Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Shine on, you crazy diamond

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on, you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on, you crazy diamond.

        We can’t run away from who we are. Before The Blondies erupted onto the scene, I was a vehement supporter of nurture versus nature. Now… it’s not so clear cut. I can hope to direct them in certain ways, I can encourage or gently steer them away from things, but for the most part, their personalities were fairly strongly rooted, long before their first word or first steps. The Boy is me, in so many ways. Same sense of humour, same love of sleep, same stroppiness, same sensitivity.

      I never really thought The Girl and I had much in common. She’s a girly girl, but she’s also confident, tough, never seemingly dented by people around her. Plonk her in any new situation and she’s off and running. I’ve long wondered where her confidence comes from, and enviously hoped some of it would rub off on me. Not a hope in hell. We are chalk and cheese. In personality, looks, and temperament. Or so I thought.

     I suppose I didn’t want to see it. It’s not something I like about myself. It makes me an absolute fecking nightmare to deal with at times, as those closest to me would quietly demur to my face, whilst thinking ‘Christ, YES.’ It’s the passion.

     The problem with me is that things tend to be all or nothing. I’m rarely halfarsed, except when it comes to housework. When I like something, I go all out, full throttle, air-punching, racing for the prize. When I’m down, it’s not just feeling a bit meh. It’s a stormtossed sea of pounding waves and angst, a little ship caught in a whirlpool and pulsing with St Elmo’s Fire. You’d think that the years of beige might have knocked it out of me. In fact, it seems to have made it worse, as though all the years of not feeling anything just dammed it up, and now it’s burst forth like Bardabunga, all the more stronger and uncontrollable because it was suppressed for so long.

     That’s my excuse, anyway. And The Girl has it too. There’s no middle ground in her life. She’s either twirling around like a fairy with a pet unicorn that farts glitter onto rainbows over waterfalls, or she’s a vengeful banshee, shrieking and hurling death and destruction on an unsuspecting, undeserving, and unprepared world.

     It’s a problem. Because I know how much I annoy people with the extremes of my personality. And um… now I understand why. The Girl doesn’t get the best of me, as a person. It’s hard for me to admit, but it’s true. I should be better with her than I am. I should be able to anticipate the oncoming storm and make the necessary preparations. But I don’t. Because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to admit it. I don’t want to concede that the thing I like least about myself has been passed on to my daughter.

     And there’s more than that. Being passionate about things means you’re forever disappointed by those around you, when they don’t seem to share your enthusiasm. When you put as much of yourself into something as The Girl and I do, it matters. We care about it, about how people react. And when people shrug, or don’t seem interested, or ignore it, it stings. And in my case, it turns inward, it reinforces a sense that I am that unworthy creature I always believed myself to be, and I retreat into an inner storm. I put up a wall between myself and the world, aloof, distant, wary, unwilling to engage, until something new comes along and the dark clouds pass.

    That’s me, though. The Girl is not such a tender and easily bruised character. More robust, self-assured, and positive than I could ever hope to be, she’ll shout down the world if it disagrees with her. I hope she stays that way. I hope she doesn’t start to take it personally when people aren’t as enthusiastic and excited about things as she is. I hope she continues to be herself, to love things with brio, to hurl herself into life and care only for her own opinions. Diamonds are formed under intense heat and pressure, and when the rough edges are taken off, they shine for the world to see. Shine on, you crazy diamond. You’re as beautiful as you feel.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Repeat to fade

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

          Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t always cry in churches, ok? Not always. Just, erm… a fair bit. It’s not my fault (it is).  

     The exception to the rule is Salthouse. Salthouse has never made me cry. It’s not the most beautiful church in Norfolk; it’s not the grandest, or the most significant. But I had as close to a religious experience as a confirmed, dyed in the wool atheist is ever likely to have in St Nicholas church and from that day on… ‘my heart has left it’s dwelling place, and can return no more.’ It will always be special to me.

     ‘The crude graffiti, representing ships…’   It made me laugh when I first read it all those years ago, and it’s still making me laugh now. You can hear the tone of disapproval, see the pursed lips, the bridge of the nose pinched between thumb and forefinger as the writer is forced to admit that, yes, horrifyingly, some utter wretches (choirboys, doubtless) desecrated this sacred, hallowed place with   GRAFFITI. Utterly despicable. How could they, what kind of child, down with this sort of thing, careful now, etc. That guidebook was written in 1953, but you still see that kind of attitude around now.

