I imagine you now, hoarded up in the attic space, surrounded by neat rows of books, each spine stamped with the name of an author you have read and admire. I picture you encompassed by your own personal sci-fi empire, voices on pages, displayed in colourful lines, row upon row of them. I see the resident crow’s peeking at you with curiosity, through the skylight, the light behind it filtered grey and bleak, wispy clouds floating by as you tap furiously at those little neat squares, creating chapters in the world in which you have been so submerged for so long.
A world that keeps you there, in that literary and artistic place of yours. I hear your growing frustration as pots clatter in the kitchen below, I see your eyes roll as you hear a strained and tentative voice shouting up the stairs, to the solidness of your closed door, asking if you would like a cup of tea. I hear your irritation as you‘re temporarily snapped out of that place your, other existence, concentration broken. I feel my disappointment as my friend veers away from me and our friendship, one which I have depended on for nearly on twenty years, and I feel helpless, useless and worried. I fear his reality is sinking into bitter disrepair. I feel I am losing him to this world. And I walk away from the door, tea still in hand tears in my eyes. The tea goes cold I pour it down the sink.
I worry for him. I feel his patience is running out and bleeding into snappy crocodile answers and his eyes draw into lines of black, instead of those kind hazel-honey, almond shaped eyes, the ones that match the necklace he brought me. The kindness wiped away by waiting for the spotlight. I recall wandering about the house and stopping to pour two glasses of wine, but afraid to call up to that closed door. I don’t like what lurks behind that door. What emerges smiling a forced smile, it seems dark and unsavoury and as gnarled as a diseased tree, poison drowning and choking its core, killing its twisted roots. I look at the wise owl ornament he brought me, I don’t feel very wise, I turn it away from me.
But I miss my friend; I miss that gentle smile and easy wit. Sarcasm and silliness, it’s all gone and I didn’t see it coming, or realise, that suddenly the dimensions of our relationship had become very different from our carefree selves, from only a few short years before. Distance has perhaps changed perspective, disappointment set a new course. My own heartbreak and imminent breakdown, somehow blurring the lines of a once unbreakable friendship, it stings. I opened my door to a new person, one I didn’t recognise. And as time progressed, I recognised him less and less until he eventually disappeared, as I feared he would.
I miss my old friend. Any time soon that friendship will become just echoes, swept away by tide and breeze carried into history. Just blurred faces etched with eternal youth and genuine smiles, unfathomable whispers of conversations past. As I mourn that youth and members of my family recently deceased, I now also mourn a friend. My reality somewhat distorted, as I’m sure I heard the words from that once very important mouth,You are my bestfriend, you know that don’t you? I think I must have heard wrong. I think I saw honesty in his eyes. I must have been mistaken.
I feared, as he sat in that dark room, that as his quill scratched frantically at parchment in ancient worlds and as his fingertips tapped away in this , his Celtic ring would glint in the lamp-light, his head whirring with words , visions, characters and plots, as his focus fused past and present. I started to fear that he wasn’t going to achieve his dream, that the fantasy world which he had created was going to envelope him and devour him whole, I was afraid of this, maybe I even wanted this a little, scorned and hurt at the sudden loss of my friend, pushed out. My revenge, should he fail, he might once again become him, my easy going happy friend. I was curious to see if he might return and was hurt to learn he wouldn’t. I was maddened by his closed door and mind. A hand halting me, saying stop here, please don’t cross this line. You are no longer welcome. A cruel line, that was never there, not in the halcyon days. It all makes me question life. It all disappoints me.
As my life shifts and a changes and pain sets in, like an unbeguiling demon, as it creeps in to me, as predictable age increases my lines, something happens. Release overtakes resentment, laughter overtakes anger, subtle sadness replaces earth shattering grief, and forgiveness overtakes bitterness. As I let go, as I unfurl like a butterfly from its restricting cocoon, into the ever-green shoots of spring, as I emerge from my exhausting journey of sleepiness nights, of self doubt and pain and punishment, because that is how it feels. I realise that nothing is for certain and it's okay to let go. Seasons change, the world around us changes, people change, we all change in some way, the way we look, our character and our view. We are shaped by life.
Our journeys snake through life, in different directions, we learn from its chaos and drink in its variety and colour, we become tainted by it. Cry for its pain, get bitten and bite back. It’s never ending, a bottomless world that we ourselves try to top up. Yet time disappears like quicksand, and it runs its own course. We cannot determine that. We just have to go with it and keep on topping it up. Take lessons that we will, the ones we want most.
I recall listening to the crackle and hiss of logs in the fire grate, as embers glowed fiercely. I imagined fury at his fingertips up in the dark, up in that room with no height to stand tall, tap tapping, as time moved on with no word. The warmth of flames settled on my skin. Smoke-scented air lingered in the room, a comforting smell, as the persistent dull-ache in my head throbbed, as mindless TV muttered on in the background. I glanced at the glass; I was lonely. I had scolded my hands earlier washing it in too-hot soapy water, wanting it to shine. The very glass I poured for my friend. Now it sits, the contents rich in tone, ruby-red and crimson liquid, it looks syropy thick. flames dance gently in its mirrored reflection, the glass remains full. I never shouted him. I miss my friend, I eventually drink his wine, he no longer wants my wine or my company, I have lost him. I start to wonder if it's me.
