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.