Monday, November 17, 2008

Boogie Woogie

So I’ve just looked here and noticed that my last post was the end of September. Oops.
     I'm hungover today and haven't managed to do anything constructive yet apart from a few hundred words of writing homework. Mainly, I've been tidying up my recently returned computer, hula-hooping and watching repeats of Project Runway on TV Shack
     I'm surprised how rubbish I feel today, when I wasn’t even particularly drunk by the end of last night. It seems to be that the less often I drink, the worse I feel the next day when I do.
     Last night was partly a lot of fun, and partly a bit underwhelming. One highlight was the talented stripper, Leanna. She looked fantastic and did remarkable things with a bottle of vodka and some red stack heels. The low point, however, was definitely the Rick Astley impersonator. Never Gonna Give You Up. Oh, I wish he had, drag king or no. I felt like I'd regressed twenty years, and was now standing in a real, live, gay cliche.
     Another highlight was a good bit of disco dancing. I get tired of anti-disco snobs – you know the sort – if it’s not The Pixies or an ‘upbeat’ Smog number, they think it’s tacky. If anything progresses to Chic or, god forbid, Sister Sledge, they’re out the door. To me, disco, even some tacky disco, is such a pure expression of emotion in music – hands in the air, strut your stuff kind of joy.
     They played one of my favorite disco numbers, Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie by Baccara. I still remember dancing to it in a hotel disco in Mombassa, aged five, thinking I looked like one of the glamorous, raven-haired women from the band (despite the cropped hair, Clarks sandals).
     College is good – very good. It's all the things I thought it'd be - challenging, intimidating, stressful, tiring, annoying and overwhelming, and I have to say, I'm greatly relieved.
     Before I go, I have to say last night's dancing was nothing in comparison to what these cool cats are doing. Kids today could learn a thing or two. Yes, sir.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Monday: train to Brighton

I'm on the train, having just left Birmingham Moor Street, heading for London Marlebone. After several days of balmy Indian summer, I pass through a rain soaked Birmingham, drizzle sketching out its streets, a familiar greyness suspended in the ether.
I can feel my mood shifting as I edge nearer to Brighton; a heavy feeling in my arms and legs, a sinking inside my stomach. I look in my rucksack for the armour I need to face my life back home. I find hoodies and a hard-backed book about a complicated love affair.
I left my sisters on the tiny village platform, and watched them shrinking as the train drew away, their plump arms raised, faces smiling and sad. My lungs surged with feeling as I sped past houses, yellow coloured fields, more houses. This is territory I have known so well. I have chartered this journey for the last twenty years.
I'm uneasy. As I made the journey back home to Wales last week, my speech was still blurry, my experience filtered through a tin can. The preceding weeks had taken their toll. But having seen Mum for myself, stable and much as she was before this latest emergency stay in hospital, and having been home with my family, a little bit of myself has returned. There is a little bit of Clare back in place.
So uneasiness lurches up through my throat, determined as I am to not go back to where I was when I left Brighton last week - sucked in, spat out.
So I sip my tea, plan my strategies; write here. I even have biscuits in my bag. Life isn't so bad. Mum is still alive, I have sisters who are loving and brave, who fight their demons and cut my hair, make me cheese sandwiches. Who always tell me the truth about myself.
They sit chatting in the fading evening light out on our back yard, staring at the apple tree and the flowerbeds, flicking ash from their cigarettes into the cooling autumn breeze. They never sit for very long. In a flash, one of them will be up, dragging something around the garden, pulling out a hose, raising some clippers, re-arranging the shed. They like to keep busy.
It’s then that I feel most like the baby of the family that I am, with my writing, my hula hoop, my desperate need for a new haircut. Watching and feeling and thinking and turning it over, all of it, again and again.
I got my haircut. I watched the dark pieces fall to the ground and with every snip felt a little bit of myself coming back to life. I am still arriving, in whatever this new place is. I watch dead wood fall, hear the doors closing.
So I want to get my head down, start my course, let those who really care, come to me, and the rest, I'll watch them take off like birds into a cloudy sunset. Throw a stick and see what comes back to me.
Despite the Twinings label, the tea is disgusting. No amount of sugar can mask it. Drizzle hits the windowpane and I'm returning to Brighton stronger, but more wary than ever, to a town cursed by too much sunlight, by too many options.
I might feel alone, but I'm not alone; I feel scared, but I'm not weak. I have lost, but then... life culls what it needs to; it does some of our dirty work for us.
I watch crows taking off over cow fields, and feel the love of my family, the ones still there. I feel the greenness of the passing fields, my hair against my neck, a brightness still behind my eyes, and for now, that's more than enough.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Friday morning: back home

I sit up in bed on a cold autumn morning, and I can see that the sun is shining, the clouds are moving. This is the first morning in a couple of weeks that I've woken up feeling even vaguely like a human being, with a still beating heart, and perhaps even a future and a purpose. It's a feeble flicker of it, but it's there.

Mum has stabilised, at least for now. The doctors still aren't sure that it was definitely another stroke or whether it was a fit that made her lose consciousness like that and her breathing so laboured. As usual, it's a deathly mystery. And I guess that means, after preparing for the end, once again, after going through all that trauma, we're back to where we've been for the last two years. Waiting.

So when next week comes, I'll be winging my way back to Brighton. Sunny, happy Brighton. Home of the creative and free-spirited. It sticks in my throat like too-sweet candy.

I'd like to run away from Brighton, up sticks and sod off to London, where my course begins next week. But I know that won't happen, and that instead, it's the swallowing of reality of life in Brighton for now, of waiting for things to change.

I stare into my crystal ball and don't like what stares back. I remember the forces around me that are good, the ones who care. I see the tree outside my window is still standing, waving its branches at me. It is solid and still growing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Speechless

This morning, as I inhaled a cloud of pain and breathed it out again and said No, I will change my life, I will not let the cloaks of recent events take me down, and I rang the electricity board, and I unpacked my new mini laptop and prepared for the launderette, I got a phone call. It was the phone call. The one I’ve waited for two years. Perhaps.
     Mum has been rushed into hospital again today, this time with breathing difficulties. But she went to sleep and didn’t come out of that, and now we’re all playing the waiting game again to see if it’s another stroke, the one that’ll finally take her, if she’s finally able to swim to freedom, away from tubes and machines and the same view of squirrels and daffodils from her bedroom window.
     Today, for the first time in my life, I lost the power of speech. I'm a good communicator. But today, my brain shut itself down, and the world span backwards, and my mouth no longer said the words I wanted to say. I slurred my way through this afternoon, this evening, a personality I no longer recognised, in a world all too familiar. That blurry world. Where walking forward feels like going backwards, where I blink an eye and am filled with terror. Where I suddenly notice the moonlit sky or the glassy sea-water and I feel like heaven is exploding right inside of me.
     I am used to being split open. I even get accustomed to it even, and find joy in what I discover inside - the hidden jewels, the rapture of knowing what really matters in this life, behind the masks and the craving, the need and the games. I can hold it in my hands for an instant and know it’s worth everything.
     As I cycled slow as a snail towards the Meeting Place today, I saw a little girl with her dad on Hove lawns, just learning to walk. She turned as she marched with wobbling legs away from her father, her face lit with an incredible radiance - sheer exhilaration, unadulterated joy coming into being. It's hard to accept, but true nevertheless, that what lies behind that little girl’s smile is the same as what lies behind my Mum’s closed eyelids, and what will take her, if not now, sometime soon, away from me forever.
     What a magnificent beauty of a terror for us all to live with. It makes me want to love all the harder, dance all the more fiercely, hold what’s precious in the palm of my hand and never malign it. Then it makes me want to crawl under a bush and stay there forever. We are idiots, and that makes us all the more human. We throw away the best things in life and usually we learn the hard way.
     I hope I'm learning. One day I will finally no longer call myself a victim. One day, maybe tomorrow, I will reach out and see all this is my making, not my breaking. And that forgiveness is always, always, already there, at every turn.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An Autumn Morning