I have taken so much from this, the lack of that particular friendship, and learned that, I must not let the bitterness that existed at that particular time, seep into my foundations. For it was never my bitterness. I forgive those who have betrayed and turned from me, taken my friendship when it suited, when the need for love and support was desperate and palpable but then so abruptly discarded, like a winter coat in spring, no longer of use. I have learned that, it doesn’t matter how much you love a person, or devote your time to, care about, listen to for hours, as silent as a mouse taking in frustrations and anger, just being an ear, a shoulder, a meal. a friend.
It really doesn't matter. Because it really means nothing at all, there is no such thing as a friendship investment. The world is too fickle. The least superficial person I knew, seems to have become quite the opposite. But I don't know if deep down I am all that surprised. Perhaps my need for that friendship was always greater. Just listening to someone else's woes and tales , distracting me from my own. I was always the listener. I can tell you about everything in that life for the last 20 years. I know when a heart was shattered to almost beyond repair, I heard it. When a forgiven family member died, I know his disappointments and frustrations. I doubt if he knew anything about me. Not really.
I have learned that when you are young, you laugh, you believe, you hope and dare to dream. And you give your heart generously and easily, not realising just how fragile it actually is. Once you mature, ageing with those beautiful and predictable seasons, you realise that you already had the dream and it was indeed incredibly beautiful. I love the memory of it. And my friend, that is where you will always be, in my memory in that gloriously sunny place, where money was none existent and of no importance, hot stew was welcomed and filled hungry bellies, after lengthy walks, and conversation flowed with no awkward pauses, and being silly was just a given. When sitting on cliff tops talking about nothing in particular, seemed so lovely. You, forever with kind amber eyes and generous laughter, eternally accompanied by mischief. A place I can call upon should I still need you.
That you can’t take away.
I am partly shaped your distance, this experience; I no longer see a twisted-mouthed monster behind that solid door. I no longer hear poisonous remarks, the impatient snarls and the scary shadows. No jagged teeth or lines of black, it has all disappeared. I let it all go, I watched it float into the sky as if I had cremated you and your ashes rose fluttering into the night, I let you go, it felt nice.
I see a man now writing, with a more gentle, less panicky flow, and smiling, warm cup of tea at his side. Perhaps offered by a friend a new friend, accepted without disappointment or irritation. I see it sitting there steaming, rising in curls up and up into a room with no closed door, just filled with undistracted thoughts, a sun lit room, with no shadows, a happy man, not devoured at all but set free. Accumulating wealth and collecting new friends with each word typed. Light-hearted. Past left there in the shadows, as he walks confident into the light. I don’t like this new person because I don’t know him, he is unfamiliar.
He doesn’t have the warmth of my old friend. Doesn’t have the grunginess of my old friend, black t-shirts, baggy frayed jeans, or eternally muddy boots. But he is polished beaming and happy, in a new way. He calls it success. I don’t know this man. I imagine he doesn’t smell the same. Doesn’t even walk the same. I hope he talks the same , I hope this doesn't change, I like this thought, that maybe he is a different man altogether now!
Today is Valentine’s Day and with all of its commercial ridiculousness, it still provokes thoughts of love, it whichever guise it presents itself. And today it made me think of you, old friend and tender moments and footsteps trodden over thousands of miles and acres of time. That makes me smile, you can't take that either.
To get the this peaceful place of being able to let go, I had to go right back to the beginning of me, to dig deep, to sortmy life into chapters, to see it wasn’t my fault, as I thought it was. I'll start my journey in Greece, the years before I met my best friend. Then I will go back even further, to childhood, to dissect all of the compartments of my life, let it all out, tell my story, what better therapy?
Chapter Two - Greece.
I crept around the side of the bed careful not to wake him. His top lip quivering with gentle stores, his strong jaw line, speckled with black stubble still, undisturbed. I have no love left for this man, it has dissolved along with any respect I once had. I find my self heading for the lounge, not able to look at his face, the parquet floor cool under foot. I open the shutters to a bright morning that makes me shield my eyes my flat palm in a salute position. The noise of the street and the stifling, air overloading my lethargic morning senses, attacking the quiet, with the persistent click of cicadas and the pandemonium of morning bustle, pots clattering and voices chattering. Sounds I used to find soothing, comforting, knowing that I am surrounded by life. Now I yearn for the quiet of home. The sound of cicadas, could actually send a person insane.
I rest my hand on the cool railings and feel the vibrations of doors slamming and the buildings gentle sway. I transfer the cool to my face from the flat of my palm and wipe away glistening moisture form my forehead, its hot, so hot the density of the heat makes me queasy.
I can smell of a myriad of breakfasts cooking from kitchens all around, the aroma strong, it makes my stomach growl. I can smell freshly brewed coffee. It makes me thirsty, my mouth acrid from last nights booze. A hundred other souls open their shutters to our over crowded and lopsided street. We are on the top of a hill, yet the view is disappointing. It lends only to a sea of concrete squares in pale yellows and cream, as far as the eye can see, like huge blocks of cheese, each dotted with neat apartments and pretty balconies. Splashed with colourful flowerpots and stagnant washing lines of starched-white linen, desperate for a breeze.
