, his memory, made me smile. Like most people I wondered what I would say to him, given the chance. 

'Is that you? This is me. I miss you.'

More than I thought I would...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A Letter to Time

Dear Time,

I've got your number. The devious tricks you play.

When you're not around I feel like an addict, crawling the floor, walls, in desperation; frustrations tearing at skin, the fear a rapid scrape against my chest. When will he be back? I wonder. I just need you for a little longer, an hour will do.

But you never come.

There are moments when you languish on hands, of clock and human, a slow decay of seconds and minutes, of possibilities. Moments which consume to drown me in awareness. In these, I hate you. I do not like the awareness of time; the tick tock sound of a clock. It's an unyielding reminder, a warning, of life slipping past. At once, I am filled with guilt, regret, for all the things I could be doing, all the things I should have done when I had the chance; when we had the chance.

But I never did.

And it annoys me, time. They speak of you as some magical creature with the ability to eradicate all the bad memories, the unwanted details. As if you are a giant eraser that we may use to clear our page, to wipe clean our slate. But no matter how many times one starts over, we can still see the faint outline of what used to be. No matter how clear it looks to the outside eye, we know it's there. 

They say you are a great healer. That as you pass, the wound mends. But everyone forgets that all wounds, however small, leave a scar. Red and raised, though it may fade, it is always there. No one ever says anything about that.

Some days you seem like an instrument of torture; an endless stretch of suffering. And then there are those days when I reflect on all those moments you afforded over the years; the shared smiles, birthdays, weddings, graduations, parties and friends. The minutes spent watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon and the catch of my breath that followed, the seconds before my first kiss when I forgot that everyone else existed. They are an accumulation of wondrous, unforgettable things that only you could provide.

I've had enough of you and yet, somehow, I will never have enough. 

Forever Yours,

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Family Tree

Roots gnarled, pokes sharp
through black soil.
Trunk slants to one side
in a weary lean of surrender.
The branches,
they don't sit so well;
through moonlight their shadows crawl
up my wall in a crooked twist
and weave; so close,
and yet the distance
of sticks and stems
is a whispered breath,
a wandered mile.

Bark weathered, chipped,
its face of worn whorls, crack
like the desert floor.
I set them free,
these handfuls of dust,
through limp fingers
and the storm carries them away, far,
in a frightful gust of wind.
My eyes sting.
Splinters of past wound me
and I bleed my Grandmother's tears
and the hundred years
of growth rots
at garden's end.

We cut it down;
the rotten tree.
Branches burn to ash,
twig to dust.
By the warmth we wait,
the white singe
of smoke drifts away.
We do not stoke the embers.
We watch them glow orange red,
a slow fade to black
on dying breath.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Early Birds

This morning, I woke early. The birds were deep in conversation, perched on the leafless tree outside my bedroom window. The sky gently roared with a far-off flight.

It was the kind of early which I usually observe as being late. With insomnia, if I'm lucky, I rarely get to sleep before 5am. This morning I found myself surprised, confused, to be waking up the other side of it and without prompting, no less. It felt as if I'd opened someone else's mail without reading the name first. It's all too easily done, absent-mindedly, but once you realise, it feels a bit wrong.

The distant sun, hiding beneath the horizon, washed the sky with lilacs. There was an eerie stillness in that explicit moment - strange and serene - the realisation that no one in the houses around you could possibly be awake. And if they were awake, were they too padding around the kitchen floor barefoot, treading lightly on learned floorboards that did not creak, wishing the sound of the kettle boiling did not seem so loud?

Curtains open, the room flooded with a pastel light. The day was young and the air fresh to my stale lungs. I'd never seen so much potential in a cloudless sky, or a sun that broke orange through the trees at garden's end. I felt boundless and sprightly, as if my feet had springs.

As strange as it sounds, I was handed a gift. Of time. Though I lost more hours through sleep, they were given back. Hours usually spent bemoaning my lack of sleep - my grumpiness, the bruise-like tinge under my blood-shot eyes - these hours have been returned. The mindless thoughts are gone and in their place is the freedom to think as I please. I almost don't quite know what to do with myself. My limbs are alien and these can't possibly be my hands.

And so, as I embark on a day filled with possibilities, with a mind sharp and clear for the first time in months, I wonder. To go to bed as the sky turns black, sleep the night through and wake before the sun; is this what it feels like to be normal?

I wonder...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Things I learned today

And I'm not even a student any more...

1. Clichés are truths in overused disguise:
This morning, I watched a woman deposit two armfuls of men's clothes across the pavement; anywhere her feet passed. She screamed epithets of 'all men are bastards!' at any person who dared to pass, whilst throwing the contents of some bloke's now empty wardrobe. First cliché of the day: hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. At lunch, I listened to the couple at the next table loudly voicing their moaning mumbles of how dreary a life can be. For forty-five minutes they experimented with how long one can talk before breathing is a necessity. Second cliché of the day: misery loves company (and makes me wish I was deaf).  

