Saturday, 25 August 2012

The trouble with death is…

The trouble with death is you have to live with it. Unlike some poets or supernaturalists I don’t believe it’s like a shadowy presence that haunts the living. It’s more like a scar. A part of you that has irrevocably changed, been reversed by a natural process that you have no control over. When the wound that caused it is open, weeping and painful, people tend to it regularly, doing everything they can to help it heal, stop the bleeding, keep it clean and free from infection that might fatally linger. But once healed, the wound slowly starts to fade and before long only those closest to you ever notice it or even remember it’s there. Sometimes you’ll be in the bath and see that little patch of tenderised skin, pallid and delicate where living flesh and blood used to be. You’ll run a finger over it to check it’s still as proud as it used to be, and, disappointed, realise that it’s losing its prominence as the years go by.

I am lucky though. One scar, a mere flesh wound some may say. There are those whose hearts have been broken and crushed so many times, if you could peel away the chest you would see a heart like the flesh of a burn victim, seared and tightening around the vital organ, threatening to strangle it completely. My 90-year-old friend, let’s call him Alfred, has lost mother, father, siblings and two wives. Not a soul in the world is left to him but one brother in Australia who has just lost his wife, and another that’s gone AWOL for no reason whatsoever. He lives, but each memorial that comes around the scar gets a little thicker, its clutch on his heart a little stronger, and his memories of being alive, really truly living, fade like the rhythm of the blood, now barely pumping around his wizened frame.

It’s four years and four months since I lost my mum but that’s not the memorial date I’m thinking of today. August 28th was mum and dad’s anniversary, and we always made a big thing of it in our house. It was a family present day, all of us getting in the spirit, giving one another gifts and, when my brother and I got older, throwing mum and dad the occasional surprise party.

Since she died we have kept the tradition, although I barely know why any more. It seemed another excuse to supplement the memorial of her death, one day not being long enough to commemorate such a full life, as if two could really make much more of a difference. Or maybe we just wanted to remember being a family, having good times, Greek plate smashing at mum’s favourite restaurant or the fun of trying to guess what she was wrapping for us behind the closed door of her bedroom.

But despite the good memories for me there was always a tinge of sadness in those days. Extreme excitement or pleasure always gets me in the throat like the lump before tears, being, as I fatefully am, never able to switch off my brain to the awareness of the passing of time, the fleeting nature of the very happiness I should have been enjoying. There were years, in the recession of the 90s, when I wished we could ignore the day, forget that there was anything to celebrate because I didn’t want my dad to spend money we didn’t have trying to live up to the idea of a ‘proper’ celebration. There were times when it seemed ridiculous to celebrate a marriage that seemed so up and down, at times strained, as all marriages are. I was young of course, I didn’t realise the rollercoaster that comes with loving someone, and indeed being frustrated with them, as with your own flesh. Another thing mum and I will never get to relate on, now I am married and understand her yet cannot sympathise, because she is gone.

Towards the end, these wedding anniversaries got more elaborate, or maybe more desperate, as if we could distract her from dying by creating a day so special it would drown out the cancer and all the pain that went with it. We took her to Claridge’s and ate til we felt sick, drank champagne and wished it made us feel happy. I suddenly felt that maybe my na├»ve sense of sadness in those early years was somehow prophetic, that I had known all along there would come a time when all celebrating seems pathetic, a pregnant pause before we can all get on with the process of grieving.

So now, it seems futile to celebrate an occasion that belongs to half of a partnership already rent in two. After all, marriage is about partnership, propping each other up, halving the load. It seems bizarre, macabre even, to celebrate something that has been mortally wounded, like a paraplegic celebrating the day his legs were blasted to smithereens by an enemy shell. Far from indulging in some special treat to mark the occasion, I feel like pulling apart my ribcage and showing the stripes on my heart, proudly commentating on the progression of the wound: “Look! That’s the bit that happened every time mum pumped the bile from her cancerous stomach into a bowl for me to empty in the bathroom sink!” People will remark, appreciatively, and ask if it’s still painful, safe in the knowledge that I will politely reply, “Oh it’s amazing what they can do these days, I barely notice it now. Human instinct to survive, you know.”

