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 SeƱora 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?

Monday, 18 August 2014

He matters to me

     I go out every evening. Usually between seven and eight. To go to the shop. That´s the purpose of the walk. But the reason is a need to escape. Just to get out of the house, have twenty minutes to myself, away from The Blondies, away from the house, away from noise. It´s an interval. Time to think.

     I always walk the same route. And often I see the same people, people who have their own reasons for being out at the same time. The dog walkers. The joggers. The woman in her 50s who walks slowly around the block, smoking a cigarette.

     There´s been a new person added to the cast list just lately. The old man. With the return of the warmer weather, he´s taken to sitting on a chair at the front door of his terraced house, catching the last of the sun´s rays before it sinks behind the row of houses opposite. In an ancient, motheaten grey jumper, and brown polyester trousers, his wrinkled face lifted to feel the warmth, rheumy eyes watering.

     From the little I can see, he lives alone. There´s a bed in the room behind him. The net curtains hanging at the windows are tattered and dusty. The front door was once painted a deep bottle green, now faded to pistachio that´s cracked an peeling. There doesn´t seem to be anyone who cares for him, his house, or the overgrown small patch of front garden.

     It started with a smile. One evening, on my way down the road, I caught his eye and smiled. He smiled back. A few days later, we started to wave to one another. Then a ´good evening´from both of us. A few times now, he´s commented on a flower in my hair, or I´ve said something about the weather. He´s not there every evening. Sometimes it´s raining. Sometimes I go to the shop earlier or later than normal. But on the evening´s when it´s sunny, when I´m in my usual routine, but I don´t see him, I feel uneasy. He´s old. I think maybe mid or late eighties. He looks frail. I know nothing about him, beyond the little I see from the outside. Yet I feel concern for him. That his days are drawing to an end, and when he goes, who will care? Who will mark his passing?

     Will there be distant relatives descending, to claim the house by default? Will his belongings be gathered together and hurled into a skip? One or two things hawked around junk shops for a bit of cash? Will the house be stripped, modernised, new kitchen and bathroom, put on the market? Will the neighbours breathe a sigh of relief that this little corner of the Golden Triangle has been tidied up, made a little more respectable?

     And who will mourn this man? Who will remember his life? Who knows his stories? To whom has this man mattered? Was he loved, once?

     I don´t know. I don´t know him. I don´´t know his life. But it matters to me that he matters to someone. And now I am away on holiday. I won´t be back for a further three weeks. I wanted to see him before I went away. I wanted to tell him not to worry that he wouldn´t see me for a while. But I didn´t see him on that last night before I left. It matters to me that he´ll still be there when I get back.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Blog twattery

     Hey bloggers! I think it's time for a chat. I'm not a writer, I'm not a social media expert, I don't know clever things. But I am a tweeter, a twatty blogger, and I do know people. I know more about people than most. I am your target audience.

     There are rules, bloggers. Unwritten rules, variable rules, rules that no one tells you about. But still, RULES. To break one is forgivable. We all make mistakes, especially when we start blogging coughEDBALLScough. Look, people blog for all sorts of reasons. I'm not going to hoik my judgeypants at anyone, to employ the literary device known as lying. But assuming you're writing a blog because you want to, here are the rules.

1. Write because you have something to say. Do not write to be read. I spill all kinds of blog twattery out on here. Sometimes in sorrow, sometimes in anger. Sometimes because I've found something interesting and want to write about it. Sometimes* I'm just twatting about. But I write because I have to, not in expectation of being read. Not for attention. Yeah, I know we've all read the stories of bloggers who have gone on to find fame, fortune & six figure book advance deals. Who end up on This Morning and Question Time. They are the exception. But you should have one thing in common with them. That you love/hate/ feel REALLY passionate about what you write.

*All the time

     2. Blogging shouldn't be a chore. 'Oh! It's Saturday! I haven't written my blogpost! It'll be up in two hours, folks!'. Firstly, and I cannot emphasise this enough, NO. ONE. CARES. Secondly, if you're blogging to schedule, you don't need to blog. I know I have the very great luxury of an empty, unfulfilled and meaningless life, so I can write as and when the compulsion takes hold. Not many people are as fortunate. But if blogging is something you do, then rethink. It should be something you feel, need, must.

