31 December 2010

When it rains

You know the saying: 'When it rains, it pours' ?
It does in my life. Quite literally.

It might sound just a little bit weird, but everytime something happens - something you might call life-changing - it always seems to pour with rain. I'm not talking that drippy rain, that splashes in puddles, or the kind that makes your beautifully blow-dried hair go frizzy, but that drench-you-to-your-bones, so-hard-it-hurts-a-little-bit, bouncing off the rooftops kind of rain. Like a reminder to say, 'hey, something really big is happening'. This year it poured with rain a few times. It did, when Mum got cleared of cancer, when L came home from Peru and said he wanted me. It rained when we finally found out we'd got the flat in London, when I decided once and for all - I was leaving my Manchester.

I'm one of those very sentimental people, and I always have been. I used to save all my Easter eggs when I was a kid, keep them safe, unopened, until the chocolate started to go white and my Mum had to throw them out when I wasn't looking, somtime in August. On the last day before my birthday, I would go around the house announcing; 'this is the last time I will eat my breakfast when I am nine', in a theatrical way. Before I went to bed I would whisper to my Mum; 'this is my last ever sleep before I'm ten.' My parents thought I was nuts. On the eve of the Millenium, I made a little box, wrote a letter, popped in a picture, and buried it in the back garden. I've forgotten where it is now, but holding onto time was so important to me, I had made everyone come and watch.

Every Christmas, I used to get a diary from my Great Aunt - one to write stories in, not for the dates. I made promises to write my stories every day. January always started with beautiful handwriting. But by mid February I used to forget a day - sometimes two. By the time March came along, my diary was almost a write off (pardon the pun). I was rarely completely honest, for fear someone might find it. But I did love the way I could keep myself paused in a single moment, forever inked on the paper.

New Years Eve is like this for me. The fireworks boom, the people all scramble for kisses and time seems to hold still a few seconds longer for me.
In those few seconds, the world becomes still and I think of the times it has poured with rain. Of the people who have loved me, and those who have taught me about love. I shouldn't hold on to time, because things naturally change. Life doesn't stop and it can't be held tight, or controlled with my pen. The rain falls, and washes the dark away. Like a new start. A new year. Another day.

30 December 2010

Home for Christmas

I had about an hour and a half turn around from the moment I left my offices in Mayfair, before I was due to get the 19:47 train from West Brompton to my Mum's house for Christmas. With only one train every hour, I couldn't miss it.
It was going to be a miraculous feat for the best of people, involving a tube ride back to my flat (at rush hour), a quick change of clothes from smart/corporate to casual/comfy, a desperate last minute packing session, a double-check that the presents were in my gigantic suitcase, before scooping up the cat, suitcase and keys and locking my pretty wreathed front door behind me.

Feeling pleased with myself at having 40 minutes left, I dragged the suitcase along the open corridor of my block of flats until I reached the top of the stairs. Four flights down.  Not impossible, but definitely a little tricky. I left the cat at the top of the stairs and bumped the gigantic suitcase (it was only four days I had planned to stay for, wasn't it?) down the first flight of stairs. The cat looked at me with an air of superiority in her comfy carrier, as I manoeuvred the wheels around the corner, trying to avoid the top heavy suitcase from toppling over. I ran up the sixteen stone steps and picked up the canvas bag containing my snooty black cat and brought her down to be placed next to my suitcase on level three.

I had originally bought the luxury cat carry canvas bag as a way to compensate for the fact I made a couple of trips from Manchester to London last year and needed to take the cat with me. It's rather spacious and lined in a soft woolly blanket, so doubles up as a cat's bed when she's not on a train. It's far cosier than a plastic box with wire bars at the door, and gets her admiring looks on trips to the vet. It also disguises very well as a canvas gym bag; except for the two rather beautiful sparkling green eyes which peer from behind the soft black mesh windows at the front, sides and back.

After completing my cat/suitcase yo-yo effect down three more flights of steps, we were off. The walk to the tube is only eight minutes, but somehow we made it in eighteen. Yet again, it seemed like the stairs were against me, although this time, a bewildered man offered to hold the cat carry bag while I lugged the ridiculously huge suitcase down the stairs at the station. I'd like to think it was the cat's big green eyes which made him feel sorry for us, and offer his help, rather than my red puffy face, manic looks or the swearing which would have had my Gran fainting as I saw the stairs I was to descend upon.

"Hello. Home for Christmas?" said the man two seats down in my carriage in a strong Scandinavian accent.

I smiled politely, and nodded. The tube to West Brompton was unusually quiet for this time of day, for which I was eternally grateful (and made a mental note to thank my lucky stars later). The cat was quiet and had curled up in the woolly blanket, the rocking of the train sending her to sleep.

The man two seats down was bald, wearing a suit and a green scarf and carrying a zip-up leather wallet. He would have looked stern except for his beaming face. He leant forward, peeking into my disguised gym bag;

"Your cat? What's his name? He's so beautiful." He asked, chattily.
"Er...she's a 'her'. Her name is Bess." I replied.

