All that glitters

The last time I had set foot in this town, the leaves were all gowns of gold, filling a hallway to sweep down and around in an autumnal dance. We wandered the pathways beneath a lilac sky, churning up mulch with our scarred battle-boots. We were still as one, then.

We had come the distance, from Verulamium to the land where all that glitters is indeed gold, of many textures and valuations. Fierce fake tan and heels to take your eye out; champagne hair with curling tips, and a watch too heavy for so delicate a wrist. Passing by in our mud-spattered uniform of hikes, we stared at our reflections in the ghost-shine of windows, laughing at how we stood out. Thorns under the manicured nail.

But it’s really not all that.

It’s ancient twisting roads, lined with age-curved houses; it’s coffee shops with such thick windows that you might be peering through the bottom of a bottle. It’s well-tended gardens, and grassland bordered with a rambling churn of brambles and pale trees. It’s Rivendell. It’s ever-autumn, nostalgic light that seems to curve itself into the palm of the town each evening, no matter the true time of year.

It’s a golden hall that goes on forever and a day, when we walked as one; and I knew myself, then. Now, I am approaching 30 and am more confused than ever. My hair is overlong, in bad need of a trim and burnished by the strengthening sun. I wade through the pitch spilt from last year’s barrel, and the urge to drop a match is almost overwhelming.

(When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.) Desperate people do untidy things. I am not naturally a cruel person; it doesn’t sit well on my stomach, and though I can raise the walls of ice quicker than some, I rarely allow them to stay longer than a handful of days, before melting.

But patience wears thinner than ice. I hesitate to raise my voice, in case I break through my own barriers.

My life is my own, or so I had come to believe after therapy. The other day, when I walked off the site of the enormous complex where I shall start my new job in March, I felt a cautious flutter in my chest – a bird, opening its wings against the late winter light. Hope is a thready thing these days. I prefer to watch and wait, in the long shadows. Visor still down.
Dreaming of Mercy Street.

A new job, a new home, all in the space of a week. Tell me this a few years ago, I would have laughed. Me, manage all of this alone?
I have scarfed food while battering along unfamiliar pavements this week; I have missed gym sessions. I have cut loose from work to attend an impromptu job interview, risking my credibility. I have coped – done things that would once have triggered panic attacks. It’s funny what happens when Life crops up.
Anorexia still has brittle little fingers twined through my hair. But I gently break them off, one by one, each year.

Sometimes, things come together with such speed that it is as though a hand had gently nudged game pieces over a board. Two years ago, at around this time, they had fallen apart just as swiftly.
Who knows?

So, with a more secure job and a stable employer, increase in wages and a wander over a fresh canvas, I can – cautiously – say there is Hope. I can afford to travel to see my family again, to hike the Downs with my brother and get a sore throat from talking (it always startles me how this happens, as I don’t generally speak aloud much any more.) I can weave in and out of local markets, picking up coloured threads and bolts of material, one-of-a-kind purchases to send to people Just Because, as I used to. Usually tacked to a scribbled note, to prove I still have some sort of handwriting.
(Meandering over the page.)

I can jump on a train and head into the Smoke again, to see that blue-brown silk scarf on the horizon getting closer and closer, while my dreams of living beneath the steel and glass, the twisting gothic lines, seem to go further away.
One day. Once in a way.

Around this time of year, the sun has a complex routine it performs each morning (clear skies permitting.) Peering up over the horizon, its light reaches the windows of the building opposite the Nick – these are aligned in such a way as to catch and hold the glow like a burnished copper breastplate. The subsequent reflection throws long fingers into our own windows, so that every office on the top floor bursts awake in red and gold.

This is but one almost indescribable moment of true pleasure, of silence inside, that I will miss forever when I am gone.

Trust was a leaf that went spinning on coils
Of a wind that ached with the song of the rose
And we who are wanderers
(Always alone)
Not ever so lonely to call your name
We know ourselves safe, when turning for home
With a shifting of light over ruins and graves
Where dreams go to rest, in the lull of the dawn.

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P.S: Those who I owe emails to, I apologise. Time is like smoke at the moment, with precious little left over to bottle for stories and blogging. Please bear with me.

P.P.S: It felt good to talk to you all again. Lately, it’s felt as though someone was standing on my throat. Now I can breathe a little more easily.

Here, at day’s end

A peach-gold glow spread over the sky this evening; the air was full of the satin-smell of roses in full bloom across gardens stitched with tall lavender and buddleia. Their heads were hung low with the weight of their thoughts, the dreams of the wandering bees. Such sticky sweetness to find, to follow the trail from one place to another, until home is a distant memory.

Tomorrow marks the birthday of my landlady’s twins. They are currently clambering over one another to be first to peek over the bannister, as their mother and a family friend lay out the arrangements for a party of “some significance.” One balloon has already ended its own life without compromise, in a bang so loud that the dog saw fit to rest her racing heart outside in the lush summer grass.

(Whenever she thinks herself alone in the house, she will lift her long nose and let loose a soul wavering in the howl of ancient people; the wild roads call her blood still, but it is my voice from this eyrie heart, which brings her back. I would call with her though, had I the words of the wolf; such an aching testament to what was, and what might have been.)

These two beautiful children will be a year older, and I have known them for less time than it takes to walk from one shore to another. They have grown on me, in the way that some kids do, until I am surrogate big sister and confidante both; when their giggling whispers grew too loud tonight, I sent them on their way with the promise of a wake-up call first thing, with a breakfast fit for tiny kings and queens. That I am not much of a cook, is beside the point. You can’t go too wrong with pancakes and maple syrup.

And, watching their mother glide about the conservatory, hanging balloons and banners without needing to stretch, I was hit with such a sudden pang in my chest that I had to duck away, to stare up at the darkening sky and find stars … To remind myself that I chose this writer’s life, this solitude. This illness, this not-for-me-danke, this wandering road that still goes ever on.

I am not immortal, and that is what I would ask of myself, for a child. And the sort of dedication – the perseverance – which I know is not inherent of my personality. Whatever dreams may come tonight, let them hang on the supermoon, on a horizon boundless. It has been a dark week; I could use a little light.

In letting things go, I don’t make easy decisions. I’m a pack-rat, and tend to hoard that which gives me pleasant nostalgia, the sort of electrifying thoughts that are reminiscent of another life.
A life I could know, and never Know. Words remain within their boundaries until turned into experience. Into incidence, circumstance, situation, action. Currently, I have –

– only this heart.
And a dim light, in the west.

Tomorrow, I think I will escape to the City, to wave at the diamond-teeth along the skyline, and to wait for the frantic spill of energy at home to abate. I am as much confused by children as inclined to empathize with them. They work upon instinct; there is little, if any premeditation. When a small boy passed me on the street in 2005 and – turning to his mother – asked Why is that boy wearing a skirt? (pointing at me), it was yet another kick in the shins from Whoever, that I really should be taking more care of myself. I wore cropped hair then, and the raw bones of illness. There was little to distinguish me from my teenage brother.

I saw a photo of him earlier, posted by our mother on Facebook. He has become a man, quite without my noticing.

In trying to see all the world at once, I miss a great many things.
In trying to keep others safe, I am the one cutting the rose from its roots.

I hope the twins enjoy their party, with the sort of gut-ache giggling-wildness that only small things can really appreciate, like a kitten chasing a bubble and knowing itself to be outside of Time. That, more than anything, would make me smile, come tomorrow evening. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

Breaking my lip upon this thorn.

