Monday, January 21, 2008


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.