2. Human nature dictates that people like to be close, too close (and I don't like it): 
During the off-peak hours of my gym, I blissfully ran in the middle of a long line of vacant treadmills. So why did a woman feel the need to climb onto the one next to mine, when there were so many others free? I felt, somehow, violated. Like I was seated on an empty bus and the next person to climb on board felt compelled to squeeze their arse into the space next to mine. Maybe I'm weird but I don't need to be so close to somebody that I can tell whether they brushed their teeth that morning. If you don't breathe the same air as another human being for longer than five minutes and you feel lonely, I don't care. Give me some space, damn it! S P A C E. 

3. Live with your parents long enough and you will regress:
On my return from the gym, my mum asked me to tidy my room. In the hall I stood, transfixed by her expression, plagued by a sense of déjà vu. I'd seen that face before, painted with irritation, the jaunt of her frame; hand fixed on hip, finger pointed in my direction. Quite suddenly I was five years old, gazing up at my mum as she moaned about the state of my bedroom floor. Even then I liked to dress it up with clothes and shoes, stacks of books and an old guitar. There was a method to my madness. Aged five, there was a reluctant understanding of her request. I did what I was told. But aged twenty-six? I climbed the stairs with the discovery that you can never be too old to get a telling off from your parents. God help me.

4. Book editing eats time for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and makes you cry):
Re-reading nearly three hundred pages of my novel is an all consuming process. Thirty-five pages in and I've lost three hours, two thousand words and my sanity. And so, I've realised. By the end of this process I will have square bloodshot eyes and a body stuck permanently in seated position. And, most probably, I'll be thirty years old. Oh joy. 

5. Novelties really do wear off:
A shiny new phone is only 'new' until next month when a newer one comes out, and only shiny until I drop it in the sink. This will happen. Eventually. Instant downloads of new music loses its thrill once you've pressed the repeat button fifty times in as many minutes. That never happened when I used to buy albums on cassette tape. The rewinding took too long to bother. And I no longer feel glee when watching Glee. Now that really is sad. 

So reader, what did you learn today? 

Friday, 25 February 2011


Reader, a whirlwind caught and carried me away. A burst of creative energy assailed me and I could not, would not, fight it. But then, who would?

For those new to my blog, eighteen months ago I started writing a novel. It began as a piece to pass the time. A pithy little thing, five pages long. And yet, some days later, it was ten pages. And some time after that, it was twenty. My character had not finished telling her story and so I listened to her pleas. What started as a short story soon evolved into something far more complex. The Novel.

I'd always wanted to write a book. I'd read a lot of them, which helped. Liked the feel of words as they played and slipped from my mind. A blank white page never scared me. It tempted, with possibilities and promises. What could I do with it? Who knew? I'd certainly have fun finding out.

Other people recognised my eagerness to write. In my Year 6 leaving book that I got from primary school, aged eleven, an old teacher had written: 'Be sure to send me the first copy of your book.' Over the years, every so often, my Granddad would ask me: 'So, when are you going to write this book of yours?'

It's been a struggle. There have been days when I could not bear to look at it, think or dream. I've grappled with distrust; of my own imagination and my possible talent. At times I've loved it so much I envisioned marrying it, settling down and having kids. I'd stroke the pages on the screen like it was my precious. Other times I've hated it so much I'd print the whole thing just to rip it up and throw it in the garden, praying for rain to wash it away, from print and from memory. And then I felt bad for wasting a tree.

But through all that, the days of love and hate, the weeks of missing motivation, the months when inspiration left me in the lowly pit of despair, somehow, it has happened. I have finished. I have written a novel. I am full of accomplished glee, like I've reached the top of a mountain and my lungs are full of the freshest air. I'm just like Maria in The Sound of Music, without all the singing.

But now, dearest reader, comes the hard part: the dreaded edit. My lungs are suddenly empty, I've tripped, tumbled down the mountain side and I've hurt my head.

What. Have. I. Done?

Friday, 4 February 2011


As a child, my street was peppered with children on bikes and roller skates, discarded skipping ropes and goalposts made from hub caps. The road was empty but for a handful of cars: the perfect playground. From the playing children, parents became friendly too. Neighbours borrowed garden tools, helped in fixing cars and deliberated world events on the front step.

Twenty years later things have changed. Despite the recent influx of new families to the street, no children play outside. Bikes are a distant memory and roller skates a forgotten invention. At the end of the street, where cars do three-point turns, a football, deflated, peeps through grass as high as kneecaps. The gesture of a wave or smile elicits a response of wriggling discomfort. We live in a strangerhood of people who come and go; eyes glazed with disinterest, focused only on themselves.

Over Christmas, one telling incident occurred. We awoke one morning, 3am, to a woman running hysterically up and down our road. Within minutes her screams woke every house. Unable to ignore anyone in distress, least of all a visibly frightened woman, we went outside to investigate. Asking one of our neighbours what was going on, his only reply was, 'Yeah, my girlfriend's drunk, what's it to you? You're only my neighbour.' He was right, of course; we are only neighbours. But not long ago, that actually meant something. It's a terrible shame to see the descent; to have grown up in a street once so sociable, now devoid of any neighbourly concern.

Today, society is insular. People have closed their minds, and doors, to the prospect of having a relationship with their neighbours. Community spirit is just that; an essence of something that once was.

