Saturday, 30 December 2017

Night Hungry

"Baby we both know
That the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can't say tomorrow day" - "Do I Wanna Know?", Arctic Monkeys
Self-portait, 2012

Before going to sleep, I enter this dream state where everything seems a little clearer than it does when I wake up. It all starts to dawn from 5pm. Now it's approaching 1am and here I am unable to sleep because I'm excited about getting ready for tomorrow's party. Trying on outfits earlier, automatically I plump for a soft Foxy Brown-esque alter ego - it never occurs to me to go as a boy. I went for a baby pink afro and leopard dress.

My Big Fat Greek

A few years ago when I was invited to a fancy dress party - the invite vaguely said, "Come as someone European" - I went as a Greek bride. It wasn't until I entered the Hall at the last moment - in my local average town - that it dawned on me that a full bride's outfit was a step further than others had gone.

A few years ago, around the same time as now, I spent the day with a treasured friend and we made videos as different characters; her a Halifax mum of two, me Beau Bow, an Amy Winehouse-esque East End girl who played Heads Up! on my phone (a digi take on charades). We had tremendous fun, laughing all afternoon, no shame or embarrassment (or similar) from me whatsoever. It felt so natural.
Heads Up

I've always had a habit of wearing hats. I've always felt super exposed without a hat on and it resulted in becoming an apprentice for 18 months to the fabulously eccentric Mrs King in Hebden Bridge then taking on a commission for a local theatre. Wigs seems like the next best thing. I've considered a helmet but that is a step too far. I wanted a big glass fish bowl, like an astronaut. Maybe next party.

Heavens Above

So now when I ask the heavens, as I am always inclined to do, to show me where my happiness lies, it asks me to surrender. And uncover the cause of my dissatisfaction, the reason to scratch an itch I can't seem to find the origins of. As a teen, I would be drawn to documentaries on transvestites and transsexuals, dated labels they had 10 years ago. Fast forward to a time where the word trans is much more in the every day sphere and the subject is no less fascinating to me. And, in conversation, my nana still refers to me as 'she'. No-one corrects her, including me. My BFF made the slip the other day and I enjoy it.

Self-portait. Mexilhoeira Grande, 2015
To be clear, it's never appealed to me to be trans. Or dress in women's clothes for sexual pleasure. My journey through gender as a child is well-documented on this blog and now as a adult, a real proper man adult on my way to 40, I still wonder about identity and its fluidity, the massive spectrum. The most brutal procedure I chose was at 18 when my facial hair began to thicken. I underwent painful laser surgery to have it removed. Once blisters healed and all the hair fell out, I couldn't have been more content as my fingers stroked a smooth face. But it soon returned and I couldn't face, or afford, more treatment.

Earlier, on holiday at 14 or 15, horrified at the sight of my legs getting hairier, I just felt humiliated, somehow. As if my body had let me down, that's the closest I can describe it. I feel very differently now and appreciate body hair but what a peculiar turn around. And what the catalyst? I really have no idea. But if my niece were to feel out of sorts and "like a boy", for this reason alone I would advise waiting, seeing how those feelings transform so the physical body doesn't have to undergo life-changing surgeries or lifelong medications.

On the badminton or tennis court, or when I am weight lifting, the hilarious thing is that I feel my most aggressive, the most cis-gendered. My muscles respond very quickly, I am super competitive and I bellow despair and victories. And then, off-court, a transformation - the elegant dancer, maybe, the studious reserved reader, the loner.

I'm still dangerously in love with the myth of the man. Recently, experiencing a friend opening the door for me, holding my shopping bags, paying for lunch...I was absolutely thrilled. I have never experienced that and I felt so in my role, he so in his. As much as I question the Hollywood-fed love mythology around us in films, storybooks, theatre, I am its victim well and truly. Not intellectually, but hormonally, bodily.

In relationships, the EQ levels of the partners I've had had altered, depending on the moment and the person as it will with opposite sex couples. In the last serious relationship, coming out of the shower with a turban towel around his head and another bath sheet pulled up under is armpits, I was forced to laugh then become to the archetypal man. I felt genuinely moved to care for him and treat him tenderly, and vice versa when I entered a softer mode. Beautiful, really.

Self-portait, Lancashire 2017
And so I continue to be in love with the idea of love, of the 2 doves, the swans, the elegance and intimacy of 2 people together, the private nest in the sky as clouds pass by. Tomorrow night, I will boogie with my girls as a the foxiest girl, absorbing all the attention that falls on me from the men who for one night only will hold all the glamour and restraint of the vintage men from the Fitzgerald books I cherish so dearly. And as the morning must come, so will reality again with its shattered slipper and stack of books and pdfs to read for uni; the soil, the flowers, the seaweed will call again to a person dressed simply as a man who no-one would suspect is still a girl underneath, somehow. A 2-4-1 Human Being. How cool.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues

"when are you gonna come down / when are you going to land?"
- lyrics from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

I've had a glorious 12 month honeymoon period in the UK. Central heating, warm trains, badly varnished doors, strange voices that all sound the same, freedom, fairness, bamboozling requests as a barista, getting my yoga classes off the ground, existential and exquisite chats with a plethora of taxi drivers, diamond friendships, being metaphorical about eating again - pizza as a vegan cus I worked in an Italian restaurant and wanted to live that myth for a while. Train travel generally, magical. I don't think I ever took a train in Spain; a car is preferable and the roads never end, the traffic in rural parts only exists in the imagined future. Mhm the showers in the houses I live in are heaven, a shower and its glory will never cease to amaze me. And I will resist understanding engineering (if that's what allows this magic to flow above my head) so I can always see it as magic.