Opening the window: London Summer Solstice

London has this thing she does, whenever I step off at St Pancras and – sternly setting my chin – look up to the gleaming skyline of steel and glass. I’ll tell her of my plans, of the route I have in mind – concocted on a slalom-sway journey down the line, on the inimitable cattle-trucks which always make a ferry crossing on rough straits seem like a mermaid’s dream. I’ll tell her, Now, you behave yourself. No siren swoops and RTC’s, no too-loud faces and aggressive buzzing of earphones. My own will be plugged in, usually tuned to Metric’s London Halflife, which is my morning-song for the city. You know, how certain music fits a certain time-frame and place? I always break in new ‘phones with the Smiths, The Queen is Dead. It’s that opening drumroll.

London, well – she’ll smile, showing the wink of highrise teeth, and the wide-eye blue of her sky. She’ll shrug a breeze full of clotted air and thoughts through the green-gold of trees, and say, Hey. This is you and me. We don’t get this intimacy so often anymore. We’ll go wherever you want to go.

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And, taking me by the elbow, she’ll tug me along the cracked pavement, beside churning roads with traffic in full voice and ground to a standstill by the almost imperceptible chink of one car T-boning another. Full of dust and hot winds. I feel like used flypaper.

Before long, she’s got me on a roving course, down by the water’s edge, in and out of the golden alleyways, following cats around corners. Look at that, for a Mercy Street!

… And I’ll fix her with my red-rim gaze and say Fine. But I’m not going potholing in Croatia, if that’s what you’re thinking. We’ll wander down this side-street and cut across to that one, to end up Here; to find out what’s on the other side. But I need to get back to the main road at some point, to keep my bearings.

She’ll sigh through the trees and the hiss of pigeon wings, skirling in bars of grey and white. I’ll hear the voice of Sealink the calico cat again, lifting to admonish Tag in the tide-swell of her New Orleans accent:
The journey is the life.
Without her, he would only ever have looked for the horizon, never knowing the feel of the wild road beneath his paws.

So before you know it, I’m lost, and damning her to hell with these shimmering heatwaves, and bells tolling out the quart –
half –
hour –

And – Where were we heading to, anyway?
Oh. Right.

London Halflife

Narrowing my eyes, taking a swig of lukewarm water from my (slackening) backpack: We are finding a map, now.
She’ll nod, glittering so sweetly in stars off the steely Thames. Whatever you say. It’s your feet.
And my own meandering mind. The city knows it too well.

By this point, my feet will feel like someone has tied anvils to them. Concrete isn’t kind. But still, we’re back on the open road full of garnered flowers in pots suspended outside pubs, some with windows chequered by fingerprints and the puckered press of made-up drunken lips; others are smooth and clear as a baby’s face, or the skein of cirrus clouds overhead. Every voice winds with another, to make a slip-stream of colours for latching onto; I’ll siphon off one from many, if the topic is interesting. This is where chromesthesia comes in handy. It’s like following a cotton-ball through a labyrinth.

London is my creative sanctuary and my weakness. She is my sticky mouth, sore feet and black-crescent fingernails. She is my Mercy Street, taking the time to show me the hidden places of the world where some may not care to look; down in the drains where the petrol rainbows go; through the flaking shards of paint and crumbling brick, to where the mason bees work at gently unravelling the ancient bones of the city. Always, there is productivity, revitalization; always, there is decay and departure. Arms clasped about one another at the depot; hands letting go, fingers splayed as though to catch a falling star, a last kiss, a memory of What Was.

London in the rain is a romance of sin and monochrome, scuffling feet and skirling leaves; wet winds to rake through the hair and embitter the cheeks.
London in the sun finds a woman graceful in her blue and brown scarf of silk, with monuments fading under the hard kiss of the sky. Her eyes remain ever-bright, set into the shine off the water, the pinches and domes and brackets of sky caught between buildings and parks.

I spent a good hour or so of the morning, wandering the streets and watching the green shadows move between golden light, grinning up at the skyline and forgetting to watch where my feet and the time were going. When I glanced over the river and realized I was closer to Westminster than Piccadilly, I shook off the tugging fingers at my elbow.

People are trusting me to be responsible – and polite – in turning up with some form of punctuality, and less dust in my mouth than is currently on my feet.

Those little stars, twinkling back at me from the Thames. Sorry. But it’s your feet, after all.
Hmph.

She gives me a wave-off at the platform, where my head hangs like a heat-riddled dog, eyes fading to grey with the weight of hunger. I’d forgotten to pack enough to eat, so stopped off on the convoluted route back to St Pancras, to grab something – anything – to make the hippy-shakes quit.

The woman behind the counter eyed me.
“You’re a tourist?” she asked, carefully.
I gave her a lopsided grin. “Always.”

I love the way different patterns of colour can fill any point of the day, until it seems the air itself has form; how the ravages of time will send a song of sliding shingle to some forgotten alley; how the dazzling tapers of silver and white sketch a beacon of prosperity into the sky, to humble my eye and curve my mouth with an iron smile.

Upon arrival, I am Last Shadow Puppets and film noir, in neutral gear and with wary eyes. An hour or so passes by, and I am livid with the colours of creativity again. London never fails to invigorate, when ennui has had my head on the writer’s block.

When I leave, it is to Ralph Mctell’s love song for the streets, skeins of purple and magenta over cream in my mind; the pale half-life of What Was and What might never be. Rattle-bang back up the line, to a world of glacier petals spread to the peach-soft evening air.

Butterflies may wander and rove, singing riddle-songs with the stickiness of amber breath; they return for the dreams of a rose.

Happy Solstice, my friends.

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Living the Dream

When we are small, one of the first questions we are likely to ask of ourselves and others, is “What will I be when I grow up?”

The answer might seem elusive as a bubble for some (like me, easily distracted), chased by a skittish kitten across a slippery floor. For others, ambitions are set early, solid and immovable as the stones found in a riverbed.

I have clung onto only two ideals in life: Writing, and Travel. Both have played their part in my learning experience, as I evolve at a stumble-trip pace, from that child wandering off down a sunstruck Mercy Street, to the frail waif who sought to claw back control in her life and almost lost the latter in the process, to the woman I am now – still a bit unsteady on her feet, but racing to catch up with the world, while the natural order of things seems to be coming apart even as I watch the sky dialling down.

The best we can do, is to seek out what makes us happy and brings us peace, as I did today, wandering through the park and watching the wiffle of tiny fish in the glassy water, where the sun seemed to sleep in its riverbed.

Sun in bed

We are all of us allowed days off from the world. I openly admit to having an obsessive personality, to getting strung up on details, while missing the bigger picture. In this case, it was the fight for a world I have recently rediscovered, grown to love and wish to maintain in its peace, while actually forgetting to stop and watch the glitter of sunlight through new leaves.

Bridge

The best we can do, is to follow what brings us freedom and fire to the soul. I’m still trying to strike that balance.

I read back over old journals from time to time, to remind myself of where I have come from, what I’ve seen and done. Not for a martyr’s song, but to ground myself in the reality of still being alive, after over a decade of anorexia nervosa / athletica; and to help me decide where I am going to next (in a will ‘o the wisp way.) While the experiences gave me a different take on the world, they were bare, blank years, and not something I would wish upon anyone or would readily repeat.

There are too many minute cracks in the crystal for me to tell you where the real split came from, allowing depression to pour itself into my soul, thick and dark as well-bottom water and rot. But one particularly deep cut runs through my writing career, which began – ended – began again, as an emotional outlet. It was the loss of singularity which was my undoing; a feeling of being (yet again) inadequate in the face of society, when I had precious little else going for me.