My skin is covered in beads of sweat and yet is is only 8 am. The market traders at the bottom of the hill are already shouting out the offers of the day and I notice the orange tree under my second floor balcony has grown, I can almost reach the ripe orange I have had in my sights for weeks. The forest-green leaves so waxy, as if they are plastic. The scent of it reminds me of her, my Kyria Maria, I wonder if I will in get to eat it before I leave?
The scent of fresh bread from the local bakery reaches me and makes me hungry. I imagine melting butter and the doughiness, I'll miss this when I go back. But I am desperate for home and long for the cool air and my family. As much as I have been embraced by this rich culture of ancient tongue and mythological wonder. I miss home, seven years is long enough. My relationship never reached its potential, I lost interest, the ways too Eastern, the relationship too tainted with chauvinistic tendencies, my will too strong too be a house wife, my mind too creative to watch life and not participate. But I will miss this country. Its superbly guilded words and itsnostima (delicious) food. I have learned a new language, more recently it's been spoken more than my native tongue, I'm keen not to forget it.
I have learned how to cook wholesome Greek dishes from scratch, I want to take these with me too. I have cherished a Mama Maria and all of her patience and teachings, while we smoked an abundance of Marlborough lights, in a tiny kitchen, with a tiny inside window, that looked up a chute, to other tiny windows. Where other Mamas went about their cooking, preparing that-days family meal. This was an all -female zone, the kitchen. Every now and then a mama would shout up the chute, asking to borrow a particular ingredient or to relay a bit if gossip, whispering the odd obscenity followed hastily by an apology.
It was a deliciously warm place and funny, the mannerisms I found hilarious, the gesticulation of hands, the wonderfully expressive faces. The conversations about who has done what and the crossing of Panagia - the Virgin Mary - fore-finger and thumb to head, chest , right shoulder, left shoulder , in that order, it happened a lot. It was theatrical and funny.
Mama Maria was beautiful, a grey wispy bun hid her bottom length sheet of white silk, a single Polgara streak of black running through it. Her eyes glowed burning-amber and were cow-like and long lashed, not shrunk with time. Her look as wise an an owl, her stare penetrative. Her demeanour stern and robust, yet she wasn’t. I imagine a young beauty queen, when I see her striking features. Although now rotund, her leg to the calf is shapely and toned. Mama Maria, a matriarch, a deft-handed seamstress and possibly the best cook I have ever met.
She died at sixty years old, a stroke , it took her in the night, swiftly, death awaits no one - I suddenly found myself alone, with no one to drink my morning coffee with, or to rub my back as if were her own daughter, after placing freshly-squeezed orange juice at my bedside, every single day. I will always miss her warm hand, her strength and admire her undiminished spirit, even after her own traumas. My Greek mum gone, the kitchen is now my responsibility, I hate the silence, I don’t want this life. I am ready to go home.
If I close my eyes, I'm there. I look down the street, from my balcony stood on tiptoes, leaning into the heat of the morning, its starting to fill with purposeful mama’s hurrying down the hill to the market. The zippy noise of mopeds buzzing up the hill, some with passengers side-saddled carrying plastic bags bulging with fruit and veg. The small taverna on the corner already full of old men playing backgammon and drinking ouzo and freshly ground coffee, tall glasses of icy water shining like beacons of silver next to each one. Leathery- faced wonky old men raising arms in defeat, dressed in their sunday suits and shiny shoes.
I laugh at the familiarity of it and wonder if ill miss the buzz of it? The street markets and the azure skies, the night scented flowers that puncture the long evenings with their heady fragrance, maybe after a while? I never did. Not until recently.
I run slender fingers through my uncombed mass of blonde hair, they become tangled, caught on my silver Celtic ring and I impatiently knot the mop of blonde up in a messy bun. I take one last look around and close out the whiteness of the morning. I think I just said my goodbye, I knew I would never come back. I catch my reflection in the tall glass of the window, the shutters blocking out light yet showcasing, me I look deathly pale and tired, ghostly even and in need a bath and a good scrub up. It doesn't look like the me that arrived here seven years earlier, full of hope and enthusiasm, its all been a dissapointment.
I'm withdrawn, pallid and plastic looking. I make my way to the bathroom, still on tip toes, letting him lie in, hoping he lies in. The avocado suite is ugly, yet the dark of it somehow refreshingly cool. I watch water flow from the taps with difficulty, meaning the neighbours are doing their washing. I wait until the flow becomes more rapid and gushes, and I knock on the wall so they know I will be in the bath for while. I step out of my nighty and let it slip to the floor.
The artificial light catches my hair, it shines yellow on top of my head like a halo. It makes me laugh. The edge of the bath is smooth and chilly on my thigh, sit for while as silent as I can, just listening. As I dip my toes into the warm water, I hear mama's starting up their conversations. The heart of the building beating fast starting it's day. Voices I recognise but one is missing,it will always be missing. Its time to go.
I looked after her son, my rugged and stylish partner, as long as I could, I knew how much she loved him. A man who once indulged me with young romance and whisked me around this legendary and diverse country, he brought me an entire bucket of red roses from a bronzed gypsy selling her soul to the night, he was such a carefree human being, as if he too had the heart of gypsy. We observed a thousand sunsets in a thousand locations. He called me his little lamb. Said I was too naive to be told everything, as Greece and its poniria - slyness - was too much for me. Although I did know. The first five years were perfect. Just divine, backpacks and island hopping , sex, sun, sea and white sandy beaches, kisses under giant moons. Sun-kissed bodies and carefree attitudes. It soon became tiresome.