     Not me. Never me. For one thing, although, yes, some of it is fairly basic and simplistic depictions of ships, some of it is incredibly intricate, and must have taken hours and hours of painstaking effort. Look at that. The detail is just phenomenal.

     And even the simpler carvings have a beauty all of their own. This one is my favourite. I can almost see the horizon behind it as it sets out on a voyage, leaving land far behind.

     But it’s not just what it is; it’s what it tells us too. Like the guidebook says, Salthouse was quite different, back then. Now it’s separated from the sea by marshes. But once it was a major trading port, with a wide channel that saw tall ships sail. This little village was once rich, important, it mattered. How many people set sail from here, looking back to shore? For how many people was Salthouse the last place they saw? For how many people was the tower of St Nicholas a marker, both of departure and arrival?

     Then, slowly, the Mayne Channel silted up over the centuries, trade moved on, Salthouse didn’t. Sic transit Gloria mundi... And left Salthouse behind, poor, plain, obscure. When the Victorians and Edwardians descended on Norfolk for seaside holidays, they stayed further down the coast, at Cromer and Overstrand. They didn’t venture that little bit further to a desolate little village, huddled around a green.

     And it stayed that way for a long time. Even as far back as twenty years ago, it was still very little, a dot on the map, a place to drive through, rather than to, for most people. But now, it’s very different. North Norfolk has been tweeified beyond belief, and at weekends, the village is a veritable showroom of black 4x4s, parked nose to tail around the green and up the narrow lanes. Women in skinny jeans and pristine Hunter wellies accompany men in waxed jackets and tweed caps, taking over the pub and café. These new incomers come not to trade, nor to worship, but to be seen. They don’t delve further. They wax lyrical about how perfect it is, how untouched, how unmarked by time, but they don't see what is around them.

      Because if they were to venture just a little further along, up Grouts Lane, to the church of St Nicholas, they may find something that makes them question history as they were taught it at school. That it’s not just an inevitable, chronological roll call of kings and queens, of armies, of governments. That lots of monuments and statues can be very impressive, but beauty can be found in something as simple as a few lines.

      And those simple few lines represent something real. Maybe they were drawn by villagers, hoping for a loved one to return. Maybe they were drawn by sailors, ahead of a new sea voyage, or maybe they were drawn as thanks for a safe one, maybe some of it is choirboys after all… But it’s a marker, a reminder of people and places, of events unfolding, unfurling, and people we will never know or understand. Even just initials and dates are a reminder of those in whose footsteps we follow, who in turn were following the people who came before them.

      And maybe, these new visitors might realise that time isn’t a straight line, stretching from that year to this, but a spiral that bends, and loops, and keeps moving, but also curves around itself. People and places rise, fall, then sometimes rise again, just like Salthouse has. That it’s popular now precisely because it fell into obscurity for so long, and is now so unspoilt. History repeats itself… repeat to fade.  

     And who knows what the future holds for it? Who knows how fashions will change, where the crowds will move on to next, when this new channel will seal up, leaving Salthouse in obscurity again? But what won’t change are the church, it's ships, and the sea.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Every grain of sand

     We seem to have hit upon the perfect compromise this holiday. the three Blondies love the beach. I hate the beach. I like sitting in cafes and peoplewatching. They hate sitting in cafes and peoplewatching.

     So what's tended to happen is that they establish a base camp on the beach, and I set up a command post in the nearest cafe or bar, commandeering a table for four. They spend their day getting sandy (sorry, brief pause whilst I retch, discreetly), and I spend my day peoplewatching, twatty blogging, and arsing about on twitter.

     Yesterday was a bit different. We went down to the port for the first time, and being the nosy cow, that I am, I decided to poke about in the absolutely HIDEOUS Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Loreto (Church of Our Lady of Loreto). Trust me, it's um... it's very there. Because of Xabia's history of fishing and sea trade, it was designed to look like a boat, cresting a wave from the outside.

     No, me neither.

     There were a few things I liked about the church. The attempt at graffiti on an outside buttress that some horrified parishoner had tried to deface (Xabia suffered terribly in the Spanish Civil War, as it was then a small, but strategically very important fishing village)

     The cloisters (look at the wall on the right. I LOVE the idea of priests shooting some hoops after a Confirmation).

     The ceiling of the interior of the church, designed to look like the hull of a boat (apologies for crapness of the photo, I would have lain down on the floor to get a better shot, but there were Other People there, already wondering what the hell I was doing).

     But mostly, I just wandered around, trying to make sense of it all, feeling more than a little overwhelmed.I don't go inside Catholic churches very often, and I'd forgotten what an assault on the senses it can be. The recordings of mass, played on a constant loop. The scent of incense so powerful it made my head swim. The simplicity of the Capilla de la Adoracion. The statues...

     I thought it was old churches that had the emotional pull on me. I thought it was the weight of history pressing on my shoulders. I thought it was that sense of being in limbo, between now and then. Certainly, some of it is still. But it's more than that. It's the people. The couple who crept into the church after me, and were praying quietly in a pew at the back. The man waiting nervously to enter the Confessional. The priest having a cigarette break and looking troubled. This.

     Can you see it? At the base of the second statue? Someone has written a prayer, folded it up, and left it there. It starts 'Oh Holy Father, I beseech thee...' Someone so desperate for help, for guidance, and solace, they left a prayer in the folds of a statue's robes. What despair did they feel to reach such a point?

     In the time of my confession,
In the hour of my deepest need.
When the pool of tears around my feet
Drown every newborn seed.
There's a dying voice within me,
Reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger
And in the morals of despair

     I have no faith. Not in religion, not in other people, not even in myself. So I am forever intrigued by those who do, and the mystery of it. To offer up words of your darkest, deepest, bleakest moments, the times of your greatest need, when every second is too much. When every grain of sand runs against you. To place your future hope and faith in an an unseen, unknown, and unanswering deity. I hope they derived comfort from it. I hope the darkness passed over them without damage. I hope they found peace from the turbulence they were facing. 

     I didn't read their prayer. Too much of an intrusion into someone else's distress.  There is too much darkness in this world, too much anger, too much hurt. So I did the only thing I could, as an atheist, as a person, as one individual wanting to reach out and share the burden of a stranger. I lit a candle, I pushed back a little of the darkness. And went back out to the sunlight, to the beach, to the grains of sand.

I hear the ancient footsteps
Like the motion of the sea.
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there,
Other times it's only me.
I am hanging in the balance
Of the reality of man.
Like every sparrow falling,
Like every grain of sand.

Friday, 29 August 2014

This charming woman

     Have you ever read Finn Family Moomintroll? A lot of people remember it from the stopmotion animation that was on the BBC in the 70s/80s, but the books are much better, if my memory isn't as inaccurate as I suspect it to be. I've long suspected that children's books aren't simply just stories, but guidebooks for malleable minds. Introducing us to the darker side of life. The bad people. Including the Grokes. Here's how the Groke is described when she first appears:

     She was not particularly big and didn't look dangerous, either, but you felt she was terribly evil and would wait for ever. Nobody plucked up enough courage to attack. She sat there for a while, and then slid away into the darkness. But where she was sitting, the ground had been frozen!'

     You know one, don't you? Someone who sucks the joy out of everything. Makes you explain a bad joke so thoroughly that there's nothing funny left in it. A jobsworth, a killjoy, a moodkiller. The woman who... was one. She is happily out of my life now, and I don't have a vacancy for another. But of course, you still come across Grokes in everyday life. In shops, in the school playground, in cafes. They used to piss me right off. Then I remembered how my younger self used to deal with them.

     I charmed them.

     Yes, I am aware you know me, I'm a rantprone sweary kickarse blogger. 'Charming' is not a word often applied to me, other than sarcastically. But I do have charm muscles that I flex every now and then. Just to keep them in working order.