Upon returning to the UK from Germany and the travels across Europe with my family, I was so far behind my peers in all subjects that it was required of me to attend extra tuition, just to keep up. In particular, there was a special reading group, held by a gentle lady with pebble-glasses and iron-wool hair, and the sort of stoop some tall older people wear, when their spines begin to fade.

It was through her careful persuasion and tutelage that I managed to get past the frustration, to continue picking up the books which others seemed able to skim over like swans on the lake water. Whenever I feel left out, the first instinctive reaction is to stomp off in the opposite direction (I’m working on a more mature approach of standing my ground, though the hot angry tears still occasionally come if I cannot comprehend something which seems perfectly basic to others. Hence the hatred of Maths.)
It wasn’t long before the school library became a quiet haven of stirred pages, a refuge for a developing mind.

The realization of writing as an emotional outlet came with watching a class video about brick-work children, in the factories of Victorian England. I can still remember the feeling at the back of my throat, at the sight of those wide white eyes staring out of dirt-blackened faces, the little chapped hands and the stooped backs. Though of course these were characters played by actors and actresses, the stories were based upon the country’s historical context, as the teacher had told us before the video began. These had once been real lives, real suffering.

The thought of children my age (six years old, at the time) not having the same simple privileges of life which I enjoyed and took for granted – playing outside with friends, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired – was a shocking dart between the eyes. I felt very still and quiet inside, in that way of walking from the cinema after seeing a film that stirred the soul, leaving you in dire need of the emptiest night-streets.

Normally, after watching such videos, the class would then go outside at break-time and re-enact in games what they had seen. I didn’t feel up to it. The company of my peers felt cloying; I couldn’t shake off the weird nimbus-mood.

When I got home, I asked my mother for a few sheets of blank paper. Keeping in mind what I’d seen a teacher do, I asked her to fold it over and staple the edges, to make a “proper book.” This would be the first of many; I still have some knocking around in old files, scribbled dark with biro and pencil. The pictures usually took up much of the page, with the narratives captioned beneath.

That first story took the brick-work children out of their scraping-by environment; away from the flames of the kiln which burnt their skin, and out into the countryside – all via a convoluted map, of course, with contemporary enemies thrown in for good measure (I’m pretty sure there was an electric gremlin somewhere en route.)

In the only way I knew how, I gave those kids a shot at freedom, to take their lives into their own hands – though of course, it all balanced against my developing suspension of disbelief, for I was all too aware that the Victorian children were long gone. But still, that creative outlet somehow worked to appease my sense of morality, a little.

The rest of the story lies in the ebb-flow of this writing career.

Anorexia worked its claws in, around the time when I discovered I was not unique as a writer. There were others who, to a lesser or greater degree, were saying much the same things I was – using the same terminology, tapping into the same ideas, putting up their hands in class to give the answers I would have spoken, had I dared to bother to open my mouth first. More and more, the words What is the Point? ran through my head, a whistle-rush loop to throttle out all creative impulses. Someone would have inevitably done it before, and better – why should I waste my time?

With the loss of identity, anorexia was all too happy to step in and fill that echoing space. But since I wasn’t keen on death, and the grey place I was stuck in didn’t seem to be making me happy or peaceful, the only other way was up, and out. And though my brain was fried for a while, I never stopped writing – even if it was only to do a crossword or four, every day, to keep my mind ticking over; albeit, teeny-tiny ticks, inching about the clock face, counting out the days and the years that were becoming one and the same.

Time is something I wish I had more of – don’t we all? – while it is forever escaping from these pockets, to go rolling off down the street. I hate to feel as though I’ve wasted a moment, especially after leaving hospital. There is so much to catch up on. Once something has caught my interest, it will become yet another crystal for me to look into and through, multi-faceted and in equal parts beautiful and deadly, depending on how self-destructive I am feeling.

My ex partner was always trying to educate me in the glorious arts of Sitting Still and Doing Nothing; he can watch a fish tank for up to an hour before settling to write, while I must barge around like a walking hive full of bees before anything close to relaxation occurs, let alone a creative onslaught on a page. Evenings are my favourite time, when the body is weary enough to let the still-bright mind take over; sitting up in this eyrie-home with my back to to the wall, heart in my mouth and occasionally on my sleeve, watching the speckles of rain and the golden light that reflects off of gathered cumuli. A silence so heavy that the air itself shifts in colour, and it seems as though the world is holding its breath –

Until the thunder-clap and my heartbeat, a reminder that I had something to do or somewhere to be, something to read or write; another thing to learn and recall. I’ve given myself cluster-headaches recently, perhaps trying to do too much at once.
But I’d take it all, the newborn mind and the frantic energy, insomniac nights and the red-eye days, over the stagnancy of before.

So while at work, I allow my mind to wander freely. My job is high-intensity and very much blue-collar; there are some in my life who have made their opinions known, that I have “sold myself short.” It was their opinion that for someone who is holding three top-grade A Levels, I could certainly be doing better for myself; perhaps earning a better wage, driving a car, renting a bigger flat. Etc.

Should they ever read this, they will know who they are, and I hope that they will understand why I’ve included it here. I will point out now, as I did ten years ago when I took my first job after leaving hospital, that I am in work and I am alive. This is enough for me. I do tend to forget, which is OK in most circumstances, except when I grow complacent and/or rag on at myself for falling short of expectations.

I have few responsibilities and fewer outgoings, by personal preference. Even before the long spells of inpatient treatment, I was suspicious of all things long-term, of that which caused a commitment to be made, a responsibility upheld. When you’ve seen your life hanging by a thread, watching with dulled eyes as it was pulled taut, you become hyper-aware of Now.
Tomorrow, as they say, is just another day.

So I rarely plan anything in advance, and leapfrog from one project to another, with all the enthusiasm and naivety of a woman who has (and probably never will) grow up or grow old. My phone contract alone gives me a cold sweat. It’s probably the longest financial commitment I have to date.

Maybe one day, I’ll feel secure enough in myself and the turning of the world, to lay down roots.

This certainly isn’t the Be-All and End-All of life. The daytime job is just that, for all that I love the interactions with the personnel involved; it keeps a regular flow of cash coming in, and maintains my fitness in ways I hadn’t thought possible before. This is a particularly worthwhile investment for (allowing myself to break a rule) the tough times which may be ahead, if anorexia has a few latent “gifts” to give me when I am older.

The job allows me the freedom to come home and get on with the real career, the writing which sustains me mentally throughout the day; when not filtering through articles found online, researching this and that until my mind whites-out with weariness.

One day, I might actually know enough to write with a valid voice, about the things which engage my interest and are starting to redirect my concerns and priorities. The peculiar importance of the upcoming European elections; the actual benefits for education and global research, which our membership in the EU brings vs. the need for reformations; the rise-fall-rise of UKIP, and their consideration of an alliance with European far-right parties, to form a so-called Right-wing Eurosceptic bloc. Considering what some of the policies of these far-right populist parties are, let alone their controversies, I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with the idea.

I’m not a part of the so-called Metropolitan Elite. I earn just enough to stay alive, and try not to take more than I have earned. I’m only Me, a novice in this arena; but all I ask for, is to live in a country where everyone may go about their business without feeling persecuted because of their skin colour, ridiculed if English is not their first language, or unrepresented if the way in which they live differs to the social majority. It can’t be too much to expect, right? Heaven forbid if several individuals should happen to get together as a group, and to also be Romanian, and moving at speed into a house..