I remember a conversation Mama Maria and I had in that tiny kitchen with its timeless smells of garlic, coffee and feta, and it's eternal echoes of tender memories. I had one cigarette left in a packet of twenty Marlborough Lights. Her friend came to join us for coffee Kyria Eleni - every woman was a kyria,a Mrs, it was a respect thing. She liked a good gossip and forgot hers, to save her shuffling back to her apartment, I offered her my last one. Mama Maria knew it was my last, I said I had more and for her to take it. When her friend left, she hugged my tight and called me a levendisa, I didn't look it up until after she died. It means in rough translation a good hearted lass/ladette. I was touched. She knew of my plans, to go to the UK befiore she died, gave me her blessing at one last chance to save him.
We wanted a home, we wanted to settle in Athens, I wish we hadn’t, that’s when I realised he couldn't take the pressure of responsibility ,it crushed him, my once care-free man, the weight too demanding, we were too young and he soon found other pleasures. Never women, but drugs, unfriendly faces, dark places, chaos and unlawful things, I found a gun in his bag, I picked it up and felt its black metal weight in my slight hands, I never said, I found heroine in his car, in a bag with other paraphernalia, I kept quiet, not wanting to know what horror the truth would present. I found clumps of tangled gold chains and jewellery stashed in various hideouts, a last straw . I cried and then I sobbed and I cried some more and I slowly began to plan my escape. I was scared of where I was, and who this man I thought I knew had become. My stupid out-of-whack radar.
I wanted to go home.
I plucked up the courage to ask him one day, after I had already made the arrangements to come home. I guess I kind of hoped that this was all a mistake and that the things I found weren't his. I needed to hear the truth. I found the most ridiculous of places to ask this all important of questions. An open air cinema where I was hemmed in by red velvet seats on all sides. I whispered to him outright in the middle of Bodyguard. Asked him, If he was on heroine? He just nodded eyes to the floor. I jumped over rows of seats and disgruntled people, desperate to be out of the confinement. I threw up at the back of the seats, on dryed-out grass. I was absolutely head-spinningly shocked , although I already knew, somehow the verification was worse than the thought of it. I was repulsed and lost respect that very instant and I never regained it either.
This was something that happened to others. I couldn't process this lawlessness, who was he, this thug, this liar, who was this Man falling asleep in his spaghetti Bolognaise. I thought he was exhausted from work, turns out he wasn’t going, he lost his job months ago, where did he go, every day on that brand new moped? Where did the money come from? Who was he? After his mamas death, this once kind and generous man was altogether lost. I arranged for us to go back to the UK, I was twenty six, I had lived beyond my years , I felt old. I knew that I would be safe at home and knew if it went wrong as I expected it would, I was home free.
I had slight hopes that we could perhaps start again, open something to keep his eternally curious mind active and fulfilled, It didn’t work. When we eventually reached the UK in 1996, We opened a café,Mama Maria’s, it was pretty. Hanging baskets my green fingered grandad gave us overflowed with shocking crimson and cerise fuchsias, outside under a stripy canopy, puncturing the greyness with bursts of pink. I tried to emulate Greece’s beauty. I used treasured recipes, thought she would have been so proud. We used the money she left in her will to set up a family business. It was soon gone!
Within weeks he was back on drugs, stealing from the till, gambling and missing half of the time, his little lamb out of the picture. But I knew, I think I chose to be a lamb, block out the hurtful truth. I reached my boiling point and asked his brother in Belgium to take him in, I could neither help him at this point nor wanted to, We lost everything. I couldn’t wait to see him gone. He was a stranger after seven years. Even after creating new life, having a daughter, with a new partner, a child I met with his exact face, I was too angry to forgive him for ruining a perfectly good life. I still am, even after his drugs overdose and subsequent death some years later.
I think I was shocked that even a beautiful child couldn't stop him, something we had tried for and failed. I was grateful we didn't succeed, now seeing his slow demise. Nothing seemed to be able to change his direction, not even a grandaughter for the deceased Kyria Maria, who craved a girl in the family, she would have adored her. I was sad for her, this new partner, she was desperate to save him, called me for advice, said that in his days of being out of it, he would call my name. I passed on any jewellery Mama Maria left me to her grandaughter, I knew she would have wanted it.
Ironicaly, this poor child was left alone, abandoned by lifes cruel continuation, a chain of events that saw a slip of a girl with her dads big eyed face, in a childrens home, parentless. Her own mother dying of cancer, the whole situation just too sad and too tragic. I think of her often, I would like to visit her one day. I'm curious about her, I wonder if she is okay?. I did get to meet them both before all of this, we spent a week together after his death, we cycled in the sunshine. She needed someone who knew him well to talk too, she visited me, I listened, I knew exactly what she had been through. I'm still mad with him, how could he do this to them? The power of drugs not to be underestimated.
