Sunday, 22 March 2015

The truth about love

     I keep going back to a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. We were in the early stages of getting to know one another, and we talking about how we got together with our respective partners.

     ‘To be honest’ she said ‘I didn’t really fall in love with W until we’d been married for about six months.’

     I kind of goggled a bit. How could you marry someone you weren’t already in love with? But I get it now.

     Love is not the exciting part. Love is not the quivering, trembling, breathless excitement. Love is not the big romantic gesture. Love is not the thoughtful gift. Love is not the twisting, endlessly unfurling rollercoaster of joy, of exhilaration, of bouncing around because the two of you made a private joke in public that no one else will understand. Love is not endlessly fawning over one another to the exclusion of everyone else in your life.

     Love is… love. Putting up with the crap bits. Being steadfast, loyal, true. Love is washing his pants. Love is spending 15 minutes of your time rearranging something for him, something he could have done himself, but you do it to make his life easier. Love is taking an interest. Love is sending stupid jokes, not because they’re funny, but because you want to make him smile and know that you are thinking of him. Love is saying ‘Rant about it to me. There’s nothing I can do, but a rant will make you feel better.’ Love is taking a moment to appreciate all that he has brought into your life. Love is being there, is listening, is putting out a hand to reassure. Love is doing something for no other reason than to make someone else happy.

     Love is not teenage giggling, thinking you’re being clever. Love is not the public display of affection. Love is not announcing to the world just how special someone is. Love is not constant retweets, favourites, likes and shares. Love is not writing self-indulgent bollocks to and about one person. Love is not creating your own world.

     Love is unselfish. Love is forgiving. Love is seeing all the bad parts of him, the bits that drive you absolutely fucking insane, and putting up with them. Love is wanting to smash his fucking face in at times, telling him so, and both of you retreating to different corners for a spot of silent sulking. Love is not treading on eggshells. Love is honesty, however much it hurts. Love is brutal. Love is raw. Love is knowing you cannot live without him, whatever that ends up being. Love is not proud. Love is deep, primal, painful.

     Love is not romance. Love is not lust. Love is not happy happy joy joy. Love is not boastful. Love is not fun. Love is not a gleeful little secret you keep hugged to your chest. Love is not cryptic posts on social media. Love is not a white knuckle ride. Love is not jumping around the room because he paid you a compliment. Love is not a fake reality we create for ourselves because being a grown up is dull, and parenting can be boring.

     Love is every day. Love is mundane. Love is boring. Love is wanting to know how your day went. Love is offering advice on that tosser at work. Love is the rubbish stuff. Love is spending hours making mind-numbing small talk with people you don’t know, because he wanted you to be there. Love is offering support. Love is saying ‘I know things are overwhelming for you right now. I’m stepping back, so you can focus on what you need to get done. Just give me what you can spare.’ Love is enriching, reassuring, strong. Love is unselfish. Love is making no demands, no ultimatums, no footstamping tantrums. Love is knowing that you connect. Love is silence. Love is saying ‘it’s ok’. Love is life changing, but it leaves lives unaltered, untouched, unharmed. Love is pure, direct, unfiltered. Love is honesty.


     I love. And my love sustains, renews, replenishes me. I love him. And if, one day, I and he do cease to be we, I will still love him. As a friend, if nothing more. He makes me a better person, in every way, in every small moment. I don’t need to show it to the world. And he won’t say it, but I know he loves me too. That is what love is.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

You've got a friend

     I have, against all logic, realised that I have become a grown up.

     This doesn’t mean that my house is suddenly tidy, I am responsible with money, and I never swear in front of my children. No. Don’t worry; I haven’t had some kind of fundamental personality transplant. But a great big wrecking ball of realisation has hit me. I am a grown up.

     What the mascara arse has caused this to happen? Very simple. I have realised what friendship is. I had a friend. Correction: I thought I had a friend. I was there for him, and he was there for me, at a time when we both needed someone to talk to. And then things changed, and we were still friends, but not so close. It was fine, no big deal. And then Dad got ill. And it was a very dark time for me. What got me through it were my friends, and an awful lot of people whom I barely know, reaching out, offering me sympathy, kindness, letting me know that they were thinking of me, my sister, Dad, asking if they could help. But my friend? Nothing. I know he knew that Dad was ill. But he offered me nothing.