"Goodbye yellow brick can't plant me in your penthouse, I'm going back to my plough"

And STUFF...stuff, everywhere. You can have organic wholefoods loveliness from delightful places, or you can eat trash from packets that you probably can't recycle, depending on which Council takes your waste. It teaches one not to be so binary. You can have it all. Heaven yeah. The delightful mammothian skeleton of St Pancras with everyone going everywhere (but where? how can it be...) and whirring around the City, everyone occupying their own mythology about what they believe to be true, the values they hold. And, as Harari points out, unlike primates, there are thousands of us constantly sharing a space with so few incidents, relatively speaking. There we all go - up escalators, on bouncy castles, chatting incessantly to people who mostly hang up, defeated young girls with disheveled makeup propped up and sobbing or shouting at a friend cus Mr Right Now said something disagreable. Mind-boggling.

And later this year - a return to academia, where everyone imagines very seriously that putting ideas in order, dissecting them, then continuing to dissect them and the argument skeleton in which they exist to re-arrange and re-see...will somehow continue to be read or heard by someone who also wishes to study the same, and continue it all, tearing it all down, and nauseum without the nausea. Ad infinitum. Jesus freaks, out on the street. And for a moment, at least, in the academic sense, it will all make sense.

There are still people who believe in God which I marvel at. Mostly because I've always had an internal device that, if something gets popular, it computes as repulsive. Or at the least suspicious. I call it discernment. No-one was vegan or sugar-free when I was. And I think I liked that. The struggle made me build muscle and be a northern working class bastard fighting the forces. Now everyone is virtually vegan so gosh-darn-it I will eat burgers and hotdogs, and teach 'em a thing or two. It's just that there's getting less unpopular stuff to do. Less forces to fight.

I left the UK to find more folk interested in living off the land somehow and at least trying to be more literal. But then when after a dozen or so engaged me about it, I felt the device activate and immediately lost my passion. And I didn't trust them. I become a lawyer. Devil's advocate and argue against myself. Or maybe rather, another constellation glows - a pattern, being fleshed out by words. A pattern means that what we are saying, thinking, in that flow has impressed itself enough so that we can use it in a formula in a higher order of REASON! Hmm. Thank God I found academia.

"I should have stayed on the farm..."

GRAMMAR is a great word. I remember just being so happy when I discovered a band that uses it in their name. It's the original "paradigm". Now we can't move for paradigms; if someone wants strawberry rather than raspberry jam on their croissant at a Pumpkin when their train is late, it's asserted as a paradigm shift. I let them off cus words are usually insufficient, right? It's a paradigm shift in the making. Emojis, anyone. You'd be pressed to not find a paradigm shift. There goes one right now.

Anyway 12 months on, Englishness is starting to grate on me. Not in a spectacularly obtrusive way but just in that way that started to tinkle the chimes in a previous life which brought to mind to go Elsewhere. When we go elsewhere, we don't think of churros, or palm trees, or cheese baguettes, or alien registration plates - although they feature in the imagination - but we just want something...else. Like those idiots we all know (you might be one) who are sold cus something it's "different". Well, it's different in't it someone might say and then proceed to forage for their purse and buy it. We like different things cus they are not what we have. Like the lovely negating squiggle in philosophical arguments. I want ~(that). Could be anything. A raffle. We all love a raffle. Except we win what we could have bought online for half the price. Or we actually gave it away last week in a charity shop. Because it's something different.

I'm sorry, could I just put the Reservation sign there? my friend and I leave the table. Sorry. Whoops. It's a thing in ASDA. I love Whoops. As a low-earner, a poor student (see my funding page) my innards are illuminated by a Whoops! sticker. It's unmistakeably English cus it's inherently sorry. I'm sorry could I just - sorry - get passed. Sorry. This is NOT a thing in Spain so I have to not be dense and literal and accept that fact, and smile graciously. But it irritates. It's detritus from colonial I just invaded your land and called it my own and probably everyone's dead so what I am saying I am saying to my alive people. Sorry about that. Thanks.

My Honeymoon hasn't come crashing down (as long as I refuse Smooth FM and its 6 songs) but it is evolving into intolerance of things. Is this adulthood?? 12 months is giving me patterns, rising like cream on the milk of life. Sorry. And the pattern that is apparent now is that I need to be inoculated into something else. Oh shit, something different! I'm a dead man. OK, once again - with feeling.

I am slowly reaching through the detritus of difference, botany Masters being mastered ....with a skeletal ~(vegan) hand to be a Treasurer of a veg coop, write for a corporate governance website and start spreading 2 year rotted manure on my home garden. I also just found a permaculture place a stone's throw from Canterbury (ish) so I want him to want me on his place in the New Year and show me why pigs don't sweat and why they deter foxes away and why soil is just the best yay. Because being around that world, as much as I am not that world, I'm more of it than being in a bright lecture theatre room or a bright aisle metal trolley Whoops! or central heated call centre world filled with Celebrations and smelling of diabetes and despair. Or, just boredom, that rots one like cowardice.