 Of course, if marriage is forever and you believe, as I do, that death is merely an interruption, there’s even less reason to mark another year in the gap between the living and the dead. We each have our own waiting to do. Hers in rest, ours in the agitating turmoil of life.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A rare gem

Every now and again whilst browsing around online for my job, I come across some strange choices of words or malaprops due to poor spelling, grammar, punctuation or just the sheer speed at which things are often thrown together in the online world.

But rarely have I ever found a phrase as nauseatingly offensive as this one, used by a certain company that will remain nameless, for their Twitter description:

"Feverishly nurturing juxtapositions from seeds into eggs with the lightest of carbon footprints"

I don't know if it's the use of the words feverishly, seeds and eggs in the same sentence (inappropriate), the fact that they've related carbon footprints to art (which is what the company actually does - would you have guessed it from that description? I thought not) or just the fact that it plain doesn't make any kind of sense, but it made me stop dead in my tracks, turn up my nose, and wish the written word had never been invented and that we all still communicated in yelps and yowls.


I feel the need to read something beautiful as an antidote. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Feelin' feline

We’ve got some new additions to our family. Meet Margot and Inez – our new kittens!
This is them when they just arrived home:
They’re just moggies really, although their mum was half Burmese so that makes them about a quarter I guess?! They’re beautiful if a little timid.
It throws up some interesting loyalty issues with our delightful first cat, Enid (a boy – we thought it was a girl to start with and when it turned out differently, well – why wouldn’t you want a cat called Enid?! So he’s gotta live with it). We love Enid like he was a real child. Issues, I know. We’ve got issues. But my lovely husband decided he wanted more kittens and when we found these little lovelies we couldn’t resist.
Already they’ve got stuck in the piano, refused to move out of the safety of their bed, and got their heads stuck in the holes of the makeshift box we used to transport them home.
Something tells me we might rue the day we made this decision…although there’s something deliciously LARGE about our new family when you list us by name. We are now:
Nick, Natasha, Enid, Margot and Inez
I think the phrase for it is Safety in Numbers. And it feels good. Just ask these two:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Stuff I've forgotten I learned #1

There are many advantages to living next door to a school. The natural alarm clock that is the morning school run. Seeing the moments only parents normally get to experience - first day, bad day, home-early-feeling-sick day. The constant reminder that life used to be divided into such tiny chunks. (Really, it's amazing they get to do any actual learning in between all those breaks...)

Of course there are disadvantages, which include potty-mouthed parents, litter blowing over the wall into our garden and a constant refrain of "MISS! CAN WE HAVE OUR BALL BACK?!?!" every single time I go home for lunch. But still.

One of the benefits I noticed today (whilst walking home for lunch - when do I do any work?) was being reminded of stuff I had forgotten. Specifically, that most exciting of events known mysteriously as 'cycling proficiency'. Even the word, 'proficiency.' It's got to be the only time that word is used in a sentence.

Cool stuff like that gets pushed out when you get older, one-in, one-out style: in goes another internet password, PLOP! Out goes a times table. In goes a useless piece of marketing jargon, PLOP! Out go the lyrics to the first musical you were in (Wizard of Oz - I was a flower. Aaah).

I watched over the playground fence as they wobbled around, cycling helmets on (another thing I haven't used since school), attempting to ride one-handed and learning how to move to the middle of the road ("what?! IN FRONT of the cars?!") when turning all came flooding back.

I'm still not sure what I was most proud of, that I managed to get through my test without wobbling off, or the shiny green rectangular badge I got at the end of it, that I wore proudly on my school jumper for ooh, at least a week, until I realised it wasn't "cool" which was why I was the only one wearing it. Even then I only downgraded it to my pencil case.