Then as an afterthought (and probably rather unnecessarily) I added:

"I named her after my Great Grandmother..."

The man's name was Gerard. He told me he wasn't able to spend Christmas with his family in Denmark this year due to snowy weather conditions. I nodded sympathetically. We moaned about the weather some more, and I might have stayed on the train breaking the unwritten social rules of the tube by talking to a complete stranger a little longer, had I not realised the train was finally pulling into West Brompton.

I looked at my watch. Oh God. Only four minutes to get off the train, down the platform, up the stairs, across the bridge, down another flight of stairs and onto a train which would more than likely arrive early.
I can't remember the next three minutes. I bumped the suitcase up the stairs (whilst trying to perform a gliding manoeuvre with the cat carrier so as not to upset the cat); my muscles burnt with the pain and I must have looked an absolute nutter.

The train was packed (as usual) but I managed to find a quiet corner away from the JLS fans on their way to Wembley Arena. I tucked myself between the prams with the doting new mothers. After all, I did have my baby with me (even if she does have whiskers). My dramatic exertions in getting on the train, had exhausted me, and I was starting to get a headache. I was looking forward to the rest of the journey being a quiet one. I put my earphones in, and closed my eyes. Only 40 minutes until home.
Appreciating the dark corner I had put her in, the cat curled up, peering out into the bright bustle of the train, watching people's shoes shuffle past; her ears pricked at the crunching of Christmas shopping bags.

I should have learnt by now that travelling with a cat brings all sorts of funny looks and stares. So it shouldn't have been a surprise to find myself in another conversation with perfect strangers. This time it was with two JLS fans wearing sparkling JLS hoodies and a girl in her early twenties. I really wasn't in the mood to talk for the whole journey, so subtly (on purpose) put my earphones back in and suddenly got rather engrossed with twiddling the wire and looking out of the window.
The two fans got off at Wembley, tipsy from their plastic cups full of cheap white wine and sung their way all along the platform. I settled back, hoping the last 20 minutes were of peace and quiet.

No such luck.

"Isn't it a bit cruel to take a cat out on a train?"  Someone said.

It was the twenty-something girl, who was leaning against the window casually, looking right at me. The girl's mousy brown hair was tied loosely into a ponytail. She had wire-rimmed glasses and sniffed after she spoke. I'd gathered from our conversation earlier with the JLS fans, that she seemed to have an answer for everything. She was getting on my nerves. I gave her a bit of a look, and explained that the cat was actually used to travelling from Manchester to London and back again.

"The cat loves going to Mum's house" I protested. "It's a mansion compared to my house - she's off on holiday too." I added, in case I had been too harsh.

The girl, who's name I'd worked out from one of her previous stories, was Sarah. Sarah asked if she could put her handbag on my suitcase. I nodded.

She made herself comfortable and began to talk. Maybe I have one of those faces which has 'talk to me' written all over it. Possibly it was because there was a cat. It could have been because it was Christmas Eve. But we talked all the way up the line to Watford.
The carriage got quieter as people came and went, but our conversation carried on in the corner with the prams and new mothers. I picked up fairly early, that other than to advise me on my cat-care techniques, she had things to tell me. Perhaps not me specifically, but she obviously needed someone to listen.
The further the train travelled, the more she allowed me to see the cracks in her demeanour, until she didn't care anymore that I saw the signs of her vulnerability. She reminded me of me - but five years ago.
I listened to her tell me about her family. How her Mum had just left. How Christmas would be difficult this year. She told me about the sistershe was on her way to meet for some last minute Christmas shopping. She described the charm bracelet her Mum had bought for her just after she'd walked out. How afterwards Sarah had gone to the shop her Mum had purchased it from and exchanged it for a bright blue shell pendant necklace. About how she couldn't forgive her. I noticed Sarah was wearing the pendant that day.

"We are now arriving at Watford Junction." The woman on the automated recording announced, abruptly.

I felt like I had more to say to her. Something about it being easier to talk to strangers. To thank her for her honesty. To hug her and tell her that it does get better, even if it doesn't feel like it now.
But instead, I looked her in the eyes, and wished her a Merry Christmas. I really meant it.

Not many people get off at my stop, and the platform looked dark and quiet. All still, except for my Mum and little brother waving like loonies at the bottom of the platform, (and thankfully, by the steps).  The cat stretched her legs in her canvas bag, awakened by the icy open air. My boots clack clacked on the stone pavement and the suitcase squeaked as it wheeled behind me. It was cold. I felt lucky to have the two loonies waving excitedly at the bottom of the platform at me.
I was home for Christmas.

20 December 2010

I Lve my Grn.