"and I think it's gonna be a long long time"
-Rocket Man, Elton John

Count the headlights on the had a busy day today. So I could invent a new business, or App, or strip for my Instagram and snog a trans person, or vote Brex-in too late, or I could learn Python or continue to invent a CV on LinkedIn and pretend to be employable or sing in a densely populated mall with just my toes or Google how to make a million..but I'm defeated just summoning these superficial frivolities. Which is why I will do none of these things and just stick to what I know about chickens, and feeding soil, and reading well-written books, hoping to be as articulate on at least one paper, learn how to regenerate landscapes with David Liu (please God), keep reducing packaging (sorry), flossing my teeth...and seeing patterns. And watching Elton John on YouTube. And wondering why I have always been fascinated by olde Hollywoode glamour. And keep wondering... as I improve the soil that people might remember not just in 20, 50, 80 years but is actually fun and needs doing. Right now.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Save The Planet: Be More Materialistic

Think you’re a doomed material girl? Think again. You probably can’t even change a light bulb.

Why is that when I write blogposts about environmental issues, I feel like a stern matron wagging her fat clean finger? It’s not as if I’m not wagging it at myself, too. But if I just wrote “bla bla bla”, it might make as much positive difference. Am I despairing? Not quite. But I do wonder at the value of reminders about the negative impact of our actions on the environment. Without resorting to in-depth study and statistical lines that zigzag vertically where everyone gasps, most of us know have this slow rumbling in the background that we might one day arrive at the petrol station and no oil will pour forth. Although I’m writing that and don’t believe that it’s true. 

And yet, how do we live with the guilt that we kinda have to go on leaving a trail of plastic-disaster? For sure, slowly surely we change as our culture changes: the overarching curve is unarguably positive. But day to day, how can the sensitive creatures not be driven mad by the contradictions? I wanted my life to be more like Wind In The Willows (the good parts). But at the bowling alley and amusement arcade last night, I might as well have been in the last diabolical scenes of Avatar. Fat rosy-cheeked children fed greedy machines with endless tickets. For prizes. Plastic prizes. I needed to have a stroke just for an excuse to become unconscious and make it all go away. (God, just so you know, I don’t want a stroke.)

Later we had pizza at Zizzi last night with the fam’s, trying to pretend to be normal. I ate chicken and ham, even though I constantly imagine myself to be vegan, despite being followed by a buttery haze. My sister asked for a straw for her daughter’s apple juice and I had an eco-itch to scratch. My memory vaguely told me that September is STRAWLESS. So I asked the waitress for a paper straw (glass was too far) because it's September, hello. “I’m already vegan for September. That’s enough.” I almost squealed I'M VEGAN TOO but spotted the meat feast slipping down my throat and put the seabird’s stomach bulging with plastic shit to the back of my mind. These small defeats crush me.

I’m managing a tiny team of people right now and I can finally understand why managers at least ought to get paid a LOT of money. The manager seems to have the worst job – managing not only one’s daily expectations of work, but those of others and, like a desperate mother, trying to get the balance right between breaks, aligning values, getting over the mundane stuff. Before you know it, you’re behaving like a d*ck royale because you have to pretend that since the manager title was bestowed upon you, all paradoxes, contradictions, sleepiness and boredom are things of the past. I think, are we ALL just pretending like managers do? That there's a world that all makes sense, that can be measured, with nanas who knit and make pies, or something.

Late night is my favourite time of day. It all makes sense then. It’s a small window of time, from about 8pm til I fall asleep. If I’m lucky, like last night, the place even smells like freshly baked bread. I read. Voraciously. Words soothe me. They promise a shiny future. Everything makes sense in a book. Writers are waving their magic wands. Where problems existed, writers banish them. And jangling-ly my alarm dumps me in plasticated earthland at 8am and all the concepts that massaged me to dream of furry animals are mostly forgotten. Here is the world. Full of over-flowing smelly bins, chicken huts full of poo, bathroom with congested pipes, furry veg that I didn't eat as a vegan. The world is terrifying.

At least it is for a sensitive poet, writer, artist or whatever I am. The last time I wrote a poem was about 3 years ago. And I can’t remember when I painted; I was forced to stop because I couldn’t bear pouring water-paint mixture down the sink. I thought of the ducks and the seabirds and the fish. Dead. With my shit picture hanging on the wall that would soon be forgotten. Even the noble National Trust isn’t to be trusted with our delicate lives. We visited 3 sites over the weekend and the candles, to make rooms smell of bohemian people and wildflower meadows, displayed a horrifying stylised picture of an asphyxiated fish next to the words “will permanently damage aquatic life if released into the environment”. Which environment? Ours? But there’s only one. The shop is IN the environment. The release has happened. Fuck. Where's the tea room to drown it all on a sugar high? It’s the only way to push down the feelings that with each scented candle, the vigil for life as we might not know it. 

I saw the picture of Angelina Jolie in The Times yesterday, quoting her as saying she was just trying to live every day. She looked beautiful, of course, but my sister and I remarked on the sadness in her eyes. At 42, having 6 children, recovering from a double reconstructive mastectomy and recently having her ovaries removed, one wonders just how afloat and unstrained any human being can be… especially since she has a string of charities to her name and her gruelling Netlix series has just been released. My God. I am sad, or exhausted, thinking about it. I want to give her a hug and a piece of cake.

The super-rich interest me because they have what many dream of, at least materially. The Jolie household fly from continent to continent regularly helping at various noble projects. The Kardashians zoom around equally, they all do; the air is constantly abuzz with the super-rich. They’re not chem-trails, you conspiracy believers - they’re celeb trails. Nicole Kidman. Madonna. Engelbert Humperdinck. They’re all up there, 30,000ft eating nuts and olives from some poor bastard in southern Europe whose worked his knackers off. I won’t verge towards any more logic. The reasonable people who think they talk “common sense” suffer the most.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Naming & Shaming: Beyond Sexuality

Bob McCune, Herb Lamm 1949, with superimposed text

Growing Pains

Are you... oh I just thought by...oh, never mind...but if you could just...sorry but we're full...yeah, sorry mate, maybe next time...or ...just silence. Going from family trouble-maker, to shamanic oyster via the domestic jungle fka the garden. Bear with me. Shit's going down. I thought I had washed my hands clean of this nearly 2 decades ago.