Why has this happened? Community spirit was once an integral part of our nation's identity. During the Second World War, Britain was known for its street parties; a social gathering of neighbours under a canopy of coloured flags. Tables and chairs of different height and style would line the street and everyone came together. Drinking tea from an assortment of china cups, people joked, children danced and friendships were built - as war raged on around them.

In terms of human relationships, little has changed. But the outside world has altered drastically. With the advancement of technology, children now play indoors; essentially removing the basis for all neighbourhood networks. If the children do not interact, there is no reason for their parents to either. The impact of terrorism and an increase in anti-social behaviour has also weakened local neighbourhoods. People are wary and distrustful of strangers and so we isolate ourselves to feel safe. Combined with the growth in online social networking, there is little wonder why we have seen a steady decline in community spirit.

But think of what we are missing. A step away from our front door there is a wealth of potential on offer. Support, camaraderie and common ground. Friendship. What better reasons are there to go outside and make the effort? Share more than just a party wall and a garden fence.

Reader, what say you?

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Bright Side

At school I was once chastised by a 'friend' for being too positive. Yes. Me. 'You always see the good in everything. It's so annoying.' Was it? Well, mum had taught me to 'count my blessings' and 'smile when the going got tough.' Clichés featured heavily.

Still, seeing the good in people, life, in the world: what was wrong with that? In response I was nonchalant; a shrug of shoulders and the straightening of my school tie. But underneath my air of indifference, I ached. That one remark carved itself on me like an unwanted scar.

Unnerved, I thought about it for days. Sure, I saw the good in things. Championed happy endings. Appreciated silver linings. Tread in dog poo and I'd thank the stars I was wearing shoes.

Whenever something bad was said, I'd defend. In my eyes, there was a reason why that boy was so angry that he threw chairs across the classroom, or why that girl's uniform was never clean. I may not have know what it was but there was always a bigger picture. There was always a beginning - and middle - to everyone's story.

And yes, I had a penchant for smiling at strangers; the old lady at the bus stop, the pram-pushing mother on the street. Even if my smile could not elicit one in return, it did not matter. They were in a hurry; they weren't in the mood; it was a grey area. Understood.

Even so, I didn't think these things were noticeably a nuisance. But yesterday, as I voiced my anger on the news, mum sighed: 'You should look on the bright side a bit more often.' I wasn't sure how one could 'look on the bright side' of someone doing only two years for murder, but at that moment the point was shelved. Like the new pain of an old injury, memory stirred.

Looking back, to that moment outside the food hall, I understand. Confronted by peers, my thirteen year old self was afraid. Defend the foundations of my personality? As if: courage was just a word in the dictionary. My 'annoying' optimism was wrong in the eyes of my so-called friend. And so my ability to believe in the unbelievable, to treat people as I found them, was bludgeoned out of me with one cruel and unnecessary remark.

Well, I certainly thought so at the time. As a result, through choice or circumstance, I allowed it to change me. Like a guilty secret, I hid that side of me for so long it started to fade. But it never disappeared. It was always underneath the surface.

Life often makes it hard to be optimistic. Repeated knocks and obstacles only serve to dampen the spirit and lose faith. Black and white, ignore the grey. It feels easier to accept defeat and wallow in the gloom. I've done that. We all do. It's the norm. But sometimes it doesn't hurt to take a walk on the bright side. In fact, it feels quite good...

Monday, 10 January 2011

And so it goes...

I celebrated the New Year with family and friends in Wales. We stood outside holding glasses of pink champagne and watched the fireworks, faces lit with flashes of green, red and blue. We played with sparklers, spelling our names with the fading yellow light. The sky was filled with Chinese lanterns. Hundreds of glowing wishes soaring against a sky made of ink.

Auld Lang Syne played in the background, filtering from a neighbour's TV. There were hugs and kisses, toothy smiles and eyes that twinkled more than usual. Strangers, wearing silly flashing hats, passed us with a jovial wave and clink of near-empty bottles.

Minutes we were suspended, trapped in a time where nothing mattered. Woes and worries, fears and frustrations; forgotten. It was like they slipped into a place, a mere crevice, beyond recognition, beyond memory. But only for a little while. Only while the fireworks still had gunpowder and the streamers still popped and the champagne still fizzed in flute glasses.

But then the cold came. Clawing and biting at our reddened cheeks and ears, pulling at the memories, the past, logic. As the rest stamped muddied feet before going inside, I stood on the driveway amidst the carnage of those suspended minutes. Feet surrounded by the shards of scorched sparklers and a jumble of pink and purple streamers; a champagne cork and an empty bottle.

The sky was dark and still, starless. It hit me like a thwack against my wind-cold cheek; 2010 was really over. There would be no possibility of un-doing, no should-have would-have could-have's. There was no going back.

The finality of it was frightening; that time could really creep upon you like that. And it wasn't just the unexpectedness of it all; it was the reminder how fragile time really is. How little of it we have at our disposal.

The Rolling Stones once said: time waits for no one. And so, dearest reader, let's not be late.

New Year.