   It hurt, of course it did. And as things have transpired, I realise now why it was that he ignored my distress. It didn’t fit with his life. Anything boring, dull, mundane doesn’t fit with his life. A white knuckle drunk is always going to be seeking the next thrill. If I can’t provide that, someone else will. That’s not friendship.

     I have some very close friends. Mostly blokes. Alistair, obviously, it goes without saying, is one of them, so we’ll kind of leave him out of this. The others? All older than me, people whom I would never have come across, had it not been for twitter. Complete opposites in personality, although they agree on plenty. And I value those friendships more than I can say, although I’ll have a decent stab at trying to convey what it is they mean to me.

     They are there for me. I am here for them. We argue, we piss each other off, we ignore each other, we get into moods, we see the worst sides of each other in every possible way. But. We are also honest with each other. I can let my guard down with them in a way that I do with very few people in real life (yes, I know, for all that I overshare massively online, in real life I have an exclusion zone a mile wide). We can have drunken late night conversations about all sorts of bollocks, they make me roar laughing, they make me sob like a bloody child at times too. They have been there for me at times when I have felt hurt, alone, scared, and in every possible way confused. I hope, maybe, that I’ve been there for them when they’ve needed someone too. And just through the everyday stuff. When it’s been a shit day. When there’s not really anything massively wrong, but you just want to moan. Or you need someone to be your dancing monkey and make you laugh. Or just to chat, about nothing much really.

     And it has surprised me, because I never thought of myself as being One Of Those Women. You know what I mean. The type of woman who doesn’t have any close female friends (I do, by the way, but for the purposes of this post, I’m leaving them out of this, for which, I am sure, they will be massively relieved). A ‘man’s woman’. You know the bloody type. The simpering, laying a hand on a male forearm to make a point, hair flicking type of woman who makes my teeth itch. Who values herself based on the amount of male attention she can generate. The type of woman who self-deprecates so much that if she fished for compliments any harder would be on the cover of Total Carp magazine every month.

     Bloody hell, that’s not me, is it? Not one of those women, who make you feel dull, grey, ugly, thick and useless, because they are permanently groomed and forever posting photos of themselves looking glamorous? Not one of those women who openly flirt with your other half so openly that you yearn to insert a kebab skewer up their nostril? Not one of those women who say ‘I just get on better with men. Women don’t seem to like me for some reason.’ (Yes, I do have an inner monologue RANT to myself when I come across this). Women who will do anything to get male attention, and approval?

     No. That’s not me. But it has surprised me that of the closest friends I have, the majority are male. Maybe it’s because I’m sweary. Maybe it’s because I’m a history obsessed moo. Maybe it’s because I refuse to be a Mummy Blogger. Or maybe, it’s because social media isn’t about reinforcing your beliefs about yourself, but about expanding your horizons. Because, online, it’s not so important who you are, but about whom you connect with, and about what you say to one another. You don’t necessarily have to have much in common to build a friendship, unlike real life where we tend to become friends with those we encounter through shared experiences, whether it’s work, in the school playground, or at the gym.


     So there’s a lesson there, for me at least. In real life, I’d naturally gravitate towards other women, other mums, thinking that because we superficially have something in common, we’d get on. In fact, the people I’m closest to are nothing like me, and not very much like each other either. But there are things we all have in common. We are grownups. We understand that friendship is reciprocal. We know that adult life is mostly dealing with the rubbish bits, and not about chasing excitement. But the joy that can be found in having a good friend is the greatest comfort I know. And to you guys… you know who you are. Thank you, for being my friend.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Selffiti

   

  I know I bang on about graffiti a lot. I know, ok? It started a long time ago, and in the last eighteen months, it’s became a habit to notice stuff around me, take a photo of it, then… not really do much else. It’s not just the old graffiti I notice either, although that has more of an emotional pull on me ; it’s the modern stuff too. Norwich is an independently minded city, with a bolshy attitude, and there are conversations and statements happening across the concrete of the fine city all the time.