     It started in middle school. Somehow, for some reason, I became the designated spokesperson for my group of friends. If we wanted to do something we shouldn't really have been allowed to do, like rehearse in the music room at lunchtime, or do our classwork in the library, I was always the one who had to ask the teacher. Always. One day in Year 6 I had a mini tantrum. 'Why do I always have to be the one to ask? Why can't one of you do it?' Immediately there was a chorus of 'Because grown ups love you! They think you're polite and have nice manner!'


     'Yes! All our mums love you. You even got Miss Tudge (the truly terrifying violin teacher) to open the instrument room. AND she smiled at you.'

     There was a brief pause as we shared a collective shudder at the flashbulb memory of Miss Tudge's rictus grin splitting her face apart like the Kraken at the end of Clash of the Titans (the Harryhausen one, not the 'Titans will clash' one), then I shrugged and beetled off to ask Mrs Dartnell if we could get the netball posts out at lunchtime.

     But it's true. The carrot generally is more effective than the stick. These days, when I encounter a Groke, I could charm the birds from the trees.  As you can imagine, it's fairly terrifying. I overseason everything with pleases, thank yous and smiles. I am apologetic, I do a headtilt of coyness. Worst of all, I make eye contact. LOTS of eye contact, which is hugely unsettling for any Groke. If they try to avoid looking at me, I adopt an even coyer posture (sometimes giving myself a crick in the neck in the process), so they can't do anything but look at me. It makes it nigh on impossible for them to maintain their Grokelike deneanour.

     It is also a hell of a lot of fun. Having lunch two days ago at one of our favourite restaurants on the beach, we encountered Spain's grumpiest waitress. She was surly, curt, magnificently arsy (I admit to having a great deal of respect for anyone whose arsiness rivals mine. I know how much work it takes). She slammed menus down, threw placemats at us, and clattered our drinks down with such vehemence that our table became a veritable wetland. Alistair rolled his eyes and looked annoyed. I smiled. This was going to be a challenge. And FUN.

     I broke her spirit. Of course I did. I deployed every weapon in my arsenal and watched the thaw begin with a muttered 'de nada' (literally 'it's nothing', you're welcome). Plates were lowered into place, rather than flung. Meltiness came when she smiled at me as I paid the bill, and said 'gracias'. And finally, finally, as The Girl and I bopped out of La Siesta, the waitress formerly known as Groke put a hand on The Girl's golden curls and, exclaiming '¡Que guappa!' handed her and The Boy two Chupa Chups lollipops.

     Trust me, I'm a twatty blogger. Charm works like a... charm.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The church not made with hands

When we stop attaching other 'good' qualities to physical beauty we'll be a lot happier. Beauty is exhilarating to look at. That's it. Yes. It's natural to admire beauty. I find it odd and surreal that we all think it means anything more than what it is.

Bloody amazing and honest words from the incomparably brilliant Hayley Webster there. If you´re on twitter, give her a follow. You won´t regret it. I had an ace chat with her the other day about beauty, being superficial, and ´guilty pleasures´. So if you think this post is a load of tosh, blame her. She put ideas in my head... About the type of people who say the following kind of thing:

'It's a bit of a guilty pleasure, really, I mean, my taste is much better than that. I'd hate for people to think I'm that kind of person. I'm not. Really. I feel guilty for liking something so superficial. Hmm. Have I convinced you that I think deeply about things? That I'm quite clever? Only special people feel guilty for liking things that don't have a deeper meaning.´

Oh do fuck off dear. If you like something, you like it. Simple as that. If it gives you pleasure, take that pleasure, run with it, embrace it, nibble it's shoulders, and fondle it's flanks. Just enjoy it. Christ alive, this life is, for the most part, a sunken-eyed vista of hell and beige bleakness. When you find something you love, when you find something you enjoy, scream it from the guttering.

Oh dear. It's not clever? It's not worthy? People might think you're a bit lowbrow? Bit common, maybe? Fuck 'em. Why the hell should you need to impress them with the things you like? Why does their opinion matter? I love Crazy Horses by The Osmonds. I don´t give a toss if you think I should feel guilty for KITCHEN DISCOING to it when sober. It's fun. Doesn't mean I don´t burst into tears when I listen to Liebestod (orchestral version only). I sodding love playing the shove 2p machines in Sheringham, and winning armfuls of plastic tat. Doesn't mean I don´t read poetry too. Chips from Norwich market, eaten at the top of the war memorial is one of life's great pleasures. Doesn't mean I don't eat every kind of wanky artisan cheese I can wrap my gob around. Pleasure is pleasure. Why deny yourself pleasure? Why feel guilty about it? Why even PRETEND to feel guilty about it?