I woke up too early, after little sleep, to the smell of sea salt coming through my open window. I stirred, felt my skin against the sheet and a small stab of wonder in my belly. It surprised me to find some joy on this too early a morning, when life hasn’t been too kind and I really should still be fast asleep.
     Maybe it was something to do with the weather, or feeling the sea so close at hand. This relentless shitty weather doesn’t bother me much. In fact, it is a relief to see summer slip away without any final words to say to light up these September days.
     Summer is so obvious. It wears its plumes like a peacock. It is without subtlety, without irony. I end up feeling so much pressure to live in summer – to squeeze its juice out to the last drop, to run in its sunshine, to muck about under its blue skies. These last months have largely been such a washout, that’s rarely been possible. It’s been cloud and relentless wind, with the odd peep of sunshine in between. So I’ve been let off the hook, and I felt this morning, as I have on many mornings these last few months, happy that I no longer have to try and be happy.
     I’ve always loved the rain. I don’t like grey skies, or damp cold, or that wind off the sea that bites into my neck and makes my face scrunch up. But I often welcome the streaks of wet coming down the windows of my flat, the sound of car wheels rolling through puddles, and the calm dripping from the gutters after the rain has died down.
     One thing I do feel a little cheated of, however, is autumn. Summer being a washout is one thing, but autumn? Autumn is for shifting colour, for the last flood of warmth on skin, for picking berries and getting muddy trainers before curling up to watch the sky turn first amber, then red, then pink from my living-room window. It’s not meant to be just a continuation of drizzle - non-descript and apathetic, each day the same as the last, uniformly wading into winter. That’s simply underhand.
     I'm not looking forward to this winter. I really don't know how it'll be. Although there is at least one major new beginning for me, I feel people I love dissolving around me like water into mud. Consequently, I feel very alone, only myself to rely on. Someone told me recently that life is giving me a chance to dig out the weeds, the old dead stuff, so that new plants and flowers can bloom in the spring. To let go in order to bring in the new.
     But if I look out at my garden, it seems pretty empty and forlorn, and spring feels a long way away. Maybe that’s what all this rain is good for. To make it all grow again. I hope so. Bring it on. I don't want to make anymore mistakes.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

White Flowers

I went out and bought white flowers. Brought them back. Sat them on my table. I resolved: I no longer want to live in somewhere with an air of mild depression, where the carpet crinkles under my foot, constantly shedding anxiety. I said: I have built a pretty fortress, a sanctuary of steel and concrete, where I can rest away from harm, but where I am always alone.
     These flowers make me happy. They honour the whiteness lighting up parts of my mind. They cherish the rain pounding inside me, and open like my springtime would, if only I’d let it.
     I’ve been away from home a long time. This soup is thick and I am hungry. I'm craving sustenance, a liquid to keep me alive. My body is thinning, as my mother's thins, and will thin, one day, to nothing. That’s the day I give her back – my earth, my body, my shrine, my home. But I cannot wait until that time to start the letting go, for my own body to separate from hers, to find itself among the brambles, slightly cut, with the rain beating on it again.
     I came from her body, it is no surprise that hers became entangled in mine, or that it becomes me who is lying there in that nursing home bed, flaccid and paling into the vacuumed air. It is no surprise I don’t want to let her body go, or that I compare my own flesh to hers every day – see my arms fattening as hers do, lines appearing in my skin as hers wrinkle, my thighs plumper as hers slacken under sheets.
     When her body transformed the first time, from healthy and normal to deadened and useless, I loved it even more. As the metal of the hoist came nearer, we let out nervous laughter, held the bar steady, trying to make sure she didn’t fall any more times than she already had. We all did things that broke us and made us bigger by the breaking.
     But it isn’t me in a hospital bed, in a calm and shallow nursing home, waiting to die. I'm not yet 72 years old. I've not yet been a mother. I touched her body like it was a precious sculpture when I was little, when she was so beautiful. And I see no difference now - still beautiful, still wandering in her mind, inaccessible, all-giving. But the earth is taking her, and I won’t let it take me with it. My time isn’t done.
     My body is abundant with grief. It yelps up my spine and faces me in the morning. It's a beautiful and peaceful thing, my body, when I accept it. At night, I dream I’m covered in mud, and that starlight is eating me – creeping up my toes, into my creases, nestling through my hair like sand over moon-stained beaches. Backed onto a cliff edge, I throw back my arms and laugh. I give my mother back to all that made her. My own child will survive if I learn how to look after her.
     My friend said to me Go back to that place, back to where you felt safe. So I walked up the drive to the Poor Clare's Convent and knocked on the door. The windows streamed light through them, the benches were hard and I could hear the nuns singing for Jesus.
     This is the place where saints surround me and I can, for once, look my mother in the face and say It’s okay, Mum, and mean it. Cause I saw another face in hers. Taking my coat back out into the world, I am not the same person as when I entered.
     The white flowers live for all of us. They bloom, shrivel; they give off scent while they’re still living. We can make this life more beautiful. Let’s do that. Let’s make it better than it could be. Make it bloom.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hi, How are you?": Daniel Johnston



I'm good, if not somewhat vulnerable this morning. I was in London last night to see one of my biggest musical heroes of recent times, Daniel Johnston. It was a bit of a dream line-up, with support from Jad Fair, Mark Linkhous (of Sparklehorse), Scout Niblett and James Mcnew (of Yo La Tengo).
     After short sets of their own, and Daniel coming on briefly for two songs alone, they all all took to the stage together, like a bunch of escapees from the nearest psychiatric ward. Then we were blasted with pure fucked-up rock n roll bliss for the next hour.
     To see Daniel Johnston still alive and standing in itself is quite an experience after all he's been through with his health/mental health. But the force of his songs was punched through a hundred times over by his live performance.
     This man's beauty is palpable - it shook with his hands as they struggled to hold the microphone, rolling with his huge belly over his jogging bottoms. His set was sublime, twisted, anarchic, sensitive, tender and vitriolic, and his 'backing' band smiled at his lyrics as they played along.
     I hope there are many years ahead of Daniel Johnston in which to write and play. I'd post this directly on here, but it's not working for some reason, so instead, here's a link to one of my favourite D.J. songs.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Buddhafield Festival

It's been sweltering all day today. Now, the sun's finally gone down, but a heat remains, sinking into the walls of my building, blowing warm through my open windows, caressing my back.
     I'm home after almost a week away at Buddhafield Festival. I've returned to the computer several times today trying to begin to describe my time there, and each time I've gone away silent, empty-handed, a Zen stick pounding on my brain.
     Perhaps there's just too much to say, or maybe it won't let itself be verbalised, this shift in myself that's turned me inside out. All I know is that my soul, my heart, has returned, and I see quite clearly things that before stood submerged in damp fog.
     The heat from my body is rising like an aura. Outside, I hear male voices. There's a gentle breeze on my skin. I wonder where I'm heading with all this life inside me - rustling this way, snuffling that. I can only follow my nose.
     And right now, I find that I am glimmering with the waves, I'm out with the fishing-nets and seaweed. I'm lost, but this time, I don't mind. I welcome the tangles of my life that wrap like balls of wool inside Grandma's knitting bag. Summer finally has arrived.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Firday, I mean Friday

So I survived a somewhat crazy weekend in London. Loosely speaking, it involved London Pride, lots of dancing and sweating too much, Neil Young and a psychopath threatening to throw me out of a car. Nice. And I didn't even have a cup of tea all weekend to steady my nerves. Now I'm back in Brighton dossing about since work has hit a sudden drought.

can't really enjoy this time off as I'm panicking that I won't be able to save enough to pay for the MA in September. I'm also panicking that I have to move out of my flat in September. And that the elusive book I am meant to be writing will remain forever so. A nice trio of anxiety to keep me going on this warm summer's eve.

So, to take my mind off that, and to distract me from getting a real life, here's some of what's been interesting me this week.

If you haven't yet seen DiG! , the film by Ondi Timoner, do so. It's been out for quite a while now, and this is the second time I've seen it. The meteoric rise of impossibly cheek-boned Courtney Taylor and his Dandy Warhols, whilst the arguably more talented Anton Newcombe and The Brian Jonestown Massacre fuck it up over and over again is addictive and moving to watch.





I also watched the Studio Ghibli film, Nausicaa: Valley of The Wind, an epic and, at times, psychedelic tale of warfare between humans and insects, punctuated (somewhat distractingly) by the young heroine's tiny skirt blowing up about every 3 seconds. Is it wrong, I wonder, to ogle a cartoon character, especially one of dubious age?





Apparently it's a cult film now, and it's definitely worth a watch. The graphics are less slick than the later Ghibli films, which adds to the charm, and the story is just as far-out and eccentric as the best of them.