(Mr Farage has since retracted his comments, after a rather messy interview with LBC radio’s James O’Brien, in which I think it’s fair to say that the UKIP leader’s true colours were given an airing. Will it make a difference?
I’d throw a dart at a board. You’d have more chance of finding an answer.)
The Sun duly issued an example of deadpan assertion, just to ratchet up the pressure (via @pawelmorski / @jamesmanning4):

Sun newspaper

Sometimes, it really does come down to a dictionary definition.

I’m still learning as I go along. Still fucking up, backtracking, coming at things from one angle after another (hitting my head.) Always processing what others tell me, and what I witness on and offline. I’m not content with keeping quiet any more, and all of this waiting around, to find and validate my voice … it’s a bit boring. I guess it’ll happen when the train arrives.

To get back to the original point: I’m a writer. I make things happen with words. I may not always be writing what I know, but I know that I’m writing what I feel, what I fear and what I wish to talk about with the world.

Additional: On my school prom night, I was voted “Most likely to strap herself to a rocket in protest.”
Hope that helps.

These dreams we have …

… do not always die with the dawn, it seems.

My mother has always teased me about being slightly clairvoyant. This apparently stems from a knack for finding cash on the ground, of always seeming to “know” when and were to look. Personally, I’d say it is something that anyone is capable of – especially when they’re forced to assess the stability of cobblestones, as I so often am, or to watch out for the Lesser-Spotted aqua-crater, which likes to disguise itself as the more common “pothole” (a thing of shallow nature, incapable of holding the gallon or so of rainwater necessary for a dark heart.)

With my eyes flitting between ground and sky, caught on the crosswires of plane-trails and clouds, cobbles and craters, it is perhaps inevitable that I will at some point fix on a shining coin or dropped bank note.

Dawn on a Sunday morning, can resemble New Year’s Day. The teeter-totter empties set out in untidy rows on each lonely doorstep, the wind whipping up a miasma of cartons and kebab wrappers, will tell you all that you need to know about the city’s Night Before. Hair drifting to and fro on a park bench, with a crooked elbow wedged beneath a face cradled in sleep, the eyes glued shut with alcohol. Depending on the clothes, you can have a fair guess at who will be the ones to wake and look about sheepishly, rubbing a pale cheek; rummaging for

– such a burst of relief, in that sigh! –

their belongings, before pulling on heel-slack shoes, to pick carefully out of the park…

…and who will be the ones to stay put on that bench for a little longer, staring into the sky that holds nothing but a new day, a few hangnail pigeons, maybe the arcing wing-wheel of a red kite, all loveless talons.

These, I walk past in the same way I would walk past any slumbering figure: with the greatest care, on feathersoft feet, for we all of us deserve to remain in the safe haven of dreams for as long as possible.

And whenever I find bank notes slippery with dew, or coins flat as the pale sun in the silver-gold mist, I will leave them beside the hand that is cool as marble, or sometimes curled like a kitten around the mouth. It never fails to stun me into silence, how we resemble our child-selves in sleep. Goosepimpled skin gains colour with a cup of fresh coffee, or a bus ride home (if home is indeed an option.) I like to set aside a fantasy, too, that some will use the money to call a long-lost friend or lover; to speak to them in the way they should have many years ago, to say what couldn’t be said then, when life got in the way; to hear the sound of surprise, and a sentiment unchanged. For dawn is that time of purple wine-lips, the quiet before the hangover-storm; there is still that Invisibility Cloak of the night, when we are more apt to say what can’t be found in the full flare of daylight.

Ja, I am a hopeless romantic. This tends to come out more when I am drunk, and the stone walls of reality are worn down to allow dreams to escape. Taking a taxi home on the Friday night/Saturday morning just past, I was brought to a stillness of silence inside, while gaping out of the window at the black-diamond beauty of the City. London, for all her daytime grit and skirling leaves, traffic cones and the thin blue-brown veil of the horizon, is effortless in elegance when found at night, in the quieter hours, when most everyone has passed out in their own bed or someone else’s.
I know I will live under that glittering cloak one day, in a lamplight haven that resembles no other. There will be so much in between, though – yet more change *sigh*

But this seems to be the running theme of the moment, and for once, it is not unwelcome – but a long time in coming, or so it feels. I can hit the ground running … when I’ve had enough sleep.

Where religion is concerned, I will take a look at anything, with divisions of interest. Opinions – everyone’s entitled to one, just as they are to a belief, a theory. So long as no one feels that they have the right to –

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

So why I should feel bound to walk beneath the grey stone arches of my local cathedral – into the dusty stillness of ages that will probably last beyond us, beyond the very structure itself – to offer a prayer for the lives of those suffering in Ukraine and Russia with the current unrest, is anyone’s guess. While outside, in the familiar chill of the wind that smooths over the engraved tomb stones and marble angels with an indifferent hand, I felt my heart contract with something I’m not sure any faith or scientific theory could help to explain.

gunmetal sky

old grave

There was the unicorn, watchful as ever and set above the double doors; a trick of the light (isn’t it always the way?), how she seemed to flicker with a wink, a stir of motion, when the light ceded to shadows and the day to dusk. Her iron strength and seashell elegance, create a pearl fire.

I went inside. The cool quiet is, whether you hold onto faith or not, a haven for the mind. All the hive-thoughts were set to rest, like a damp cloth placed over the sifting dust motes.

I wandered here and there, up and down the aisles, between pews, touching glossy wood of many whorls and colourations; craning my head back to take in the mighty rose window, which replays itself in a kaleidoscopic rainbow on the stone floor, where more scriptures can be found. Candles whispered at my passing, and I was reminded of a favourite hymn in school; a silver-black message of flickering candles in the night, of darkness turning into light. Less of a poignancy in the words, than the melody.

Still, my own darkness would not shift, and I sought some quiet corner to be alone, to speak aloud, for sometimes this is the only way to Know yourself in the world. I do it so rarely these days, that to hear my own voice often startles me, in the same way that hearing a full name can spell Trouble – when you were small, and the culprit.

Away from the crowds of a sunny Sunday afternoon, those vaulted ceilings sang back the whispers and shuffling feet of fellow wanderers.
I finally found a corner of half-light, shifting dust, and the rippled colours of a glaze window. I let the rising ache of my voice go, with a whisper that came from nowhere and seemed to land as such, in empty space, for anyone to hear or none. I could care less, really – it was the act of getting the words out, of knowing they had been said, which left my chest free and empty at last. I so rarely pray, it always feels as though I am taking what is not mine to have. I certainly didn’t see the light. Yet in those moments when reality merges with a recurring dream – or in my case, the nightmares of childhood, now seemingly brought to stark life – we sometimes fall back on what we have known. I was raised in a casual-Christian setting. My grandmother is quietly religious. A cathedral holds serenity at its heart, as a lake holds green-black silence.
It’s a refuge.

I don’t pray for my own actions, for they are my responsibility. But to watch what goes on in the world, is to feel alone. I felt it today – not in the sense of longing for company, but in the knowledge of my own insignificance and inability to help. So it goes with any conflict – watching the scenes in Ukraine, for example, with a dismay tainted by coppery anger, for the wrenching of power and the reticence shown by those who could do a damn sight more than I ever can. But nothing is ever so simple as just picking up sword and spear, riding or walking out to the boundary line and facing off with whichever intruder creep-claws over your wall.

So I was more than a bit perturbed to turn my head and find a man crouched just outside of the diamond-facet light, half hidden in shadows, to watch my whispered words that were meant for no one in particular, but perhaps were seen as the mark of a faith he wished to capture in the lens of his angled camera. A nice Kodak, too. Maybe he was trying to reclaim his own belief, in the epitome of pathos. Or he thought I was posing.