     3. Blog stats. Ignore them. This isn't a popularity contest. I got 2k hits on a post a few weeks back, and a load of comments. A lot of  those comments really pissed me off. But another post, a small, sad lost post that I didn't tweet about elicited a text from a friend. A text of solace, comfort, and understanding. Which do you think meant more? 2k hits in a day? Or a message from someone who was one of only 12 to read a post?

     4. Be honest. Please. I'm a chronic oversharer. Not everyone is quite so prone to open soulbearing. But if you feel something, say so. Say why. Tell people. Say 'This fascinates me, it's amazing, it's incredible. I love X because Y.' But if I read 'This is what speaks to me', with no further explanation, no real feeling, no bloody passion, I guarantee I will have only one response. 'You big hairy arsed LIAR. Don't lay claim to thoughts and feelings you do not have.'

     5. I'm going to say it again. DO NOT WRITE FOR ATTENTION. Blogging, tweeting, however you do it. Attention seeking is obvious, desperate, and pitiful. There is nothing intriguing in it. Nothing is a greater turn off. So do NOT tweet me a link to your blog, demanding I read it, demanding comments. In the context of a conversation, fine. Anything else, rude. Really fucking rude. Like a dog sticking it's nose in your crotch. If it's my kind of blog, trust me, I'll find it. I'm good like that. Another thing I'm good at is overenthusiasm. If I like you, you'll know about it. And so will everyone else. Like my hair, I have no control. If I like you and what you do, you will never find a more annoying advocate. But I am also a contrary bastard, and if you shove your blog equivalent of a toddler pasta shape self portrait in my face, I will smile, tightly, nod, and despise you for eternity.

     6. Your words, your voice, your blog. I've had blogposts ripped off in the past. And trust me, it did not end well. I am not cool with that. If you've read something of mine, and it's given you an idea for a post, great. But do not fucking ever rip me off, and expect me not to notice. I will see it, I will hunt you down, I will fucking destroy you. I don't take myself seriously. But don't be fooled into thinking I don't care about my words, my thoughts, my writing, MY fucking blog. This blog is me. My voice. Do not ever take my voice. Because ventriloquists are creepy as fuck. And I will never lose my voice again.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The visitor book

     For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
     And palm to palm is holy palmer’s’    kiss.

     Take my hand. Come with me. I want to take you back in time. Let’s go to Binham. It’s a halfway place. Ancient and modern. It’s not just in the here and now, so whilst we’re here, neither are we. We’re in the middle. And it’s not just the building that’s here. The people are too. Half-glimpsed ghosts, even the builders. Don’t believe me? I’ll show you. But patience first.

     G Drake Nov 26 ’99. Disgraceful. Vandalism. Shocking. Fifteen years old.

     P Astor, 1993. Disrespectful. A desecration. Shouldn’t be allowed. 21 years old.

     Herbert Burton 1948. Doesn’t seem so shocking, does it? Doesn’t seem like such an intrusion. 66 years old.

     And now, a mystery.

     Who were you, G Smith and P Hooper? What’s the significance of ‘FD’? What was in your mind to make you scratch this into the surface of the wall of this church? And why add ‘NFK’? The church won’t change counties. Why was it important to you to include that? Does it mean something that it was 1941? Significant that it was in wartime? What was happening in your lives that you needed to record your existence in this sacred place?

     It’s a very human thing, graffiti. Not just in terms of a name, scratched, written, or otherwise recorded. But because of what it tells us about people, their need not to be forgotten. To say ‘I was here’. This place, this spot, this floor upon which you, the reader, now stand. Someone else was here before you. Maybe only a short time before. Maybe yesterday. Maybe centuries ago. But just by viewing these marks, you are connected to them, in a way you might not realise or appreciate.

     There are other markers of people past at Binham. The truly old stuff. Steps worn smooth by feet that used them, long ago.

     Text so faint it’s barely possible to make it out with the naked eye.

