Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dans Le Noir

A couple of nights ago I dreamt that I was watching a white bunny rabbit in the garden from my old back window, and it turned into the Virgin Mary before my eyes, filling with rainbow light. She then started glowing a deep red, which emanated out towards the trees as she hovered above the flower beds.

Last night I dreamt that someone gave me a load of old Mr Men books, and I was looking through them and the only one I recognised was Mr Forgetful, and I was thinking "but I've already got Mr Forgetful, should I tell them this or keep it to myself?" Then I was at sea, with several faceless companions, all in dinghies, waiting for the best wave to take us off over the horizon into oblivion.

Somehow, all these dreams seem to aptly sum up my weekend, from which my senses haven't quite recovered. My psyche is still re-arranging itself back into something vaguely recognisable to me.

Friday was my birthday, a day I have loathed all my life. When I was thirteen, I decided that birthdays, at least for me, were unlucky - something always went terribly wrong on them. One year my Grandma died, the next, my dog got run over. Indeed, it was on that same thirteenth bithday that my sister went missing, my mother assumed a child-like position and I spent my passage into teenagehood as the only member of my family coherent enough to explain my sister's disappearence and details to the local policeman. When he finally asked me how old I was and I explained "I'm thirteen today!", I promptly burst into tears at the horrid injustice of my birthday always seeming to be the most fucked up day of the year. Years later, I discovered that same policeman, whose presence I felt a reassuring comfort from since he seemed the only person with any degree of sanity in our house that evening, had gone to prison for murdering his wife by driving her off the edge of Tinkersadle, a steep, winding dangerous road that goes up to our village, and trying to make it look like an accident. So much for my feeble sense of security.

So yes, I decided at that point that not only were birthdays crap, they were in fact unlucky. They were portents of doom. The only thing good about them at that age was that they meant I was getting older, and nearer to leaving school and home. Unfortunately, this plus point only lasted until somewhere in my twenties, where suddenly the reverse began to happen, each year becoming further evidence of some inevitable and cruel decline into frustration and regret.

ANYWAY. Ahem. This year I decided I wouldn't add to my stress by planning a big birthday event on the actual day of my birthday, instead, dragging it out for an entire weekend, and playing my first gig in the midst of it all. Mmm. The morning was spent with my usual neurotic "Oh God, I'm 30/1/2/3/4 .." wailings, but they quickly subsided once I arrived in London with Bob, had a strong coffee with my sisters, then disappeared of to Farringdon for a meal with a difference.

Now, only Bob would think to take me out for a meal in a restaurant like Dans Le Noir, and only I would find it the perfect, romantic birthday gift. Somehow it suited our slightly strange natures perfectly. Basically, as it's name suggests, Dans Le Noir is a restaurant which is completely, and I mean completely, in the dark. No candles, no little lights in the distance, it is pitch black. We were introduced in the lobby to our partially sighted French waiter, Cyril (pronounced See-reel), who instructed "the lay-dee of Ro-bear" to place her hand upon his right shoulder, which I dutifully did, and then called the following four women and five men to do the same, until we formed a nervous line, as though we were about to do some surreal conga through the lobby. He then began to move off, taking me and the rest of the befuddled chain with him through dark doors into decreasing light, until we finally reached the door of the room where we would be eating. At this point a woman screamed and shouted "I can't do it! Let me out!" and left. Then, like intrepid explorers we continued our adventure, and I was led to a table, and Cyril placed my hands on the back of a chair and said "E-yere ees youwr siet".

Ten of us to a table, we were handed water, wine, bottles of coke and lemonade, and course after course of perfectly cooked food by our flawless, partially-sighted host. The exact nature of the menu we were not told, but had to guess. Fumbling to pour the water into glasses was interesting. Trying to chase smoked salmon around my plate even more so. A little bit of footsie under the table was the most interesting. I was praying it was Bob's foot I was messing with. And then, like the voice of an angel, Cyril would appear, and softly say in my ear "'E-yer ees your men couwse" whilst I held out my hands hopefully into the blackness. Table manners weren't a problem at this meal. I gave up with the knife and fork halfway through my main after scooping up ten forkfuls of nothing and began using my fingers.