When I am trying to have a quiet cry that has appeared from nowhere (and they’re invariably brought on by helplessness, an inexplicable overspill, these days) the last thing I want is the feeling that I have somehow set up the scene. There was no wish to appear blessed by some invisible hand. I certainly don’t want to appear in an updated coffee-shop table version of Pilgrim’s Progress. I bit my lip on a storm of words; frustrated, not only for the sake of those I spoke for, but for this world of collapsed privacy and solitude. We are accordion-pleating on ourselves. Sometimes, it really does feel like there are too many of us around.

So when I walked away, it was with a lighter heart and a real desire to utter expletives on holy ground.
Swings and roundabouts.

On the way out, I stopped by those flickering candles, and a small pinboard where people passing through can leave their thoughts and prayers if their voices fail them. Like a rebellious child at the Headmaster’s office, I hung back, reading those sprawling notes with a sideways glance; just as I had assessed the paintings in the Rothko room at the Tate modern, which are so organic and composed in their dominance of the walls, that to try and contemplate their presence full-on is to feel diminished (and sullen with it.) But I will always cede to grandeur that is deserving of respect.

When those with the clickety-click cameras and shuffling steps had passed on by, I scribbled out a quick note, and tacked it to the board. There was that push-pull instinct again. No one’s troubles are any greater, or less than another’s. Our worlds are our own. Ripples.

To stand inside that cathedral, is to step outside of Time, through the clock, to a place where we may go to be at once exalted, and diminished. Humbled by tears and reflection, proud in the knowledge of ourselves, whether through faith or the sheer presence of the structure…

…before stepping back outside, into the slanting gold evening and the quickening breath of the wind over gravestones; back onto the endless road of reality.

apola sun

N.B: Not all of my dreams appear without stimulus. Only the other night, reading about the beloved old Routemaster, I then fell asleep and had the strange pleasure of a tour through the midnight streets of London. Crystalline air sang off the Thames, and the open platform’s bar was cold as starlight in my hands.
Make of that what you will.

Songs that saved my Life, Pt 2

Following on from last week’s Monday Blogs entry –

You’ve probably experienced this yourself at some transitional point in life – listened to a song, and its melody and/or lyrics leapt out to fill your mind with stunned silence, that weird missed-step feeling of Fate having a hand between your shoulder blades. Regardless of its release date, that song would then become synonymous with a fragment of time when, for a few moments, you didn’t feel quite so unique, or so alone and unheard by the world, depending on how you viewed it.

This is how music has always underscored different aspects of my life. Each year, I’ll find at least one song/album which can define the overall mood based on events, or my mindset. It’s been an ongoing game for a while now, one I believe to be integral to building something like a rapport with the artists involved (though they’ll never know my shadow, of course.)

Taking a leaf out of Simon Goddard’s excellent chronological analysis of The Smiths, I’ve compiled a series of these songs to mark significant periods of time, either in my life or the lives of those I care about. They’re listed according to the chronology of when I first heard them, or how I “relearned” them through the filter of changed circumstances.

Since musical taste is an excellent way of getting to know people, I invite you all to join me; either as entries on your own blogs, or as stand-alone articles. I’ll include relevant personal meanings for each song, and ask that you do the same; as descriptive/sensory as you like. Paint a Vulgar Picture, if necessary – or indeed, a Starry Night. Make it a journal-account of sorts. Keep to around 15-20 songs, include music videos and pictures if you wish; but above all, go in-depth about how these songs wove themselves into the fabric of your being, how they mark those defining moments.

9) Garbage, You Look so Fine / Dido, Thank You, Life for Rent (2004)

Once out of hospital, I was at a loose end. Still not well enough to work full-time, there was a real danger of sliding back into old routines out of sheer boredom, and a need for control; especially as I had picked up some bad new habits inside. This is all too often the case in an inpatient unit that’s packed out with friendly-fire rivals. Anorexia thrives off the curious competition-empathy of sufferers. Us against the World; Us against You. You live in Me.

I made myself look away. Cut off contact with almost all the friends I had made on the ward, since our one tenuous link was the illness; the ones I did keep around, had shown genuine resolve in fighting their demons, which were my demons – and in this state, we were unified and individual at once, for everyone’s backstory is different. But the symptoms remain largely the same, across the board. These women and girls were facing down the world again, just as I was, and we were agreed that it was best to find Distractions as soon as possible.
Also, to reform old attachments.

Friends from school had, to some extent, fallen away – understandably so, for who wants to chase after missed phone calls that are never returned, messages received and left unread or ignored? I was still the emotionless girl who wished only to pace up and down the local streets; daunting, as one old friend put it, when he made the decision to call me first to find out how I was doing.

You look like the old Rai, but with too many years in your eyes, was a line that stuck in my head. Mainly because it was so uncharacteristically poetic of him.

This guy, he was that first love of mine; an old friend from the Clay Pits, who I’d watch from the corner of my eye, and wish to Whoever that I could stop caring about. He knew how I felt, and couldn’t reciprocate – the truth burnt between us in loud silences, for how is it ever easy to discuss with a best friend, the love that could kill such intimacy and trust? So we didn’t. Just another one of those Things.

I gave him the song by Dido, Thank You, from her first album, with its silver-blue light behind my eyes. Every moment spent with him was at once torture, and the pure sunlight of those honeyed evenings we’d spent in the Pit, barely 3 years before my fall, chasing each other and the rest of the gang through the tangled webs of grass. That almond-paste smell of hawthorn petals, is intrinsically linked with him in my mind.

Clay pits

He was my rock in late 2004, when – suffering a relapse, and staring down the barrel of another long inpatient stay – I grasped desperately at the only other option: education. It seemed the only logical option, other than slow decay again, and bouncing off the walls behind a locked door. I was pretty much back to pre-hospital weight, and had the additional (silent) concern / possible-reproach of my family, on my shoulders. I don’t know this for fact, but that’s how it felt. Such bitter guilt, to have failed.

Just prior to signing up for sixth form again – this time at my old school, where it was hoped that the familiarity of the grounds and the consistency of classes would have a stabilizing effect – I attended the barn party of another old friend. He was in the habit of throwing these things, impromptu as they were, and packed with ex-school mates, nostalgia-fest music (Offspring, anyone?) and of course, kegs. My dear friend was there too, having coaxed-prodded me out of my own head for an evening.

I’ll never forget how cold his hands were, holding my face – like this – gently on the cheeks, while we stood there in the black-diamond air of midnight. Our breath made little silver plumes, to mingle with the purple smoke of the bonfire nearby (this was the only thing keeping me alive; so raw-boned, but determined to stick it out and drink with friends, though the October night was full of frozen stars.) I didn’t think he was going to kiss me, that was too much to expect; and indeed, I knew he had a girlfriend by that point. It still made little bursts of pain in my chest to think about it, but anorexia had managed to dull this somewhat, like a knife repeatedly striking a wall of stone.

What he did do was lean in on my right ear, breathing hot alcohol breath down it and my neck, to whisper that I was Going to be fine. Everything would turn out OK, because I was fantastic, and he believed in me.

Not the usual cynical stuff, then. He really was drunk. But it struck down so hard inside me that I couldn’t reply, for all the shards of tears in my throat. So I just nodded; let him hug me, in that hesitant way of people who were (as my mother put it once) so afraid they would break me in two.
When he staggered off into the dark, out of the firelight, I left to go home. There wasn’t any more reason to stay; but then again, I could acknowledge to myself (with a small smile) that there was less reason to leave now, too.