     Things I don’t understand and can’t explain.

     Things that might have been made deliberately, or just happened by accident.

     I’m not well informed enough to know. But these marks were made by people. People just like you and I, people who lived, who came here, who were in this building. People who may never have considered the possibility that others would come here, so many years later. Ten years, twenty years. A century. Centuries. And look upon these tiny little traces. These little fingerprints of life. We can reach out, touch and be touched by these people, palm to palm.

     But the inscription that moved me most was unexpected. I had read about it. Seen pictures of it. I knew where to find it. This wasn’t a graffiti hunt. I wasn’t seeking a prize, or something new. Whilst the others looked around the church, I found it.

      One of the men who helped to build this church did this. As he stood and planned the window, one day, centuries ago. Just getting on with his work. I didn’t expect it to move me. I didn’t expect to cry. I didn’t expect something so simple to leave me feeling so overwhelmed, that something left by a man, standing here, so long ago, could have such a profound effect. But it did. The connection. He stood, just as I did, here, in this spot, in this place. And he helped to construct a building that has housed so many people, their hopes, their dreams, their prayers. Their existence. Everyone who has crossed the threshold since then, owe that man something.

     And by standing, right there, just as he did, in 2014, I can reach out and touch him. And all those who came after him, and left their mark, their shadow of their presence there. It’s not just an old building, a church, a haunt of ancient peace. It’s very walls contain a visitor book of humanity through the ages.     

Friday, 8 August 2014

Haunts of modern noise

    It’s a strange place, Binham. A church, still in use, still cared for.  But like Beeston Priory and St Benet’s Abbey, it has ruins of former glory, old, crumbling walls you can reach out and touch but…

     I may have had my phone facing the sign, but my face was glaring at the smug and entitled Second Homers with their bouncy springer spaniel that was scrabbling up and down walls, barking, racing around The Blondies, and generally being a pest. No, of course it wasn’t on a lead, and no, of course, they did nothing to restrain it.  Dark mutterings from me…

     The Blondies loved exploring though. Up ancient steps, through long destroyed doorways, looking out across unchanged Norfolk fields from what were once windows. And of course there were questions. For some reason, as I’d been the one to suggest visiting Binham, they persisted in the happy delusion that I had some, any, idea of what each individual room was once used for, who would have used it, how it would have been furnished, what would they have eaten, Mum, what was this for? And Mum…

     I wandered off, lost in thought for a while. It may seem selfish, but I had a need to be alone. I wanted to take in the atmosphere. The feeling that these old places fill me with. Knowing that I’m just one of many, following in the footsteps of those who went before. I took a deep breath, and a feeling of peace began to cree…

     ‘Mum! Mum! MUUUUUUUMMMMM!!!! Can we go over here, Mum? Mum, look! Mum! Mum? What does ‘dorter’ mean, Mum? And Mum? Why would they have had different sets of stairs, Mum? And Mum, I’m hungry. When are we going to have our picnic, Mum?’

     I rejoined the 20th Century with a sigh, and continued walking round with the Blondies, answering the questions I could, fudging answers to the ones I couldn’t.

 It was only when we went inside the church that the volume level subsided. The levels of interrogation remained pretty much constant, but:

     Me, in normal tones: The Blondies? Why are you whispering?

     Them, whispering: We don’t know… Mum? Is that medieval graffiti?

     Me: Hmm… could be... Keep looking…

     My evil plan worked, and kept them busy for the rest of the time we were in the church, whilst I went off on a little journey of my own. I could have happily spent the rest of the day there.

     But all three of them were hungry, we’d said we’d have a picnic on the beach, so we went on to Weybourne, ate, they giggled, were frozen into silence by wasps, clambered around looking at pillboxes. I was briefly amused by a mother, clearly at the end of her tether, barking instructions at her three children to ‘stand up straight, look at me, no, Ethan! Stop pushing Ella! Look at me! Jonah! Will you STOP doing that! Just stand still for a moment, will you! For god’s sake… Just look at me! Yes, that’s it. Now SMILE.’