     A lot of it is tagging, like in most places, which I confess to finding fairly dull and mindless, in itself, although the motivations behind it intrigue me. But quite often, it’s about debate, protest, or leaving a message. This is the part that has really got its claws in me, I suppose. That need to make your voice felt in a way that will last longer than just speech.  Sometimes, it’s a declaration of love




     Sometimes it’s about making a point



     Sometimes, it’s just as simple as saying ‘I am here.’ Right now, right here, right in this moment. As soon as I’ve finished leaving this here, I’ll be gone. But for now, I am here. People feel a need to make their...




     The things that often provoke people into making these is often that they feel marginalised in some way. Disenfranchised, unimportant, not listened to. So they find a way of imprinting themselves onto something solid. Even if they feel they don’t have anything to say, they just leave their name, quite often only their initials, just so their existence won’t go unrecorded.



     But with the rise of social media, a new form of graffiti has emerged - the selfie. Another way of placing ourselves onto people’s walls. Making our presence solid. People do it for all sorts of reasons, but the effect is the same. It might be because you’ve been challenged to put up a no make up selfie.



     It could be because we’re bored and titting about.



     It could be to send to a friend to thank them for paying for you to have your hair cut.




     But one thing I keep noticing, especially on twitter, is that it’s often people who have ‘hidden’ illnesses who post the most selfies. Maybe mental health problems, or chronic fatigue, or for whatever reason, find it hard to leave the house. People who, from the outside, seem fine, when actually life is harder, and it’s more of a struggle to keep up. People who feel overlooked, who feel they’re not listened to, people who feel outside the rest of the population.



     I take quite a few selfies, as you’ve seen. I don’t usually share many. But for some reason, I find it reassuring; to be able to look at a photo of myself and say ‘That’s me. I was there. I am here. I’m still here.’ No matter how I’m feeling when the photo is taken, it’s a record of my existence. It might not have the permanence of scratching my name and date into stone, the semi permanence of spraypainting a wall, or even just scribbling on a poster with a felt tip pen, but it is a marker. The arrow on the map that says ‘You are here’.


     Whether I’m bored



     Or sad



     Or happy.




     I am here.


Friday, 27 February 2015

Our proud heritage



     Before you read this, you probably ought to read this*. I was vaguely aware of this taking place, but not really all that well informed. My fault? Maybe. Or perhaps sometimes, professionals working in a field become so well versed in a subject that they forget that those outside the inner circle don’t share their knowledge and expertise, and miss an opportunity to reach out to people.

     *If you can’t be bothered to read the whole of that post, in essence, English Heritage is being split into two bodies: English Heritage, which will cover the whole ‘heritage theme park day out experience’ that most of us involve ourselves with now and then; and Historic England, which will cover what I suppose could be termed the ‘professional’ side of things: planning, advice, protection of sites & buildings etc. It has... implications.

     The changes have been known about for some time, but were officially launched yesterday, and they might seem distant to most people’s lives, if you’re just an average person (or even a twatty blogger). They probably won’t impact on a lot of people’s lives in an obvious or immediate way.  As long as we get to visit the sites, have a cup of tea & slice of cake, then depart home feeling proud of ourselves for doing something Very Grown Up And Educational For The Kids, nothing is really changing. So why then am I blogging about it?

     Because this move, this splitting of English Heritage, will change things. Across the UK, there has been a shift in attitudes, from the top of government downwards. Under the guise of making things simpler and more business friendly, huge amounts of planning regulations have been removed, and the old protections and guidance have gone. This, combined with cuts to local councils, has ensured that the very people who know the importance of historic sites such as Oswestry Hill Fort are redundant, often in terms of the powers they have to prevent irrecoverable damage, but increasingly, because their jobs no longer exist.  Professional advice is being downgraded, rendered insignificant, changes are being made that reverse years of legislation that was considered important enough to be created in the first place. Purely to balance the books.

     The changes that are coming into force are short-sightedness at its most pernicious and damaging. To save a few pennies here, a pound or two there, vast swathes of our historic environment, our heritage, our history, is being put at risk. Thousands of years of history, to be ploughed by bulldozers, razed down, and some temporary modern convenience installed, purely for this government to twist a few more figures, invent some statistics, and ignore the appalling lack of foresight they demonstrate.

     This stuff matters. And because people like you and I, dear reader, don’t get to hear about it, we don’t know it’s going on. We might see a one off story in the local paper about a petition to save one small cottage, but we don’t see the larger picture of what’s happening across the UK, because it’s assumed that it’s not really a story that would interest the wider public. It’s one for the academics, the historians, the archaeologists to tear their hair out over, because they’re the ones who Know This Stuff, and they’re in charge of All That Kind Of Thing.

     Here’s the thing, people. It’s not their history. It’s not my history. It’s our history, all of it, everyone’s. And from what I see, it’s under threat, and people like us are in danger of letting it happen, because we don’t appreciate what’s going on. We see a brief clip of Sajid Javid spouting a brief soundbite about communities and engagement blah blah blah, our eyes glaze over, and then we perk up when the weather forecast comes on. Yes, I know I’m a history obsessed moo, but this stuff is important - the fact that we have such an embarrassment of heritage in this country doesn’t mean that losing the odd corner of it here and there should be ignored, disregarded, or even tacitly encouraged by some.

     ‘Our heritage does not belong to the government. It belongs to all of us.’ Another soundbite from Javid again. You would think I should be cheering him on, as he’s saying exactly the same thing that I am. But I can’t. It’s the old story. If someone tells you trust them, that should be the very last thing you do. If he truly believes that our heritage is ours, not theirs, then why is the government so set on a course that seems to me to weaken our heritage, not strengthen it? If it belongs to all of us, then why are the government taking such drastic and potentially irreversible action? And one has to ask why is the government seemingly so set on removing the protections and professionalism that is fundamental to the preservation of our history, our heritage, and our ability to engage with and learn from it? Once these things are lost, they can’t be replaced or restored. Skills and experience gained over many years for the love of the subject will be gone, just like the material heritage will be. The politicians will tell us they cannot afford the funding. I know we cannot afford the loss we will incur when the full effect of this is felt.



     So what do I suggest we do about it? Good question. At the moment, I don’t know. Watch this space…


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Fenland

      There are lots of things in life I dislike. Cucumber. Walking barefoot on sand. Hoovering. Quite a few things I hate too, and I’m not going to start listing those because you have homes to go, careers to chart, and children to raise. I’ll just tell you one, the one that makes my heart plunge lower, faster, and more lurchingly than any other. Fenland. I can’t say it without sneering. Typing it makes my fingers itch. And of all the many unlovely towns and villages that make up the land that is Fen, the worst of them all is Wisbech. Fucking Wisbech.

     This presents us with a bit of a problem. Because Alistair is from Wisbech. And his family still live there. I love them. I love their house (oh my days, it is amazing and old and  beautiful and you would not believe the amount of work they’ve done to restore it which has been totally worth it, and it is a fascinating building in every respect) but still. It’s Wisbech.

     The town itself has been dying on it’s arse for as long as I can remember. First the small family run shops closed. The chains moved in… and moved out. Now it’s a fairly grim market place/car park surrounded by 99p tat shops, charity shops, beer cans and brittle, dying Busy Lizzies in hanging baskets, which only serve to throw into sharper relief the dirt and decay. And through the centre of the once thriving Georgian town, the thick, muddy river oozes sluggishly, as though even normal water doesn’t want to be there.

     Not a place to linger. Not a place to explore. But a while ago, it was my father-out-laws birthday, Alistair’s brother was back from Thailand for a week, and Alistair had offered to help clear some old trees and bushes at the bottom of their garden. So we were Fenbound. And for some reason, it occurred to me that I’d never visited the church in  Wisbech, despite spending too much of my life in the Fens, and maybe I ought to put that right, have a bit of a nose, see what I might find.