I was so relieved, when he left my life, I was glad for the end of that era, he took most things, most of mine and his, his mind warped, I no longer cared. He was someone else, He was dead inside. A delusional paranoid schizophrenic,I was more than relieved and was happy to hand him over to his big brother, I was too tired to go on playing nurse and mother. His face was gaunt and his eyes sunken without shine, dead eyes , yellowing from constant drug use , we didn’t sleep in the same bed, hadn't for over a year, I wouldn’t, couldn’t, I was purely his carer. But I no longer cared.
Cycling in the past
Summer of 2008
The Greek mans widow was in turmoil and asked if she could come to visit me, meet me, we had after all been speaking on and off during her battles over the course of several years. I became her advisor, confidant, friendly voice. she had no one to turn to, I had been there felt that particular embarrassment, I felt sorry for her.
I met her at the train station with her daughter, his daughter, it took my breath away. It was like looking at him, the same huge brown eyes, the same bee stung lips, I wanted to kiss her, smell her. She eyed me with suspicion, she even had his colour skin, olive, Greek.
She was lovely, the poor widow, she had tears just waiting to topple from her lids but she held it together, we hugged ever so tightly, She smelled of oils, wore a hippy skirt and red cowboy boots, her hair dark and shiny, curly and wild. I took to her immediately. We shared a bizarre kind of history, almost shameful but with hints of love. It was so good to meet them both
It was the time the Aussie - you'll meet him later - was worming his way around my mind. She met him , thought he was okay, I could tell she wasn’t that keen , maybe she had a radar? That sweet child with my Greek mans face bit into the Aussies hand, drawing blood as got up to leave after that meeting. maybe my Greek man was trying to tell me something from above?
It was a rare hot British summer, I had temporarily moved the kitchen table out into the garden under the pear tree, where we could eat delightful healthy salads in the shade. We sat at the round wooden table, bare foot, as chickens ran free in long grass, she translated to mini him, all of our conversation, an inquisitive child, she had his curiosity. I was bewitched I could not stop watching her. I wondered if he was looking down happy at our union? It was strange and yet I felt as if I knew them.
We cycled around a lake in the sunshine squealing with delight our legs out and faces warm. she confided, deep sadness and concerns about raising a daughter alone, her other children all grown up. I assured her she would be fine, held her bony hand and hugged her tall frame. It was a great week, of understanding, I felt it would be another connection for life, I hoped to keep track of this little impish gypsy looking child. It wasn’t to be, Cancer took her mum, I didn’t know for almost a year until I saw something on FB, had even sent her emails and messages after she had passed, not more loss? gone, so devastatingly cruel this life! I will find her one day,, even if its just to look into his eyes again.
In the safety of the UK, life turned around for me after this, I quickly found a house, house mates and a job, albeit a strange one. It's here I met my friend.
I loved my independence and I began to breathe, fortunately I had missed the nineties rave era and the drugs, and was by this point the most anti-drug person on the planet, I had witnessed first hand their decay and destruction. I hated drugs with a passion. So it was quite funny that the experimental crowd I later seemed to attach myself to, all seemed to dabble in recreational drugs, they followed me around like a menacing shadow. I preferred a drink, but then not much, but so as to not lose street-cred, I would pretend, accepting and pouring drinks into a plethora of plants pots, taking a pill offered for later and flushing down loo at the first opportunity. It seems while I was away drugs had become the norm, I thought the world had gone bonkers. I had to hide my disgust, or I would have been the odd one out. Life was utterly strange. I had indeed jumped through a time warp, I observed intently. Had I been living on another planet? I didn't like much of what I saw, yet loved the people caught up in this world, eventually this too became tiresome.
The job, Hmm, what can I say? My background was in Advertising sales, even in Greece, working for ex-pat newspapers, so I took the first job available at 'The Monthly's' The office was a huge open-plan room littered with cheap saw dust filled desks and yellowing phones, the buttons worn from the pressing of a thousand fingertips. The boss Christos, a Greek man , I say in the loosest possible term, I was more Greek than him , I knew his ancestors language, he didn’t, to me he was a typical Brit. With a greasy face and an unusually large dome of a balding head, shifty eyes and a jet black wisp of a comb over. He has young misguided pint sized-Spanish wife. Who I imagine was under the impression he was successful.
Annoying yellow tube-lighting buzzed away in the background, not a computer in sight, just hoards of paper and archives in deep drawers. More need for admin personal back then. Post it notes were stuck to everything. Each desk was accompanied by a larger than life personality, you had to be certain type to survive these places. I was seasoned. Most were filling in time , after a bit of money while looking for a real job. Post-Uni types, or ambitious types that didn’t want to be out of work. And then there were a few who took it seriously, These I called the no-hopers, no ambition or drive, no sense of future. Just the promise of manager for an extra twenty quid a month and the eagerness to please apparent. I was just there to think and buy some time, while I figured out what was next and to make sure bills were paid. I stayed longer than I should on account of the fascinating people I met, and still have contact with. One of them is my friend. The one who found his success. The one who is no longer my friend.
The ones I remember the most were the ones I made a social life with, a staggering beautiful man of six foot five, Caribbean face, strong shoulders, thick black shiny waxed hair. A real suave type, sculptured from chocolate and bronze with sharp dark eyes, impeccably dressed. I later learned he was a wife-beater and had abandoned his only son. His mum a whore and his dad her pimp. A messed up man with an extraordinarily beautiful face. How the past defines you. He later saved my friends life. Then there was the mad one, A uni type, blonde sassy, controversial and loud, a power dresser, in pin striped suites and mad spikes of blonde hair. cool, funky and with an intellect the office wasn’t used to.