It had been a long, draining Christmas shopping trip to Westfield Shopping Centre after work. I was laden with bags of all shapes and sizes and in the grumpiest mood L had ever seen. I was a combination of cold, hungry, tired and thirsty; and had begun to whinge a little like a three-year-old. I'd worn ridiculous shoes, which were rubbing at my toes, and after three loops of Westfield, my soul had got lost somewhere outside Habitat. We queued on the platform at Shepherd's Bush Station amongst a swarm of irritable shoppers. Without success, I hopped from one foot to the other, trying to keep warm as the wind howled down the platform. When the train arrived, I managed to squidge myself in, face to face with L (which despite my bad mood and our bickering, wasn't quite as bad as getting up close and personal with the large hairy man on my left).
I love having the time to pick out presents leisurely; starting my planning in August, and finding the perfect present for each of my family by the time Christmas comes along. But this year, I've had a lot to contend with, and it's the early, perfectly-chosen Christmas presents which have suffered. This year I have:
  •  Moved the 12 boxes which contained the contents of my life to the opposite end of England.
  • Changed jobs four times in a year.
  • Endured an absent boyfriend for four long months whilst he travelled the length of South America in an attempt to 'find himself'.
  • Moved back in with my Mum for 6 months (with the cat and her toys in tow).
  • Been a financial wreck for a year living in the bottom £50 of my overdraft for what seemed like forever...
So you could forgive me a little bit for lacking inspiration and texting my Gran one morning last week:
'Hello! Does Gramps need anything for Xmas?'
I must explain a little about my Gran. She is 77 and my Gramps is 82. They have polar opposite personalities and I'm trying to get them to run their own stand-up comedy show because they are so funny together. My Gramps is a little imp of a man (quite literally) who loves nothing better than falling asleep in his chair whilst the Golf is on the telly. He loves to wind my Gran up, pretending he can't hear her, then winks at me over his newspaper, letting me in on the joke.

Her dry sense of humour is far funnier after she's had an 'oh, go on then, just one more' glass of wine. She's shrewd with her money, so my Gramps loves to whisper loudly that she's actually a millionaire; 'she's been saving for years, y'know', to which Gran pipes up something about Gramps being a 'wicked old man'.

My Gran is much bigger than Gramps, and much louder and bossier to go with it. She does everything for him - and everyone else too. Whenever I speak to her on the phone, the first thing she always says is: 'So. What can I do for you?'  My Gran owns a mobile phone, email account and a Facebook profile. She loves to prove she's no technophobe. Quite honestly, I am proud.

I got an instant reply to my morning text:

'Hello E. Says he doesn't need anything. Lucky him. I really don't know. Just dont spend too much. Will think and text tonight. Best I can offer. l g x'

Often my Gran's text are in code. She thinks you pay for each letter you use in a text, so many of the vowels are removed, or the punctuation is lost - hence the casual 'l g x' at the end of this one.
I was slightly annoyed that she hadn't come up with something amazing that I could buy my Gramps for Christmas before I had hit the stress of Westfield Shopping Centre. I was counting on her help - I find men so hard to buy for.

But, true to form, she didn't let me down. On our train, we had reached somewhere around Putney Bridge on the District Line; the mass of bodies had filtered off slowly from the centre of the carriage and I had manage to grab a seat from an old lady who shuffled off at Parsons Green. Good. I sat across the carriage from L, shooting him the odd evil look for some silly comment he'd made a moment ago. My phone beeped loudly to say I'd got a message. L shot me an evil look right back which had 'how loud and inconsiderate you are' written all over it. The carriage had gone quite quiet.

I received the following text from my Gran:
Honestly. No joke. I've copied it down for you, word for word.
'Got it. He needs a battery for his torch. The torch is rather large with handle. If you like will get it and leave at No.4. About 3 pounds. He's desperate for torch to work.'

Well that was it. I was in hysterics.

L looked at me in horror. The woman next to me jumped, then wondered what had happened. Half the carriage turned and stared. I exploded with the most almighty roaring laugh Putney Bridge had ever heard.

My grumpy Christmas shopping mood had been alleviated by the prospect of buying Gramps a large £3 battery for Christmas. Not even a new torch, but a battery for the torch which is nearly as old as me. As I sat there, shaking the row of carpeted seats with laughter, the phrase my Gran likes to say quite often popped into mind: 'What a sad life we wrinklies live'.

My Grn

15 December 2010

Maths: Freak.

Oh Lord. It happens at about this time every month - a week before pay day. I'm sitting in front of my computer screen again, biting my nails, trying to bring myself to check my online banking so I know the score.
I've spent the last few days waiting in checkout queues; handing across my debit card, tapping in my pin and having minor panic attacks for the next thirty seconds as the card processes. After forking out loads this month for necessities such as:
  1. A beautiful cream winter coat from a rather budget-breaking store (opt for the expensive one - it's got to last me three years...)
  2. One return flight to Prague for friend's 30th in January (should have booked earlier)
  3. Four weeks worth of London Underground Travelcards (wish I'd got a annual railcard)
  4. L's birthday present for Friday (real necessity)
  5. Generally too many indulgences in Waterstones stores all over London
  6. Paying my extortionate-for-such-a-rough area, London-prices rent
...I'm not expecting miracles.

I am notoriously terrible about facing up to finances, and have always taken the ostrich approach to dealing with them. I never press the 'cash and receipt' button on the ATM machine. Not to be trusted with more store cards or credit cards. A maxed-out overdraft. But above all, I completely freak at receiving unopened bills.

"What are all these letters doing on the doormat, darling?"

L had just walked through our front door, back from his business trip lovely week away in Barcelona. He dumped his suitcase in the living room, throwing his scarf, gloves and coat off onto the sofa. The cat, who had been winding herself around his legs adoringly, looked ecstatic at her new found pile of forbidden fabrics to sleep in, and sauntered off in the direction of the sofa. I glanced at the mass of letters in question, which now had size 9 black footprints all over their white envelopes. They lay scattered in the porch just where the postman had left them.

"I thought I'd leave them for you to open." I replied casually, raising one eyebrow (a cute trick I do, which tends to make L think I'm cute and not ridiculous). I then prepared myself for the usual lecture, because L knows full well that I didn't open the letters as I was scared of the bills which lurk inside.

I absolutely know that opening bills up and paying them off straight away makes it a whole lot less stressful than letting them fester on your doormat. But it's just the not-knowing for the three minutes when the letter clinks through the letterbox, when you rip open the envelope, pull the letter out and your eyes scan the numbers all across the page, then you fixate on the bold red one - which could well have three figures (but more likely has two, and your eyes have gone cross-eyed from fear) - until the pure stress of it all reduces you into a quivering mess. Oh, yes. I know what it is to panic about numbers.

I was placed in the bottom set in Maths class at school. The people in the bottom set, either really do not 'get' numbers, or they really don't care about Maths. Combining these two types of pupils in one set, taught by the teacher who had drawn the short straw, was a recipe for disaster.
But I got mildly excited one rainy Monday afternoon. Monday afternoons were usually dreadful. It was Games, followed by a double Maths lesson. Nearly four hours which generally filled me with dread - much unlike a double Art class on a Friday. But this Monday was slightly better than usual:

"Books out. Page 271- we are going to learn Algebra today." Mr Cooke said.

Mr Cooke was about thirty-five, he had pattern baldness with a red face and little round spectacles. He thought we liked him, and tried very hard to be cool. Too hard for a Maths teacher, plus he called everyone 'Champ' - which made me dislike him from the start. But I was giving him the benefit of the doubt this Monday.

Algebra has letters, this should be easy.

Letters I could do, I was top set in English.

But the idea of putting letters and numbers together did not make sense - it even confused me more than long multiplication. I looked around the class. Everyone, even the naughty kids, had their heads down, pencils scratching. I waited ten long seconds, before slowly raised my hand for the third time:

"Mr Cooke, I still don't get it." I mumbled.

His face turned a nasty shade of purple (which at the time reminded me of Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who blew up like a giant blueberry after eating experimental gum).

And then he threw the text book at me. From half way across the room. Not the skinny kind of text book. The one that was actually an inch-and-a-half thick. His arms waved dramatically, whilst exclaiming for all to hear;

"You must be completely thick, child - or not listening!"

Is there such a thing as Mathsphobia? If so, I pretty much had it mastered from this very moment.

Can you really blame me for being frightened of numbers? For wimping out about facing my bills? Life throws things at you so you learn to deal with those things that you fear the most. Well, someone 'Up There' must have been having a right laugh when I landed my first permanent job as...a bankruptcy clerk.

13 December 2010

This family Christmas

I had been putting off writing a post about Christmas, a little bit like I have been putting off thinking about Christmas itself. 
I've had calls from my Mum since October, asking me where I will be for Christmas Day, what present would I like and how many 'pigs in blankets' do I think she needs to buy this festive season. I would always sigh, and tell her she's too early. But this weekend, I bought a pretty beaded wreath for my new front door. With just under two weeks to go until the big day, I thought perhaps it was time to face the Christmas music.

When I was the eldest of three children - my littlest brother and sister were still stars at this point- our Christmases were simply magical. Stories poured from my Dad at seven O'clock as we all tucked up in bed together, hugging hot water bottles and hearing about Father Christmas: his black shiny boots, a belly like jelly, getting goosebumps as my Dad dramatised the clip clop, clip clop of his reindeer's hoofs as they ran across our roof. This bit used to completely freak out my little sister who was two years younger than me, and she always insisted on putting her sack downstairs, 'not wanting a strange man in her room'. I suppose I must not have minded, because I loved the rustle at the bottom of my bed, as I felt the weight - not of a stocking - but a pillowcase full of crispy, crunchy wrapped-up presents on Christmas morning.
As the years went by, our Christmas traditions became law in our house. My sister falling off her chair as she pulled a cracker, opening our pillowcase presents all huddled in our dressing gowns on Mum and Dad's bed, fighting for the best spot, happened every year.  Not one of us three dared open our main presents under the tree before my Mum and Dad had cleared the table after Christmas dinner and had slumped onto the sofa with a glass of wine. A shake, squeeze and sniff of the wrapping paper was all we could get away with. The fire was always roaring until about six O'clock, when it transformed into a beautiful warm glow. Mum and Dad laughing, always laughing. These were the times when our Christmas tree seemed so tall, it's lights glittering through glass baubles, splaying shapes all over the candlelit living-room.

I noticed the tough times were coming a long time before they actually did. It didn't feel tough all the time. But the house started to feel different, and it became still. Mum smiled less, and I used to be silly to make her look happy. Bury my head deep into my pillow at night to stop their muffled arguments from seeping up through the floorboards into my room. We'd be on best behaviour. Try not to be naughty, to not make a sound.
I don't care how you sort it out between you, but please don't cry.
I watched, always horrified as my Dad's eyes turned red and watery, his nostrils flared and his voice broke in sadness. I hated him when he cried. I felt useless. I often hid in my room right at the top of the house. It had big wide windows which overlooked beautiful green hills. I used to sit on the radiator underneath the window, looking out into the cold frost with the coloured Christmas tree lights glittering through windows, clutching my knees to my chest until my bottom got too hot. I used to see how long I could bear it before I had to leap off onto the cool of the wooden floorboards.

It was around this time when the magic of this family Christmas was lost.
The bright lights of Christmas which make everyday life appear dim, never seemed quite as magical when you became old enough to put them up. They outshine the glare of reality only temporarily. And then suddenly it's January and unlucky to keep them up any longer. You've got to take them down. Face your reality and see just what you've got.

Not all of this family is home for Christmas this year. But that's okay. We aren't all the same people that we used to be. I don't think I want to go back. I am happy now to keep this family wrapped tightly in my memories amongst colourful trips to the seaside and playing in penny arcades. I can peek at them only sometimes when I'm feeling a bit brave; when I want to remember and there's no one there to see me cry.

10 December 2010

The Magpie

I am a true, but honest magpie, collecting silver of unusual kinds.
I root around for the weird and wonderful; the gold mixed with silver, the ones which stand out.
I keep my treasure safe in a dark wooden box with tarnished brass handles tucked underneath my bed.
They tell stories of the places I have saved them all from.
A ring of rough cut crystal set amongst an island of silver; my find from a cobbled Glastonbury street when I walked amongst magic bookshops and drunk from the Abbey Well. 
The birds-egg blue turquoise one covers my hand; it had been put in a box, snuck into my pocket to say I love you.
Amber and silver tells an exotic story. Born from the jungles of Costa Rica where I picked out the amber, I chose the mould, and so she was made by a local of the sandy beach.
Elaborate blue-lace Agate with gold-silver swirls brings romance and air from the Cornish coast. Raw, but beautiful, she offers memories of a year of real, young love.
These are the show-offs; the ones who grab stares.
But my old reliables are comfortable - always there.
A Guatemalan street seller sold me three silver bands, all woven together on the third finger of my right hand.
Perhaps unlucky - but a present from my Mum, a tiny silver ring worn on the ring finger of my left hand. The designer grooves have worn off -  it's now almost smooth - but it feels safe when I worry and reminds me of her.
A Victorian fork twisted into a perfect circle, engraved for a Jennie of 1890. A passed-exams present, bought on a bit of a whim, from Covent Garden Market - for fifty quid.
Now for my baby, my favourite piece. The Aesop of storytellers, the charmer of all; my delightful charm bracelet with a heart lock and key. She gets people talking, sometimes strangers too, with her tinkling whispers of who I might be. A pine cone charm for the woods by my home, the key to my heart and a cowboy hat. Tiny shells whistle songs of the sea, with an English rose and a Christmas tree.

My silver holds a story about where I have been, adorning my body like a Persian queen's.

Image from here

9 December 2010

A hermit and her cat

L was packing his suitcase - and as usual everything was done at the last minute. I sat on the couch, watching him in my big fluffy dressing gown, chewing at the sleeve. It was early Saturday morning and his cup of tea I had just made for him was going cold on the side. You see, L doesn't like tea, quite like I like tea.

"It's not going to be long. I'll be back before you know it." He said as he glanced up, before quickly stuffing a handful of socks into a side pocket. It was his first trip away since we'd moved into the new flat in September.

L's new job in London, unlike my job in London, is most definitely his 'career' job. He's lucky enough to jet across the world once a month and call it work, (though I would call it pleasure, not business, to have your passport stamped in pretty colours....) I didn't really like the travelling side of his job for purely selfish reasons. For instance, when L was away, I would have to make sure:

1) I remembered to lock the front door at night (usually L's job).
2) Be back by 6pm to let the cat out - definitely no after work drinks allowed - as no cat-sitter.
3) I definitely remembered to turn the heating off before I leave the flat - as not made of money.
4) I did the washing up. As there was  nobody to wash up the dirty dishes after I have cooked the dinner.

And of course, I would miss him.

But for one week a month - or two - I would have to be the responsible one. 

It was only five minutes later and the taxi had already pulled up, I got a quick kiss, then the door slammed shut and L was on his way to Barcelona. The flat was suddenly uncharacteristically quiet. I could hear the click, click, whuuurrrr of the boiler as it jumped into action. The cat stretched herself, clawing her scratch post and mewing in satisfaction. I felt lost for a brief moment. But as I dragged the duvet over to the couch, made myself another cup of tea, then flicked through the TV channels at a rate of knots, I thought that having the flat to myself for a week, might not be half bad...