     But mostly, I sat a little apart, enormous sunglasses in place, feeling overwhelmed, emotional, and more than a little bit haunted. But that’s another story.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A grim day out

     Remember when The Blondies and I went to Stranger’s Hall? And all the signs were that it was shaping up to be an absolute horror of A Day Out? That was Sunday. Alistair and I had decided to visit Binham Priory, an absolute gem of north Norfolk I’d visited briefly a month or two ago.   That was fine. Loading up the car was fine. And then it started…

     ‘Mum? Mum?’


     ‘Mum? I feel carsick, Mum.’

     ‘Mum? Mum?


     ‘Mum, my shoulder hurts, Mum.’

     ‘Mum? Mum? MU-UM!


     ‘Mum? How much further is it, Mum? Mum, and how long will it take Mum? And how long is half an hour, Mum? Mum? How long is thirty minutes, Mum? Mum? If I count to sixty, thirty times, will that be thirty minutes, Mum?  Mum, I’m hungry, Mum? Mum? Mum? MUM! I still feel sick, Mum. Mum, where are we going, Mum? Oh yeah. Mum? Mum? The Boy's annoying me, Mum. Mum? The Girl's being a pain, Mum. Mum? MUM! I still feel sick, Mum. Mum, The Boy just drank all the water, mum. MUM! The Girl's lying, Mum, I didn't, Mum! Mum! Mum! MUUUUUUMMMM.’

     My shoulders were hovering protectively by my ears, trying to protect me from the onslaught. Alistair was clearly starting to get annoyed too, judging by the whiteness of his knuckles, I noted resentfully. It’s not like they were badgering HIM. For some reason, he was insisting on using the sat-nav, which had obviously decided to reset itself to ‘Scenic Route’ mode. Norfolk in August is beautiful. Very beautiful indeed. But I’d rather just reach my destination. Especially when:

      Me: Oh look, there’s a sign for Binham!

     Him: The sat-nav’s saying straight on.

     Me: But that way is the right direction.

     Him: But the sat-nav says straight on.

     Me: We ought to go right though. Where that sign is.

     Him. The. Sat. Nav. Says. Straight. On.

     Me: But that sign we just passed was for Binham. And it’s quite a small village. So we can’t be far away.

     Him: SAT. NAV.

     Fifteen minutes down the road…

     Me: We haven’t seen any more signs for Binham. Just thought I’d helpfully point that out.

     Him: You saying you know better than the sat-nav?


     We were now at the ‘dangerously silent’ point of  being completely narked off with each other. Rather like a jumbo jet sits at the end of the runway before take-off, letting the engine build up power, immediately before I lose my temper, I go very, very quiet. If I’d had the opportunity, I would have married him there and then, just so I could divorce him immediately. From SPITE. And The Blondies were still Mum? Mum? Mum?ing at every opportunity. I was just about to tip from ‘dangerously silent’ to ‘overflowing wave of poisonous fury with swears’ when we turned the corner, and there it was. Binham Priory. A collective ‘WOAH’ arose from all three DEEPLY ANNOYING Blondies, and silence reigned until we got to the car park.

     And then, just to push me further towards meltdown, Alistair decided he was Taking Charge. And led us, not towards the priory, but the graveyard. Every headstone was to be inspected. I stood, deliberately to the side, lips pursed like a dog’s bottom, every atom of my body quivering with ‘WHAT are you DOING? The most AMAZING ruins and church are right THERE and you are IGNORING them and this is making me ANGRY’ vibes (to be honest, I quite like poking around in graveyards too, but not when the purpose of our visit was something else entirely. And the graveyard would still be there after we'd looked around the priory).

     The Boy, as usual in tune with my moodiness, took one look around and announced ‘I hate birds. They’re so disrespectful, pooing all over graves.’   To illustrate this, he pointed out the following headstone

     Now that’s a name to conjure with!  The pair of us edged away from Alistair and The Girl, and towards the entrance

     I don’t know why I find the ‘Any reasonable time’ opening hours so amusing. Something about it suggests a middle aged stout woman in walking tweeds demanding to be permitted to visit at half past three in the morning. But my mood shifted, the sun came out, and we began to explore…

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Two roads diverged

     A while back, the Royal Mint announced plans to put EdithCavell on a commemorative £5 coin, and the reactions I saw across twitter fell broadly into three categories.