Music-wise, I've been back listening to The Seeds again. I used to be mad on them when I was about 14, but the obsession didn't endure the shift from vinyl to cd, and so they've been out of my life for some time now. They're pure magic.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday night

My street's ablaze with colour at the moment. The hydrangeas two doors up have sat, crisp and mottled for months, like old maids perched by the side of the road. Now, suddenly they've erupted into pink, purple and blue life, turning into something resembling a mild acid trip.

Seeing hydrangeas seems to short circuit something in my brain, sending me into a peculiar kind of rapture. They remind me of my Grandma more than any other flower. One glimpse of them takes me back to her garden again, and to her, brown skirt to her knees, hair firmly in place, picking a handful of peas or mint. There she appears, sturdy and loving, in her small, perfectly kept patch of green at Southview.

I'm not great at understanding the anatomy of things, at labels and the naming of parts, at decipherable wholes and the bits that make them up. I generally have a much more impressionistic experience of life. So it took me almost 34 years to learn that the flower I felt so ardently about was even called a hydrangea.

But I knew how those flowers made me feel; I knew the quality of the air in those summer days when I played on the wall. Every single day for the last two years I've touched the hydrangeas growing on my street, lightly, with my fingertips, as I've passed. And been immediately back there again.

Tonight, I walked home on the other side of the street, feeling like the wind was blowing me down towards the sea, pushing me out into a night where seagulls gather in a sky lit by boats and stars. And I wondered about all the flowers on my street; I wondered how come they are not made of blood, as we are, but of something different. Because our lives are not so dissimilar, and our beginning and our end all converge at the same place.

A rose feels the force of nature in its petals, trembles with the weight of the rain. It stretches its stalk away from the muddy earth, towards the sunlight. Tonight, I imagined every flower, every leaf trickling sap. I imagined salt water falling down from each one, red blood spotting the pavement, and a curious wet emerging from in between each petal. I imagined mucus-streaked stalks. The liquid of life washing across flowerbeds, over walls, out onto the empty grey pavement.

On a night like tonight, how I wished they would, how I wished the flowers would do their blood-letting and their weeping, their loving and mating, and I could walk through their rivers of their living and growth and disintegration.

Perhaps then I could finally see manifested the desire that's pumping through the veins of this world, through me, seeping out through my pores, winding through the channels of my mind, enveloping my tendons.

Otherwise, that which fuels everything that we do, the very axis on which this planet turns, remains as invisible as the air we suck on. We can almost pretend it doesn't exist, and that the world can be containable, reasonable somehow.

But I can feel it in the wind that's rattling my windows, in the heat of this evening, in the hum of night-time. It's everywhere I look. And it's in my heart, tinkling like that empty beer can rolling past my window. I am trembling with the force of what makes me, and will break me every time.

New petals generate, old ones die, and I proliferate. And if you think I'm being over the top, if you doubt it, look out of the corner of your eye and you'll spot it, always, sitting there in your living-room, drinking your coffee, planning your next move.

I don't know what to do with all this desire inside. It's as strong as that sea out there and as fragile as those petals. Me. Silly me. Messy, bloody, somehow growing. The world never did come to terms with itself, did it? And nor, yet, have I.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Homecoming

Monday is my new writing day, and naturally, I've spent the morning making pea soup, washing-up, re-vamping blogs, going to the doctors... anything but writing. Even writing here is a bit of a cheat, but I'm telling myself it's a way of easing myself into the avalanche of imagery that's waiting in the backseat of my mind, and that on some level, I do not want to face.
     Often I feel caught somewhere in between childhood and here. There are days when a rose's scent or the dark green of a climbing ivy is enough to make me ten years old again. When  sunlight on glass makes time spin. As I grow older this seems to happen more and more. As I reach an age where there's no doubt that I'm clear of the boundary of youth, I increasingly feel  as I did before I even knew what puberty was.
     I want to go home. Of course, I know that home doesn't exist any more - the home I remember is now occupied by strangers, a couple of kids, cars I don't recognise and pets I don't know about. It is re-vamped and re-constituted; lawns mown in straight lines, fences properly put up, the house walls now a yellowy white. Of course I hate it, this sanitisation of our rambling family home. The pruning of its madness. The killing of its dreams.
     But more than this, I realise that where I want to return to exists mainly in those same parts of my brain that it always did, not simply out there, with the grass and the beetles, but in the home of my imagination. When I remember childhood, it isn't the real conversations I did or didn't have with my mother. It isn't how I felt when my father walked in a room. It's in how I hid under the cherry tree to feel protected. It's how I ran in a frail white nightie, rain on my reddening cheeks - around clumps of lavender, over wilting delphiniums. It's the crumbling grey brick of the convent wall as I crept unseen against it, chalk on my t-shirt, shielded by dark hedges. It's sunshine through poplar branches. The rooks lining up on a cold winter's evening. It's the crackle of crusty leaves around my ankles as I ran up our drive from school. It's the call of the wood pigeon, ever-etched in my synapses. When I awake to the memory of back then, it's a garden I always go back to.
     And this garden is as alive for me today as it was back then. It's an Eden in my eyes. I feel its leaves against my skin, the grass between my fingers, the chill of evening air drawing in. Growing up took me out of the garden and into the world, it eroded the pathways leading back to the home of being. As an adult, I know I can't quite see what I saw in the veins of a dying leaf when I was nine years old. How that leaf glowed with it's own essence before me as I turned it over in my palm.
     But writing takes me home. Perhaps that's why I do it. It takes me by the hand and leads me back through the shrubbery, up the winding tracks, over the wall to a vegetable patch and to toes peeping from under rough brown cloth; to next door at the Convent, where the nuns are singing, blue eyes to heaven. My hand is small, my fingers long; my shoes are wet and muddy. I rub my eyes and I can see again.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The U-Turn

I'm a little hyper tonight. It's taken two episodes of The L-Word to calm me down. Given things at the moment, that isn't perhaps the most obvious TV choice for calming down to. However, last night I watched Kes in an attempt to cheer myself up. Who watches Ken Loach films to cheer themselves up? Weirdly though, despite the squashed hawk and the coal-mines (or in fact, because of them), it worked.
     I'm blabbering. I think it's because over these last few weeks, and particularly over these last days, my life seems to have done an unusual u-turn. Subsequently, the whole shape looks different.
     The most recent of these is the unconditional offer I received from Kingston University to do an MA in writing. Suddenly, I have a direction and something to work for, as I hoped - and a structure to hold it all together.
     In addition to that is the decision I've made to write a book, and finally, absolute clarity over what that book must be about. These two things alone have turned life a very different colour the last couple of days, and the wheel of myself is, yet again, turning.
     These last weeks have been as hard as a fist to the stomach; I've lost half a stone in tears alone. I've been as confused as a dancing bear under bright lights. I'm sad and I'm lonely, the empty spaces stretching out where once someone filled them with love and with tenderness.
     But, as is often the way in life, little chinks of light appear, unwittingly from the corners of the room. A spray of lilies breaks out into bloom without me noticing. Somewhere, a blackbird is always singing. What I mean to say is: the unexpectedly brilliant has occurred.
     And so I catch small smiles turning up my mouth, and a new feeling in my chest, very different from the one that's been nestling there for a while.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

God Seizures

I'm back from the doctors. I think I can trust him. He's taking my 'funny turns' seriously, which is more than the neurologist did, refusing to dismiss them as panic attacks. He is referring me back to both cardiologist and neurologist. He's not convinced it's heart related though, but that it's neurological-based, which is what I've always felt.

He tentatively said he thought it might be migraine. I'm not that convinced, but after having ten 'turns' in one day yesterday, I'm willing to consider anything. When I read up on various diagnoses, however, it is still simple partial epilepsy that fits my own symptoms most exactly.

Whilst I was looking into it on the Web, I came across this, The God Helmet.

This is so far out, and the implications so unsettling. As someone with a history of both strange or 'religious' experiences and also fit-type experiences (I think I came virtually convulsing out of the womb), there's something in it that doesn't entirely shock me. There's something very 1950's Sci-Fi about it, but the prospect of 'mystical' experiences (and hence a lot of the basis of religion) being neurologically locatable, is intriguing.

It's no surprise that when Richard Dawkins underwent one of these experiences, he felt nothing (I wonder what would make him feel something). As someone who describes spirituality as a 'virus of the mind' and faith as a maligning disease, I mistrust the obvious blind-spots of his scientific materialism.