His favourite song, when we were in school together, was by Garbage – You look so Fine. I wore dragonfly earrings in his honour.

you look so fine

10) Coldplay, Talk / Jefferson Airplane, White Rabbit (2004-6)

Sixth form turned out to be as hectic as I’d feared, with its deadlines and the hormonal clouds of classmates mingling with deodorant and BO. Being three years older than everyone, with that hunted/haunted look of someone already out in the world, I rarely spoke – but absorbed whatever I could, whatever got past the anorexia-bitch. English Literature, Language and Film Studies – these seemed a good place to start.

I don’t regret a moment, except perhaps to (wistfully) wish that I’d been well enough to appreciate the whole experience more – especially while learning about Weimar cinema in Film Studies, with the relative historical context (pre-WW2, post-WW1); and dissecting Oliver Stone’s Platoon, which remains my favourite film to this day. It is, with the song White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, synonymous with those evenings spent studying in the heat of Ma’s back garden, where the air was thick and heavy as library dust. Rum would burn the back of my throat, as I crooked my head back to study that indifferent sky, fading as it was from turquoise to indigo. Curiosity, and this clawing need to learn, would sustain me through the raw times. This holds true today.

I also tried signing up for the RAF, just after exams had finished, since I still had no clear idea of what I wanted to do for a profession. Following my parents seemed a good idea, though into Intelligence rather than Signals / Engineering. Everything was going well, with an above-average grade on the BARB, and secured background checks … until they took a look at my medical history. This couldn’t exactly be ignored, though I had tried to (literally) pad out the truth by wearing heavier clothing, and tactfully meandering around some of the more probing questions.
It didn’t work. The guys in the recruitment centre were kind; they smiled, and handed back my medical form, while telling me to come back in five years when I was completely clear of the hospital’s shadow, and had gained about five kilos.

Ah well. Better luck next time.

“I am reality.”

The teacher who would leave an imprint on my life, as so many of them do, had a real thing for the band Coldplay. I’d never given them much attention before, but the album X&Y turned out to be a surprisingly nuanced soundtrack for those years spent learning what it meant to be – to feel – like a human being again. There was this constant knot of fear – of falling behind, of failing, in lessons and in the twisted face of the eating disorder that was screaming blue murder for me to Fucking Pay Attention to it.

As some kind of desperate grab for stability, I latched onto this guy. Married, as they inevitably are, and furthermore out of reach by virtue of his profession – but a friendly face, nonetheless, and an influence. So it goes that I tend to ricochet from one “teacher” to another, picking up new traits, sometimes leaving a trail of footprints, or just the tiniest fleck of a shadow.

My Ma has never understood this constant falling-for-guys-I -can’t-have. She figures that by indulging in such feelings for someone who might never know the truth, or whose circumstances prevent them from reciprocating, I am afraid of commitment.
This might be so. I do enjoy my own company, more than ever these days, and always will. That being said, I cannot share the belief that such feelings are any less true, just because they go unknown / unanswered, and are not fixed in the “reality” of physical contact or proximity.

Love at a distance, is still love – so long as we remain aware of the silent grace this entails.

Talk, by Coldplay, always brings back that sepia-smile of memory.

11) Bright Eyes, No one would riot for Less / The Last Shadow Puppets, Age of the Understatement / Joy Division, Love will Tear us Apart / Depeche Mode ft. Mike Shinoda, Enjoy the Silence, 2004 remix (2008-9)

… And then came one I could actually have.

Quite unexpectedly. With improved health, early 2008 saw me cautiously treading water in the online-dating scene, after being teased (by my Ma) into creating a few accounts. This flatlined pretty quickly. It was hard to take most of the profile names seriously, let alone the “people” behind the profiles; though I did find a couple of gems, who remain dear – if distant – friends.

J began this way, dropping into my life and Myspace inbox (of all places) one blue-shadows Friday night. It was getting towards that hour when solitary inebriation takes over, and the household is full of quiet thoughts, and most other people are asleep; when the writers of the world are either settling down to the latest Agony (bottle of wine or whatever, mandatory) or are riffling through the internet pages for similarly-tormented minds. Polite as you please, he left a note of some rambling-meandering overtures, with a cute little hesitant “Hello, by the way,” tacked on the end.

I responded to this introduction with what can only be described as a bite of cranberry, after a week of lechy messages from other Myspace members. My own politeness had frayed out. It’s a wonder that he replied at all.

But he did, and has never stopped giving me second chances since. Though he does like to tease me about that fragile beginning, when it could’ve gone wholly the other way – our paths might never have merged, and a five-year relationship would never have made it off the screen.

The physical distance was by turns a godsend, and pure agony. We were/are solitary creatures by nature. And there is no thrill to match that of the Friday afternoons of anticipation – barrelling out of work (for I was employed full-time by then), scrubbing-up-changing-outfits-doing-hair, before dashing for the train that would rattle-bang its way up the line into London (all seething air and clatter of pigeons, too many feet and The Last Shadow Puppets in my ears) –

Animal Genius: Pegions

to finally stand in the grotty train station at the other end of that sweary, sweaty journey, listening for the Mini’s whine, and blinking in the hazy evening sunlight.

Our weekends were full of pubs, and the Downs; we circled on that constant belt of air running between the latter and the Beacon, a great green wave in the distance, which would soon become friend and foe as our hikes advanced. I became part of the mosaic of his home life, as he did mine – though to a lesser degree, since I was more than willing to escape the small town where I’d grown up, to visit rather than be visited. We discovered a shared symbolism in the magnificent red kites, which were just beginning to respond positively to a new breeding program in the area. Dark hunter’s eyes. Hooked wings, and a V-shape heading west, into the sinking light.

Oh and there was pizza. I can’t walk past an open door of Papa John’s, without pausing to relish the memory of their Friday-feeling appeal (washed down with cider.)
Who knew that an anorexic could be encouraged, by love, to eat such things?

But those journeys home, on Sunday afternoons full of watery light … they were the pits. Balanced between crowds with my head down, on what was basically a Sunday skeleton service; it took twice as long to step back into the town I would suddenly hate for its distance from him, while still looking around with some relief that I was back, and on familiar ground.
Still, the distance was a new kind of pain. I’d never known real loneliness, before the realization of a person I could actually stand to be around for longer than 24 hours.

Drunk-dancing in the Norman King pub on his birthday, to Joy Division’s Love will Tear us Apart – that was the moment I realized we had gone over the casual-thingummy aspect, into something that would survive – despite the recession, the Dole, constant travelling; the instability of a relationship formed of 60% computer/phone screens, and an unreliable train service.

So I made the jump, in late October 2009; left home, to follow the kites and the bracket of nimbus/flooding sunlight, which would make up our shared time.

beacon rain

11) Emily Haines, Doctor Blind / The National, Bloodbuzz Ohio (2010)

Well, those hurtling-train days and Jack Daniel-nights couldn’t last forever. The honeymoon period was well and truly over by the time I was facing off with the weather, pulled on its conveyor-belt of air along the valley. Such storms! I’d never seen or felt the like, with hail ripping into my skin, purple shadows marking my every step, as I raced the flying nimbus home. The job I had planned to fall into, fell through instead; like J before me, I was now stuck on the Dole for the first time in my life, and let me tell you – that was an experience never to be forgotten, or repeated.

There’s only so many times one can be told to attend meetings – which, after an hour’s wait alongside dead-fish eyes and tight mouths similar to your own, last all of two minutes and yield only a stamp and wave-off – before nerves start to fray. Impatient, bored, in need of some consistency and not willing to sit around waiting on interview calls, I took to walking the length and breadth of J’s homeland, instead; learning every curve of a country lane, the nuance of hedgerows, the juxtaposition of light and darkness. The soft sweet swell of light on summer afternoons; the starkness of November nimbus, barrelling up over the Downs and chasing me back into the village where we lived.