I resented 'coming out'. So much so that I moved out to live with my sister when I was 16, determined to just be myself and not have to share what I had considered such a private concern. I wasn't interested in the sex lives of those around me, so why was I being nudged towards the platform of what felt like brutal or humiliating honesty?

My mum cried. I remember vaguely her mentioning grandchildren. My dad was silent. And I was a jungle of conflicting emotion, muted. I had the reputation in my family as trouble-maker in my teenage years. Always curious, questioning. Was I creating more trouble now, even against my better judgement? Other shadows lurking around the household felt more pressing; the half-empty packet of something called Prozac in the bathroom cabinet. In earlier years, the episode where bedroom curtain were drawn, and doctors with bowed heads left rooms by closing the bedroom door so tenderly, as if any more force would shatter it;the force of my father's volcanic temper that smashed my sister's enormous CD player. According to the convention, those times warranted no conversation, no apology. Shame, rewarded and inflated by silence.

Trouble-making was the mere spotting that there was a rug to look under, and to consider to dare to lift it up, let alone look under it. And luckily I believed that there was so little there, in many respects, but in terms of nourishing emotional worlds, there were whole galaxies of missed opportunity. Shush-ed. Orbiting in silent space. I wanted to be a grown-up.

And so I did what every normal kid might do. I silenced the trouble-making. I found solace in my bedroom, in magazines, in my sewing machine, in songs. I tried to find my voice by imitating the greats of jazz and blues. I wore my headphones as I screeched, badly, with knocks underneath my bedroom floor. Silence was preferred, was the reminder, regardless of the sound.

My ticket out of this shrink-wrapped world of ultra domesticity of 3 warm meals a day (2 of which were fed to Tara, our Rottweiler) and an annual sojourn to DisneyWorld was fashion college, I tallied. I worked such long hours that summer to pay for my fees and rent in central London. I had been accepted to LCF and my dressmaking teacher, who had created costumes for Danny LaRue (or was it RuPaul?) was thrilled. I was thrilled, in retrospect because it was the the necessity of the piercing of the shrink wrap. It was new breath after the hypersleep of suburbia. I imagined. It turns out that imagination can be so precariously balanced when it sits on top of the landfill of dismissed feelings.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe a little. But the kaleidoscope of the past and the emotional distance it affords allows one to see, in the context of something considered more normal, the true micro-horrors of a childhood or adolescence in which a potential wasn't able to be realised. Not through lack of good parenting - my folks did all within their power to make my sister and my lives comfortable - but through having a gift that I didn't recognise. The gift of causing trouble, it seemed.

Two situations happened this week that have pushed me to re-consider my relationship to responsibility to my emotional well-being. That might be a long-winded way of just saying, I wanna feel OK. And when people heckle insults at me, despite my belief that it is them who are wounded somehow, it's me whose internal playing cards collapse. Insults, specifically insults about my sexuality, are Kryptonite. Why?

The years I've spent attempting to inhabit the freedom I lacked as a shrink-wrapped screwed up teen allowed me to feel a sense of ease. I've been travelling, learned some basics in gardening, taken every course that has appealed to me...eaten everything that seemed good in my path. My mind has an insatiable desire to learn, to experience, to bring more understanding. So what's this sticking point? Why do I breakdown when some idiot calls me a name?

I have kept the same attitude as a teen to not wish to discuss or name my sexuality. Extended family conversations don't include my current love situation. Thank God. In all the places I have travelled, including many villages in the UK, for me the topic wasn't worth being on the discussion table; I was exploring this new thing and so like a thesis writer at the beginning of his investigations, my results were private. I never go to Pride, or really understood why it existed.

And yet, the tables turned when trouble makers looked under the carpet as soon as they sensed and felt and perceived that I wasn't one of them. Who were they? Mostly, but not solely, heterosexual men. They avoided eye-contact. Or just insulted me. And when you're swimming for your school team and the banter happens when you are virtually naked, your body dramatically changing...telling me I was to become a man, and the trauma escalated beyond measure.

To find my tribe, I would sneakily watch TV programmes on gays and transsexuals. I was always fascinated especially with transsexuals reported to feel wrong in their bodies. I strongly identified with that as girls were my homies. My big sister was my best friend and in sleepy suburbia, we played with the other girls. We made yucky faces when boys went past. We thought they were dirty and silly. The horror that hair grew on my legs and face as I past 12 years old is something I fail to find the words for. My physicality defied my inner sense of sorority.

A recent story of a trans chap (from female-to-male) attracted attention because his male look was criticised as too cis-gendered, a term which describes a man born a man who has the archetypal look. Say, a jock. This guy got pumped at the gym, he wore a baseball cap. He had that kinda James Dean raised-eyebrow look in photos. A year ago, I too opted for a baseball cap in TK Maxx. Red. Flattering to the shape of my face. And something under which I could approach cis-gendered. As much as possible. So I could walk anywhere and not be 'seen'. Until last Monday. "Oh, guy in the red hat..." and you know the rest. The same yesterday in a supermarket car park.

After all my yoga and body work, after all my readings into emotional intelligence, after all my supposed ease in my body, mind...after years of working on communication and smoothing the lines of family ties...I shatter. Right there. In fact, I felt so overwhelmed on Monday that I couldn't bear to cry because crying was admitting not only did I suffer but I was still resource-less to handle it. And I was confounded to remember that my first reaction to the comment, had I been closer to the source of insult and armed in some way, would have been to attack and maybe even kill him. As if that would resolve it.

