It seems like roughly every 5 years a poem writes itself in my head as I cycle home. The last time this happened, when a small boy cat-called me, I posted it here. Strange how both happened while cycling – this one appeared almost in its entirety this evening as took a slightly unusual route home and found myself in the Olympic Park. Some of you from the late 90s London goth scene may remember the ghost homes.
I stare at the map.
YOU ARE HERE, it says.
I run my finger across the rain-damp dusty surface
Tracing the lines of familiar streets,
Trying to put a pin in my past.
The paths I knew 20 years before
Run into voids
That used to be houses, lawns or caravans;
Some run into vast shining towers
Or gleaming tracks of unnatural coloured ground
That once were voids.
The map obscures as much as it tells.
Is it still there, under the ground?
Under the carefully landscaped wilderness,
Or under a discreet bridge or tennis court?
Do the rows of empty stadium seats gaze down at the spot
where I fell?
Would it help if I could write on the map
Or add a pin: IT WAS HERE
HERE is where I heard a sound
As he stepped out from an overgrown lane.
A step, a pin.
HERE is where I gave my instinct a sharp word
Chiding it for paranoia.
My finger traces the map
Another grey void
HOMES COMING SOON.
I put a pin in the ING.
Was this where the curved path ran
Between the flat red and yellow blocks;
Ghost homes on an artificial toxic hill
Twenty years before “coming soon”
The void stretches upwards
Another step, another pin
Was this where I heard the footsteps
And the ringing pain as tiny blood red heartbeats
Exploded around my eyes
Encasing my head in muffled agony?
Another step, another pin
Was this where I fell?
I don’t remember falling
I remember having fallen and feeling a dense weight on my back
As someone grappled and scrabbled at my jacket
Was it a wolf
Confused by the sheen of my cheap job interview suit
Pawing and clawing to get to the meat of me?
Are there wolves in London?
Would it help if I could put a pin right here
And nod and say yes
I AM HERE
This is where I heard the screaming
I am the epicentre of that unbearable noise
As it draws in on me until I am suffocated
Can a scream make you claustrophobic?
I step back from the map
And interrogate the landscape.
Where there were hills, there are dips
The land swells where it was once flat
And I wonder briefly
If the land is actually a slow moving sea
Rising and falling so imperceptibly
We barely notice the waves
Making our past unintelligible.
I cannot trace it.
I wonder if it would help
To stand on the spot and know
I was here.
Or is it better that the memory is hidden
By the land transformed?
Not only did I get up today, but I showered. I got dressed. In clothes, not just pyjamas. I put on shoes. I even put on some makeup. I washed my hair. And then I brushed my hair. I tied it up.
And then I left the house.
Ok, I didn’t go far, just down to the coffee shop on the corner, where this first paragraph is being typed. I probably won’t stay here long, but that’s not the point. I am up. I am out of bed. I even managed to interact with strangers and I think they believed I was a normal human. Well, apart from the Darth Vader Christmas jumper and the pink hair in Princess Leia buns, but, y’know. A normal human for a given value of “normal”. I managed to ask for a coffee and didn’t cry in public so it’s all good.
Of course, ‘tis the season for not getting dressed and forgetting to shower and having to google to find out what day it is. Those sleepy limbo days between Christmas and New Year for those whose workplaces or colleges are shut down, or those on holiday, can be like that for many of us. Continue Reading
I haven’t written about alcohol for some time. I think this could probably be viewed as a positive – alcohol has ceased to be of an importance in my life to the point that I even need to write about it. People are generally used to the idea that I don’t drink much. There’s rarely any surprise when I ask for a soda and lime. Some people have even come to me for advice on how to have a dry month, or for tips on staying away from booze, which is pretty awesome.
All I ever wanted was to be able to enjoy A Drink without reference to Being Drunk. I wanted to able to have a good time without needing to be drunk, and to have a drink without wanting to have a hundred more drinks. While the former has been hard work, largely due to social anxiety, I am definitely able to achieve the latter.
My guidelines for drinking are simple:
If I want a specific drink, I can have one.
If I need a drink, I can’t have one.
If I have one and it makes me want another, I can’t have it
If there’s nothing alcoholic I particularly want to drink, I have a soft drink
If I start feeling drunk, I stop drinking.