It got me to thinking of the other things I probably learned and have since forgotten - like how to convert pounds into kilograms, how to make a dove joint, what pipe cleaners are for or the first time I read a story all by myself (when did I learn to read? I imagine that was a pretty cool eureka moment, but I've yet to find anyone who can objectively remember the exact point they worked it out. Weird).

Anyway, I'm not one for pointless nostalgia but it was nice for a moment to remember how little things like that were so exciting.

And besides, I reckon the impact of school sticks with us in even more profoundly biological ways. Like the 3.30-4pm slump. A narrow but distinct window during which my body gives up and only caffeine or chocolate (or both) will get me through to the end of the working day. Try telling me that's got nothing to do with my body still being fine tuned to the sound of the school bell...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Being a sponge

Typed 'culture overload' in Google image search and this came up - cool!

So the best thing about changing job and starting afresh, seems to be that my brain is suddenly waking up after a period of extreme asceticism, culturally speaking.
When I'm so stressed out thinking about everyday things or facing a big change, my brain is so active trying to work out that problem I can't seem to explore the wider world of music, arts, and culture. I listen to Radio 4 pretty much constantly in my car, but other than the odd film of an evening to relax and escape, the rest of the world's artistic output seems to woosh straight over my head.
But here I am, new laptop (big plus!) and part time once again and I'm inspired to soak it all up and hopefully kickstart my writing again.
Highlights from the last week:

Bernice Bobs Her Hair - a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald recommended to me by the lovely IT manager at my new office! It's a lovely little slice of humorous 1920s American fiction, but more than that he amazingly gets right into the head of teenage/young adult girls and their bitchiness. Seems some things never change...meow.

Dreams of a Life - a really harrowing film/documentary about a woman from Hackney who died and wasn't discovered for three years. Supposedly tackles issues about modern society and how disconnected we are, but I didn't feel it really got to the heart of the story. The filmmaker obviously had problems getting people to speak - for example she contacted the woman's family but they wouldn't get involved with the film - and the ones that did were so disconnected it's hard to believe what they're saying. The filmmaker herself refrains from making a comment which is a shame as she's done so much research she probably has the best view of what happens - but she has chosen not to express an opinion, so the viewer is left wondering, which is never a satisfying experience.

Also due to exciting technological developments I have been able to subscribe to a gazillion podcasts and do geeky things like organise my favourites so I can have easy access to all my most inspiring avenues of cultural exploration...truly, living in the 21st Century has its benefits.

More to come.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Ch-ch-ch-changes #2

I can’t believe October was the last time I updated this. Suffice to say it’s been hectic.

But more than that I think I sort of lost the idea of the blog. I was so focused on writing about writing, or trying to write stories, I sort of backed myself into a corner. I have lots of thoughts. I like to write some of them down. I should just do that now.

So the blog is changing. I still have stories I’m writing. But I think this is more useful to me as a sort of diary. Isn’t that what blogs used to be about? Before they became vehicles for self-publicity or substitutes for magazines. So this isn’t meant to be proper articles or even stories or essays. It’s just thoughts. From my head. Which never stops. As my husband will tell you – he gets to sleep in about 30seconds, it takes me hours…

Today I’m mostly excited about a potential new job I might have. It’s been one of those weird things where it’s come out of nowhere and seems to be, if not perfect, very, very convenient. Which is a nice change because I’ve been starting to think that good things don’t happen to me. How wrong I have been…

Anyway, it looks like I’m going to be back in the world of PR, which is no bad thing for a brain that needs constant stimuli. I love radio, but it’s time to move on. I’m excited about my life revolving around my home, here in Leicester, rather than being stretched across my new and old life, travelling back and forth to Northamptonshire all the time. It will feel like, after more than two years, I’ve finally MOVED. In one place. Good for getting your head together.

That’s it for now. More may follow. Just heard this on BBC Six Music and love it: