Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Head desk

  I’ve always had a desk. Always. From the rickety little wooden toy school desk with lift up lid & fake inkwell, to the vast mahogany expanse of my teenage homework years of paper pile ups, discarded ink cartridges, and abandoned glasses of Ribena, the boardroom table of my first years in employment,  which dominated my office to the extent that no other furniture would bloody fit in the room, on to the flat pack laminated cheapy naffness of my 20s & early 30s that may also have been used as a babychange station for The Girl at times, and then finally, a much beloved bureau belonging to my parents that sat in the corner of the living room in my last home.

     Now, when I remember that desk, I feel guilty for not appreciating it more. It was a beautiful thing to look upon, golden walnut wood and black leather, with space for my laptop, notebook and a glass of wine cup of coffee. It had useful little shelves at the back to put photos and notes and special sentimental items (also, handy for The Blondies to stuff sweet wrappers and Chupa Chup sticks and bits of paper and all other sorts of fluff and crap I’d discover lurking on  the rare occasions that I deigned to flap some polish around). I did all sorts of things from that desk. My first real attempts at writing. My first tweet. Sitting at that desk, I made friends, had arguments, discovered things I’d never known, I opened up my world to a new perspective and understanding. I sent happy emails, sad ones, angry ones, silly ones. I saved photos and paid bills, I organised things, I changed the course of my life irrecoverably on so many occasions, sitting quietly at that desk in the corner over the space of four years. And I never really considered the desk at all. It was just there, being a handy piece of furniture that was useful in every area of my life.

     But it wasn’t mine. So when I moved, it did not. And in the general complete pigfuck that was the process of moving house, I had to jettison several items that could easily have been pressed into service as a flat surface on which to write (moving was a complete disaster. Maisie’s slightly quirky in that the front door is upstairs, meaning that all of the furniture for living room had to be taken down the very tight and winding spiral staircase. Or not, as it transpired, because hardly any of it would fit. Seriously, I lost all of my bookshelves, my beloved Indian dresser - the first piece of furniture I ever bought – my gorgeous six foot pine antique dining table… and then the crowning glory of not getting the sofabed down the staircase to the living room, which is why it got dumped in my bedroom instead, and I’m still sleeping on it now, a year later, and god, moving was a disaster. It should have taken three hours. It took nearly seven). 

     No desk? No problem. I’ll just use the kitchen table instead. Except that the kitchen table is a bit dodgy and has two wobbly legs. Fine for sitting and eating at, but rather unnerving when you’re typing away furiously, and the table lurches away and to the left of you as though it’s about to collapse in on itself, meaning you have to leap up and hold your laptop aloft every few minutes. 

Oh, and wifi in the kitchen is rubbish, so communication with the outside world is curtailed every few minutes, which is hugely frustrating and rather like living in North Norfolk.

     I thought I’d found a solution. The coffee table in the living room. Sturdy, hardwearing, dependable, and unlikely to develop an aversion to being close to me. Only problem is that it’s about 30cm off the floor, so to ‘sit’ at it, I had to arrange a couple of cushions on the floor and lean against the annoyingly prickly wicker sofa. Ever tried sitting like that? It’s fine for an hour or two. But adopting the same position for hours, day after day, for months at a time gets trying. It’s never wholly comfortable, leaves you with an aching back, pins and needles, and a persistent feeling that things could somehow be more enjoyable. A bit like a rubbish shag, to be honest.

     And because positioning myself like that became such a chore, writing stopped being enjoyable too. The only times I did write anything was in my notebook when I was in the pub, but the thought of then having to drape myself across the floor to transcribe those ciderfuelled scribbles onto my crappy laptop on a narrow table that was usually covered with magazines and books and craft projects and games and toys by The Blondies… It was just dispiriting, and made me feel like I wasn’t using the table so much as banging my head against it. But there was no other space in the house I could use. So I wasn't writing. And when I'm not writing, I'm... frankly awful. And the longer I went without writing, the more unhappy and full of doubts I became and felt as though I was never going to write again. Or, if I did attempt to write something, it would be utter shite. The world does not need more shite writing, trust me. There are already far too many people who can't even type a coherent sentence, let alone a piece that ebbs and flows and is funny or clever or thoughtful. I should know, I seem to end up reading most of their output and twitching as I do so. I felt like I couldn't even hoik my judgeypants at them though, because at least they were writing and being read, shared and valued. I wasn't even managing to come up with a single idea. I was sodding miserable without writing.

     Until last Tuesday. When that arrived. A desk. My desk. Mine. And it might not look like much to anyone, and it’s small, and it’s fairly plain, and inoffensive, but I love it. The first time I sat down at it I felt this ridiculous rush of happiness that made me laugh out loud for the first time in too long. It may seem such an insignificant thing, but it means the world to me. Not least because on the surface of it are ghosts of writing past. Tiny little fragments of words that have been written into the very fabric of the wood by another’s pen, pressing slightly too hard on the soft pine. ‘ighton’ and ‘what is PE?’, marks of doodles and zigzags, a deliberate graffito into the desk of ‘I heart B’ and hundreds and hundreds of jumbled up hours of other peoples lives and stories and homework and letters and admin and idle moments and times when inspiration  struck and days when despite staring out of the window for hours, not a single thing got done. All of those marks are there, from people writing at this desk, people making their mark. Perhaps, now that I have a desk, my desk, their desk, our desk, I can start writing again too. And make my own mark, in one way or another.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Warning shots


     We need a word. A word that means ‘that feeling of grim satisfaction when your warnings were ignored and things have gone tits up as you knew they would’. That inward sigh and tut of disapproval that accompanies an ‘I told you so’. That feeling of being both ever so slightly smug that you have been proven right, frustration that you weren’t listened to in the first place, and weariness that you’re going to have to deal with the fallout of a situation that you had already advised against.

     The thing with me is that I ‘get’ people. I can write a pen portrait of 500 words of pretty much most people, based on their twitter bio. Trust me, it’s a skill I have. I’ve written about it before. A natural curiosity, a lifetime of observation, and quietly, unintentionally processing what I see happening around me. I don’t try to understand people, I just do. It’s become innate.

     So bollocks doesn’t work on me. I know when people are dissembling, when they’re masking their true motives, even when people are lying. I know what you’re trying to achieve, or what you’re trying to hide (especially you reading this on your laptop with the guilty expression, you just tried to smother it with a half laugh and now your eyes are flickering from side to side. That’s it, take a swig from the drink next to you as you try and plan an escape route from my unintentional scrutiny…. But you should know that there is no escape).

     It sounds like this should make my life easy. That I can see behind every word, every action, every carefully constructed profile. Well, no. No, it really isn’t easy. It’s bloody hard. Because everything then becomes a process of evaluation. Why is this person lying? Who is that person trying to impress? He quite clearly fancies her, but she’s too shy to realise. Those two are shagging. That person is a single issue fanatic and not hiding it very well. That man is a selfish fucker and is very soon going to see the error of his ways.

     The problem I have is do I say something? Do I call the selfish fucker on their behaviour? Do I speak up when someone is lying? Do I warn others about something dodgy? Because the risk is twofold. Firstly saying ‘Look, I just have a feeling’ makes me sound like some kind of purple crystal woo bollocks purveyor who says we all have auras and trust your sixth sense and let’s all dwell by waterfalls and positive energy has healing properties. Someone, in short, not to be trusted. If I go the other way and try to explain what this feeling is based upon, the evidence is scantier than a crotchless lace g string. Because it is always based on tiny things. Teeny tiny, unimportant, unremarkable words, gestures, and actions. And to have observed, understood, and then filed away such mundane little moments makes me look like a creepy fucking single white female stalker nutjob, which also does not bestow an air of credibility upon me. Quite often the reverse of what I intended, usually – warning against a person or course of action – is achieved, and my warnee, as I might term them, very deliberately does the very thing I’m advising against, out of contrariness, a desire to prove me wrong, or just sheer fucking selfishness.

     And then of course, it does all go wrong, falls apart, gets to fuck. And in the smouldering wreckage of a perfectly avoidable calamity, in the hurt, confusion, and anger, I yearn to say ‘I told you this would happen.’ In some cases I actually want to grab people by the collar and snarl ‘Why the mascara arse did you think you knew better? How many times have I been right before? Why the buggery hell did you not just pause and consider what I was saying, instead of creating this?’ I don’t do that, obviously. It’s hardly likely to help an already difficult situation. The meal I warned you against eating has already given you food poisoning, and all I can hope for now is to ameliorate the effects.

     But I can do one other thing. Remind you that whoever you are in my life, whatever role or function I perform, whoever I am to you, you have chosen to have me there. Maybe you like me. Maybe you care a bit. Maybe you just have to tolerate my presence in order to achieve something for yourself. And if I am concerned enough to issue a warning, it means that I think my worst fears are going to be realised, and I am urging you, with every strand of The Mane, to listen to me. Because I know people, I know behaviour, I know how a sinkhole can open up in your life unexpectedly, and if I can avoid that, I will.

     So if I am worried, so should you be. If I am worried enough to tell you that I’m worried, listen the fuck up. Because as I said in an email to someone not so long ago ‘I will not discuss this further with you. I sincerely hope that this decision of yours will not come to be a cause for regret.’

     He regrets it now. But then I knew he would.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Fighting Talk

     It’s my birthday tomorrow. I shall be 37, which feels like an odd age to be. No, not ‘old’, I’m not one of those wankers who bleats about feeling ancient because it’s their 23rd birthday (as an aside, fuck, those people are annoying. The temptation to pat them on the head and say ‘really, poppet? Are you a bit too dense to realise the choice is aging or death? Which would you prefer?’ can be a little overwhelming). Anyway, yeah, birthday, me, 37. A strange age, no longer really young, but certainly not old. It’s not really one thing or another, which is kind of how my life feels at the moment.

     I have more freedom in my life now than I have ever had, and yet I seem to be incapable of actually using it. I banged on and on and bloody on about how now I would have time to write, to really commit properly to writing and throw myself into it and JUST FUCKING GO FOR IT like I’ve never been able to. And, yes, you have guessed it, of course I bloody haven’t.

     I do write. I write every day. It comes out just like it always used to, except that for the most part it never gets read by anyone, not even me. I’ve filled over 30 notebooks so far this year with all sorts of meandering bollocks and notes and ideas and just… stuff. And yet I haven’t blogged since September, for fuck’s sake. I am frustrated with myself.

     I am frustrated because I know I’m just being lazy and doing a bit of a halfarsed job on everything. The house is still only partly furnished because I couldn’t afford to buy all the things we needed when we moved in, and well, we seem to fill the space ok, so why bother to get bookshelves? My sofabed is perfectly comfortable, so why bother to buy bed slats and a mattress? The clothes I’ve been wearing since March are pretty much my favourites, so why bother unpacking the other boxes piled up in the wardrobe? No one ever comes round, so sod the mess on the living room table. I’ve written what I wanted to say in my notebook, so what’s the point in adding it to here, or emailing it to the person who should be reading it? It’s lazyarseness, pure and simple.

    It is Not Good Enough, however. The Blondies deserve better, Maisie* deserves better, I pissing well deserve better. Something I realised in the long drawn out process of sorting our lives out is that I need something to fight against. Whether that was the CPS, the disturbingly intense colour scheme of our new home, or the utter carnage that was moving day, I need to be riled up and fucked off and fierce and kickarse to achieve anything. Lately, I have been a mopey, anxious twat who struggles just to leave the house. Because there hasn’t been anything to motivate me. There hasn’t been anyone telling me that I can’t do something, that it’d be too much for me, that there’s no point even in trying. I haven't been galvanised into trying to prove someone wrong, I've had nothing to fight against, there is nothing to defeat.

    Except that I’ve just realised there is. There’s me, telling myself that. God, me can be a wanker at times. The type of wanker that really pisses me off, a moany, droopy, energysponge. Bastard me, I will not let you win, just to spite you, you malignant arsehole. I can fucking do this. I can fucking sort Maisie out, I can take this on, I can sit down and write and not just to myself. So yeah. I’m fucking taking myself on and I’m going to fight myself to our mutual death. And there will only be one winner. Me. 37 year old me.

     *Yes, my house has a name, keep up at the back, and if you think it’s naff, yes, it is, and I don’t give a toss what you think, so actually, don’t keep up, sod off.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Works like a charm

     When did we stop guarding against disaster and start hoping to attract good fortune? Not me, obviously, I live life in a default BRACE! BRACE! position, hoping that whatever comes next won’t leave permanent damage, or at least the kind that can be artfully disguised. I mean ‘we’ in a broader sense, people, them, us, you.

