31 July 2011

Being normal

Sometimes you'll hear it calling quietly. But you've got pretty good at ignoring it now. You know, that thing. The thing you've masked cleverly with ordinary life such as trips to the supermarket, paying your rent on time and remembering your Mum's birthday. But you can't ignore it all the time. Sometimes it's cleverer than you. You'll be going about your ordinary life, perhaps washing up, watching your favourite television programme or having a cup of coffee with friends, when something reminds you... bam! The world around you slows down, people's voices sound distorted until all you can hear is a hum, because suddenly, like a slap in the face you are brought up close and personal with that thing that hurt you the most. You pause for a moment staring it in the face, pretending you're brave and willing it to go back down. There's that dry, hot taste of nausea in your mouth. You're paralysed, torn between waiting for something to happen and a useless attempt to suppress it. But it's too late. A flash of pictures play out like an old fashioned film reel, flickering in front of your eyes, your heart fluttering in flight or fight palpitations. Here it comes. You get hot around the collar, your throat resists as you push whatever it is that wants to escape you, right back down where it belongs. It's not going away. It's coming to get you. You feel it creeping up your oesophagus like an army of tiny marching ants, determinedly tickling at your control - letting you know for damn sure, that you are not in control of this anymore. You swallow, your bottom lip drops and your forehead knots. They're surely coming, they've stopped their marching, and now all bunching together to create a tactical lump which builds up momentum in your throat. Your throat feels huge. Your stomach drops as if you're falling vertically on a rollercoaster before it surges up again. Don't be silly, you cant stop them now... It's only a matter of time before you explode, showering all those about you with you-just-don't-know-what. You're hanging on the edge, knowing that whatever happens it's going to be released. Those around you might not have a clue, but if they did - they'd hold their breath. This time, it could be those big, fat tears that soak your eyelashes until they stick together, cutting through your face, creating little pools of salty water in the dip above your collar bone. An exhaling breath that feels like your last, pinning your shoulders and making you feel as if you could plummet to the very core of the Earth upon their weight. At the very worst it might be a fit of rage that vibrates every little particle of your being, turning your blood hot and making your hands itch, so you forget just who you are and what you were doing...


And in just a moment it could be over. And you can go back to being normal; making his tea, flicking over to another channel or talking about what you'll wear to her wedding next Saturday.

17 July 2011

A little something for Sunday : Making things

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved making things. My Gran used to leave me in her front room for ages, happy with some paper, scissors, sellotape and felt tips, sat cross legged on the floor. I'd pop into her kitchen a good while later, sit at the kitchen table and watch her wash the mint to put into the steaming pot of peas sat on the hob. She'd open the oven, flicking the steam away with a brown checked tea towel and then check how crispy the potato had become on top of the shepherds pie, before turning to me and stating tea would be ready in ten minutes. I really loved her shepherds pie - it's the best. I loved the way she fussed around the oven. But mostly I loved sitting on the high velvet-upholstered stool in the corner of the room, and using those ten minutes to show off the wondrous creations thought up in her living room. It was usually a picture, always coloured in perfectly, perhaps with sellotaped paper shapes cut-out and stuck on. I remember I went through a phase of making paper 'fortune tellers'. You know, the ones with the colours and numbers, that have little fortunes scribbled on the inside like, you are beautiful or you smell like pigs. I'd place the fortune teller on my fingers, pointing it at Gran and ask her to choose a colour.

'R - E - D', I'd spell out. I'd whisper the letters excitedly, opening the fortune teller to display eight neatly felt-tipped numbers. I'd look at her quizzically, raising my right eyebrow (a neat little trick I could do) and wait for her to choose a number next. She'd always oblige, and ponder dramatically over which one to choose before picking one. Loving the suspense, I'd open the little flap under the number and shriek with delight, announcing her fortune as 'you look like a frog' whilst doing a little victory dance around the kitchen.

I still haven't changed much - aside from calling my Gran a frog, perhaps... I don't tend to do that anymore, but I do still love her shepherd's pie.  I've always made friends and family cards for special occasions, rather than buying them and next weekend is Liam's sister's wedding. I think there's something quite special about making a card, it's just that little bit more personal. So today I popped into Wimbledon and ventured into one of my absolutely favourite places - an art shop. These shops have everything you could possibly need to make anything you could ever dream up. Fluttering around the shelves, I ladened my arms with cream and gold cards, golden envelopes, sparkly gems, little gold bows, shimmering tissue paper and 'angel dust' fine glitter. Everything that a wedding card should have, I brought and spread out on my living room coffee table. I've just finished it, and wanted to show it off to someone. So, here it is. It's no fortune teller, but it's far more beautiful than something I could have brought from a shop, and only a little bit more expensive.... But really - if I was very honest - I made it, because I really do love making things.

11 July 2011

The Dance : Fiction

After a lot of encouragement from my Liam and a certain Philip Dodd, I have written my first ever piece of fiction.