And always, there were the dark eyes and hooked wings of the red kites, which would angle overhead and watch as I traipsed aimlessly here and there, seeking inspiration (for the writing had flatlined too, another sore point – I cannot concentrate on anything creative while life-issues stick pins in my eyes.) That raptor was my totem, symbolic of a wandering spirit, and a savage need to withstand the battering winds and endless variations of rain.

Those were lonely days, I must admit, for J had by chance fallen into employment – a lucky save, or I don’t know how things would have gone for us otherwise. As it was, cooped up together under his parent’s roof and with our future plans stalled out from lack of finances, we were running on a loop of the blues and the mean reds (to borrow a memorable line from Ms Golightly.) Times were tough enough; the recession had hit, along with the heaviest snowfall in decades; both had locked up the country, and seemed to put hope in exile. Every time I felt diminished, on the verge of collapse (in all senses), I had only to read the papers to feel – in that silvery manner of empathy – a pang of kinship with others, going through similar circumstances.

Living with your new love in close quarters, for around a year and with very little income, while dependant on the limitless generosity of his parents, is a very humbling experience. Take my word for it.
It’s also a hard lesson in discovering each other’s idiosyncrasies, adjusting and accepting wherever possible. How we came out of it still talking to each other, let alone in a stable relationship, is anyone’s guess.

winter sky

On one memorable occasion, striding home in the middle of a storm, I felt the wind actually bend the stem of my umbrella in my hands. My laugh tanged off my teeth; with a savage sideways thrust, I flung the damn thing into a hedge and carried on home, head high and still laughing, while soaked to the skin and exultant in being alive, if only to witness the sky turn black as my mind.
Sometimes, all you can do is grin in the screaming face of the gale.

Still. Melodramatics over, my luck changed in the next week. A forgotten job application back in early summer, and its subsequent interview; a blue-bolt phonecall in late September. The checks had gone through at last, and I was all clear to go. Did I still want the job?
Well.

12) Alex Turner, Piledriver Waltz / Cecile Corbel, Arrietty’s Song – from the Arrietty OST / Blonde Redhead, 23 / Mogwai, Too Raging to Cheers (2011-12)

The return of systematic hours and routines was a shock to my system, even after trying to keep up some semblance of control while on benefits. It’s always the way, after a spell of gluey time. Unemployment is striking in its restrictions, for all that there are masses of free time. Little money –> less options –> mental / physical apathy. Or so I found, anyway, which is why the return to work was a jumpstart to my spirits.

The best part was feeling needed again. Suddenly, there were demands on my time. Flinging myself around the building, head down and ever-watchful, silent, I soon learned how to approach the Family that is the Force – usually with coffee/tea in tow, since that seemed a damn good icebreaker, especially as they were trudging in and out of whatever vile weather happened to be hitting our isle in late 2010. Observing their grim humour, I felt at home. And after several months of suspicion – quite understandable, I suppose, all things considered, since I was the new kid in the building – I was duly inducted into that strange, bloodless bond which binds them all together. The odd hours, godless shifts, days when the entire building locks down in silence, or rings with laughter. The Nick is an old girl, now, and full of shifting dust in the air, echoes, and shadows of her former glory.

I’ve been there, in a civvy-staff role, for around 3.5 years now. Whether I’ll still be standing on the top floor to watch the sun rise by the end of this year, remains to be seen, for the world is changing and so am I. Circumstances, too, have had their say. Whatever happens, I don’t regret a moment of taking up this job. The Family have kept me alive, in more ways than one, and I can only hope to return the favour, as well as the caffeine-whiparounds.

blue lights

J and I had soon tired of the constant commute, back and forth, so moved to live in this new/ancient city. The air is notably heavy with the smell of the lakes, all black ‘n gold as whisky, while the water itself swirls with gypsy-scarf trails of oil and bird shit. In winter, silver snow rimes the grass of the park-slopes; chiming icicles hang from the tilting gutters of pubs (their interiors are dappled with open-fire smoke, while the walls are held together with split-wood beams strung up in leather and brass.)

Willow trees ring the water’s edge, to drip green-gold arrowheads and diamonds down and along looping branches, where in summer I can be found stretched out in the daffodil-soft air. I’ll dip fingers down to the rippling water, which so resembles that long-ago rivulet of the Clay Pits … I am 13 years old again, sitting with friends around a brick-potted campfire or nestled in the arms of that oak, with the lancing evening light turning the brown silt to gold.

Lake heart 1

Though the city is full of bling, flash cars with shit numberplates, and people whose ethos I will never understand – it is Home. A unicorn pays silent-sentry to the heart of our regal Lady, the city Cathedral. I give both a nod, in passing, each evening of a weekend walk.

It was on the foundations of these ancient stones, the oil-slick of modern faces, that I began to base my first novel (a short story, which grew legs and ran away with me.) The rain-slicked cobbles of the city centre, the winding green lanes of the outskirts where J and I had settled in our first little flat, proved ideal for inspiration – but it was the lamplight haven (a phrase I coined to describe the sanctuary of that orange-black time, when feral things come and go) which would hold the nest of words I needed.

Wandering here and there, under the pretty blue lights strung up in the city centre … traipsing up and down the many staircases at work, giving the creaking old walls of the Nick a loving pat … watching the leaf shadows drift to and fro by the wide-eye window of our flat, where gold evening light hung high in the trees … I felt content. For the first time in my life, I had a place to call my own, won out of waiting and work, desperate saving of money and hope, and love. J and I were as happy as any young couple could be.

Homeshots011

13) The National, Slipped / Sam Baker, Panhandle Winter / Peter Gabriel, Mercy Street / Fever Ray, Keep the streets Empty for Me (2013)

I’m in the crush, and I hate it – I’m having trouble inside my skin, I try to keep my skeletons in. – The National

All this is passing, is all that she said. – Sam Baker

And before we knew it, 2.5 years had passed, and I was that city girl the National spoke of; easy in my stride, and everyone’s friend/fuckup at work. 2013 ushered itself in like any other year, innocuous enough; an asteroid’s passage in February seemed the most momentous thing likely to happen, I remember thinking idly, while planning a holiday in London with J. We’d worked our butts off, and deserved a break. I also hoped it would reignite, well, whatever. You know how it is. Grey complacency filters in, quiet as the cobwebs hung in the rafters of a familiar pub-stop on a walk, or the drifting wings of a kite. We were – are – each other’s best friends, and confidantes. But lately, my gaze had begun to drift out the window.

Not that I was hankering for anyone else. The unhappy truth is far more complex than that, and is something I will never forgive myself for. As ever, the answer eludes me. We had everything. Our shared silences were comfortable; we could be as easy in each others’ company, as apart.

lamplight haven

Yet when the difficult times came – with a loss of job security, and our flat being pulled from beneath us by an unscrupulous landlord (not forgetting the ineptitude of several estate agents, all of whom let viewings of potential new homes fall through) – I couldn’t bring myself to comfort him. We were stunned into ourselves with the speed at which things fell apart. I looked outward for distraction – in writing, on Twitter – building new friendships which at first seemed formless and empty, as anyone would assume of something born of social media, a lack of proximity.