One thing I do begrudgingly agree with Dawkins on, however, is how faith and 'spirit' can make religion impervious to criticism or rigorous analysis from either outside or within. Religion has such a massive vested interest.

When I think about Roman Catholicism (which contains much beauty in some of its ideals), it has such a huge investment in ideas of humanity, womanhood, manhood, family, birth and death and ultimately 'the soul', that anything challenging this investment is quickly pulled apart and conceived as heretic, aberrant, or 'other'. Or else it turns a blind-eye.

For as long as Catholicism has existed, homosexuality has been on its black-list. To validate it would be to throw all that the Church believes in as 'God's will' up in smoke (or so Church authority would have us believe). It demolishes the Church's position on marriage, conception and the family. Sexual union is meant to be between a man and a woman, married and in a state of grace and love, and for the purposes of conceiving a child. How can that underlying premise of Catholicism stand true if it in any way validates homosexuality?

So Catholicism makes its bitter choices, time and again. I often wonder what happens when someone is actually intersex, having both sets of female/male physical attributes/genitals?


There are two choices - preserve the authority of that religion and cast out those who don't fit in or embrace the differences and feel religious edict unravel.

I don't like the alternative - science-based, materialism-based, consumer-based, psychological-based hard conviction. It's not that different from a religious one.

I've been looking for a God for a very long time. One that's free from its own ideology, that is unmediated 'spirit' or reality, that doesn't need 'belief' in a whole set of proscribed values or rules. I either haven't found it yet, or if I have, I don't know it yet.

It's ridiculous to denounce God. We all have religion, even old Dawkins, whether its science, consumerism, politics, self-help, romance, drug-taking, music, poetry, activism, money, drink, solitude, chaos, death, family, work, self-harm... It's impossible to live in a God-less society.

But that is a God of surety, of belief. What about the more mysterious one, the one the saints talk of, and people like Dawkins despise? The one we can't capture? That defies description, is beyond conception? The one I'm always looking for, that always escapes, or isn't really 'there' to seek in the first place.

I touched it as a 'Buddhist'. I touch it reading both Derrida and St Francis.I touch it with poetry, music, and also sometimes when I look in my Mum's eyes. That's the only faith I know. And it's intermittent, inconclusive, and very scary.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Dinghy


One of these mornings, you're going to rise up singing.
You'll spread your wings and take to the sky.Until that morning, nothing's going to harm youwith your daddy and mommy standing by...

It's eleven o'clock and my chest's tight with a series of toxins. My body is trying to rid itself of a virus that's creeping unseen through my lungs, throat, lower belly and back. I am fighting off invasion from armies that are marching up my bones.
     It is half-way through the weekend and I'm less mournful than I could be. I'm more a balloon, floating far South on the breeze, catching sight of the needle as it pushes through my rubber. I'm sinking slowly with the sun.
      And summer is a ghost doing its rounds. I pride myself on my skin's paleness and wear eyeliner to enhance my tiredness. Vampiric, I cower behind car fenders whenever clouds threaten to leave the sun uncovered. I pray for rainy days. I watch myself and others tripping over, time and again, wearing clown's shoes - floppy and ludicrous. And I remember the dull ache of when I got it somehow right, and began to walk properly. When ecstasy left.
     Where're the dinghy days, I wonder? Days when I was salty with sun and sadness and I pulled my flaccid boat to the beach, just to keep myself from sinking. When the sea was a home, a bed to lie in, a friend, a screaming companion in blue and green; a rage of sunlight, seaweed tangling my toes. It made the memories of Mum swim somewhere further out, somewhere deeper I didn't have to go. Out in the waves, alone, flapping my arms like a seagull, I gave into the sky and floated.       
     That was the year when I couldn't take in what was happening to her. The year that the sea-front kept me alive. How strange then, that this year I say: keep me out of the light, keep me in a mossy cavern where I can hear the trickling water. Where I can just lie, and listen.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bank Holiday

Twenty to midnight. This is the last thing I should be doing. But I'm here, at this screen, fingers fumbling over buttons.

So this is the crux - I find myself at that place, the place of no return, where I am scattered to the wind a thousand times over, waiting for the pieces to blow back into a self again. I tried to hold it, and I couldn't. I tried to keep it in a shape that still looked pleasing to the eye, that could bathe my ears in a comforting sound. But it broke out, and now we're all running.

Looking at it another way - it's a late night, after a hard weekend, following a tough break-up and too much alcohol. Hardly surprising if my heart's on the floor (better sweep it up with tomorrow's litter). Another day blinks at me, and we all find a way through.

In a week it'll be two years since Mum's final stroke, two years that she's been lying staring out of that goddamn window, without a thing we can do about it. Two years since I last heard her utter a word, or since she looked at me and I could say "Mum, I love you" and know that she hears me. Two fucking years. So I'm parentless, childless, a plastic duck bobbing on top of the bathwater.

It's also, unbelievably, almost six months since David died. I can't really think about him, but the loss works on me in inexplicable ways, twisting my life in its hands.

Today I walked with friends through caverns of green, emerging into sunlight, down lanes, unwinding, winding. A sip of pale ale, a search for cream tea, heat and damp, rain and warm. England at its most omniscient, its most lordly; giving of itself; springing into skylarks, whooping over hedgerows. Breaking out the wheat fields into dappled joy.

I know the grace that surrounds me, the friends who love me, friends I could not do without. So I sit and I listen, watch summer run its course, feel it lean in and whisper. And everywhere buttercups offer themselves up to us, as they tear across Sussex meadows.

And I remember, how two years ago, I stood on the bank of a Hawarden stream, gathering posies under the hazy blue sky. I made buttercups into a shiny yellow fist, took them to the hospital. Behind white curtains, under the rhythmic pulse of the ventilator tube, I placed them in a vase for my mother. They were the yellowest things I had ever seen.

My sisters and I gathered around, clucking and fussing. And if she ever opened her eyes and looked our way, we smiled. I might have shown the buttercups to her, placed them under her chin till they glowed. But she was a closed, quiet flower, petals sleeping - a perfect stalk, returning underground.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Small Mercies

Get up, walk about, sit back down, sit back down. Get up. Sit back down. Sip rum. Rub the soreness in my temple. Get up. Walk over to the window. Watch the street running like treacle below. Don't feel regret. Don't feel anything. Not yet.

I dreamt of chasing Noel Fielding up dead-ends and through back-streets because he said he'd sell me a T-shirt. Ended up in a cellar with a fat man. I watch videos, and more videos. Re-fire ambition. Remember the dream. The one that always returns. Sit down, make myself remember. Think. That dream was always what got me worst. On a bleak winter's day, coming round the corner, in a grey duffel coat and a scarf. He didn't look at me. Always was me. I edge the mirror out of the window. Smash. Hear it splinter.

Put on I-Tunes. I only want to hear sad tunes. Listen to the Specials, remember the Eighties, how I grew up too fast. Thank god for small mercies. Where'd I have been if I'd actually got what I wanted.

I'm as good for it now as I was then. Clueless, torn, gluing words onto an A4 ring binder, hoping for it to make some sense. Pretending I know what I'm meant to know by now.

Outside someone is shouting. Fuck off, you cunt. Fuck off. YOU CUNT.

Thank god for small mercies.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Break-Up

I am calmer today, but not much. The sun is behind me, trickling through the back of my skull, past my retina, into what I see. And I see a shiny screen pretending it is my life, a mass of letters and symbols making out they are me.
      It's so soft, this sunlight. It's casting gold onto the wall, nudging against a shadow of purple flowers and green stalks, against my pink curtains. Curtains plump and pinched in the middle like two old ladies. But their colour's gone sepia, it's just a fading simulacrum.
     It might sound stupid, but I can feel how blue the sky is behind me; I can feel it bathed in its 8 o'clock glow. Children are shouting. Traffic is coming, going... then suddenly a motorcycle. My stomach is growling.
     I could almost believe that the world is still, moving only silently, a little way this way, a little that. A smooth stalk growing steadily towards its sun. That we all will sleep soundly in our beds tonight, and wake tomorrow to a fresh, dewy morning.
     How dull, these things I fantasise. How dull, the mechanism of peace.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bank Holiday





It was back to work yesterday after a gorgeous Bank Holiday break. Happily, however, I'm taking a couple of days 'off' again to finish these dreaded MA application forms.