These guidelines have worked brilliantly, for the most part.
There was one occasion on holiday with the new Mr RDPP where everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and we ended up stuck in the only bar open in a tiny town in Sicily, the two of us against the world, drinking exciting coloured drinks with umbrellas in and shouting animatedly about politics. I felt fine the next day, probably in part because the drinks were mainly fruit and sugar and in part because the most pressing thing we had to do that day was eat ice cream and swim in the sea. I suspect this made me a little too blasé about being as mindful as usual of moderation. The guidelines? Well, maybe they kinda slipped a bit.
A few weeks ago I had a weird FUCK IT moment while at a music festival and decided to Get Drunk. I bought a locally made bottle of wine and went at it in a way that would have made 15 year old me proud – swigging out of the bottle and sharing it around and hiding it in a bush while going into a venue to avoid the bag search. It felt like going on holiday to a past version of myself. It felt seedy and transgressive and fun. Unfortunately the trouble with throwing caution to the wind when you’ve stopped paying attention to the wind direction is that caution can end up blowing right back in your face.
The Hangover started at about 1am. I’d forgotten all about The Hangover. The pounding, stabbing jabbing pain right down though the top of the head straight into the eye socket. The rolling nausea which goes away for just long enough for you to think you’re spared the worst so you do something daring like move or speak and it rushes back in going “HAH”. The way the light burns through your closed eyelids, the way the duvet isn’t even a comfort as it rustles just so damn loudly as you work out whether you’re too hot or too cold, The tiredness, the taste in your mouth like you’ve been licking the floor of a petrol station, the vague sense of dread, the way the inside of your skin feels sort of greasy, and the thin layer of gritty sweat that builds up as you try to go about your day pretending everything is normal.
I used to feel like this all the time. HOW? How did I do it? I have regular migraines, related to hormones, and they have a similar type of headache/nausea combo, and I can’t do anything at all to prevent those, so why on earth did I voluntarily do something which made me feel this why? It was fun, sure, but had it been fun enough? Probably not. I crawled to the nearest painkiller, swallowed as many as were safe and crawled back into bed again, making pitiful mewling sounds and cursing my horrible decision making skills.
It was a good learning experience though – it was my first hangover in 19 months, and I fully intend it to be my last. I’ve already done the hard work of making sure I can happily enjoy myself without drinking, so the only revision I am making to my guidelines is that they are no longer merely guidance – they are rules.
When it’s been a while since my last blog I never quite know how to start. Just start writing, and ignore that it’s been months, and hope no one notices; or if they do perhaps they are far too polite to say so? Or say up front straight and honest I haven’t written a blog in ages? The latter of course means I feel obliged to say why.
There’s two reasons I haven’t written much. One is because I have been struggling on and off with feminist fatigue. It got to the point when I couldn’t even finish reading any news article, let avoid the comments. I started a few blogs and abandoned them because I couldn’t get my thoughts in order. The world seemed to be going mad. Sexism everywhere. Xenophobia, racism, austerity. Politics in the UK appeared to be on fire and burning down, but everyone was acting as normal. At one point, I left England to go to Sicily for a few days, and when I left we had a male prime minister and when I came back we had a female one. Only the second female prime minister in our history. And I kept having to say “no relation”. It got to the point that I just had too many ideas to write at all. The longer I don’t write the more things want to be written until they all become a massive shouty blur of ideas and I can’t pick out a single one to get out on a page. In short, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to start writing again.
My reason for going to Sicily for a few days is also reason number two for not writing very frequently. I went on holiday – on a whim – with a rather wonderful man.
I wasn’t expecting to meet a wonderful man this year, or at all. After writing about my new found singleness a few years ago I did indeed do a lot of reflection on what I wanted out of life, what made me happy, what fulfilled me, what made me tick. I was single, sober and with higher self-esteem than I’d ever had in my life and I had some fun. In that time I realised that I like being single. Not only that, but am good at being single. In fact, I am better at being single than I am at being in a relationship.