I thought about all the things that I love to do, which usually annoy L - and then I did them.

1) I slept like a star in our large double bed - pointing my toes and flailing my arms in my sleep.
2) I cooked vegetable Quinoa on Tuesday (and nobody moaned about eating seeds).
3) I got to use the whole of the heated towel rail, a luxury compared to squishing my towel up into the grooves half way down, ensuring damp for the next morning.
4) I was on the edge of my seat throughout the Corrie special, and there was no complaining about watching Question Time instead.
5) I left my make-up thrown all over the bathroom, my hairdryer plugged in, and my clothes on the bedroom floor, slobbishly.

Today is Thursday. It's been six days and the quiet in my home has gotten too loud. The cat is starting to go a bit loopy. Last night she stole some of my water, but got her head stuck in the glass. I laughed so much (obviously after saving her) until I realised I was laughing out loud to myself, and then thought that I probably looked a little nuts too. It must be because she's missing L. I don't play with her catnip-string-toy quite as excitingly as L does; he wiggles the string up the wall, over the bed and across the couch making her jump at shadows. She really loves that.

L phoned me last night from Barcelona. There was a three second silence when I answered the phone as the two lines found the connection despite thousands of miles between them. His voice came through intermittently. But it was definitely his voice, and I felt a wave of relief run through me. Then the line cleared:

"I've missed you." He said.

"It's been a little bit quiet here" I whispered. "It doesn't feel quite right."

"It's because we are like one person, really." Was his response.

You big cheese ball. I love you.

I have never liked the phrase 'my other half' when referring to a partner; to me, it conjured up individual inadequacy. But, I understood what L meant.
Our home only felt like a home with L in it, without him, it was just a flat with all our things in. It is so true - home is where the heart is.

6 December 2010

Open-minded skepticism

There used to be a shop down our town when I was young. It was a crystal shop. As you walked in, a bell tinkled and various dreamcatchers and hanging chimes hit the glass door. It smelt of Sandalwood incense and I always wrinkled my nose up in surprise; but loved it. Big glass windows allowed sunlight to stream in, catching hundreds of different kinds of crystals and dispersing the light to cast beautiful rainbows all across the walls. Well, I thought this shop to be the most marvellous thing my little self had ever seen. Whenever washing the kitchen floor for my Mum gained me a 50p or two, I used to race down the hill from my house and press my nose up against the glass of the crystal shop. I only had 50p, but I must have spent about two hours in that shop deciding what to spend it on. I loved the names of the crystals: Lab-rad-or-ite, Ob-sid-ian, Amy-thyst. I used to pronounce the names slowly, curling my tongue around the longer ones, before asking the shop assistant exactly where they came from, how rare they were, and what healing properties they were supposed to have.

"Dreams rather a lot in class" was always written on my school report, but as I got older I seemed to look more for the magic in life, not less. I have always been a big thinker, asking never ending questions like, Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? But neither my parents, my teachers, nor the Anglican church had any answers.

By the time I was sixteen, I was offered a part-time Saturday job in my crystal shop. I had become such a part of the furniture, I think they must have thought I deserved to get paid for it.

Every Saturday, I met weird and wonderful people.

A large blond lady called Chrissie was in every three weeks, with booked appointments jammed one after the other. Chrissie was a palm reader, and apparently a psychic. I was scared of her. She wore black T-Shirts with grey wolves etched on the front, had large silver rings on her fingers and dark eye make-up. She had a strong presence when she walked in the room, and spoke rarely and to the point - always.

Then there was David; the most incredible artist who sketched local landmarks with precise detail. His skin was grey and he smelt of gin. He would often come into the shop mid-morning half-drunk, and not leave until two O'clock - pleased to have people to talk to. I often worried about David.

Angela was the shop manager. She was obsessed with angels, crystals and energies. Her hair was mousy coloured with wild curls, and whenever she laughed, she threw her head back and popped her gold rimmed glasses back to the top of her nose.

But my favourite was Lesley. She was from Hull, called everyone a "Staaaar" (having never met a real Northerner - being from the most sheltered town in Britain - I thought her accent was something to behold).  Aside from being one of the best psychic mediums in our area, Les smoked Richmond Menthol cigarettes, which sometimes made her hands shake. She always wore low-cut tops and used those big eyes to stare pointedly at you with openness when she spoke.

"You've got a back problem." She said casually, on one of my first Saturdays at the shop.

"Oh?" I replied. My eyebrow raised half a millimetre.

"Yes. I feel it's your lower back, and you'll have an operation - but don't worry - you'll be fine."

I stared at her, and exhaled (I hadn't realised I'd been holding my breath). That week, unbeknownst to anyone but my Mum, I had been given a date for spinal surgery. I was diagnosed with Scoliosis at thirteen, and had been waiting three years for my curved spine to be straightened out with a metal rod and pins in surgery. It was a serious procedure involving possibly paralysis, and I was very nervous, so had told not a soul. How could this woman know about it? No one except my Mum knew I was to have the operation, and she'd never met my Mum, so how did she know?
I was completely and utterly stumped. Needing to know more, I tucked myself away in my favourite corner of the public library and read as much as I could find amongst the shelves. There seemed to me to be a magic about what Lesley had said to me, something seemingly impossible. I needed to work it out, and I wanted to believe it could be real.