I turned 35 on Sunday, and my birthday was one of the happiest I've known in years, stretching over three days. Saturday night turned into a joyful return to the Spiegeltent for the end of Guilty Pleasures, where we danced drunkenly with dressed up gangsters and their molls to Islands In The Stream and Guns N'Roses. I'd considered staying in and being maudlin over my approaching birthday, with only BBC Iplayer for company, so I'm glad I didn't give into such drabness.



Sunday, we drove to Steyning for cream tea and a walk up the hill, then to The Windmill for drinks later in the evening. The weather was balmy and lush, the first swathe of warmth we've known this year. There was a flutter of rain in the evening, but even that felt enticingly warm.



Monday was even hotter, with bright sunshine, and I pootled off with George and Bob to find the end of a local hippy festival. When we arrived, we quickly bumped into familiar faces, all high from their weekend. Some of the more eccentric Buddhafield Order members were even there, blissed out, no doubt, by all the donging of bells and raising of empty skulls to Padmasambhava himself they'd been doing in their late-night Pujas. We then lay by the glistening lake at the bottom of the hill and drank tea till it was time to leave.



From there we ventured out to the Bluebell Railway, something I've wanted to go on ever since I arrived in Brighton almost ten years ago. Winding our way through the patches of bluebells, and past the lush green fields, we returned to the tiny station, replete with Station Master and some interesting luggage.







So today I'm home, distracting myself from my application forms by blogging and watching too many spectacled bears. I've noticed my Paddington Bear crush has not abated over the years, refreshed recently after Bob and I came across a picture of him in Oxford. He's such a cool and chaotic bear, it's no wonder he used to make my heart flutter.



Monday, April 28, 2008

Oxford



I went to Oxford this weekend. That means spires, cobbled lanes, book shops and lots of clever sods cycling about in loafers and mismatched shirts. It's elegant, rich with history and tradition. And packed with posh people.

I felt clever just meandering through its streets, as though the brilliance of the sunlight bouncing off church windows was enough for my IQ to soar by at least 20 percent. It's a timeless place, which might explain why some of its students haven't arrived into the 21st century yet, seemingly lodged in a moment somewhere between 1985 and 1998. Voluptuous 18-year-old girls toss their long locks and strut, minx-like, in ruffled skirts and white heels. Every one of them is pretty, with the kind of glowing skin one only gets when one's daddy earns over 300k a year. Perfect and shiny, they pout with red-lipped confidence.

These are the kind of girls I loathed at school. They had horses and upturned collars and got into The Smiths in 6th Form because they'd finally clicked on, five years too late, that Morrissey was actually cool. In turn, I got ousted from the Duke of Edinborough Award project (selling hairbands) for having a 'bad' attitude, and never got to read my favorite Carol Ann Duffy poem in the poetry show because it was about the Holocaust and had the word 'piss' in it. Ah, poor me. I championed the cause of the fully-fledged, chip-on-shouldered outsider and never went to the balls or rowing or indeed any of the things on offer at my rather posh school. I took Ecstasy instead.

It's funny how old memories re-surface. Oxford resembles a much larger version of my school. But what I find walking thorough its streets is not what I found at school. The tradition, the rules, the ethos suffocated me, left me feeling a fraud.

We stayed in a suitably unglamorous B&B, to contrast with the elegance of the city. Three facts about Bronte Guesthouse - it won the National Hanging Basket Of The Year Award in 1995, it had a sock (yes, a fucking sock) hanging from the bedroom ceiling, and there was a particularly disagreeable something or other lurking under the bed.

I didn't want to leave. I wanted to move to Oxford and do an MA in Creative Writing and grow my hair again and start wearing flouncy skirts and saying 'Yah' a lot. Actually, that last bit isn't true. However, for all my reactions to the upper-class privilege that's so present in a place like Oxford, making it cloistered, perhaps, from reality, there's a part of me that adores it. It's more than just because it's pretty. It has serious, weighty myth.

I got back and found on the internet that the deadline for applying to the Oxford MA had gone. Damn. I could just see me in that black cape.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back into the world

I've just cycled home from town. It's the first time in a long time that I've cycled home at night along the seafront. Being there felt like I'd left the television on low-volume for weeks, and finally just realised and switched it off. The fuzzy static in my head stopped - it was just my humming wheels, the breaking waves and the night all around me.

I put Kurt Wagner on my headphones. His voice felt like warm fingers stroking my tired brain. That particular Lambchop song reminds me of driving around in circles in Boston at three in the morning, my eyes dry and wide, high on sleeplessness and adventure. A white house appeared through the trees - unknown, hallucinatory. Life was very much like that drive to Boston back then - exciting and painful, turning corners that were never quite the right one.

I've missed cycling like this. The seafront used to be my constant companion, back in the days when I had things like free time. Passing one of the shelters looking onto the beach I spotted a life-size, stuffed penguin, just sitting there - part-comforting, part-menacing. As I stopped to take its photo, it sat there sizing me up, its beak high, fake furriness protruding from every seam.

I'm on a mission to not lose the sparkle that Andalucia gave me - the shine I felt on the inside, just walking through its streets and sleeping in its beds. So I'm currently putting certain things 'into motion' with my life, trying to keep the aliveness alive. It's no surprise to find myself back on my bike, then, and back in the silence that's Hove seafront at night.

I had numerous great ideas and snippets of posts to write about my holiday, but they all passed through and away before my fingers had even hit the keyboard. Maybe they'll come back and I can write them. It was such a good time, and the memories would clutch at me if I let them.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thursday 3rd April - Granada



I watch a film without sound through a sheer net curtain in a dimly lit restaurant. The Moroccan boy's face on the screen is a mixture of pain, ecstasy and conviction, as the film veers from colour to black & white then back again. There is violence, dancing.

I’m thinking about Jacques Derrida - Algerian, teaching in Paris, deconstructing his own identity and life. I look at the painting on the rough brown wall - a group of Arabic women, clustering together. One of them is staring right at me.

I can't escape the fact that England has lost itself.

We drink fresh lemon and mint and we eat prawns, avocado, peppers, hake. I slurp orange blossom water and nibble at strands of carrot. The man running the restaurant looks like he should be mates with Leonard Cohen. They should be perched on plastic chairs outside, gurgling on a pipe, discussing Islam and tobacco.

I'm in a good place.

I woke up this morning from dreams that felt serrated, that cut me as I stirred. In them I’d witnessed all manners of catastrophe and ruin. The Whitehouse had been bombed – rock-stars and Hollywood actresses were stumbling to save their lives; grenades were thrown in.

Bodies flew from a glass building, people stumbled about, limbs hanging off. Those running away were shot, and a lone man walked away from the scene holding a gun. Moving onto another group on some steps, he sprayed them with bullets, then did it again, to make sure no one was left alive.

I woke up knowing dark things exist that are too big for my mind to let in, and that evil has a tangible feel to it - a smell, even. Then I walked off for breakfast at Plaza Nueva. Taking one sip of lemonade, things began to swim... I was fainting, sweating, nauseous.

Granada has got into me like sun rays through skin.

And so... in order to quell the intensity today ... I must avoid coffee and bullfights... dark women with intense eyes... golden, crucified Christs... churros con chocolate and dark men with intense eyes. I must not give too much thought to babies, sexism, gender, marriage, duende, sexuality, Rimbaud, my mother, David, my age, my thighs, my father or any of my exes.

Or the fact that I'm never sure what the right thing is anymore, or how much that even matters...

I shall do this at least for today. I see there's too much of me here, in Granada. It’s too much like something inside me - I see my face in every wall, down each street. I see ghosts in corners, sipping ron miel in ornate bars. I wonder who I've become and why I'm here.

And what to do with all this useless beauty.

In a dream the other night, C turned to me, angry, and said "People who live through archetypes, who treat myth and story as if it were more real than anything else, who can't live without a Muse, who get their meaning from magic - they're just victims of underlying psychological neurosis. It's all just narcissism."

Remember that ultimate moment of completion that you waited for? That longing to return - that untold promise of salvation, of umbilical love or grace? To recapture a lost heaven you knew was somewhere in your bones (god knows you longed for it until you could almost taste it, till you could almost feel it wriggling between your fingers and thumb... in the shrine room... in that bed... in that aeroplane...)