    Norfolkers: Yay! Hurrah for the local girl!

    Feminists: Yay! Hurrah for women!

     Historians: Hmm…

     Shamefully, despite being a feminist, a Norfolker, and a history obsessed moo, I knew very little about Cavell, beyond the basic story. A nurse in occupied Belgium during the First World War, she is believed to have helped over 200 people to escape. She was betrayed, executed by the Germans, and now there is a monument to her just outside Norwich Cathedral. She’s best remembered for her words the night before her excecution:

     ‘I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’

     An admirable sentiment, and her bravery is not in question. What I hadn’t realised is that she is rather a controversial figure to be commemorated, as she was nursing in a Red Cross hospital. Her assisting Allied soldiers to escape went fundamentally against Red Cross principles of neutrality and impartiality – principles she adhered to as a nurse, by treating soldiers from both sides. Cavell herself wasn’t a member of the Red Cross, but her hospital was commandeered by the organisation, so essentially she represented them. By acting as she did, she put those working for the Red Cross in serious danger. You can see why some people may not view her as the heroine she’s usually written up as being.

     However, in that situation, having to make that decision, to help or not, who can say what they would do? Do you risk your life and those of others to help one person? Or do you keep yourself safe, knowing that by lack of action, you could be condemning someone to death? It’s unlikely that you or I will ever have to face that situation so plainly. And to follow on from that, it wasn’t just the 200 or so people she aided. What happened to those men? Did they end up returning to the front? Did they make further contribution to the war? Did they die on their way home, meaning that Cavell’s actions weren’t just misguided, but ultimately pointless? Or did they survive? Are their descendants amongst us now? Did Cavell lose her life, so that many others might live? We’ll never know, I suppose.

     That’s a very stark, and black & white decision to have to take, which had clear and obvious consequences for Cavell, and misty, half secret ones for those whom she helped. For most of us, the decisions that we make every day, often without really thinking, are the ones that have life altering impact. The decision to walk home, which means you were later, so you missed that phone call from a friend, asking you out for a drink, to the pub where you would have met the love of your life. The cold you had that meant you went to the chemist and bumped into an old friend who tipped you off about your dream job. The time you didn’t bother checking the post, and your other half found their birthday present, which caused a row, so you didn’t have sex that night, you didn’t get pregnant, and didn’t go on to become a parent later that year. The decision to make a joke on twitter that got retweeted, and gained you a new follower, who became one of your closest friends.

     We like to think that it’s the big decisions, the university we go to, the person we decide to spend out life with, where to move to, that has the biggest impact. It’s not. It’s the smallest of margins, life, the tiniest things that change our lives, and so often, it’s hard to trace it back to the root, place your finger upon it, and say ‘Yes. That was where things changed.'

     I wish I could remember the first day,
    First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
    If bright or dim the season, it might be
    Summer or Winter for aught I can say.
    So unrecorded did it slip away,
    So blind was I to see and foresee,
    So dull to mark the budding of my tree
    That would not blossom yet for many a May.
    If only I could recollect it, such
    A day of days! I let it come and go
    As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
    It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
    If only now I could recall that touch,
    First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!

     Christina G Rossetti

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Very superstitious (the mirror's on the wall)

      We were on our way home from school (oh, distant, much missed, and longed for days of Blondie liberty!), and The Boy was doing That Wiggly Walk that can only mean one thing.

     Me: Do you need a wee?

     The Boy: YES

     Me: Why didn’t you go before you came out of school?

     The Boy (in tones of desperation): Can’t. Bloody Mary.

     BLOODY MARY! Oh my god. Bloody Mary… Did she exist at your school? She did at Avenue Middle. In the toilets at the back of the school hall, the ones you could only use during lesson time. The story went that she’d been a pupil at the school in the 1890s, and had died a horrible death. The generally accepted version of events was that she’d been messing about on the balcony overlooking the hall (teaching staff and visiting adults only), had slipped, and fallen to a messy, grisly demise on the polished wood floor below. Her ghost was destined to roam the school forever more, hoping to tempt the unwary to copy her painful and splashy death, but for some reason, her main choice of residence was a grotty girls toilet refurbished sometime in the 1960s, with a broken drinking fountain and lingering smell of Lysol.