When the words Psychic, Medium, Spiritualist pop up occasionally in everyday life, I bet you think of TV's 'Psychic Sally' Morgan, or Derek Acorah (formally seen on ITV3's Most Haunted). You'll possibly be imagining gypsies with purple painted nails, sitting tight in tiny box rooms. Their walls filled with signed pictures of B-list celebrities vouching for their talents all along Blackpool promenade. You've probably seen the adverts filling the back pages of magazines; those poised, black-haired women with enhanced green eyes, smouldering in front of a moonlit backdrop alluring you to 'find the answers to all your questions!!' for £3.50 per minute, this fact which is written in tiny font at the bottom.

Not my scene, you're probably thinking. 

Really, that's not my scene either.

I would call myself an open-minded skeptic. One of the biggest critics of this kind of 'psychic' you'll ever meet. But skepticism aside, I am mediumistic too.

This came as a shock at first. Believe you, me.

I was on one of my missions to find out more about this psychic phenomena, and so I'd taken two buses and walked ten minutes through the dodgiest looking streets I'd ever seen, arriving at a Spiritualist centre in Manchester to attend what they'd described as an 'Awareness Group' on the website. I peeked in, thinking if it was full of complete weirdos, I could still turn around and run away.
But I was spotted, and before I could run, I was offered a cup of tea. Well, it couldn't be all bad if there's tea.
I was paired up with with a local taxi-driver called John. He was normal looking (much to my relief), had friendly, twinkly eyes and a rather dirty laugh which couldn't help but make you smile.

The teacher said softly to the group: "I want you to clear your mind and focus on your partner. When you feel ready, I want you to tell them anything which might pop into your mind."

"Don't worry, love, just do your best." John winked at me.

Great. And I actually chose to come here and do this?
I squeezed my eyes closed, and took a deep breath, exhaling loudly. All I could think of, was what I was cooking for tea when I got home after this horrifying ordeal. An image of a steaming dish of pasta bake flew into my head.

"Pasta bake?" I asked, hopefully.

Then as my half hearted attempt fizzled out and faded, I suddenly saw very strong image of a fire-engine. The red was vivid, and unlike my pasta bake, the image shot across my mind barely quick enough to keep it there.

" - Fire-engine." I piped up.

John leaned forward.

"Yes." He said slowly. "Keep going."

I saw a blue front door - this too flashed across my mind, and almost went again before I really saw it. I saw clearly the number 63 in bronze numbering  boldly between my imaginary blue door's panels.
No way. That's too specific. If this means something to John, I might actually wet my pants.

But it did mean something to John. (No, I didn't wet my pants, but very nearly...) John's grandfather had lived in a house which had a blue front door. Yep, you guessed it - it was number 63. But the icing on the cake (not, perhaps, for his grandfather) was that he had been killed by a speeding fire engine.

Completely creeped out, I left the Spiritualist centre that night vowing to myself that I would never, ever go back.

But of course, I did.

I went every week for five years to that Spiritualist centre, looking for the confirmation and proof that mediumship - the ability to prove that the spirit of someone lives on after their body has died - is real. And whilst I have practised and demonstrated my own natural abilities, getting more and more accurate with the pictures I see and the evidence I can give, I still find it incredibly hard to understand where the information comes from, and how I receive it.
The showmanship and fakery of many psychics and mediums is all too easy to see. The dreadful stereotype is stuck fast, and in some cases, is still true. In writing my most personal post yet, I'm hoping you will not write me off as a crackpot - or imagine me sitting here with long, painted purple nails -  but realise that I'm really quite a normal twenty-five year old. I'm just looking for answers with an open-minded skepticism.

3 December 2010

When I grow up, I want to be...

When I grow up I want to be a publisher receptionist.

As she lent over my desk, the new graduate from the latest graduate recruitment drive banged down a heavy wad of paper-clipped documents.
"I need these bound by tomorrow morning at the latest... Actually...make that the end of today."
She smiled sweetly at me, as if to thank me, before swivelling on her heels and singing over her shoulder:
"You're a star."
Yes, and you're a condescending cow.

I scooped the documents into my arms, thoroughly annoyed. The telephone rang - which stopped me from announcing all my academic achievements to her alongside a host of obscenities.

Yes, I'll just put you through.

The receiver clicked loudly as I placed it down. It was only mid-morning and already I had been barked at to make coffee for twelve (er - milk, two sugars - actually can I have tea?), whilst transferring calls from half of Ghana to the right recipient, then attempting to fix the new coffee machine balancing precariously on a chair, because someone had pulled out the milk frother.