Violence doesn't solve the emotions raging in me during and after these situations. I know logically that this guy's outburst is a result of something unresolved within himself. And my inability to hear and dismiss it as a silly comment, points to something unresolved in me. Hence the fireworks and imagined homicide. What am I not naming? And by not naming it, am I shaming myself?

As I look for work next month in a new town, I realise that I have a stark choice before me; carry on as always, or actually name this. Be creative with it. I have to name what people perceive me as. And while I am happy in my own world and see beauty in colours, flowers, trees, music, lyricism, song, movement, pattern ... as well as find men sexually attractive, it's the former things that shape my manner, my gait, my melody of voice... and point to the assumptions of my sexuality. The logic defies my reasoning. Except I know that it's true. and who it better to be kind, or right? I'm choosing kindness.

My logic now is this - if I own this perception of my sexuality, it has the consequence of showing others that I have confidence in who I am (or supposed to be..?!) and tells me that it's true. I used to find this way of thinking over-looped and ridiculous. Like the outfits that I wore to fashion college. But these 2 incidents are showing me that my lack of assertiveness around my sexuality allows a barbed and confused narrative to go on within me. Are other people interested in who I sleep with? No. Are they signalled that I am 'different' to them? Absolutely. And so far, I can't articulate those differences but they obviously exist to the extent to which they are visible and almost physical.

How will I choose to use this? Ideas so far? I am going to find out how to make a Queer Garden in my new town. Why? Because for those people who are visibly or perceptibly different to whatever the norm is perceived to be, they need a safe space. I never thought I would think that; I dismissed it as a cliche that they should just 'get over it' - surely, it's 2017 and no-one cares any more? And if they did, that's their problem. But those things are only true in a place that has finally come to terms with indifference around differences. The journey for that isn't over. Evolution, emotional, spiritual...hasn't reached some parts of people, some parts of the country; entitlement rages around people who consider it their right to not only notice something then to remark on it, and remark in a way that is intended to deride, humiliate and offend the person on the receiving end. This is beyond is a basic human right. We all want peace, safety, loveliness and to accomplish those things, we need an equal starting point.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Impressionist

T H E   I M P R E S S I O N I S T
2 1 st   C E N T U R Y   L O N D O N
“…still have too many dreams…never seem to last…” 
– “Another World”, Antony & The Jonsons

I’m confused, constantly searching for a friend whose name I can’t remember and whose face I've forgotten. After several unfruitful searches, I find the concierge where an aloof man dressed in a formal burgundy suit reluctantly offers help. He points me to a room to his right, and curiously says something about him being in pieces, which concerns me. I reach for the brass handle, open the door and to my horror I find, stacked like trunks of luggage, the person I’m looking for, dissected and very neatly piled in a glossy, strangely exquisite, rose-red stack.

C R A N E S   I N   T H E   S K Y

Outside the vast patio door of my bedroom, the cranes and skyscrapers are doing yoga practice…rotating, revolving, stretching, reaching for that impossible sagging sky. From dawn til dusk, they operate in allegiance, as puppeteers, to the future. The belief is obliviously endorsed by all who pass by. 

Suddenly a trio of Romanians, in their mid-forties, enter the curious dance - lifted by the giant metal teeth of Canary Wharf's subway, impossibly flat glass reflects itself endlessly and it's a modern carousel. Previously to this moment, what they see was only considered to be true in films and books. All of a sudden it presents itself, as impossibly as a dream, before their eyes. They capture what they see on their phones, metallic wine overflows the cup. One spins on this slow-motion carousel, his arm outstretched… widely smiling as he becomes for a second the part in a classic Hollywood musical, always filming, to ensure this is in fact no dream at all. He has proof; digital, invisible.  

The glee, unpretentious and pouring from his eyes, crystallised in their almost-squealing voices, will move me when pen marries paper. A few days from now, I will cry. Who of us still has the capacity to wonder at this world created by our forefathers and inherited momentarily by us all? Who dares or allows wonder? These chaps have travelling a few thousand miles West, worlds away from their own, and now their proximity to what's before them is on par with having ascended Everest itself and, just for a second or less, this is the peak, amongst few peaks, of these men’s lives. They show a pride that's unrewarded beyond now. Maybe.

E  X  H  A  L  E

In a second breath, I pass a lonely mid-rise near the construction site whose large sign sobs To Let. A polished marble floor, abandoned from a musical set, and leather couches which have sat cigarette-smoking densely hairy men, now gape vacantly and aren't being danced around or sat upon. A gloomy waiting room the Future, failed, re-imagined but not yet, its youth fulfilled a few takes ago. Aeons. Now, better, soon. Then again. And the gorillas with their gelled hair, clad in frosted slate greys, laugh hard as the props gaze on. Their bodies gladiatorially bulge from the seams of their fitted suits and their hairlines, like their mouths, speak decisively. 

And I stand in front of a door, expectantly, and it doesn’t open. It somehow seems ridiculous that I have to actually push.    it.   open. I thought those days had gone with the Dodo bird and crimped hair. I am part of the problem. I am of that generation who is being frantically catered for. Underneath this soft lawn of comfort are hungry seductive snakes. Maybe.

A Muscovy duck bobs around on the smokey green water of the Thames then, almost immediately, is replaced by another that looks identical. They don't see me watching from a window, as I eat a Turkish goats cheese and tomato omelette and a freshly squeezed orange juice.  The Indian guy who never takes his gaze off the pot, freely pours Saxo salt from its chubby white and red tub into a saucepan of boiling water and Brussel sprouts. His expression is meaningless and intense. I trace his line of vision as if trying to catch a ball.

His partner, with thigh-length polished boot-leather hair prefers smoothies and is friendly. They go back to conversing, his eyes always fixed on the brightening green bobbing of sprouts, and the scene with Bengali is curt and tense. The Girl who shows me around the apartment, slight and dressed head-to-toe in black, sips on Starbucks-for-supermarkets Caffe Latte. She is oblivious to the other inhabitants, and quite content. A fat crayon-purple plane comically courses through the 50 shades of architectural grey. I’m convinced that, like that peculiar red-beaked bird, it’s a prop.

T H E   F O U R T H    P L O N K

On the 4th floor, a silver 2 1 0 gleams unwittingly above a large bare piece of MDF amongst the stiflingly hot corridors. Next to most of the lift numbers are slashes of a Stanley knife and a circle around them illuminates a stern Martian red when pushed. The lift can hold 360 kg and as I enter and hold my breath as if I could inflate should we plummet. The guy pinned against my rucksack reassures me that the sculpting is doing his abs the world of good. I wait for the next lift.

The host is indifferent to the front door being locked. She tells me the apartment offers no living room although the lights for my room can be found just outside room, in the kitchen. My room has 2 empty wardrobes with toiletries, as gifts, displayed like willing tombola prizes on top. I have an angled tubular mirror in which I can only see from my collarbone down unless I stand very far away. There are at least 22 pairs of shoes in what might be the hall. The light in the boiler room is always on.

I've waited over 15 minutes for the bathroom. I decide to find another in a different part of the building. When I return to the sound of water still gushing in the bathroom and a chapter passes, a record skips, my patience thins as my curiosity fattens. How dirty is this person? I knock on the door and exactly as it might in a cheap horror film, the door creeps open. All I see a tap lever lifted on full. No-one is there.

B  O  B  B  Y    B  A  L  L  'S

I wake up humming Norah Jones haunting Miriam. I sing it in the shower as I lather up with the Radox shower gel that was part of my welcome parcel from the AirBnB host. I have never used Radox. The goo is holiday-advert sky-blue and as I lather and sing, the smell is of middle aged male office workers in ill-fitting polyester suits. Next, a crumpled photograph appears, like a souvenir: my face, about 5 years old, agitated with the conundrum of how to build a taller sandcastle, inviting the audience to answer, sand and crushed shells like cracked pepper on my knees, my hair competing with the whiteness of the sand.

I soon discover that I have no towel. I can't remember the last time I actually bought a towel so it confused me more than it should. Unable to summon any thought of practical value, I outsource to Tourist Information. Are non-Tourists allowed? Until this point, I can either dry myself with a cashmere scarf or, pushing 6ft 2, unforgivable amounts of loo roll. I find a 2-for-1 in Argos. Soft blue wisps find themselves adorning the white bath as I dry.

The apartment is always hot and smells like Bobby Ball’s, a large and dreadful shoe shop my parents would take me to. I would quickly escape to the ball pool and determine to swim to its lowest point but with strenuous repeated breast-strokes that gave way to hysteria, I resolved that it must be as deep as the ocean. It occurs to me that if I lived in this apartment, similarly to the ball pool, I would asphyxiate in less than 24 hours. Maybe the cooking sprouts are little oxygen masks.


A strange thrill laps over me as I descend on bovine chewing metal steps into the concrete bowels of some mythical gargantuan beast. The station’s a museum, an example of prehistoric concrete megafauna and all of us pretend to be endlessly swallowed by the whale mouth then we all journey through the blank intestinal corridor before being whisked to another oversized fossil from which we emerge undigested.  Are the sci-fi rib-caged corridors leading to Pluto or Marylebone?

An impenetrable swathe of Chinese school children, faces like blushed balloons of youth, smile cautiously as they toddle after their teachers. They are less than 10 years old and their rucksacks and small plastic coats casts shadows on the giant whale-walls insides. Older Chinese uni students wear outfits in shades of oatmeal paired with black trousers. The girls coats are creased, their expressions sullen. 

The Girls at the very next table faux-seethe at having waited an inappropriate amount of time for hot chocolate. They are trying to take themselves seriously. Now the non-chalance of the 40-something agile Italian waitress softens the couple’s imagined distress. And I know they’ll be back tomorrow. They are a manifestation of the old metaphor of love: Treat ‘em mean.  The Italians have known this since the dawn of time, or chocolate, whichever came first. Agonizingly stylish sloppily hot chocolates are served, sipped, Instagrammable and extortionate. The majority of tables seat women who peer out from heavily painted eyes and an exposed rectangle of skin. I enjoy being in the Middle East of Nowhere and we play imaginary matchmaker.

T  R  A  I  N  S  P  O  T  T  I  N  G

On the train a large woman in a faded orange top and rectangular glasses briskly counts many lilac-purple and white £20 notes as we go under a succession of bridges at high speed and my ears suck inwards.  I almost wail out as I think the pressure won’t stop. I open my mouth, wide as if swallowing the egg of an exotic bird, then waggle my jaw as I continue to look at the woman, as if sizing her up like a domestic snake that considers devouring its owner. She licks her lips as coins, like a deck of cards, fan and nest in her curved fingers from hands that rest on the table. She mimes and frowns as she produces a receipt she doesn’t recognise. She shushes the disabled woman opposite her.