     As the type of person who loves folklore and superstitions and bollocks like that, what has struck me lately is how much of the old lies derived from fear. Fear of demons, witches, ill health, misfortune, all things people felt they needed protecting from. We don’t seem to cling to these superstitions these days in the way I remember from not that long ago, even as recently as when I was a child. Instead we have lucky things. A lucky scarf for football matches in the hope of our team securing a win, we have our lucky jacket for interviews, we may even have our lucky pants if on the pull. All of that is in the hope of attracting good fortune, rather than avoiding bad.

     It’s a reflection of modern life, I suppose. For the most part, illness can be treated, natural disasters can be anticipated and the aftermath dealt with (not always very efficiently, obviously), curious natural phenomena can be explained by the appliance of science. In the main, the world is not something to be feared. And so, in the absence of fear, we allow hope to enter instead. We hope that Norwich won’t crash and burn in the Championship, hope that we will get that job, hope that tonight will be The Night. Even though we consider ourselves to be rational, educated adults, there is still a part of us that clings to hope.

     Why do we do this? Why, when in the cold raking light of day, most would never admit to keeping to our private and personal little four leafed clovers? We know (at least I hope you do) that not doing something, or not wearing something will have absolutely no impact on the eventual outcome of a situation. In the case of lucky pants, I’d say that revealing a saggy, faded pair of Homer Simpson boxers, so ancient they’ve become almost crotchless is likely to significantly decrease your chances of being invited to reveal anything more. But yet, we hold on to these things. We ignore the times our ‘lucky’ charm didn’t work, and only remember the times when it did.

     I could be scathing about this tendency we have. I should be. I should be logical, and rational, and I should point out how flawed our (lack of) thought process is. But I won’t. What I will say is that we cannot scoff and sneer at the beliefs of those who lived in the past, and the actions they took to protect those closest to them, to avoid dangers they didn’t fully understand. We ourselves are just as guilty, keeping things for sentimental reasons that have no root in practicality. I should say that we, all of us, have our own little set of private beliefs and superstitions, some founded in our everyday lives and experiences, some that have arrived on  the slightest of whims, but ones that we observe religiously. I should say that we ought to abandon these silly little charms, these hopes, but I won’t. Because it is those illogical and irrational acts that make us, define us, what makes each of us the individuals we are. It is our beliefs, gathered over time, careworn yet precious, that truly reveal what we hold most dear.

     Not to mention that it would be utterly hypocritical of me to rubbish old folk tales too, because since the morning of 4th November 2015, I have worn around my neck a long thin piece of red ribbon, attached to which is a Spiderman button badge. I haven’t taken it off once. And although many triumphs and disasters have come my way since I first put it on, nothing has been quite as terrible as the events that caused me to first start wearing it. So on that flawed, unsound, sophistic basis, it stays. Because it has kept me and mine safe, as all charms and superstitions should.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tinned ravioli


     Here’s a story that will tell you how much of an over empathic twat I am. When I was about eight or nine, dinner was quite often just me on my own at the kitchen table for one night a week. My siblings were then sidling along the paths of teenagehood, so were probably up to some kind of illicit, forbidden behaviours, and my parents were the weird type of grown ups who work all day and then ‘relax’ by being sporty and athletic. Playing tennis, squash, that kind of odd, slightly worrying behaviour. One night, Mum, in a rush, had grabbed something from the shelf of the local shop to give me dinner, something that could just be heated up on the hob. Not something she’d bought before, but thought it’d be ok. Tinned ravioli.

     I’m not going to lie. I’m not even going to exaggerate, although you’ll think I am. It was disgusting. Flaccid, slimy mush. The type of thing you’d perhaps offer to a six month old as their first Real Meal after a week of baby rice, except that this food tasted preowned and definitely preunloved. The shudder that engulfed me as the pasta pillow dissolved on my tongue without me even having to chew is still ‘yeah, childbirth wasn’t great, but was it as bad as…?’ vivid now. Then the full horror of rehydrated, overhydrated mechanically recovered meat that was probably more eyelash and toenail of ferret than farmyard.