Well, dur, obviously, because you worry about people thinking less of you. People thinking you're superficial.

There is nothing wrong with being superficial. Nothing. Some things are just simple, unadorned, beauty. A face. A sunset. A flower. Naturally beautiful. There's no need to justify it, or try to pretend it has a significance it doesn't. It's just beautiful.

The church not made with hands
Not contained by man
That precious place
Unmade by man

It's not just the fact of beauty. It's that, in it's purest form, diluted down to the very essence, beauty serves no purpose, other than to please aesthetically. That's it. That's all. There's no shame in it. Don't feel you have to fake a guilt you don't feel for seeing things as they are, and appreciating that sometimes, raw, natural beauty is a rarity. You don't need to ascribe anything to it.

And anyway, you can save the pretentious wankery for the beauty of things that have been made by people. Seeing things that have been thought about, planned, created. Be as precious, pseudo-intellectual, and pretentious about that stuff as you like. Just be prepared for me to rip the piss a lot a bit. And in any case, that's a whole other blogpost...

Friday, 22 August 2014

Holiday Hellfire!

     It's August! It's Friday afternoon! I'm on holiday! This can only mean one thing... yes! Itttttt'ssssss Holiday Hellfire! How many points will you get? Fingers on buzzers, teams. Let's kick things off with The Planning round!

     The childrens's countdown. Gain two points every time you have to answer 'When are we going? And when will that be? How many months is that? And how many days?' Bonus points if one or more children has a Norfolk intonation that makes even the bluntest statement of fact sound like a question.

     You and your other half. One of you is a planner, the other is... not so much. Two points for each time you endure a minor panic over: spending money, passports, online check-in, route planning, travel times. If you achieve three thinlipped conversations in the 24hrs before departure, take a further FIVE bonus points!

     One for the laydeez... TEN points available here, if you realise, the evening before you leave, that despite spending hundreds of pounds on bikini waxes in the past twelve months, you forgot to book an appointment before your holiday. And will be displaying your 'kinitache every time you wear your bikini.

     OHHH-KAYYY! Second round... TRAVEL!

     Faced with the sartorial dilemma of what to wear when travelling from 8° to 33°... what do you do? Freeze your tits off, wearing a thin cotton dress in the airport carpark at 04:30? Or wear too many layers, disembark the plane, overheat, collapse and leave a puddle of sweat on the tarmac? Waiting for your answer... going to have to hurry you... AHA! Trick question! No one ever gets it right!

     Baggage reclaim time, contestants! Five points for each time you put your back out, taking the wrong suitcase off the carousel and have to put it back.

     Aaand now, into the arrivals hall! If you manage to successfully create a mutinous silence between you and your other half, FIVE points! A bonus TEN points if this erupts into a row as one of you struggles with two small, mobile, demanding and recalcitrant beings with minds of their own, and the other one of you is wrangling your children.

     Commercial coffee and fag break...

     We're BAAAACK! Now, in this round, you can lose points, as well as win them. Only play if you're SURE...

     TEN points if your children announce they're 'BORRRRRRD-UH' within three hours of arrival at your destination. Five points if it's within 24hrs. Lose THIRTY points if they don't say it during the holiday at all.

     Lose FIVE points if you don't have an alcoholic drink in the first hour after arrival.

     How many times do you look the wrong way when crossing the road? Once - lose FIVE points. Twice - scores stay the SAME. Three times plus? TWENTY points!

     Everyone ready for the quickfire round? Now remember, you automatically gain TWO points every time one of the following occurs:

     Being hideously ashamed of fellow Brits

     Drinking alcohol before lunchtime

     Entirely unrelatedly, having an unplanned siesta

     Excusing everything with the key phrase 'Why not? We're on holiday!'

     Nightly arm comparisons with your family as to whom is most brown.

     Trying to remember what you said/did last night after two bottles of wine, and finding facebook and twitter to be an excellent resource for this.