She came in as a manager and wiped the floor. A real hungry type, who demanded a following, with no intention of being here for too long. It was just a place to fill her void, while having a young son at home. She was a fascination, a creation of lunacy and intellect, I observed her before getting close, she wasn’t easy to read.
I found her a complete darling with no ulterior motive, I think we clashed initially. Two blondes, not wanting to share limelight. I miss understood her, she became a friend, a feisty go-getter and a bundle of debauchery fun. She was a self admitted sex addict. With a passion for life, always burning the candle at both ends, craving life, music, parties and people. She was a lady gaga of the nineties. I started to enjoy the diversity this bizarre place had conjured up. The different sexualities, the social differences, the eclectic and the just plain odd.
And then there was him. A contrast, an unusually quiet type, not particularity good at the job, seemed to clever, too sincere and too pretty. I knew he was gay the minute I saw him, not from the look, or the voice, just a trace of something. A piano-key tie perhaps and shiny suite, I knew this was a fake exterior, perhaps even a borrowed suit, I was intrigued, he was different, genuine, kind and hung back, didn’t want to be at the centre, preferred to ease himself in at his own pace. He was still firmly in the closet and intended on staying there a while longer.
I warmed to this gentle 23 year old man ,who seemed younger of face , although his expressive eyes had years behind them. They were deep with life. Just as mine were, filled with sights others have yet to see, or perhaps never will. More than his years, more than mine, we had lived. He was an acquired taste, like trying a new variety of crisp, a taste that at first makes you pull you lips to one side in contemplation, unsure, but later you find yourself craving it. His wit, warmth and sense of mischief drew me in, like the sweet scent of a an unusual flower. I wonder whether we are drawn to some for a finite time for a reason? Is our path predetermined? I think we were very alike, quiet people with a fake extroverted side that could be brought out to suit the occasion. A person for show, we were both family people and both had a complex family backgrounds. We shared a curiosity for the wild side of life . But at a safe distance, he was more inclined to immerse himself, not afraid of the effects, but still tentative, so as not to get lost in its depths, careful not to go back to iconoclastic days. I was always a little too afraid, but it didn’t stop me observing or being there. Fascinated at how bizarre life really is when looked at under a microscope, the minute details all colourful and bright and hedonistic and outrageous and crazy, and how intricate too.
I found my self at the same café as this man, one lunchtime and (subtlety not being one of my strong points,) I asked him outright if he was indeed gay, to which his mouth replied 'no' however his eyes radiated YES as if they were desperate to say it . My response was: 'Yes you are' he smiled, we bonded, and he came out to his mum with my encouragement, some months later, while I sat nursing a cup of coffee knowing how difficult and important this moment in his life was.
His skin was taught and fresh, daily moisturising a natural regime, still is, his moisturiser, more expensive these days, not the Aloe Vera or cucumber he used to use. His skin was delicate and as creamy as porcelain, an amazing complexion and his eyes were at a very slight downward centred angle giving him an almost oriental look. To men he was handsome, to girls pretty. His confidence bloomed after the coming out, he lived with his Dad at that time. A practising Scientologist with a round flushed face and an answer for everything, a kind man, who liked a debate about life. He came around to the house we eventually shared ,to talk to us about being gay and how it was an abomination, arguing the case for Scientology.
A faith that seemed to bleed him dry in later years and leave him out in the cold. He wasn’t a particularly understanding dad, but rather a pat on the back kind of man, but even that had to be dragged out of him, and then only if he considered you absolutely worthy. The relationship between father and son was fraught and a constant battle of wills and minds, both strong. My friend was always disappointed in the lack of faith, perhaps due to his teenage years of thick rebellion? After the constrains of South Africa, He had a few years, at his mothers residence, unwinding in rural Cornwall – or causing havoc, after escaping the land of huge orange suns and gigantic tropical storms and cruel segregation, and an austere father, whose strictness and opposing views, still managed to quietly instil respect and a sense of family, he waged a war with himself.
His subsequent bohemian-filled days disappeared in a dreamlike blur, drugs a best friend and an attitude of I don’t care palpable. I think talking to him about this section in his life disappointed even him, but the South African years had built a wall of reluctance, a reluctance to conform to all that society told him was right, to all of the contradicting and confusing stories of right and wrong. After many canings and numerous beatings and other draconian rules were set about him like chains, he needed a release. His mum was to get the full, force of this blow, she met him with a disapproving eye and a touch of disdain as he continued on a wild path of deconstruction. A mum he had only recently started to get to know. She left him when he was two years old, an infant child. Admitting the bond was never fully formed when he was small, a stubborn baby who cried a lot. She walked away with his dads best friend, taking only one of three sons and started a new, life leaving his dad to raise two boys. She had a new daughter, blonde and pretty, a new life.
He blamed his mum for a long time, but learned after living his own eventful years, there are indeed always two sides to every story, sometimes more, each as believable. He had an incredible fondness for her, a soft feathery feeling of love, no matter what the past had conjured and imprinted, the feeling of a biological mother was just incredibly powerful and irreplaceable, despite the trace of sadness he carried for the lack of her as a child. Nature that was cotton-wool-wrapped and spongy, he couldn’t help but love her.