      No one ever really told you about Bloody Mary. We just sort of knew, like a kind of herd memory as soon as one reached Year 6. There was much whispered discussion of her in the bottom playground, what she looked like (long dark ringletted hair, Victorian clothing) who had seen her (always someone’s elder sister’s friend, who had, conveniently, moved away from Norwich and was effectively dead to us in the pre-internet age,) and who had dared to summon her.

     Oh yes. She could be summoned. You had to stand in front of the ancient, agespotted mirror, stare deep into your reflection, and say aloud ‘Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.’ And her reflection would appear in the mirror, standing behind your left shoulder, staring at you, blood on her face and in her matted curls.

     However, the thing was, although she confined herself to the girls toilets, once you knew the story, then you could conjure her up in any mirror, because you’d looked at yourself in Bloody Mary’s mirror, before you knew the story (look, we’re dealing with the minds of 10 & 11 year old girls. It made perfect, logical sense to us, ok?).  Yes. Any mirror in the world could be pressed into service to summon Mary from the wasteland of lost souls. No one did, of course. There were hideous stories of pupils from the dim and distant 1970s who’d done so, and had then  gone on to leave their vital organs messily splattered across nylon carpet squares. Some of the louder girls claimed to have got as far as saying ‘Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mar…’ before chickening out. But no one actually ever completed the trio. You’d have to be CRAZY.

     Then I left Avenues, went to high school, and forgot all about Bloody Mary, other than in terms of an utterly foul vodka drink. More than twenty years ago. And in any case, The Boy doesn’t go to Avenues. And he’s a boy. What would he know about the girls toilets of a school he’s never set foot in?

     It was bloody weird. Everything. Right down to the finest detail (like the fact that she slipped and fell because her boot wasn’t laced loosely enough). And of course, the ‘any mirror in the world’ summoning clause. The Boy was freaking OUT. Which he does on a fairly regular basis, to be honest, but I had to do something.

      Problem was, that when The Boy freaks out, he becomes impervious to reason, an enemy to logic, and blind to rationality. So my carefully designed explanation of why Bloody Mary is a load of cobblers fell on deaf ears. Actually not deaf ears. That suggests he could have potentially heard at some point. No. He was in the grip of The Fear and nothing could reach him. The whispers of other nine year old boys held more sway, truth, and conviction than the words and experience of his 34 year old mother.

     Realising just how far gone he was, I hit upon the solution in my head. I couldn’t explain it to him; perhaps I could prove it instead? Make him realise how illogically superstitious he was being? Hmm…

     So as soon as we got home, and The Boy had hurled himself into the downstairs loo, I nipped in behind him, and stood in front of the mirror hanging over the sink. 

     There was a scream. Not from me. Not from Bloody Mary (oh, come on). But from The Boy.

     ‘See, The Boy? Nothing happened! She’s not real, just like I told you.’ I beamed fondly at him, fully expecting his grateful thanks and sheepish, rueful acknowledgement of his gullibility.

     ‘MU-UM! You’re a… You’re a… YOU’RE A WITCH!’ And with that he stormed out.

     It would appear that in dispelling one silly, schoolboy superstition, I have inadvertently caused my son to fear me instead.  Bloody Maryvellous.     

     Since the events of that happy afternoon, I've looked up Bloody Mary online, and there's a fair amount of folklore surrounding it, and plenty of variations on the story The Boy and I know. Quite how these became twisted and worked into two strikingly similar tragic former pupils of Norwich haunting middle school toilets is unclear. It's just the way the human mind works, I suppose.                                              

Monday, 4 August 2014


     For Anonymous, with love.

