Wednesday, 6 March 2019

What it Feels Like For A Girl

 The breakfast room is light and airy exposing a Cornish sky that can't make up its mind. Across the room, a nice, middle-class couple are wrestling a small girl who is just finding her voice. There is a lot of wriggling, a lot of shushing, and a lot of apologising for the noise as the small child struggles to assert herself. As I watch the tiny human woman fight for agency, it strikes me that we spend our first 18 years being told to be quiet and behave, and the rest of our lives answering the call to find our true voices again. A societal paradox, where we impose our collective responsibilities onto our children while pursuing the dogma of individualism ourselves. There has to be a middle way.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Avian Gratitude

It doesn’t look like much. But it’s everything in this moment. Sat on a bench in the park with a latte and a pain au chocolat, watching the day unfold in this autumn sunshine, I’m joined on the bench by a robin. He chirps to get my attention and stares pointedly at the pastry. I peel off a morsel and place it between us on the bench. He stares at it, at me, then darts forwards, picks it off and flies into the hedge behind me, returning a few moments later to chirp his thanks before flying off. A simple exchange. A moment of beauty. A blessing. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Transcendant Tragedy

I’m sat in my mother’s flat. She’s sat opposite me playing contentedly with a packet of Extra Strong Mints, one of the dozens of packets I’ve found in drawers, tins, Tupperware and her many handbags. I’m sorting through piles and piles of junk mail and actually really important mail, discarded equally across the rooms. A little transistor radio she found and that I put some batteries in is playing Classic FM. It takes the edge off the tragedy. 
As I sift through another pile of Damart catalogues, charity begging letters, bank statements and urgent hospital requests, The Lark Ascending spills forth from the tiny radio, filling the room with its uniquely joyful poignancy. I am flooded with memories of my late father and his love for me and music. My copy was a gift from him. And I cannot listen to it without crying, its sense of loss echoing my own. 
And so it is that I cry tears for one lost parent and the sheer beauty of Vaughan Williams' music in front of the other, lost to dementia. My mother looks at me quizzically. ‘I can’t listen to this music without crying,’ I explain, ‘It’s too beautiful.’ She laughs a gentle laugh and smiles at me, not understanding my tears. I go back to sorting the dusty piles of paper.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Let Her Eat Cake

I'm sat having a late lunch with a friend in a popular Tunbridge Wells cafe. The cafe is known for its cakes, its hearty salads and its quiches. The menu is small, locally produced and fresh. We are enjoying our lunch immensely when two middle-aged women enter the cafe, one of them pushing a buggy containing a lively baby girl. The lunchtime rush is over, so they decide to sit at the table in the middle of the room and park the buggy across the walkway, blocking access to two tables and the kitchen hatch. The staff politely suggest they move to a corner table where there is room for the buggy. Rather than follow this suggestion, they opt for the table next to ours. The large buggy won't fit in the space between the counter and my friend's back. After a few shoves, my friend, deep in appreciation of her soup and salad, realises the woman is trying to get through, apologises, and moves her chair. It is not enough. She gets up. It is not enough. She lifts the chair out of the way and the woman pushes through, a thin smile that does not reach her eyes is the only thanks she gives.

She parks the buggy in the middle of the space, blocking access to three different tables. There is then the hugely bothersome task of getting a high chair for the baby, and finally, she almost sits down, but not before demanding that I move my bag of shopping and handbag that is next to my chair, so she can sit sideways on her chair, rather than at the table. The back of her chair now touches my ribs, making eating a challenge, but she is too absorbed in her next drama to notice.

The other woman, who has until now been silent, begins to look at the menu and complain. The waitress comes to take the order and questions that seem to cause the questioner physical pain spill from her mouth like bitter seeds of discontent. Do they have any cake that's sugar-free, and gluten-free? Because she's on a restricted diet and can't have sugar, dairy, gluten, legumes, peppers, tomatoes, margarine, butter, olive oil, crude oil, bath bombs, eggshells, foie gras, borsch, roast hedgehog, and a thousand other things you might reasonably expect to find in a cafe and cake shop. The questions go on and on. The waitress suggests there may be some avocado left from the breakfast menu. No. She doesn't like avocado. The waitress suggests the salads, the soup, a sandwich on gluten-free bread, but each is rejected in turn for containing an offending food. The waitress patiently and pleasantly persists, but everything is rejected until, with a huge sigh, the woman bravely suggests some eggs and maybe some ham. But all todays eggs have gone at breakfast, so instead, she orders a panini with ham and cheese without a hint of embarrassment. Not gluten-free, or dairy-free, not even butter-free. Just self-awareness free.

I want to punch her on behalf of the waitress. I want to punch her friend on behalf of myself. But her friend won't keep still, she's up and down fussing over her grandchild, whose oblivion to this spectacle I envy. We finish our lunch and leave them there, eating their sandwiches, stewing in their self-righteous, middle-class, Tunbridge Wells privilege. But I see them, I see two unhappy women trying to exercise control over others, validating themselves, passive aggressively expressing the pain of being them. Compassion eludes me today. Right now, I just hate them and hope their lunch leaves them bloated.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Tea Time

A pot of English Breakfast Tea, a bacon sandwich to be savoured. The window is open, flooding the room with cold December air and birdsong. A door opens inside me and I let go of the pain for a few seconds to enjoy this moment of simple insignificance.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Heated Memory

This summer has been the hottest on record. Online climate change deniers rage that it's unconnected to man's pursuit of capital while the icebergs crumble into the sea. The future looks bleak. But there is comfort in the heat, a mandate to slow down, do less, reflect.

I pad around my house naked too hot to care what the neighbours think anymore and my mind looks back to a moment long passed, in London, mid-Nineties, when, similarly hot, I walked into the little kitchen in our flat one morning to make a cup of tea. As the kettle boiled, I looked out of the window and locked eyes with an elderly lady, also in her kitchen, also waiting for the kettle to boil, also naked.

We smiled at each other, acknowledging the moment, accepting the moment, connecting in the moment, and then went back to our tea making. A random moment of shared experience in a sweltering city of millions, so pure, it still makes me smile over twenty years later.

Friday, 28 June 2013


I have come to believe that the neat endings we aspire to when we speak of closure are nothing more than a Hollywood fantasy. Life, unlike narrative, does not give us all we need to move on. Instead endings are ragged and messy, their threads combining with those of our beginnings to weave the fabric of life, with its flaws, snags and occasional patches of brilliance. Today's ending, the last day of my Advertising career, is overshadowed by a past made present again through my father's death; I step onto the threshold of going back into therapy, to discuss my grief, my traumatic relationship with my mother in the month following my father's death, and all that has withered and greyed since. Today's beginning is all about endings, today's beginning terrifies me, and it is only in the grey light of dusk and birdsong that I notice, then say 'goodbye' to the job that crystallised the pain and forced me to acknowledge I need to start over again. Fear crawls across the evening, pulling me forward, even as I retreat to bed, reminding me I live and can only keep weaving.