     Overestimating the warmth of the pool, sliding in, gasping so hard your bellybutton hits your spine, and you lose control of your arms, causing them to flail up and out, like a Thunderbird.

     Ordering food in Spanish, feeling stupidly proud, then ultimately confused when your meal arrives and there's at least one thing you cocked up on.

     Chucking a dress over your bikini after a swim, and realising, ten minutes later that you look like you have leaky breastfeeding nipples.

     Taking a photo of your drink, with the sole intention of sharing it on social media.

     Being too hot to care that your stretchmarks, crepey tits, withered stomach and 'kinitache are on display to the world.

     Leaving your sunglasses on an unshaded surface. Regretting this when you put them on and your face slides down to your flipflops.

     Trying to remember the Spanish word for bread (pan), and all your brain can do is scream BROT BROT BROT at you, even though you haven't studied German for nearly twenty years.

     Saying 'hmm, you are a little pink...', meaning 'MY EYES MY EYES OH MY GOD YOUR SKIN IS MELTING MINE EYES'.

     Aaaaand finally... trying to make sense of hastily scribbled down notes, almost entirely washed away by smears of sweat, suntan lotion, and condensation from alcoholic drinks. So you can blog. On holiday.... ;-)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The woman who

     If you follow me on twitter, first of all, I am so very sorry. Secondly, you might know I'm on holiday at the moment. Thirdly, you may have seen I had a bit of a meltdown on Saturday...

     It's a long story. A long, painful story, that I try not to think about, because it reminds me of a deeply unhappy time in my life. But Saturday kind of slapped me to get my attention, vomited it into my face, and then skipped off laughing. So I'm writing the fuck out of it now, because it tore me apart.

     The Girl. My daughter. My beautiful, wonderful, amazing daughter. I saw her. She was out with my mum, my brother, his partner. And she was holding hands. With her. Mortal Enemy Number One. The woman who destroyed me. The woman who dismissed my suicide attempt as my 'little stunt'. The woman who told Alistair, as I lay dying, that I was attention seeking. Her. That woman.

     The woman who never acknowledged I was pregnant with The Girl. The woman who didn't meet The Girl until nine days after she was born, despite coming to my house twice a day. The woman who, on the day I was diagnosed with severe post natal depression, told Alistair that I was pathetic, and he couldn't go home an hour early to support me. The woman who caused the mother of all arguments between her, Alistair, and my brother the same afternoon. The woman who refused to come to my disciplinary when The Girl was twelve days old because that woman was too upset.

     The woman who initiated the disciplinary process, because I 'should' have been back at work full time with a week old The Girl. The woman who said that other mothers do it all the time. The woman whose first question to Alistair when he told her The Girl was born, healthy, and beautiful was to say I had to be in the office, twelve hours after giving birth. The woman who rolled her eyes when I winced that afternoon.

     The woman who tsked when other people suggested that a newborn, a three year old, a full time job, and severe PND might be too much. The woman who told people I was crap at my job, who flagged up every mistake I made, who started my every working day with a mountain of passive aggressive notes, who undermined me at every opportunity. The woman who had no understanding of my job, no idea of what I had to do, the plates I had to spin, the significance of certain meetings, people, phone calls.

     She destroyed me. She systematically worked her way through everyone close to me. Those she could, she befriended, and turned them against me. Those who could see her for what she was had their work doubled, their lives made just that little bit harder, treated poorly, until they resigned, or were sacked. She made sure I wasn't just overworked, isolated, doubting myself. She made me worthless.

     That woman didn't want The Girl to be born. That woman didn't just resent The Girl's birth, she hated it. Because she hated me. I'll never know why. It's painful. Fuck, it hurts, to be hated, really hated. To know someone doesn't want to just avoid you, but to bestow an empty, joyless, and bleak life on you. Thanks to her and PND I got to the point where death seemed my only option. The woman who made me know, with absolute certainty, that feeling like this was entirely my fault, and the only thing I could do about this life was to remove myself from it. The woman who warped my feelings about myself as a parent so much that I knew it was better that The Girl would grow up with no memories of me, her mother. The woman who did this.

     Do you still wonder why seeing The Girl holding hands with the woman made me cry?