     Swallowing it was like downing a cup of cold sick. Keeping it down marks as perhaps the greatest single triumph of my life. It was eating as suicide because I no longer wanted to live in a world where such a food could exist. The severity of it was such that I put my book down on the table (unheard of behaviour), dropped the fork, and prepared to push the dish away, suppressing the primal urge to hurl it into the back garden and kill it with fire. How could this even happen? How could anyone come up with something so hideous? Had no one thought to taste it before it was unleashed on an unknowing and unsuspecting public? Had no one considered what could happen to a society where such atrocities are committed on a daily basis? How the buggery bastarding hell had this goatfuck of food been conceived, brought into existence, dressed in a pretty picture, and ushered before, holding out its pleated skirt, smiling shyly and waiting for me to express approval? Who was responsible for this and how can I destroy them and all that they hol…

     …d on a second. Someone, somewhere. This is their life. This is their job. In some monstrosity of a factory somewhere, doubtless windowless, airless, noisy and uncomfortable. Day in, day out, making this fetid slop, knowing that a complete stranger will hate them to their grave for what they’ve done. How terrible to have that on your conscience. How awful.  That poor bastard. Tears filled my eyes. A new realisation pricked my tear ducts harder. One day, they’re going to run out of victims. One day, everyone will know what they’ve done, no one will buy tinned ravioli, the factory will go out of business, they’ll lose their job, their innocent children will suffer, they’ll end up homeless, they’ll actually die of death. Because no one will buy tinned ravioli.

     This put a new light on my situation. Now I had to shoulder some responsibility. As vomit-inducing as I found it, I could not accept the blame for my rejected tinned ravioli tearing a family apart. I had to help, I had no choice, it was my duty.

     ‘How’s the ravioli?’ Mum asked as she swished past, resplendent in polo shirt and tennis skirt.

     ‘MMMMPPPFFF!’ Double thumbs up, mouth full, eyes rolled heavenwards to indicate the ecstatic state I was in with this delicious tinned pasta.

     ‘Good! I thought I’d give it a go, something different for a change. As it’s a hit, I’ll get it again.’

     ‘!!’ My enthusiastic whimper may have sounded like an involuntary spasm of primal fear and distress, but I can assure you it was just the dying whelp of my tinned ravioli foodgasm. Honest.

     And that is why for about six months I went without dinner every Tuesday evening. I had to time my run carefully, and make sure I had stuff to put over it once I’d silently scraped it into the bin (plastic spoons are your friend in this situation). Even the dog wouldn’t eat it, and there were times when he ate, variously, a whole packet of butter, a catering tin of chicken fat, two frozen rolls, and most memorably to my eight year old self, another dogs poo. So convinced was I that only I could secure the future of the tinned ravioli factory, I gamely pretended, every week, that this meal was the greatest treat of all.

     What a bloody twat. What an overly empathetic twat, and from such a young age. I want elderly, grey-haired, saggy titted me as I am now to go back and shake Young Me by the throat and bellow ‘STOP THIS MADNESS. You are not responsible for the livelihoods of people working in a fecking tinned ravioli factory. You hate this manure masquerading as food, and your sole weekly tin will not have any impact on sales. CEASE.’

     Christ, ah, I wish I could. I wish I had. Because being empathetic to the degree that I am is a right pain in the arse. For one thing, I cry all the time, about everything, always, especially when it has nothing to do with me. I cry at game shows. I cry when I see people shouting at their children (although I still retain the ability to get shitty with The Blondies). I cry at sports things sportingly sporting (one reason we don’t have a telly is that I can barely cope with the radio commentary. Seeing athlete’s faces would completely finish me off). I cry at architectural graffiti inscriptions. I even – here’s a bucket to laughvomit into – cry when I see things like unused playgrounds. ‘Where are the children?’ I sob. ‘Mr Happy Tree just wants the children to play-ha-hay wiiiiiith hiiiim…’

     Yeah, piss yourselves; I know I’m a twat. Twatty Mactwatface. Thing is, as embarrassing as I am to be around, and as fucking annoying as I can be, I am aware of other people in ways that perhaps most are not. And life gets complicated when you’re like that. You are attuned to picking up every possibility that someone may be feeling. And it’s far, far too easy to forget that other people don’t see the world like that, that I’m the odd one, that I’m not touchy feely by any stretch so keep your fucking hands where I can see them, but I’m used to thinking about people with consideration. And when I feel I don’t get that in return, it stings like a bitch. I deal better with reassurance than rejection. Sometimes perspective is better than the moral high ground. And absolutely fucking anything is better than tinned ravioli.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The truth about love Part II

     I wrote that nearly 18 months ago. 'The truth about love'. Seems a bit glib now. It was true, still is, in some ways. There are no lies in it. But the truth as it is now, is that it was based upon a false premise. I was not loved then, and I am certainly not loved now. This is a hard truth. I could soften it with mentions of The Blondies, my parents, friends who care, readers, etc., all of whom play their part in understanding and encouraging me. I cannot lie and pretend that this does not make my life richer and more enjoyable. But the truth remains: I was not loved.