Well, I didn’t exactly “realise” that. It was more of a process of confirmation of what I’ve come to realise over many of my previous relationships. I am just not very good at being in relationships, and really not very good at being in love. A lifetime of relationships has to mean something; if you don’t learn from them, you’re doomed to forever repeat the same destructive patterns in subsequent relationships.
So what have I learned? Well, that I am argumentative, and get so frustrated with communication breakdowns that sometimes I just cry for no reason other than the other person has misunderstood me. I am terrible at negotiation, being rather selfish despite my natural kind-heartedness. I am so, so very forgetful. Half the time I think about having a conversation with someone and then think I’ve actually had it, which is very confusing for the other person. I forget dates, times, events, conversations that have happened a few minutes before. I am terrible at making firm plans, but get upset when plans change. I need a lot of physical and emotional space of my own which can make the other person feel rejected. And I often think I am right. I am so sure that I am right that I refuse to entertain the idea that I am wrong, which makes it so much harder to admit (on the obviously very rare occasions) when I am actually wrong.
I also came to realise, the older I got, that pretty much all the dating advice I ever read in magazines as a teenager is complete and utter rubbish. One piece of advice that stuck with me through far too many relationships was that you should pretend you have an interest in the hobbies of the object of your crush, and oh my, I internalised this advice so hard. For almost every relationship I’ve been in I dropped my own interests and hobbies, one by one, in favour of theirs. Trust me, this is a horrible idea. Do not do this. Do not pretend you like football if you don’t. Do not pretend you’ve read books you haven’t. Do not say you like jigsaws if you actually find them less fun than a migraine. (Seriously. Don’t.) If the other person likes you, they won’t care whether you like football or not, or if you’ve read their favourite books, or if you’d rather gouge your eyes out with an ice cream scoop than do a jigsaw. The most fulfilling relationships I have had have been where I’ve kept my interests, they’ve kept theirs and neither of us has pushed them onto the other. This ends up with something much more joyful – it gives your crush the opportunity to introduce yourself to something they love, and vice versa. Before, on hearing someone make a reference to an author or a band I didn’t know, I would nod and pretend I knew what they were saying. Now, I will just say “I haven’t read it” or “I don’t know that band”. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? And it means I have a pile of new books to read and bands to listen to.
If I could rip up one piece of advice and burn it forever so that it never gets given to anyone else ever, it would be that.
Do not pretend you like what they like, or know about what they know about. Do not pretend you’re feeling things you aren’t feeling. Do not pretend you are not feeling things you are feeling.
Most of all I struggle with handing over emotional control of those feelings. I have spent many years working on learning how to regulate my emotions, as someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder and depression, and tend to try to keep a tight grip on my emotional highs and lows. When I start falling for someone, it means someone else has the power to make me feel things over which I have no control. It means that I worry that when someone else makes me happy, that means they also have the power to make me sad. This is really hard for me – and for the person who falls in love with me. It can mean that I suddenly start to slam up emotional walls when I feel myself getting too upset or too happy, shutting them out. If I don’t do this I can have a bit of an emotional meltdown; essentially I either appear completely uncaring and cold, or a raging torrent of emotion.
If I could give one single piece of dating advice to someone else, based on my experiences thus far, it would be this:
Be honest about who you are, what you like, what you want out of life. I think in this relationship it’s the first time I’ve been truly open and honest and totally myself right from the start. Perhaps it’s being older, perhaps it’s just me finally putting everything I’ve learned into practice. It’s early days, sure, but it felt right when he said “come to Sicily with me” to say “yes”. Well actually, the conversation went more like “I was thinking and you can say no if you want and it’s probably too soon but I would be lovely if maybe you’d like to, you know if you can afford it, maybe you would like to come to Sicily with me?” and my reply was more like “it feels like it ought to be too soon but it doesn’t actually feel too soon and I have some money I was going to spend on something else, not very much, but I probably can just about afford it if we spend most of our time swimming and doing cheap things and yes I really would love to come to Sicily with you.” which is what being honest looks like.
Being honest is lot harder than it looks. But being yourself right at the beginning of the relationship means that when you fall in love, you’re falling in love with each other as you really are – mood swings, selfishness, weird snoring noises, bad smelling IBS farts, strange hobbies and all.