     The thing I love about blogging is that I can be honest. I’m nothing like as honest or direct in real life, few people are. But here, I can say exactly how I feel. I can rant about shit writing, I can record how utterly destroyed I felt last October. I can get pretentiously wanky about Beeston Priory. I don’t have to self-censor the way we do in real life.

     Blogging has saved my sanity at times, genuinely helped to claw me back from the edge of a breakdown. Being able to articulate exactly how I feel right here, right now, channelling out the words that roar and clamour in my head, full of sound and fury. I can pour them out into this little corner of the blogosphere, send them out into the world, and watch them scatter like confetti, falling in new and unexpected places.

     I don’t write to be read. I write to speak. If people want to listen, that’s a bonus. If people want to talk to me, that’s even better. That’s what has stunned me about blogging. That there are so many people out there who are interested in what other people have to say, and that there are people whose words I love to read, whose views I’m interested in, whose opinions I value.

     Blogging has given me so much. The Harper Collins party, Blogfest, new and unexpected things in my life, things I would never have thought possible. But most of all, it has given me friends. Some of my closest friends now are people I’ve met through blogging. Some of them have even crossed over from digital, online friends to 3D, analogue ones. They’ve seen the real me as I am in this blog, and, massive amount of admiration for their bravery, they haven’t run away screaming. They should get a medal for Services to Twatty Bloggers for that alone.

     Most of all, blogging has enriched my life. The support I’ve had from people has been inspirational. I’ve gained so much confidence from the words of people who’ve taken time to read my arsing about twattiness, either here or in the concentrated world that is 140 characters of twitter.  From the outside it may seem a bit odd, a bit false. It really isn’t. As much as people care about me, so do I for them.

     I wrote that yesterday, as a response to my older version’s comments on ‘You do not speak for me’. Life, Blondies, a trip to Binham Priory, all of that got in the way.  I was ready to discard it, not really sure where I was going with this. Then a link to a blog got retweeted into my timeline, I read the blogpost, and it made me very angry indeed.

     It was a barely veiled attack on another blogger, twisting the words of a post in a tone of ‘if that’s all you’ve got to worry about…’ It was passive aggressive, it was unfair, it didn’t need to have been written the way it was. Instead of feeling sympathy for the writer, I felt angry.

     Blogging is a small community. Ok, so there are thousands of us, tens of thousands of us, but because of twitter, if someone blogs about you, it won’t be long until you get to hear about it. Trust me, I know. No, really, I mean I know. And it’s not a nice feeling. In my case, I contacted the blogger, we sorted things out. But I do still feel a bit of a grudge that they didn’t leave a comment on the post in the first place.

     Which brings me to last week. I was, frankly, stunned by the response to ‘You do not speak for me’. It was a blogpost written in under half an hour, no prior planning, I was interrupted constantly throughout writing it. I expected it to pretty much sink without trace. I didn’t expect to get over 2,000 views in a day. I didn’t expect to find myself being discussed on facebook. I didn’t expect to find myself on the front page of mumsnet. Most of all, I didn’t expect the amount of comments. More pertinently, I didn’t expect the number of comments who seemed to spectacularly miss the point I was making, which was not about logic, but about Richard Dawkins assuming he could evaluate experiences of rape in terms of logic. I did expect to get a few trolls making threats of rape against me, and sure enough they did pop up. I ignored, marked as spam, moved on.

      I didn’t expect to be told that someone watched it develop with great pride. I didn’t expect Alistair to tell me I should start considering myself to be a writer (he hasn’t read any of this twatty blogger’s output, so we can forgive him). Most of all, I didn’t expect   the comments I got from Anonymous on Friday and Saturday. I get all sorts of comments on here. Sometimes nice, sometimes nasty. Sometimes I’m not really sure what the comments actually mean, if they’re agreeing, disagreeing, or making a point I don’t get.
     But I’ve never cried over comments before. A few tears, yes. Lump in throat, quite often. But those two comments…  I cried, because I was touched in a way that very few people have ever managed. I’m crying now, as I type these words. And, Anonymous, when I have a shitty day, I will think of you, whoever you are, and remember what you wrote. Thank you. You reminded me why I blog, what it’s given me, and what it means to me. It means more than I can tell you.