Finally, when we were finished, Cyril Bob and I, hand to shoulder, back out into the lobby. The light was dazzling. I just kept saying "Wow!". After finding out what our menu had in fact consisted of and realising that our guesses were pretty accurate (after all, panna cotta is just glorified blancmange isn't it?), we went upstairs to the swanky bar to recover, and to sip at a Black Martini in a funny glass.

After this brilliant evening, Saturday had a lot to live up to. After final rehearsals and our first ever sound-check ("erm, where do I plug the keyboard in?") guests piled into the Angel House, and by 8.30, the room was filled. It's funny, the process of nerves. I'd say that in some form or other I think Ive been nervous about this gig since I heard I was playing it three weeks ago. That slight sense of sickness in my gut never quite left me. However, with 15 minutes to go, all nerves simply left, and stayed away for the entire performance.

There is something about getting what you want in life which is so extraordinary, it makes me realise why so much of the time we are doomed to the opposite, to that feeling of things not quite hitting the mark, leaving a part of us empty, and still longing for fulfillment. In fact, I think the preciousness and beauty of getting what we want partly arises from all those times when we didn't. On Saturday evening I felt glad for all the days and nights I've spent poring over my keyboard, frustrated and lonely, banging out harmonies, trying, trying to get that perfect line realised, to manifest that ending, make the picture complete. For how wretched I felt at times. I felt glad for those childhood dreams which told me this is what I was meant for, and equally for all those years I refused to let myself believe them. I even felt glad for all the rotten things that have happened in my life, for the broken dreams, the lost belief, the inescapable heart-ache. On Saturday night they all went into the songs, they made themselves heard in the melodies, and I sang out all that I had lost, and refound it in a room full of people, with a bright light on me, feeling more myself than ever.

We can't escape that secret feeling if we haven't given it our best shot, if we haven't pushed ourselves beyond the limits of our fears, if we have stayed safe and warm and dulled in life's soporific dream-time. If we didn't step out into the wilderness and search for water. If we didn't take those reins and ride.

Sunday, followed a messy and curious post-gig party, where everyone I know who attended it, including myself, decided to drink whatever came their way, whether it came in glass or bottle, cafetiere or saucepan, or from the fingers of passing party goers. And so, when Sunday morning arrived, following only two and a half hours sleep, I lay like a broken doll in my bed, at once happy for the success of the gig, at the same time, a physical wreck. How I managed to go from feeling like a crawling insect on the toe of life to shopping for potatoes in Tesco for the upcoming birthday tea party I was hostessing on the beach that afternoon I do not know. God or the Devil must have been with me. Bob and I struggled to the beach at four o clock with birdcages, French Fancies, Battenburg and an inflatable parrot, to weather which would not have looked out of place on the set for Titanic. Wind howled and the waves rose like trees from the blustery sea as I lay out the pretty pink spread, feeling like the biggest freak that walked the earth. No one would come. I would be sat here on my own with my swiss roll like some weird old freaky bag lady. I was becoming accustomed to this idea when Jo arrived, and then Olivia, and then the people rolled up one after the other, virtually all with horrific hangovers, bearing cards and gifts and sausages for the fire, until there must have been twenty of us, freezing our little bums off, chatting into the wind, enjoying every minute of it.

Yesterday, Bank Holiday Monday, I ate chocolate fairy cakes for breakfast with scary purple icing and spidery red hearts. Then Bob and I drove to Seaford cliffs and I slept in the back of the car on the seafront while the rain hammered down. The sound of rain on a metal roof is so comforting. Then the rain stopped and we climbed to the cliff top, held each other tightly so that neither of us blew off, and watched the kittywakes rise and fall in the wind like paper planes, their wings so fragile, their black legs jutting out beneath them. They sailed through the air, frail beings in a vacuum of light, feathers against the sky, all lost, all swirling, heading outwards, flying home, seeking out the place where the current takes them up high, their singing lost into chalk and rock.