It came and went, every time. Through the fog of all those loves, the friendships, the drugs, the religion, books, laughter, sex, the incredible landscapes of existence... life rolled on regardless, blessing them all, taking them all away, each bearing the sign of their own dissolution, each imprinted forever in the sky.

This great, sad, immaculate machine, gathering no dust.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pampeneira

The sun is quietly setting behind the hill. We arrived in Pampeneira this afternoon, my soul feeling like it was plunging into dead seas. Still, the music on my headphones was enough to make anyone laugh (I would dance on NBC and say 'George Bush shook hands with me', then I'd go and choke on a cock). Such a perverse contrast to one of the most exquisite landscapes in Europe.

Climbing steadily up into the safe palm of the Alpujarra mountains, I wondered if rest and peace might be possible here, now we were away from the intensity of Granada, with it's eyes, it's glinting moon, it's endless doorways.

Of course, I suspect that the spectre is still looming up at me over and across these mountains, with its too many sides to me desiring to live.

At six we drank coffee and walked down to the river.

All This Useless Beauty



It's at times such as this she'd be tempted to spit
If she wasnt so ladylike
She imagines how she might have lived
Back when legends and history collide

So she looks to her prince finding he's so charmingly
Slumped at her side
Those days are recalled on the gallery wall
And shes waiting for passion or humour to strike

What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?
All this useless beauty

Good friday arrived, the sky darkened on time
til he almost began to negotiate
She held his head like a baby and said
it's okay if you cry

She wont practice the looks from the great tragic books
That were later disgraced to face celluloid
It wont even make sense but you can bet - if she isnt a sweetheart
or plaything or pet - the film turns her into an unveiled threat

Nonsense prevails, modesty fails
Grace and virtue turn into stupidity
While the calendar fades almost all barricades
to a pale compromise

And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts
They still think theyre the gods of antiquity
If something you missed didnt even exist
It was just an ideal -- is it such a surprise?

What shall we do, what shall we do with all this this useless beauty?

What shall we do, what shall we do with all this this useless beauty?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Almeria

I'm off to Andalucia tonight. Thanks to the clocks going forward, looks like I'm not going to sleep at all tonight as the bus to the airport effectively leaves at 2.15am. Packing a bag and taking off always leaves me in a queer state of excitement, nerves and restlessness, liberated at leaving everything behind. It feels bit like breaking up with someone - in between all the grimness, I see this chink of light opening where the world is again - big and exhilarating.

Andalucia is the place of lovers and break-ups, leavings and beginnings, loss. I first went to Andalucia five years ago with my then long-term lover; on the following trip I walked its streets alone, trying to get over him. On the next trip I broke up with someone just hours before I left for a plane to Almeria, and then fell in love inside a bullring in that same city.

I've rattled precariously up mountains in a bus, someone else's head on my shoulder, fallen cars strewn below me on the way. I've felt the sun on my skin for the first time after a long winter and got drunk on honeyrum in Granada. I've smoked way too much wacky-baccy in a yurt in the middle of the desert. I've let myself be driven home by a pissed madman blaring out Smoke On The Water at ear-piercing volume on the stereo. I've watched mock cowboy shoot-outs on dodgy film sets. And I've been inspired to write, following Lorca's footsteps like a besotted idiot in and out of Granada. I've made it my myth, kept it close, tried to chuck it out, but it’s always crept back inside.

Now, I'm going back, and sharing it with someone else.

I've been thinking about my friend David today. I try not to think about him most of the time. I usually only do so when I see someone pass me on the street that looks like him, and I freeze, feeling a little bit of him back alive again. Then I realise it isn't.

I got flashbacks today to the funeral - images in quick succession - flowers being tied into the wicker coffin, his wobbling father, too many brave words and something crushed in every person in that room who knew him. There were pictures on the Buddhist Centre wall - pictures of a life I never knew - him with his girlfriend, with his baby, dressed up in make-up and a bandana (he was never that frivolous when we were friends), the intimacy of his new world and all the new relatives who loved him, who never knew him as I knew him. And I never knew him as they did. I'm crushed, whenever I think of him.

It's wonderful to be leaving things behind, if only for a couple of weeks. I want to be able to look at my life from over the other side of the water. Get some perspective, get my head straight. I’ll write in my notebook, and maybe even post. We’ll see.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter

I got soaked coming home on my bike today. I was tired, grumpy and cold, and I didn't want freezing rain seeping into my clothes and brain. But when I finally stopped fighting it and pulled onto the final stretch of pathway by my road, it was bliss.

It can have a humbling effect, rain, washing away all the rotten muck, inside and out. It leaves you soggy and humbled, wide-eyed, eyelashes dripping on the ground. I feel like I lose about twenty-five years from my face when the rain’s coming down on me, and I’m left squishing in my shoes, smiling to myself.

It feels appropriate that tonight the rain is pouring down, covering the streets, clogging up the pavements. It’s sliding off the sides of houses, tapping on windowpanes. But even rainwater isn’t pure anymore.

Where is purity to be found these days, in myself, in this world? When life and the world gets so complicated, when there’s so much inside everyone struggling to live and be heard and assert itself; hating and loving, trying and failing, willing itself into existence and back out again, giving and taking. Where is the fresh clean water, the air flowing through?

What is purity anyway? Is it even a thing in itself? Pure good, pure evil, pure anger, pure as the driven snow, as the best cocaine. Something without blemish or taint, uncracked, incorruptible.

I guess I think purity’s wherever there's love and kindness. Love and kindness are beautiful, humbling. Every time I come across them, I'm stopped in my tracks.

It’s no coincidence I’m wondering about these things on Good Friday. I’ve heard the story of Jesus’ crucifixion many times during my life (mainly as a child), but I can’t picture the weather at the time. It probably was stormy and the sky went black when he died. But I can’t believe that at some point it didn’t rain. It must have rained after he died. To wash all that pain away, to purify such terribleness.

It is finished. That’s what he said just before he died. It is finished. It never was.

I’ve been listening to this old Timmy Thomas song a lot in the last couple of days. Back in the Acid House days of the late 1980s, it was one of those ‘end of the night’ songs that truly reminded me of that pure urge that was there inside me in the first place, that made me want the drugs, the dancing, the ecstasy... the skewed religion of it all. It feels appropriate somehow to share it tonight. Happy Easter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Evening All




I'm just back from work, The Libertines full blast on the stereo. Sometimes ear-bleedingly loud music is the only antidote to being nice and accommodating to annoying customers all day. It's either that or go and brick a few windows. Now that's a pleasing thought - Charlie and I in full Clockwork Orange mode, bouncing bricks out of his car window at unsuspecting people in their living rooms, eating their tea. One can but dream.

To be honest, today at work hasn't been all that bad. It's just that the necessity of replacing my real personality with some kind of Smooth FM version of myself has kind of got to me. Today, I just didn't want to have to give a shit. I didn't want to have to pretend to give a shit either.

For a while now, I've come to take note whenever The Libertines lurch back into my life. Their return usually indicates a chaotic and unhinged part of myself screaming for attention. Perhaps it's partly my way of dealing with a relatively clean and healthy lifestyle, free from drugs, excessive drinking and promiscuous sex. And the flatness that sometimes brings.

Sometimes it feels like a 'healthy' lifestyle isn't always that healthy for me. It can chop off the top and the bottom ends of my experience, leaving me with only the middle. That middle bit is a great place for getting things done in, for living a productive, grounded, conscious life etc. But without those top and bottom edges getting a look in, I know I'm fucked. I become just a chunk of myself, and everything goes a bit middle of the road. Life starts sounding a bit like a Razorlight song. And that's bad.

I've done all the meditation and the counselling; I've danced it out and I've talked it through, I've drawn pictures and befriended my animus. And it's never changed a thing. I still feel the same way I always did. Because certain forces won't be made rational, they don't ever let themselves be understood.

So here's what I know tonight, for what it's worth. You must obey the Gods. If you don't, they get angry. Then your life caves in. Also, if you can't always live your life close to the flame, or even in it - at least don't let it go out. Because once that's fizzled, whoever you are, you're fucked.

I’ve nothing else to write tonight, really. I'm just going to go think about what I just said, listen to music; maybe sleep.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Untimely Return of Mrs Fillyjonk





In my last post I misjudged the power of Mrs Fillyjonk's prophecy.