But in the second half of the year – when J and I were crammed between unfamiliar walls, our hearts thumping in time with the door-banging of a passive-aggressive housemate, while wondering how we would recoup our lost money and selling off much of what we treasured – it would be this eclectic group of friends scattered over the globe, who would keep me going. Though I regret the ever-increasing distance this put between J and I, oh, every day – but by then, I didn’t know how to comfort him. Didn’t know what to say, to make things right. Our silences, once so comfortable, became loud with unspoken truths; we tiptoed around each other, on the shards of all we had once had.

That online support-system has proved to be priceless, time and again. As I’ve long maintained, distance doesn’t count for shit when it’s a meeting of minds, if not eyes. Some of my best friends are on the other side of the planet, and though we’ll often miss each other due to pesky time zone differences, the beauty of this social media thing is that we can leave little reminders on each other’s timelines, just to say, “Hey. I’m thinking of you.”

15) Of Monsters and Men, King & Lionheart (2014) / Marissa Nadler, Dead City Emily / Katie Melua, Belfast (Penguins and Cats) (2014)

Which leads me here at last, dear reader, to the finale of this overlong post, and life as it stands. A lowered visor, a wire-twist smile; less of a strut, than the sideways dance of a feral cat waiting for the next kick. Lessons learned have been taken to heart, and I am quiet in some ways, loud in others.

Times are changing; the world is shifting. The two mainstays in my life, the dreams of childhood – writing and travel – now wind about each other to make a rope that would tug me out the door… I dream of the places I have been, in childhood, full of the mountains with their diamond teeth, the brittle sky, the dark and silent forests.

There is a need, though, to quieten this thing in my head. Oh, it’s governable – in that strategic way of a fairly systematic life. I am what you would call a “functioning anorexic”; unable to afford therapy, nor having any inclination to spend my wages dancing between towns, as doctors would have me do (local services not being all that local) to attend what would only dredge up more flashback memories.
Then a wave out the door, ‘See you in a fortnight!’
Ja.

Poor excuses, I know. Believe me, I know. I’ve been making them to myself for years.

So, as ever, education is the key distraction from a fear which would see me fail each time I push against my safe boundaries. I do this alone, you understand, because it has the most lasting effect; I certainly wouldn’t advise it for every anorexic. Therapists have come and gone, but only one left an impression – a motherly woman, with a dark-honey voice and who resembled the late Eva Cassidy. It was she who told me – aged 18, staccato and sullen, still unable to grasp the length of the road ahead and expecting (like some of my family) for this thing to vanish overnight – that I had a formidable mind.
‘It is, and will be your greatest asset, and your worst enemy. You know damn fine what needs to be done. But it’s about turning that drive around, from something self-destructive.’

Well, Sue. Here I am.
(I do owe her a drink.)

I read and absorb all that I can, in the desperate manner of someone playing Catch-Up. Slowly, like those chiming icicles falling away with the thaw, I let go of the old habits and routines, to wander through new experiences, while seeking whatever distractions I can. And the world has much to offer.

I still fetch myself out through the lamplight haven, to the beetle-black sound of Fever Ray, and the silver glint of Marissa Nadler (like trees in November); wandering the alleyways with their click-clack cobbles, my eyes are distant and alert at once. Watching shores far from here, and wishing to be There, with a spirit that is again crying for leaving.

I always was a meddler. Context, experience, have much to answer for; improved health has allowed me to absorb more information, bit by agonizing bit. Though the past decade may seem wasted, it has at least taught me some patience, and an unexpected capacity for love and empathy. Watching what goes on across the world, in places I know in memories and as dreams, it’s difficult not to care. I can’t turn my face away.

My friends and foes, it is proving difficult to get across what I want to say, now we’re here at the end. But it feels like the start. It’s all too near, still too raw. How best to describe the inertia of job insecurity, the lingering questions that go unanswered? The strange things that are happening, which accelerate and feel wonderful, and terrifying all at once? The best I can do is roll with it all, as the birds do on the ripples of the lake.

If employment runs out this year, as I suspect it will, I won’t be around to see those gates close for the last time. I will be gone, long before yet more ghosts can make their home behind my eyes. God knows, this city is already full of them, like my old home town.

Lake heart – deep and abiding, full of the green-black heaviness, the silence; eyrie heart, where I retreat to be alone, to write and watch the sky. Petrol rainbows in the gutter, my own brand of love; nice to look at, and bitter as the thorns of the blue rose I carry everywhere, everyday. A language of symbols.

eyrie heart

Pale lilac and silver are the colours of loss, found in my mind, when it’s not the white-out of a stunned silence. Beetle-black is the feral mood which so often sends me out into the night, done up on writing and rum, waiting for sleep to come. Waiting.
Though with spring comes the green-gold light of hope, and the almond-paste smell of the hawthorn blossoms again. The world wears cherry hearts on its sleeve.

I have never been in a better position to leave behind the last shreds of this old life. Though I hate to lump everything which happened last year onto Fate – for it denotes a lack of choice – it certainly did feel like the Universe had its boot up my arse. All the security, the ties, fell away or were taken from us. Now, there seems little left to stay for. I can bid the city a fond farewell, and leave without looking back.

We may yet come full circle, to Suzanne; to travelling blind, to taking chances I would not have had the guts to make before. We’ll see.

tree cathedral

pale sun

All things move towards their end

Listening to the rain beating its tattoo on my skylight, I know the night outside is a cold one for some, warm with nostalgia for others. The gutters will be flooded with petrol rainbows; the drains with dreams and reality, mingled as one in a skirling blaze of colour.

I like to sit with my back to the wall, watching dark shadow-flecks fall through the glass and into my room. Light to dark, nimbus eye – eyrie heart. Dry as bone, and always home.

Rain can carry the trace of tears away, with no one the wiser. It’s the best place to be, when the sky is a vast mirror for the mind.

Today, life (once again, with feeling) became all too real.

Just when things had settled down and I’d got my breath back. Change is a shift in the air, as of pigeons whirling overhead in their little v’s of praise to the clouds; it’s the movement of light over the bedroom wall, from morning peach to afternoon gold, to evening brass. At least I was semi-aware this time. I’ve had my ear to the ground, when not watching the sky.

My workplace is a poor dilapidated thing now, but I can’t help giving her walls a forlorn pat, each time I traipse up and down the winding staircases that could go on forever – were it not for floor after floor emptying out, becoming a graveyard of slow-shifting air and dust, memories cocooned in the minds of those who knew the place for what it was. Three years have shown me more than I could hope to learn outside of her walls – about life, love, death, and all the bits muddled in between. Most of all, more important to me than I had realized in the early days, it is Family. With all the knots and bits of fluff this entails.

I’m already on the hunt for new employment, preferably in the same field. It’s been my home where all others fell away. and was a focus for my mind last year. I don’t think I can stay to the end, to see those gates close for us one last time.

Perhaps I’ll finally answer that throaty call of the world, with travel and exploration. I might find the jungle temple of a childhood dream, the redrock canyon too, with its endless blood-lust sun. Travel and writing have been mainstays since before anorexia made its icy nest in my heart. I’ve waited long enough… And yet. I am a curious beast.
I still want to know the punchline.

Though I swore I would never enter the capital on a one-way ticket, there is a chance open to me. I may yet take it.

If I happen to have phenomenal good luck in the next few months, things will work out. At the very least, there is still the South and family. This isn’t a preferable option; I moved to leave the ghosts behind. But perhaps the last five years have finally absolved me of their presence.

I live in an echo chamber of thoughts, tinged with blue and silver. Stars and moths, darkest night. It’s a good place to be.

Wandering, wondering.

Who knows. Last year was such a balls-up, perhaps this year will be mine, by way of compensation. But I dare not presume any more than I already have.

Wish me luck, my friends. The game is on 😉