     I may have been told it twenty times a day 'loving you'. I may have received a text every few hours 'loving you'.I may have been assured of it in the way his world was nothing more than work and home, no friends, no outside interests, no distractions or complications. But I was not loved.

     Cared about? Then, yes. My welfare was important. Consideration was given. Things that I did not request or require were done 'for me'. He would 'let' me do certain things I wanted to do, as long as I knew there would be a price to pay, a reckoning, in my own fashion. He was a good father to The Blondies on holidays, their interests and wants coinciding, allowing me the time and space I jealously, selfishly need in order to write. I cannot say he was wholly unsupportive in every way, because it would be unfair and untrue. But I was not loved.

     Love shows itself in unexpected and unthought of ways. The ways in which I listed what love truly is are still true, still what I believe, still what I will shout from the rooftops (or just hammer out onto a laptop in Spain whilst The Blondies are out with Mum for half an hour). And for that reason, I know I was not loved.

     Because with love comes care, consideration, compassion. Love cannot be love when it involves telling the world the other persons darkest secrets. Love was not love when after it is over, you repeatedly fail to do the right thing. Love was not love when you ignore the implications of your past behaviour. Love was not love when within weeks of the end of the relationship you move onto someone new, as you said you would.

     Love was not love, for either of us. I did not love him either, by the end. I don't know when it stopped. Most likely, it ebbed away, a slow but pervasive drought of the delta of a love I once thought defined my life, the little channels of the same love that once spread so broadly, gradually being extinguished as each stream became a trickle before dying, unnoticed until it was too late. I too have my share of blame, and have apologised, felt remorse, tried to make amends. I have received nothing in return, only a freezing out by many, and certainly no apology from anyone. And that it how I know I was not loved.

     I know I was not loved because I still care, yet receive no consideration. I was not loved, because I try to help, yet receive no assistance. I know I was not loved, because I cannot see myself ever allowing anyone close to me. And yet, I was replaced, overnight, without a backward glance, discarded. I am happy that he is happy, and that is what I wish for him. But lately I have realised that I was not loved, and I mourn the loss of my innocent belief that I was.

    Love and I have many things in common, it would seem. Recherch√©, elusive, unfathomable. Annoying, difficult, impertinent. But love and I are strangers, it seems to me now. Because I am not, never was, and probably never will be, loved.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Historical Romance

     Hnnnyeah, it’s not for me. If I want history, I’ll read a book by a historian. If I want romance… be grateful you can’t see my face right now, because romance can fucking fuck off and do one as far as I’m concerned. I am not at home to Mr Hopeless Romantic (that said, if anyone fancies wining and dining, I’m more than happy to watch you eat whilst I sink a bottle of Chenin Blanc). So no. No historical romance here, thank you.

     And no historical romance when it comes to the past either. I’m bored with it. More than bored, actually. I’m tossily fecking pissed off with it. There seems to be a strand of people who can’t accept that A Small Thing is just A Small Thing. I’m talking mostly about graffiti, of course, because that’s what I do, but you can apply it to pretty much any Old Thing that people talk about. An old building can’t just be an old building, no; it has to have a bedroom that Elizabeth I reputedly slept in. An old book can’t just be an old book; it has to have reportedly once belonged to Shakespeare. Strange markings on church walls weren’t caused by a dangling light pull installed in 1973, but instead hint at some mysterious occult practises that may relate to tales of witchcraft in the village during the 16th century.

     People often preface these evidenceless suppositions with ‘it is tempting to imagine…’ or ‘it is entirely possible that…’ or to put it another way ‘I don’t like not knowing everything, so I’m going to make up some complete bollocks, based on nothing other than a) my own inability to accept we’ll probably never know the truth and b) that I insist on everything being significant and important because I’m scared that I am myself insignificant and unimportant’. Which would be a bit of a long-winded way to start a sentence to be fair. I privately refer to these people as ‘Pritchards’, thanks to a certain book [dark mutterings]

     I can understand why. People like certainty, facts, neat little endings, and links to Big And Important Events. When they encounter a piece of history that on the face of it isn’t clear cut or glamorous (in their opinion), they feel a little disappointed and their mind issues an ‘…oh’. The temptation to therefore make something seem more than it is appears to be fairly universal. And nowhere is this more true than with graffiti. I’m going to contradict myself slightly here by saying that all graffiti has meaning. All of it, from the humblest spraypainted tag to the most beautiful and impressive 14th Century SHIP GRAFFITI!!! If it didn’t have any meaning, it wouldn’t exist. If someone creates something by a deliberate action, it intrinsically has meaning, even if that meaning is only known by the hand that created it and the reasons behind it leave every other soul on the planet baffled. So even just a pair of initials on a school playground wall has/had meaning. Where the problems seem to arise is in determining what the meaning is.