His dad soon met a kindred spirit through Scientology and subsequently had another three boys. Balance restored for his dad but a nudge out of the limelight made him more independent making friends to compensate. His dad had new faces to teach and shape. I got to meet all of his siblings, even attended some of their weddings, once as his pretend partner, for the benefit of those who didn’t know he was gay. It was a peculiar and beautiful day in Cornwall, on the sea front, on pea-green rolling lawns, a tall Victorian hotel, we mingled under a tepid sun, steel drums were gently pummelled, rolling classic melodies into clear blue skies.
I had died my roots the night before, we had drank wine,too much, in a nearby b&b not able to afford the hotel itself. I fell asleep with the hair dye on, and managed to dye my forehead. I spent the morning cruising local pharmacies for some magic potion that might remove it. I didn’t find it. And spent the entire day hiding a giant brown smudge with a strategically placed fringe. This side of his family were affluent. The people were interesting, conversation flowed we played the silliest of games. Him telling guests that neither of us new, that I was wearing a Jackie O Nassis outfit. I wasn't, they believed it, it was that kind of people, the kind I imagine him with now. the type for whom wealth is a natural heritage and the possibility of owning a Jackie O Nassis outfit, not at all questionable.
I was asked over and over about the story behind it, we made one up. It was such a fun day. I loved his family, slightly eccentric but fabulous, I met his younger brother here, a familiar face but a fraction smaller, hair a shade lighter and curlier, his frame slighter and smile wider. but the same almond eyes, bright, he was gay too. Much to the disappointment of his mum who raised him in rural England.
They all welcomed me. We went off to sip champagne in a decadent and opulent hotel room with a mahogany four poster bed , each column twisted in thick plaits, a marvellous centrepiece. We jumped around on it, like excited children, we were giddy on champagne and carefree, it was a fantastic day. How could he forget?
My friend I believed an atheist. Not a Christian, much more interested in the spiritual side of life, a Gothic history and medieval times, swords and magic, legends, history, folk tales and thought provoking fact. He loved the drama of it, being lost in it, a sign of a future author? It's as if he was drinking in every detail and sorting it all into the compartments of his mind, ready to write his one-day masterpiece. I imagine the inside of his brain like a prodigious spherical library, with a towering swivel ladder, the collection of books so vast, he has to slide around and around and climb to great heights to find the fact he needs, for this chapter or that. His knowledge of history, past and future, mushrooming into an anthology of all sorts, all tucked away in that pretty head.
He read a lot as a child, his strict upbringing in the apartheid years of South Africa – saw him hiding in books, away from bullies. A bookworm, an escape artist. Who even then, as early as ten was writing his own stories, creating heroes in worlds of his own making. Joining Thespian societies, drama groups and embracing that world.
I know this man, I can relate to him. I thought I could.
We became close. At least that how I remember it - but remember, my instinct is not as I thought. We teamed up with the mad one, from the office, a Thespian man who was older than us but an intriguing man I dated briefly , the wife beater with issues and a drug problem, and a petite blonde who was full of giggles and loved a good party, another sweet natured gay man who invited us to some very naughty parties and funny times. We went clubbing , idled Saturday afternoons in trendy bars, hanging out, sometimes playing until the early hours , I was enjoying my freedom, catching up on lost youth. I was learning how to be frivolous and carefree, he was an excellent teacher.
I threw off my old serious self, shed that tired skin and started to develop a sense of fashion and creativity, I played with my hair dying from blonde to sultry brunette. I became part of a crowd, a scene with the most diverse gathering of folk, but never bonding too closely with any one person . My self esteem issues as a child following me around like a light shadow, I resembled a soufflé, light and fluffy but ready to pop and implode at any given moment . I only let myself get close to him. He felt safe, I never entirely trusted the others. I was so bloody wrong, I have no idea about instinct. I found this out time after time. My instinct radar is seriously out of sync. As you will see.
I still talk to the mad one, she isn’t mad at all, rather an extremely feisty mother of four, with great determination, a person standing for candidacy as Mayor of London, an author, artist and go getter,. She is down to earth, funny and genuine, and a fighter. No snobbery with her, no pretentious garble, she is a bright anarchic stamp that say this is me! Like it or lump it. I admire that. She will go far, maybe all the way, but will have fought for it, tooth and nail. A great example to her kids. I'll get to her later.
I started to understand that my friend was quick-witted and possessed a sarcasm befitting that of the great Dame Edna, he could out argue the pants off of anyone with acrimonious rhetoric, He did this more as the years passed, enjoying a skilful debate, often getting to the point of arguing for arguments sake, enjoying the battering of an opponent, loving the victory as he saw them defeated. Later even in the eyes of social media, his point had to be heard, a strong iron-will and an opinionated, looking back, possibly a slightly fractured soul, not willing to listen only talk, how did I miss this? Not that he would admit it, in fact I’m pretty sure he would argue that isn’t the case, nonetheless, it was the case in my eyes and I was pretty close.