When I was six, I wanted to be a vet. When I was ten I wanted to be an actress. By the time I left university I had absolutely no idea. I envied those student nurses and doctors who could guarantee a career as soon as the red ribboned scroll hit the palm of their hand. They seemed to just know what they wanted to be. I secretly wished I could be one of those people who snapped up placements in top law firms then became partners after two years because their Dad was the CEO. I didn't have any people in high places; it was looking like, if I was to get anywhere near a high-flying career, I'd have to bloody well do it myself. Marvellous.

Staring blankly at the box, I sat in a heap on the floor fiddling with the instruction manual. As usual I looked first at the unhelpful and slightly blurry pictures in numbered boxes displaying odd parts of the machine, rather than the long, wordy instructions. I twisted the page around and my eyes followed, as if looking at it upside down would make understanding how a new binding machine works a whole lot easier...

I wish there was an instruction manual (with pictures) on achieving my dream career in publishing. Mid-September I'd got a call, offering one weeks work experience in a well known publishers in North London. I felt rather lucky. Having annoyed the hell out of them through emailing, posting letters and telephoning every week, I eventually received the call:

"We don't usually do this, but my colleague said you sounded so enthusiastic... (and probably ever so slightly desperate)... we'd like to offer you work experience..."

And I'm determined to get there. But those who lack high people in high places don't just fall into the job of their dreams without hopping across a few stepping-stones of reality first. I'm on number two of my stepping-stones. Number one was getting a home in London. Number two is keeping a job, so I can keep my home.

Pushing the button violently, I heard the intermittent dit dit dit as it punched lots of little holes into the paper. It was more than satisfying. It was rather loud - disturbing much of the office who had given me such a hellish morning - and consequently a few looked around and glared at me. ha. The noise sounded much like a raging machine gun, which, I must admit, made my imagination run away with itself for a moment.

There are those people who do a job because it's what they love, and my God, how lucky they are. But most of us are doing a job to get somewhere; whether the reasoning is to get more money, to keep a home, get a promotion, pay off a debt or even feed the kids. I cannot comprehend treating people a certain way simply because of what they do for a living.

I have been:
  • a cocktail waitress
  • a PA to the MD
  • a bankruptcy clerk
  • a recruiter
  • worked in a flower shop
  • a sales assistant at Harrods
 - and now a receptionist.

Being 'a receptionist' does not mean I am only a receptionist, but a person-working-as-a-receptionist who likes, cooking, reading a good book, debating spiritual matters over a large glass of wine with friends and crying at old films.

I held my shoulders back, took a deep breath, and whilst pretending I was a really fabulous editor at a top publishing house, I handed the beautifully bound documents back to the new graduate with pride, placing them gently on her desk.

1 December 2010

Never been gigged

I am rather ashamed to admit, that before last night, I had never been to a real gig. And at the ripe old age of twenty-five...this fact is pretty terrible.

Don't get me wrong; I went to Wembley Arena when I was twelve to watch Peter Andre dressed in some kind of armour singing 'Mysterious Girl'. Great. But not a 'gig'. I've been to Leeds festival and seen Muse playing the big stage. Amazing. But not a 'gig'. It's never been all up-close and personal - where you can feel the sweat of the lead singer as he crowd-surfs all over you, and live the moment when the man-to-the-left-of-you's beer is thrown all over your head.

Last night I faced blizzards and high winds (all right... snow and cold air) as I trekked to Brixton Academy. I'm still new to London, and discovering new and fabby places is high on my agenda.
With LJM, hat pulled right down and his scarf wrapped over his nose (who could blame me for initially thinking a thug had lovingly hugged me), I queued amongst the cool and the quirky before being ushered into the security routine: check bag, check alcohol, check chewing gum, check ticket - checked.

I had one of those gigantic plastic cups of beer - apparently only a pint, but feels like three - because I was still drinking from it after the support band had left the stage, the techies had adjusted the set and the band were into their third song...

But it was great.

I bobbed about behind the sound box, getting a clear view of the stage just behind two hooded lovers, who occasionally blocked my view as they lent in for a kiss. Being on the shorter side of average, I usually rely on my ears rather than my eyes in crowds, but we were in the standing area - on a huge slope - so you could see the band and all across the top of the audience.

LJM is the 'cool' one in our relationship when it comes to music; always discovering those bands which end up being huge. I hadn't really heard of The National, but after he bought their latest album, High Violet,  I instantly clicked to their sound.

The band walked on stage amongst a beautiful yellow back-lighting which framed their black silhouettes like shiny halos. A little ball of excitement bubbled from the pit of my stomach.

You know that kind of music which resonates with your soul?  Just like that - you get it?  In my first ever 'gig' - I got it!
This incredible vibe filled the whole room - everyone became part of a moment - a room full of strangers all crammed in together had one thing in common and it felt buzzy to be a part of it. 

When you stumble across outstanding creativity, whether in the form of music, art or writing (especially blogs!), it fills your spirit with enormous satisfaction and appreciation. When this happens, my energy feels like it might actually explode with happiness and I always look around to see if anyone noticed. It's like all the everyday things which we may forget about having seen, appear to us in black and white. And yet, this piece of creativity shines so brightly amongst them in many millions of colours - right in front of your eyes -dazzling your very being.