We got a phonecall yesterday to inform us that, despite telling us that the flat in Bevendean was ours to rent, giving us the forms, and most importantly, making us put £300 deposit down on it, the agents had given it to someone else. Fuckers. So our little dream place has vanished as quickly as it came.

Oh Mrs Fillyjonk. I bow down to your wisdom, and worship at the altar of disaster!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters




It was a mild and motionless summer day, exactly right for washing carpets. Slow and sleepy swells came rolling in to help her with the rinsing, and around her red cap a few bumblebees were humming: they took her for a flower.

Don't you pretend, the Fillyjonk thought grimly. I know how things are. Everything's always peaceful like this just before a disaster...



Bob and I have been taking it in turns to read to each other. He's been reading me Tales From Moomin Valley; I've been reading him Enemy of God. His book is about strange creatures that live on the outskirts of the imagination; mine is full of bloodthirsty Christian saints and people getting bits of them chopped off in horrific ways. It seems fitting somehow, a mutual exchange of what we each crave a bit of.

Last night he read me The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters. I cried at the end (quietly, into his jumper), partly because it's brilliant, and partly because it reminded me of, well, me. It's good when that happens - you can spend hours, weeks, years, driving yourself crazy trying to find the key to understanding something about yourself and your life. Then a little story comes along and you go That's it. There I am.

If you can, I think you should read this story by Tove Janssen; it's terribly clever and very beautiful. To crudely summarise: a fillyjonk (Mrs Fillyjonk) is seized with a nameless fear, a sense of approaching disaster she can do nothing about. Then, when a real calamity strikes, it has unexpected consequences...

Bob and I are moving in together. We are moving to a weird house in a weird place. It's called Bevendean. It sits on the side of a hill and is surrounded by badgers, foxes and men shouting at their dogs. Though I am nervous about such a move, I am not half as nervous as I've been for the last year, knowing that the move has to be made, but not knowing how or where or if. So I've clung to my flat like a lifeboat on a very windy sea, and weathered all its quirks (windows being blown out), eccentricities (rainwater cascading through roof) and overall quaintness (nutter in basement who nicked my Daniel Johnston cd). But now it's time to let go.



I can take my teacups with me. And my birdcages and spotty dresses too. Unlike the fillyjonk (fingers crossed), all my belongings do not have to go swirling up to heaven, carried up in a tornado. But you never know.

I'm not sure about the rubbish piled up in the backyard at this new place. I'm not sure about the 'funky' decor. I'm certainly not sure about Bob's new running joke ("You're Bev, I'm Dean!"). But I am sure I've absolutely made the right decision, and that we will be happy there. And that once a 'disaster' has finally arrived, sometimes it's a lot easier to deal with.

I'm tired of waiting for the next tornado to rip through my world, and of the beating in my chest that comes with it. Of never feeling like I can be happy because, if I let myself, something awful is sure to happen. I can clatter my teacups and buy a new teapot, but I know the storms outside that are pounding to get in. They're big, and, like you, I am very, very small.

But, fuck it, I'm not going to wait any longer for the winds to carry me off. I'm upping sticks and moving out, to a magnificent and weird place, to somewhere new. I am certain Mrs Fillyjonk will approve.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

...




Yes, I thought I could lure you in with my karate-chopping nun picture; it never fails. Of course, this was a deliberate ploy - my thinking is that by showing you a picture from my new Nuns Having Fun calendar, somehow it'll make up to my more avid readers for the fact that I haven't written in over two weeks.

Secondly, I'm doing what I do every few months - and trying to convince readers that I'm not just some morbidly obsessed, writer-y-type, always banging on about her mother dying and how life is full of loss and disappointment and mediocre television game shows such as Deal-Or-No-Deal (though one day I'll share with you the esoteric side of D-O-N-D).

No. I'm also a fun-loving, light-hearted kind of gal, who can take pictures of quirky things around her flat and share them with you, dear reader, and therefore is always capable of more than just long blog posts full of beauty and woe. So here's a picture of some sweets. Aren't they lovely? Straight from the mouth of God. Well, Elephant and Castle, to be precise.



Jesus Sweets. Mmm, Strawberries and Cream. Oh, ok, I've just spotted the words 'mourn' and 'burden' in there, so... ok, here's a picture of a Basset hound instead. This is a dog I hope to one day own (after I have all my other dogs), and whom I aspire even more, in old age, to becoming like. Yes, it sounds fucking weird, I know, but I want nothing more than to become like a Bassett hound. Ohh, the saggy nobility of it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Thursday evening

I've been grateful, of late, to notice small slivers of daylight still hanging in the air as I walk up Church Road, even though the clock has already struck five thirty. These tiny shards of optimism, breaking through the winter chill, warm me, and offset the heavy feeling I've had of late, the feeling of dark birds clustering at every street corner, following me home.

I can't quite separate out these last months into any tangible order; they've been a peculiar mixture of sadness, hope and bewilderment. These last few weeks have been no different, and I'm driven by the feeling that some things in my life are finally coming together, whilst the rest of it unravels.

After a drought of money and work for the last year or so, a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly found myself standing in an avalanche of decorating work and some writing work too. I could finally allow my dreams of a trip to Andalucia to surface again, as well as my vision of spending money on a new pair of jeans, a pair that I actually like (and isn't from some knock-down store or passed onto me by a charitable sister: wrong size, full of holes).

But I've not quite been right since that last trip home to Wales in January. The strain and enormity of my experience there cast a strange shadow over everything when I returned to Brighton, leaving me disorientated on buses, forgetting where I was headed to, my head spinning in all directions as I walked past cafes or spoke on the phone. A flooding in my heart, a weirdness afterwards, a feeling that my consciousness was leaving me in some way.

I realised the other day that this wasn't simply a case of me being a bit overwhelmed, but actually something very physical was up. For the last four months this strange feeling in my chest and my mind, a swamping of my senses and a disturbing feeling in my body has been coming and going, depending on the time of the month and how tired I am. Due to everything else that's been going on, I'd just seen it as another wave in the sea of unsettling experience, and got on with it. But over the last few days it's worsened, and I've had to face some facts.

So, following a conversation with my sister, who is utterly convinced that I'm epileptic, since my symptoms match hers exactly (she is epileptic) I've been back to the doctor for referrals to a neurologist and cardiologist. I wouldn't surprise me if it was epilepsy either, but it also wouldn't be a shock if it was just another form of panic attacks, frequent and savage.

The bottom line is, I have to take it easy, easy within a sudden life change of being incredibly busy. How ironic. At a time when I need to avoid computer screens and caffeine, I find myself having to spend days writing book reviews. When I need to rest and avoid stress, I'm wobbling up a ladder working to deadline, with strong paint fumes swilling in my brain. But I'm determined to go softly. Whatever it is that's going on with me, that much I know.

So I'm off to curl up in bed with a book, feel the night dragging in the sky outside my bedroom window. I'm not bothered if there aren't any stars out tonight. I just want a clear, fresh morning tomorrow, light and breezy, filling up my step and my lungs with graceful ease.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monday

There are days that begin with a strange hue, that open their curtains to a light never seen before. Today began in smoky greys that crept under my eyelids like ghosts from the sea. I'd been dreaming about a ship off the coast of Morocco. I was staying on it, taking breaks from it to visit this little village on the Moroccan coast. It was always tricky getting back out to the ship, so sometimes I would stay overnight in the village.

However, one time I had to get back to the ship. The only way to do so was to sail out to it by dinghy. This was a risky thing to do. Lots of people did it, but many got lost on the way. I had a friend who had been blown all the way to Nigeria by harsh wind currents. The golden rule was this – no matter what, you had to reach the ship before nightfall, else you would be adrift without any sense of direction, heading out into the empty ocean.

It was a strange dream, full of unhelpful people and cool characters. I undertook the journey back to the ship with a friend of mine. She turned out to be rather immature and annoying, and insisted in stopping off for food in this town we had come across, even though time was precious and night wasn’t far away. I began panicking. As we left the cafĂ©, I saw that our dinghy had been stolen. My friend and I walked up this road in search of a boat to borrow. As we did so, a Christian woman preaching the word of God came up to me. I waved her away, pre-occupied as I was by my dilemma. I didn't need her preaching; I didn’t need her agenda. My friend however, stopped and gave her a broken string of beads. She smiled.

Halfway up the road, I collapsed in despair, knowing we'd never get to the ship before nightfall. As I slumped against a wall, the woman caught up with us, a man joining her. They were talking about God. His legs were crippled. He said, to no one in particular "People ask how God could do such a thing as to make me lame. But look at these legs of mine - they are simply just different from yours. They have their own shape. They have their own beauty. I am grateful for legs like these."

As I felt myself waking up, I decided to stay in that village for the night, and set off for the ship again in the morning.

So this smoky morning is filled with that dream, and my own sadness. On a daily basis I convince myself that I am over things, I am on top of these losses that drift in and out of my life. But they weave their own spell; they inhabit my dreams, and are there when I wake up.

I think about Mum, weaving in and out of her own dreams. It is a peculiar kind of loss, I think, to mourn those still alive. But every loss has its own sad flavour and each bleeds into the other. I am missing my friend, David, and his death has its own mystery and shock. I am also missing what I could have had, had my life been different and I'd made different choices. I don't regret, but I do mourn.

Today isn't a heavy, foreboding kind of grey. It is light and wispy as a mouse’s fur. It fills the streets outside and the air in the sky over Brighton. It curls around the pier like a tail and disperses with the seagulls taking flight. I breathe it in and swallow, feel it welling up in my eyes. I realise that my heart is a slate, and I write my longings on it with a soft piece of chalk. I don't know how to say goodbye. If I could write that; that is what I would say.

I've got a new teapot, a lovely green and glassy Christmas present. It is sitting on my table under the window and, magically, looks like it has always been there. I have a not-so-secret belief that tea cures everything. So I dry my eyes and put the kettle on, warm the pot. This magic ritual is a supreme comfort; it is an act of love. I don't want to open my doors to anyone today. I want to hide with my teapot and my chalky heart until day passes into night. But life isn't made like that. Things press on. I must open my curtains and move.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

For Better, For Worse

I'm back in Brighton after four days at home in Wales. I saw my sister, I saw my Mum. I even visited the nuns at Poor Clares. And I went to a wedding.

I usually tend to subscribe to this commonly held misconception: the present is what's here now, the future is yet to come and does not yet exist, and the past, well, is in the past. All that sails into it is gobbled forever.

This weekend I remembered a different reality: that the present is disappearing even as I live it, that the future can never be separated from what is happening now. And the past? Well, it never really goes away.

So, at the start of this new year, after eighteen months of watching my mother ebbing away before my eyes, after losing a dear friend, I turn around and suddenly notice that nothing has ever really left me, and that no matter what it feels like in those emptiest of moments, nothing is ever lost.

I don't understand this, but I know it's true. And as I sat at a long table in Wrexham Lager Club, melodies from old Motown songs swirling around my ears, a cocktail stick with cheese and pineapple on my plate, I became absolutely certain of it.

The most painful thing about the passage of time is that you can't bring back what has gone; you can't turn the clock back, you can't undo the mistakes or right the wrongs. You can't recapture what is lost. You can't ever, as it were, go home again. But what do you know; sitting at that table, I realised, it all goes on living inside us anyway, the good and the bad. Something endures.

I finally found an hour on Monday to visit the Convent that sits next to our old house. I wanted to say hello, keep up the contact I've begun. I sat in their chapel listening to the sounds of nuns laughing and running for lunch, then I got down on my knees and prayed. Strange as it sounds, I find it hard to pray very much in Brighton. But there, in that quiet, holy place, it felt the most natural thing in the world. And I remembered that thing about the past again; I felt the holiness pouring through the windows, through the wood of the bench I was sitting on, through my own bones. Something that's there all the time, I just can't see it, flooded the chapel with light; it bounced off walls and reflected off bronzed figures, hitting the sides of benches and lighting up the corneas of my eyes.

I remember this light from when I was 8 years old and kept a picture of St Francis above my bed. I would peer from my bedroom window into the Convent garden next door, watching the nuns as work or giggling together. I never thought one day I'd be on my knees in their chapel, feeling that holiness from inside those walls.

The wedding on Friday was of the father of my ex-boyfriend to his long-term partner. I've known my ex for nearly 19 years, and when we were still together, his family were like my own. He is my kin. And I know what it took for my ex-boyfriend, his brothers and their father to get to the point of making that wedding happen. I also know what it took for me to be there. The amount of love I experienced that night was so strong that for at least part of the evening I was pinned to my chair by the sheer force of it. I caught the train home, humbled and exhausted. The feeling I had was the same as on that chapel bench.

Time passes, but the bonds of real love remain untouched, perfectly in tact. I want to try and remember this. And I know I'll forget it again. I know I'll see the failing flesh of my mother, the darkening of her eyes and I'll not be able to see past the withering skin and mind; it will engulf me. That is the other mystery. We remember, we forget. Only to remember again.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Hoppy mew year

Yesterday, I did two decorating estimates. The first was for an older couple. As I entered their rather posh house, both immediately apologised for the amount of sneezing and coughing they were doing, stricken as they were by wretched colds. "Don't come near me!" the man cried, waving his tissue in the air.

During the second estimate, the guy happily announced how he was just over 'it', and how he didn't intend to walk out through his front door again until late spring. Later, I went and paid my rent on Church Road, and the woman in the office (usually somewhat disinterested and abrupt) sniffed feebly as I entered before telling me, her nose almost sunk to the desk, how she hadn't even been able to even smell her Christmas dinner.

So after having spent the whole of my Christmas (except for Boxing Day afternoon: Soho, cream cakes, mad art directors, the hovering spirit of Noel Fielding) and the whole of New Year (both days entirely alone with my Kleenex), ill and partially bed-ridden with a cold virus, I've found that the whole world is steeped in tissues and a vague kind of misery.

This has cheered me up no end. I have a small sense of what it might have been like during the Blitz. A kind of snotty camaraderie is forming between people and I can feel an invisible, mucus-y thread binding me to the rest of humanity. It is the groggy, snotty, raucous cough of interconnection.

Bless. Suddenly I realise that probably most people have had a miserable Christmas, most people have got through it as one gets through a very hard day of explosive- detonation-training at Special Forces Unit Camp, and are now crawling their way forward into the new year with dripping noses and a dangerously low bank balance.

Luckily I don't have to worry about the dangerously low bank balance, seeing as mine is perpetually dangerously low anyway, and my spending on New Year's Eve came to, erm now let me see; NOWT. After bathing in a luxurious concoction of self-pity, bitterness and frustration upon my return to Brighton from Yorkshire (propped up in Bob's car, wondering if it is possible for a nose to actually explode on impact from a particularly violent sneezing fit), I moved into New year with the help of crap music from Kylie Minogue (I know she's meant to be majorly talented, but it's such an effort to stay awake during her 'amazing' performances) and Madness on Jools Holland. You could see how that might be a little soul destroying.

However, I also discovered my watercolour pencils, and, following on from some rubbishy sketches I did at Bob's, I immersed myself in painting some characters I'm thinking of featuring in a little story book that's going round my mind at the moment. So I can say, with some satisfaction, that I passed from 2007 to 2008 in the company of small girl-boys, creepy men in top hats, dogs and some singing nuns.

Art has always been a kind of secondary love for me. I've always been quite good at drawing, and particularly sculpture, but have always felt that even if I applied myself to it, though I might get pretty good, I'd never be as good at it as I would be at writing. I am generally more sound and word orientated. But then, maybe this lack of confidence comes from my art teacher in 5th Form hanging my final Art Project over the Home Economics sink and cackling " Ha! Let's see what she thinks of this!" (She was literally a witch, I think, and we did not get on).

I love art and it feels like a little piece of a puzzle has come back for me through getting back in touch with it. I love creating worlds; usually I do that through words and in musical notes, but when that world grows a face - literally, when you can see the face of that world forming, it is so exciting, it's like growing another sense.

Do you remember that Smiths' line from 'Shoplifters of the World Unite'? I tried living in the real world, instead of a shell, but I was bored before I even began. That's how I generally feel about life. I'd rather stick my head up the backside of genius any day; I'd rather fly around my own head or land on the ear of another listening, twinkling soul who is blinking into the darkness than give this world that rules me the credit and attention it so wrongfully steals.

Yes, in some ways to say this is silly and it's vain. But the world takes from me what it will anyway, and the alternative; this crazy un-sensical magic inside my head, ah, it's a ragingly beautiful fiery mess, and I love it.