     Let’s take those initials, shall we? We can guess at the age of them by how weathered and smooth the stone around them has become. We can guess at the age of the person who carved them by how high they are, and the fact that they’re in a school playground. We can observe that they are surrounded on every side by similar initials, and nod sagely that yes, graffiti attracts graffiti. Meaning? That’s a bit trickier. It’s just a very human thing to do. To say, in the phrase I try to avoid but never bloody do, ‘I was here’. There are other things we could add, about how people copy others, how it’s ‘just what you do’, we could speculate that the child who created it may perhaps have been experiencing upheaval in their life and wanted to make some part of themselves more permanent. But ultimately, it is just a pair of initials on a wall. Does that make it any less interesting? Any less meaningful? For me, no. For others, yes. For others still, it’s clearly the sign of some cult that brainwashed children in the 1970s and forced them to create physical damage to buildings associated with authority in an attempt to bring down society to achieve anarchy in the UK.

     I wish I was making that sort of bollocks up (I did, to be honest), but it’s actually just an extension of so many comments and wild speculating that I read again and again when it comes to graffiti. A cross found in a church porch can’t be a straightforward as a record of a transaction or agreement. It has to be related to pilgrims, even when there’s no record of pilgrims ever visiting, or even a nearby shrine. A tally chart can’t just be a basic tally chart of someone who needed a handy surface to keep a record on at some point prior to 1500. No, it has to be the record of deaths from the plague during an outbreak in the village in 1426. A drawing of someone in a hood is actually a satirical representation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, based upon one piece of marginalia written by someone hundreds of miles away at the time, and whose handwriting is dodgy enough that it’s possible to read key words in four different ways. Or, it’s just someone in a hood. A woman carved into the walls of Norwich Castle isn’t just another carving of a person, she’s there for good fortune, significance, importance, wild speculation, theories that make no sense and are based upon no actual evidence other than the person who’s talking about her determined to prove that actually it means more than that because ‘I’m clever too, you know!’

     Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s one I actually didn’t make up. 

Look! A graffito of a… hat. 

Here is another… hat. Clearly, they must be linked. Except that one is in a church in Essex, and the other is in Bethlehem. But, ‘it is impossible to ignore the resemblance’, apparently. And to give you some idea of the logic at work there, the first theory considered is that it might relate to the Knights Templar. This happens quite a lot. Anything unusual or not immediately explicable is very, very, very often assigned to Templars and some kind of mysterious plot hidden from us that continues to this very day. They are the generic fruit based listening device of graffiti theories by the bored and ill informed, and they are also very tedious. The same author also decides it’s ‘possible’ that daisywheels represent badges of a religious or knightly Order, and I’d better shut up now before I really go off on one (but before I do, I’m just going to add that the text next to the first 'hat' reads ‘god help me’ which I’d say is rather more interesting than FIVE PAGES of discussion of a hat which is actually a knight’s helmet with a plume and not a hat at all).

     Graffiti does have meaning beyond what is on the surface. It’s never superficial. I can bore on for days about it (and as we know, frequently do), but endlessly talking about it has to be grounded in what we actually see, not what we think we know, or what we want to impress others with. Graffiti always has meaning, is always important, simply by its existence. But what it isn’t is a peg on which to hang your need to show off how much you know, nor is it always going to mean more than anything mundane and simple. Some inscriptions do. Some inscriptions require knowledge, experience, research and a twatty blogger getting annoyed and saying ‘bollocks is it fuck’. Some inscriptions we will never be able to understand wholly, and that’s fine. No one is ever going to know everything. But sometimes, it is as simple as a child carefully scratching their initials onto a wall in a playground. No more, no less. And it’s important – just as important as the inscription itself – to not overcomplicate our interpretation of it by automatically assuming it means anything beyond the fact that it was created in the first place.