He held his arm tightly around her waist. It was narrow, just like his wife’s used to be before they’d married. He’d seen her watching her feet in the corner, frustrated at why they wouldn’t step the way she wanted them to, and had asked her to dance. But despite her feet, the young girl had rhythm. She’d watched the more experienced dancers with wide eyes all evening, copying their steps so closely that her concentration had made her forehead wrinkle slightly as she nodded in time to the music.
Oh, the music. It brought him back to memories of humid, low lit evenings high up in the mountains in Mexico. Brightly coloured bunting had been hung alongside paper lanterns on the terrace which overlooked the town, and the light that glowed from thousands of windows, glittered at all different levels across the horizon. The music that played those nights had started a fire within him; a passion for the salsa beats that would burn all evening, well into the night. The sound of tapping feet on concrete and bare palms hitting the skin of the bongo drums still echoed in his ears, among visions of girls skirts that whirled like pinwheels in the wind.
The fast rhythm of the salsa beats began, and he brought his attention back to the girl. Immediately his posture changed from that of a man in his early sixties, as he held his chin up, feeling the fire begin to burn and the music take control.
“Feel the music. Feel it from your heart“. He told her as he took her right arm and levelled it to his.
She turned her attention to the music and loosened her shoulders slightly. Tapping her right arm in time to the beat, he began to whisper, one, two, three... one, two, three..., nodding his head and closing his eyes just as his mother had done when she’d taught him how to listen.
The people around them began to move as if they were painting pictures in invisible paint with their feet on the dance floor, but the two of them remained still, just tapping to the beat. Not until he felt her hips start to sway impulsively, did he teach her how to move.
She twisted her body to the right, keeping her back tall and straight and her left leg swung out behind her, flicking the hem of her soft black dress around beautifully. A look of surprise lit up her face as he spun her around again. She was nervous at first, and tripped a couple of times, before finally they had built up a rhythm.
“Keep your head up.... Relax your arm... smile.”
She laughed energetically, and her hand tightly gripped his arms. They were covered with curly grey hairs, and his skin was dark; the arms of a mature man. In a brief weak moment he wondered if she would compare him to the many smooth young men she might have held tightly before.  
Breathlessly they moved in sync, their bodies reaching forward and falling back. Barely touching, they seemed held in a magnetic symmetry. Suddenly her feet became her focus, the friction hot against the hard wooden floor. She’d found her own fire, and it began to rise within her the more she moved.  He caught her hand and threw her away from him; watching the way her hair whipped across her face and how her confidence grew. Her aura seemed to expand around her, as if brightly coloured ribbons were being whirled about her head. Her energy was electric, crackling almost, reaching out to his. Those around them turned to watch as she forgot who she was, where she was dancing and how she placed her feet.
She was a natural. As the music stopped, he reached out, catching her in the small of her back, and as if taming a wild bird, with one swift movement he lowered her gracefully, so her long dark hair swept lightly across the floor.

10 July 2011

A little something for Sunday : Create something


It was a dream. One of those ones in colour, that you remember just after you wake up. One that I sat bolt upright in bed and searched for anything I could use to write down what had happened. Turns out I should definitely keep a notepad and a pen by my bed, as a kohl eyeliner on a magazine doesn't really work. In the end I used my phone, and furiously punched in the keys, composing a rather unusual text and hoping I didn't add a contact and press send in my sleepy state.

The situation in the dream hadn't been very clear; I was an inventor- or similar- and my fellow inventor had scoffed at my absolutely genius idea (cant quite remember what that was now...) but I'd cried and cried, running down a corridor and locking myself in the bathroom. Dreams are never quite as exciting when you re-tell them, are they? So I'll leave it at this: My dream ended when a man I didn't recognise came to comfort me, and knocking on the locked bathroom door, he gave me some advice, that made me feel at peace.

And his words are what I wrote:

It doesn't matter if what you create in life might be judged as not good enough or challenged by others, because you cared enough to create something in the first place, and your soul will be richer for it.

I thought they were beautiful.

6 July 2011

A Mancunian love affair

I stepped onto the bus. It had taken me a few minutes to remember which number I needed to get to reach Fallowfield, even though I used to travel this route, twice a day for three years. I caught sight of the 142 – yes – that’s the one – and ran furiously to get to it just as the bus pulled out to leave. The driver caught my eye through the reflections on the windscreen, slowed to a stop, and the doors hissed open, almost in annoyance. 

“How much to Fallowfield and back, please?” I asked him, slightly breathless.

“That’d be £3.20 please, love.” 

He had a kind face, and his strong Manchester accent took me aback slightly, it was far friendlier than the snobby London accent I was so used to hearing in Mayfair. There had been a time when I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, and perhaps would have even spoken with a slight Northern twang myself. It sounded so familiar, and I realised I’d missed it. I fumbled in my pockets for some small change, and handed it to him, before crawling to a window seat and cringing at how out of touch I was, that I couldn’t even remember the return fare on a Stagecoach bus.