     There were a few small inscriptions around the outside of the porch, some quite simple,


 some worn away, 


one that looked rather professional. I smiled as I admired the neatness of it, and then tried the door. It was locked. Of course it was bloody locked. This was Wisbech. Then, seemingly to sum up the bleakness of this dirty old town, I glanced at the floor, and saw this.



     Erk.
     Sighing inwardly, I turned and retraced my steps, back past The Out-Laws house, and further out of Wisbech, to a little place that had been mentioned to me as possibly being of interest, just off Leverington Road.


     It’s got an interesting history. Just three acres of land that was for a time, the Wisbech General Cemetery, and mostly used for non-conformist burials. Laid out in a formal garden pattern, with gravel paths, lawns and shrubs, as was the fashion of the day. Between 1848 and the start of the 19th Century, 6,571 were buried in this place, many of them with no memorial, and the majority in multiple graves. It hardly seems possible when you wander through it now. 


The cemetery went into decline after the new Borough Cemetery opened, and finally officially closed in 1972. Nature reclaimed the site, and trees sprang up, bushes became overgrown, there was almost no way of crossing from one side to the other, the previously neatly laid out paths obliterated. Headstones were damaged, broken; the chapel used for funerals fell into disrepair. The dead were left to rest in peace, the living finding it impossible to access the site.



     But in 1992, the Friends of Wisbech Cemetery were formed. And slowly, gradually, they have effected a transformation. The site is still wild and overgrown, there are few pathways to navigate, and viewing some graves requires nettle stamping and bramble straddling. Managing the site as both a cemetery and an important wildlife habitat requires a huge amount of skill and balancing.




     But I liked it. I liked it very much. By sympathetically clearing a little of the undergrowth, they’re allowing light to shine again on the people buried here, so they are no long forgotten. But at the same time, this little corner retains a sense of wilderness, of nature, of the variations in seasons, but also renewal. In the midst of death, there is life. Just a small little corner of Wisbech that has an aura of peace, tranquillity and thoughtfulness. I felt it restored a little peace of mind. And that’s not something I ever thought I’d say about Fenland.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A marble-hearted fiend

     Here goes then. No preamble. No leading in joke. No relevant quote. No beating about the bush. No gentle introduction. No faffing about. No procrastinating. No long rambling anecdote. I’m just going to say it.

     Gratitude is exhausting.

     Not all of the time. Not in every human interaction. Not in each exchange, taken individually. But in some cases, it can be.

     When The Black Dog decided to pounce on me again towards the end of last year, there was a fairly standard pattern I followed:

     Boiling piss anger at myself, my brain, you, her, him, that bloke over there with the hat, the teenagers on the bus, Uncle Charles, Queen Victoria, the boy I sat next to in Yr9 Geography… just everyone.

     Brainswimming horror at the realisation of just how badly I had been behaving recently.

     Wearied trip to the GP to demand more drugs, and be admonished for not having come in sooner.

     And then, the retreat.

     Always, the retreat. Into myself, away from real life, that rude and impertinent impostor. I kept up contact with people on twitter, and facebook to a lesser extent. But emails, phone calls, and seeing people, nup. Especially those closest to me.

     Which you might think is not the best course of action to take. The advice for people with depression is always to talk. Keep talking. Talk to people about how you’re feeling. Let them know what’s going on with you. Let them help.

     And that’s where we hit the problem. No one can help. No one. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s my illness. And what fixes it are drugs. Not emails. Not phone calls. Not having a considerate friend call round. I know that people have the best intentions. I know they are doing it because they care. But it doesn’t help. When I feel bad, I don’t want to talk about how bad I’m feeling. I need instead to be distracted. I don’t need to be reminded of how bad I feel. What I want to do when people try to help is shrug, and say ‘meh’. Because I don’t feel better for the help.  But of course, I can’t do that. Because if I did, then the person trying to help, my helper, would be hurt, confused, bewildered, thinking ‘But I did a nice thing for you! I tried to help you! I want to make you feel better! Even if you’re down, at least you know that someone cares!’

     And then I would feel worse, for hurting someone trying to help me. I would feel guilty, and filled with more self-loathing at my presumption that my feelings were more important than theirs.