My friend suggests that what I drink is industrial cleaner - it's polypeptide pink. My offence is eclipsed and softened as a Turk with strong graceful hands unscrews the cap, pours the candy-pink fizz into a gently tinkling tumbler with all the elegance of a symphony conductor. I am enchnated, as I was by the Young Men who conversed in musical composition on a sweltering bus ride to Fethiye. He screws the cap back on. His precision is that of a surgeon and no time has passed as he approaches the table to pour water into our other glasses as if intimately reading poetry to us.

I see a book opened on the Strategy chapter from How To Run A Government. Over a smooth taupe shoulder, The man is only just a man, wears casual denim jeans and navy boaters. He has neat mousy hair and wears glasses. A girl passes with very long Vuitton-advert inspired baby-pink hair. I glance to challenge my suspicion that it’s a wig. It isn’t.

A black man, with slightly sunken cheeks and honest eyes, holds my gaze as he inquires if I’m an artist. The wide sun beams on my right encourage me to squint and I fight it so as not to appear suspicious of his intentions, while suddenly mystified as to why I answer “yes”. His cousin was a graffiti artist, I learn, – he died – and a poet, and now, more disturbingly, I am told he has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He begins to rap soon after I choose “writer” under some umbrella of artistic professions. He stops abruptly to ask me for a £1 towards a cup of tea. I pass him the £1 I found in my gym locker two days ago. The restaurant behind us serves a full English breakfast for £17.

P  A  S  S  E  N  G  E  R  S

I escape the river of people and to turn the corner, a salmon upstream. I enter an invisible world inhabited by me and only 2 others including an older slightly dishevelled woman who thanks me, just out of habit. The other woman, Asian with classic lipstick-red streaked hair gathered on top of her head with a plastic clip, smiles insincerely. We are regularly reminded that our luggage may be destroyed if left unattended.

A young man, complexion creamy white, grows closer to me as a polished unavoidable voice informs that the train is almost here.  Atoms squeeze tighter and tighter until I can see the skin at the nape of the man's neck flush, then fragments into rosacae islands, seconds before the train’s speed dissolves to a frenzied halt. The bottles in his carrier bag clink pleasantly as we atomic molecules bounce each other out of the way. There is no sound other than the clinking and voice, certain that we are about to leave, punctuated with the windscreen wiper doors vacuuming open and closed. An Indian man, his expression and presentation ungendered, eyebrows nodding to those halcyon days of Joan Crawford et al., strides on.

The Runners, with their goosepimpled bare legs and slightly drawn features, resist hurtling through the crowd yet maintain their wildness even in their plastic shorts and plastic shoes. Their philosophy rather than their speed seems to have conquered the paradox of the urban jungle. The rest of us flop into London's landfill happily. The Rose looks at his reflection as if he might understand what others might also see.

I drop a pair of navy gloves. And the girl with the eyelashes becomes animated and inquires if they belong to me. The meeting, this minute dance, is exquisite. And then, Library Mode resumes.  An etiquette lives in The Tubes as a part of us briefly dies. We will never see anyone again. Except every day, again. Yet the moment we step off and individuate, the whole thing is no longer important enough to consider. It didn’t really exist.

A jolly Shakespearean theatre exhibits printed cashmere scarves, impossible amounts of scented candles, impeccably presented handbags, impossibly priced shoes and dazzling perfumes whose flowers dance foggily around the counters of fizzing chatter. I spritz rose, my friend iris on her wrists, kissing them together. Then the queer sloping mouth of that apologetic monster, TATE Morose. Or Modern. Or Morgue. Everything is so big, and everyone is so plentiful. We're looking at fragments of someone's past, intrigued. Remember when we used to starve in the Steppes?

When we get in the station, we’ll find a bin.

We are ushered up to the 2nd floor of a Victorian house, into a chalk grey bedroom, that now calls itself a restaurant and so it is. The tableware feels expensive, shows the folds of newness which deceives its otherwise attention to detail. My friend and I adopt the part of Gentle Lady & Man, bereft of an off-white lace umbrella and the children playing in the red-walled back garden. The waiter serves juice which a clumsy jab of my chopstick allows to dye the starch white cloth carrot-orange. A woman from the table behind us protests that her dish is lacking the peanut garnish. She hasn’t realised that the food is incidental. We suspend our roles as man and wife and I agree with my friend's observation that everyone, close-up, is beautiful.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Dry As A Bone

I've never been drunk. At least, I don't think so. Except one time after acupuncture when I drank cider and felt like I was on the moon. And sometimes I feel giddy after a Sunday roast.

But, we all have our vices, especially this post-Methodist boy from a non-practising Catholic family. What's mine? Cake. And not just cake, but pastries, cheesecake, polenta cake, gluten-free bullshit levels of cake. If it is flaky and buttery with a sweet edge, I will take it. However since it's Dry January, I thought I'd rise to the challenge of avoiding any kind of sugar plum. I have a will of iron. So, no problem, right?

 F is for FLOUR Failure

I've always wanted to be that cool guy...the hedonist, the rebel with the eager hand to receive any goodies on a night out with friends. He has a lovely colouring and wears flipflops even in Winter. But I'm a geek. Well, a more refined one - a pseudo academic, maybe. And with that comes with the self-consciousness that allows such keen observation.  So while the likeable cool guys are swanning around on the back of speedboats or hitchhiking across Patagonia, I'm usually to be found in my native habitat, perched on a chair in front of a screen or listening to a philosophy podcast. Thinking.