The minute Liam and I had arrived at Manchester Piccadilly station for a long weekend with friends, I had felt like I’d come back home. The many memories of standing on Platform 5, malnourished from too many university pasta dinners, waiting for the London Euston train via Milton Keynes Central to arrive to take me home for a long weekend with Mum, quickly came back to me.  I gripped Liam’s hand as we walked along the platform, half listening as he talked about which of our usual haunts we would head to for lunch, and then my mind wandered to the last time we’d been here in Manchester together. It had been in the station. He’d left with his huge rucksack on the train for three months to travel around Peru. I remembered how I had run alongside the train as he’d smiled and waved from the window.  I thought that if I ran fast enough I could delay the last moment I would see him, and it was only when his train became a dot along the tracks, amongst the sky rise buildings and overhead wires, that I had let myself cry. 

As my bus bumped and hissed its way to the junction, I opened up my handbag and searched for something like a mirror. Pulling my phone out, I used the reflection to apply a slick of pink lipstick.  I was meeting Liam in Platt Fields Park in Fallowfield; it was where we’d visited many a fairground, firework display and sat together amongst the long grass and frazzled in those rare moments when Manchester had seen the sun. In the hot stuffy bus, I squinted at my reflection in the dark black screen.  I didn’t think I looked too much older than when I’d first met him in our first year university halls, all fresh-faced and nineteen. 

We’d pulled out of the station and were trundling down Portland Street, passing Kro Bar, where I’d always treat myself to the best marshmallow hot chocolate or the wedges with chilli and sour cream dip.  As we passed China Town, I recalled  the day I spent there with my friend Helen, at Chinese New Year. We’d brought paper dragons, jade trinkets, and clapped at the street performers. The rickety bench just on my left was where we linked arms and huddled together, picking at a punnet of chips.

The bus took a sharp turn around the corner at the Palace Theatre, and we passed the Cornerhouse Cinema, where Liam had taken me to see ‘Che Part One’ after I’d had an operation a few years back. I’d spend the whole time giggling, all drowsy and dosed up on strong painkillers. Trying to focus on the subtitles, I eventually fell into a light Tramadol invoked sleep; having psychedelic dreams involving jungles and firearms.
We pulled into a bus stop. A couple of people got on, flashing their paper passes at the driver before they found themselves a seat. No one seemed rushed, no one pushed or tripped up on other peoples feet. The guy to my right had scruffy trainers on and was reading a large text book, which had been highlighted and underlined in many different colours. I’d put money on him being a student and getting off at the next stop. 

The bus drove past our rival university, Manchester Metropolitan. You could guarantee the Man Met students would always dress more fabulous than the typical University of Manchester student. Hair tied up in coloured scarves, bright red lipsticks and angular cut fringes. I’d always slightly envied them for having chosen more creative degrees and would often wander into their student union to look all the art materials up for sale in the union shop, scribble my name with the felt tip pens and wish I could find a purpose in my degree for a A3 Scrapbook or a scalpel and cutting mat.   

In a moment, the students were gone, replaced with cafes and shabby newsagents, just before they too whizzed past me and I saw my university coming into sight. We pulled up and stopped outside the grand arches I had posed under with my family for photographs the day of my graduation, and I remembered the beautiful bunch of peonies and lisianthas Mum had given me. We passed where I’d stumbled up the middle of the road after the Summer Ball in my first year, at five in the morning; my face painted with butterflies and singing Bon Jovi tunes at the top of my voice, my best friend Natalie under one arm – a squished cheesy naan bread under the other. 

We drove up the curry mile- Rusholme- the only place in Manchester that you can guarantee the shops will have changed owners and signs since the last time you went that way. I smelt the usual waft of spices fly in through the window, and my tummy growled in appreciation. At first glance, it looked more run down than usual, but upon a closer look, I saw the glitzy saris in the shop windows, Indian gold bangles draped across velvet and people laughing over baklava and a shisha pipe in the cafes. I laughed as I remembered the 3am stop offs after boozy nights out for a curry in Al Nawaz; the only curry house on the mile which has goldfish in tanks swimming under a glass floor. 

As we neared Platt Fields, I stood up and pressed the red button waiting for it to ding! loudly. The bus pulled up and I hopped off, thanking the driver, who smiled and nodded at me. How personal. How different from London. I was only a couple of miles from the city centre, but it was quiet, with only a few cars passing on the road to my right. Crossing the road, I walked into the park through the the big iron gates, taking in the open space, and the hot sunshine beating down on my head. There was a little park bench up the way. I remembered I used to stretch my legs on it when I had that burst of enthusiasm in my first year to go running after I'd got a little pot belly from too many beers. I'd brought some trainers from JJB Sport especially, but unfortunately my burst of enthusiasm had only lasted a few weeks, and the trainers are still in a box under my bed somewhere. 

I lay down on the bench, pulled my knees up, and rested my head on my suitcase. It was comfy. I listened to the sounds around me, zoning out a little; the birds chirping, the rustle of trees and the occasional jogger who breathlessly passed me by. Children were squealing somewhere in the distance, but it didn’t bother me as it usually did. For a moment I could pretend I still lived here. In the city I loved, where I’d built up so many happy memories. I closed my eyes, until I heard a familiar low wolf-whistle coming from behind me. Squinting into the sun, I peered over my suitcase, to see Liam walking up the path towards me, grinning, looking almost exactly the same as when I first met him, those five years ago, just 100 metres down the road.