What has this got to do with me not writing very often? Well, I’ve been spending time with him. We’ve been having a wonderful time, and when you’re having a wonderful time it’s very hard to sit down and think about something to write about, especially when what you usually write about is whatever has made you angry the week before.
In the spirit of being honest, I am not going to say I am going to be writing every week from now on without fail. I am not very good at being reliable. Although I am definitely going to try to write more, if only to get some of the blasted ideas out of my head. In the meantime, I am going to try to enjoy just being happy. I am not very good at that either, but I am learning. And it’s rather wonderful.
My intention with my blog today was to re-post my spoiler free review of the Red Dwarf screening I went to on Friday, written for Ganymede & Titan; because going to see Red Dwarf filmed live is something I have wanted to do since I was <ahem> years old in 1988 and first saw it and because you must never underestimate my laziness. Why write a thing on Sunday I’ve already written a thing on Saturday.
But then I went to have my last swim at the ladies pond in Hampstead for many months, as it closes today for renovations to be carried out to the changing room, decking and lifeguard room, and there were so many resultant FEELS that I had to get it out of my head. That’s why I write, usually. To get the feels and the nagging voices out of my head. Continue Reading
“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes” – from Preludes and Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman
Five years ago to the day tomorrow, 18th January, I lost my beautiful grandmother – Gangy – my Dad’s mother. We lost her suddenly, with an undiagnosed heart condition taking her away unexpectedly and cruelly for us, although without much pain and suffering for her. Just shy of 11 years beforehand I lost my Grannie, my Mum’s mother. She died of liver cancer, with which she had suffered for many months; becoming particularly unwell in her final months. As a sharp woman she was particularly distressed at the way the pain medication made her confused and helpless. In her lucid moments she knew how dependant on her carers and her family she was, and it upset her greatly. Her months of suffering gave her family a chance to prepare for her passing, so that when it came it wasn’t a shock, although still terribly sad; but they were at times such terrible months for her. Continue Reading
Long time readers will have learned a number of things about my personality and habits. They will know that I am a horrible cook and an even worse baker. I am the pirate queen of procrastination. They will therefore be unsurprised to discover that today, instead of the long list of grown up things I needed to do, which included vacuuming, laundry, toiletries shopping, language course homework and writing a proper grown up blog about sensible things, I instead went to Hobbycraft and spent money I don’t have on things I didn’t need in order to make things that no one needs, wants or can use.
It’s an irony that when I am not having a bout of anxiety, it’s hard to recall and write about exactly how anxiety affects me (in a similar way to how you can remember that a tattoo hurts but you can’t recall the exact pain itself) but when I am in the midst of an episode I can barely string two sentences together. Thus it’s taken me several weeks to write this post, in between bouts feeling fine (occasionally even awesome) and feeling like flinging my laptop into the Thames and watching it sink. Then jumping in myself. I need to grab those “fine” moments and write in those, because when I am feeling awesome the last thing I want to do is pick up my laptop and write about the times I felt like crawling under my bed and staying there for ever, but when I am in my “fine” moments it’s hard to explain what having an anxiety episode feels like.
I’m often told I don’t look my age. I have to admit I rather enjoy the look of shock that usually appears on people’s faces when I tell them my actual age. It’s usually followed up with “what’s your secret?” Depending on how well I know them and their sense of humour the answer tends to be one or a combination of…
Good genes, thanks Mum
Stay out of the sun, don’t smoke
You should see the state of the portrait in my attic
My birthday this year made me feel profoudly grateful for my wonderful friends – new and old – who sent me cards and gifts, or drew awesome pictures, or sent me messages or sang songs to my voicemail. It all reminds me that I’m not alone, that people understand me, that people are thinking of me and care. As someone who suffers from anxiety and has struggled with depression in the past that is an incredibly powerful feeling.
I tend to see birthdays as basically an an excuse to take days off work to do absolutely nothing and act ridiculously. Well, ok, I often act ridiculously but birthdays allow you to act ridiculously without the added side-eye that you get when you’re nearly 40 and acting ridiculously on a day to day basis. Birthdays are a free pass for excessive cake eating, lie-ins, duvet fort huddling, staying-up-all-nighting and it’s a great way to get people to play silly games with you.