The Academic doesn't do drugs. At least not in my story. He summons an inventory from the cloisters of his mind about why it's implausible that he should. He tries to justify it with neuron ping pong yet in reality he simply can't bear the smell of weed nor the sight of people who have overindulged. His nose is tilted in the air so he couldn't possibly put anything up it. And labs are for rats, regrettably, not the playground for the invention of chemicals to be ingested while flailing around to 90s remixes. He can do that in the privacy of his home with his saluki. Wait, this may be The Snob.


Alas this stiffness is too stifling after a while. So he reaches for some kind of chemical stimulation under the papery exterior and foil innard, pops a square of that innocent-looking glossy liquorice brown.... like a tiny photographic still... on to his tongue. And the popping continues until the entire moving picture is over. And then, the fun begins with all guise of civilisation in shreds on the floor with his clothes.


A friend is very open about his indulgence of carnal desires, different to mine, and yet his admissions leave him at the end of waggling fingers that spell A D D I C T, a word that has become ingrained in our every day vocabulary. So addicted to smashed avo on toast. So addicted to Netflix. Maybe he just likes it a lot.

Michael Pollan has a lot of curious things to say about the power of plants to transform consciousness. And not just the ones that your middle class friends go to see an Amazonian shaman for or that your dodgier friends whazz a text to the anonymous number on their phone for, but the ones you are probably digesting right now - the daily coffee, the afternoon piece of cake, the hot chocolate after that cold walk, the flapjack when we break from a long cycle. Apart from some of the obvious nutritional commentary on blood sugar dips and the like, what are those foods doing to our consciousness, our mood, our being...and do we really need them? Are we addicted? Or do we just like the feeling a lot?

It's Not Me, It's You

Screeching the wheels of dryness to a halt, the calendar has told us all that now is 1st February so contemplating the month reveals a bit of a train wreck. I see a notable decline in my humour, with seriousness bubbling up with all the grubby stench of ancient lecture theatres. January has been my angriest month, the most emotional, the most of everything... even more than when I first discovered journaling at 8 and thought all I should note is when my sister had unnecessarily but intentionally provoked me. I've once again felt torn from profound injustices even if my train was 6 minutes late. January was just too bloody much. And although I'm not solely pointing the angry cakeless finger at the Dryness, it hasn't escaped my attention. Cake. Such a great word.

I've attempted to be zen about the rainbow of emotions. I've studied and read about feelings, resilience, the transience, the importance of detachment. The semi Buddhist way. I have tended my spiritual garden. But it's been tough. And although I haven't craved the sweetness or frothed at the mouth when the person on the bus sits next to me eating a florentine, I've definitely craved the feeling it brings on its white wings. Baked goods are a 5 minute luxury spa break.

Another Dimension

The worry residue that it leaves me with is why do I find so many situations so stressful? Why did I scoff at the Java poster that said "Come inside and allow yourself to be transported to another world". I think I shouted, as if the poster was a private conversation, WHATS WRONG WITH HERE and I stomped off to the gym.

I made a pact with myself last year to slow down, to allow myself the time to act according to my intuition, to be more authentic with friends and family. But I seem to have opened Pandora's box because I have this bloated uncompromising idealism that the world can't meet, that I can't. And I'm not sure how to transform that except to float away on a toffee cloud.

A TED talk on addiction stuck in my mind, too and namely that addiction is the opposite to connection. Mindful of that, I am figuring out what am I not connecting to when I feel that stressed. And that's really tough. That makes me want to ride more toffee clouds and make the discomfort go away. But then comes to mind the mammal who eats lichen because he feels so good. So good that he eats it until all his teeth are gone and he dies quickly from hunger. Gulp. That'll learn him.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Honesty & Entitlement

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I read a quote a few weeks ago that said something like, "Breaking out of the prison only lets us into the slightly larger exercise yard of freedom" and it stuck. I likened it to my personal journey about developing a better understanding of my emotions and feelings, so they don't rule me, and so I understand what they're pointing to. What will that freedom bring?

I still find journal entries from when I was a teenager...describing how my sister's behaviour annoyed me or the contempt I had for my mum for sending me to my room. Pages and pages I would write. And I continued to believe that the more I was digging, the closer I would get to revealing a sense of transparency around the wells of upset, or happiness, or whatever I was order that I could make sense of it all.

Underlying that assumption too was that a decrease in opacity around my thoughts and behaviours would somehow entitle me to truly communicate and level with another. So, the more I get what's going on and express that, the more able I am with another to make mutual sense of things and come to a rainbow happily ever after of a conversation. Fail!

Having been inspired on my travels by so many open-hearted folks, I have attempted in the 'normal world' back in my corner of the UK to speak as freely as I would in a liberal community. And I feel not only more ease but more connected to people, and more deeply connected to my closer friends. But those who aren't ready for that style of communication, I'm quickly learning that my honesty doesn't entitle me to theirs.

Living with my 90 year old grandmother, who was raised by her grandmother (born in the mid 1800s), I see that there's never been a grammar of emotional honesty, let alone an ease. Or the inclination to pursue one. Or the faintest idea of what I was talking about. Now that she has dementia and her memory has degenerated badly, the question of honesty and reasoning with her can, in a regretful moment, turn into a stick to beat her with. The frustration I can feel when she is unable to grasp an idea, repeated many times, is unbearable.

And yet, my honesty, my frustration, my disappointment, my impatience don't entitle me to behave any other way but kindly towards her. Feeling anger or sadness, or any way, doesn't entitle any of us to be rude, hurtful or disrespectful. I was brought up and rebelled much against those Methodist values of goodness, wholesomeness and morals. It's only now that I'm truly starting to understand those Sunday school classes.