     So instead, I fake gratitude. I fake a smile, and give a double thumbs up. But inside, I feel worse. Because someone tried to help, they didn’t, and now I’m faking feeling better. When I don’t. Which is another thing to feel bad about. My energy reserves – already running on fumes – take another slump.  So, with the best of intentions, my helper has made me feel worse. See? Gratitude can be exhausting. And I don’t need the weight of someone else’s feelings when I’m already down.

     I don’t push people away to be hurtful. It’s not me lashing out. All I’m doing is falling in on myself, just for a while, until the bleakness goes.


     I push you away because I care about you. Because I don’t want to hurt you. And then to be told that I am hurting you… again, it doesn’t help. I know I sound selfish. I know to most people it probably doesn’t make sense. I know it hurts you to know that I’m down, and that you’re trying to improve things for me. I know you think talking will help. But by pushing me into a situation where I feel either I have to fake gratitude, or be made to talk when I’m not ready to, the opposite is achieved. I know you care, you want to help. But the best way of helping me, is to not.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Bad Wolf

     You know how, you notice something, once, and then suddenly it seems like it’s everywhere? I’ve been having that the last ten days or so. Generally, it’s jokes. A deliberate spelling mistake or trans positional error, and then the punchline…. ‘AHAHAHAH…. Dyslexia.’

     Lighten up. It’s just a joke. Bloody hell, why are you being so precious about it? Well, it’s likely I’m about to get The Rage about this. Because Alistair is dyslexic. Not mildly, not moderately, but severely dyslexic. And I do mean severely. He’s known from a very early age that he is, and it pretty much closed off school for him. It’s not like it is now, where a diagnosis will afford you access to specialised help, support, learning aids etc. he was told he was dyslexic aaaaand… that was it. No further action taken. Left to flounder. Struggles ignored. Put in a box. A box marked ‘THICK’.

     So that’s how he thinks of himself. Thick. Not dyslexic. Thick. It doesn’t matter all the things he can do, all the skills, talents, and generally all round glittery unicorn pube qualities he has. As far as he’s concerned, he is THICK. And if you think of yourself in that way, then of course, you don’t have much confidence, it affects pretty much every relationship you have, and how you see the world. And that’s where Houston, we have a problem.

     Because I do words. I read, write, revel in words. Words are my first, my last, my everything (not really, but that sounds quite good, so don’t pick me up on that). And it’s quite hard on both of us that a wordjunky and a dyslexic happen to be together. It’s hard on me, because as far as he’s concerned, writing is Not Important. He doesn’t read anything that I write. No matter how well things are going, what comments & praise I get, I never talk to him about it, because, in his own words, he ‘doesn’t give a fucking fuck about [my] writing’. In the same way that I don’t understand his ability to design and build a hot tub, he just doesn’t get writing, and the power of it. So, if I say to him ‘I was talking to X about writing last night…’ he shrugs, looks bored, and mentally checks out. And that makes me feel like shit.

     And from his point of view, he feels like shit too. Because he thinks he’s thick. He thinks that the box he was put in from an early age means that so many worlds are closed to him. In fifteen years together, he’s read perhaps three books. It was genuinely painful for me to watch, seeing him struggle, mouthing the words, finger on the page to try and stop the words from dancing around, trying to concentrate on reading the word that’s actually there on the page, not allowing his brain to mangle it into something else entirely. Having to go back and read a page he’s already spent fifteen minutes on because he misread something. Asking me to read aloud some pages, because he found it easier to listen.

     And it reinforces his belief that he’s thick. Because he struggles with it so much. I help where I can, but he doesn’t want to even try, because it makes him feel worse. We had a meal out the other day with The Blondies, and after five minutes hard staring at the menu, he handed it to The Girl, saying ‘Come on then, read out the menu to me, I’ve heard from Mummy that your reading is phenomenal now!’ I’d just like you to consider that for a moment.

     I’d like you to think how it must feel. He’s 34. He has a job. He has a family. And he has to ask his six year old daughter to read a menu to him. Because he can’t. And it reminds him that he is THICK.


     Oh, but, of course. AHAHAHAHAH…. Dyslexia.