And although I myself being a true Scorpio and a robust debater, I knew not to get into one with him, his enthusiasm to win, overtaking the need of a two way conversation, somehow sucking the enjoyment out if it. It was frightening, amusingly entertaining, if it was with someone else, but quite scary if you were the recipient of a tongue that could strike faster than a lizard, just as repetitiously icy. But it was his way, I loved him for it, no matter how frustrating at times. My Scorpio traits:
fiercely loyal friend, will do anything for friends, uniquely loyal, until she is betrayed, scorned or hurt, then watch out! Beware the wrath of a scorpion, the sting is mighty. He felt this sting but he deserved it too!
Underneath he could be an extremely sensitive soul, a soft-centred sweet toffee, gooey in the middle, a caring man, thoughtful and kind. This is the man choose to remember In think there are two of him? But think of the kind one the most. We watched countless films, laughed at silliness and drank copious amounts of tepid coffee, ate fish and chips, still in the paper, in the various houses we lived in. Some together, some apart, I can't count the times, I moved him from one to another as jobs and times changed, we never lost touch, always managing to get together and go for a walk in the country, a shared passion in later years. We would meet for a coffee to share recent news or gossip, or talk about nothing much.
We always made time. We slowly weaved together, threaded by family, work, empathy, familiarity, linked by preceding years and time, we were building a future friendship as well as nursing a past. We were close. I thought so? I never thought that would alter. My god-damned instinct!
Chapter Three - Treading grey concrete of home
After stepping onto to the grey concrete of home and breathing in the dewy smells of wet grass and evergreen hedgerows, after feeling the damp speckles of drizzle soak my face, as I looked up to the elephant greyness of my countries sky. I felt like kissing the tarmac, as they did in films. I had longed for this miserable looking place. My dad was waiting at the gate, I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, I was thinner older and browner than he remembered, I walked straight passed him, he didn’t recognise me. It felt good, I knew I looked good, the Greek diet of stress had paid off, I was svelte, everyone thought I was good, I wasn't. I had been through counselling for the trauma of of it all.
We sat in his Jaguar, cream leather seats and walnut dash, a car that lasted only a few weeks due to the greedy fuel consumption of it's two enormous tanks. Cars whizzed by us on the motorway, as I headed for home. I felt amazing, safe, secure , even the dowdy-looking cows and their slight curious looks as we sped by was a sight to behold. I was so elated to be home, I could have skipped the 100 odd miles, taking in all of the delights.
Lets say it was wonderful. I bumped into faces in my village that I had known forever, before I would perhaps just give a quick nod, now I was eager to hear news and chat and greet as I did in Greece, Forgetting the reserved attitude of my beautifully structured country. I must have appeared mad. I recall rushing to the shop to buy chocolate and crisps, something I never did in Greece. My mum was at home in the kitchen puffing on cigarettes and cooking up a stew. It was all so inviting and familiar. He was still there, my Greek man, he was to arrive later with some furniture, I needed to find us a house. It was buzzing, a cramped two-bed terrace, with a sister of nine years old. And me, temporarily sharing a bedroom, how I had missed that angelic face, the wispy blonde hair and the cutest smile known to man. I couldn’t get enough of her. I wanted to fill in the gaps.
My family, a bunch of all sorts, some of whom mis-fits, a complete mixed-bag of sweets. A dad who will forever be a child, a very dry sense of humour, emotionally crippled and a slightly autistic approach to family - not able to read or give any emotion. Partly due to his his own mothers early death at just 42 - Apparently I resemble her. He is a cheeky man, and a relentless flirt, who has never taken life at all seriously - his motto, you can't take it with you, a good job seeing as he has absolutely nothing to take, apart from his memories, and I'm sure they are plentiful. He wasn't a bad dad, just, he wasn't really ever there to participate in family life, an absent dad, leaving my mum to raise us, me and my little sisters. Looking back, he never attended a school play, or birthday party, the era different, a mans man, he didn't attend any of the births of me or my two siblings. He was at the pub on each occasion, wetting our heads, practically drowning us. Basically, he wasn't around when we were young, during our shaping years, unless there was a party and lots of booze.
My mum, another intriguing curiosity, brought up by my grandparents, an only child, exquisitely beautiful, she nearly died at three months old from Tuberculosis. A gentle soul with the prettiest of faces, dark-angelic, soft hazel eyes the colour of seal-skin and bronze. She inherited Mediterranean dark looks from my Grandma. My dad thought all of his Christmases had come at once when she came along, she was not only the envy of most men,a local girl with film star looks, but a loyal and homely sort, a humble villager, with an average education. A kind person who always had time for other people. I wish I were more like her. She wanted a family lifestyle, just like the one she knew with my doting grandparents.
Unfortunately that was not to be the case, my dad proved not to be of that particular ilk. He preferred the company of other woman, or men folk at the pub, life a perpetual party. She still loved him, in the pit of her belly, but simultaneously grew to despise that chauvinist part of him. The longer she craved his affections and didn't receive, the more bitterness grew, weaving its dirty roots into her very being. She ended up with a life she didn't want. But she had us, me and my sisters,we were grateful for her as small children. I remember baking jam tarts and cakes
with her, idling away afternoons covered in flour and licking the mixing bowl and the spatula. Cheaply done birthday parties with jelly and ice cream, fun and frolics. Long summers, my mums endless sculptured legs, eternally tanned in cut of denims and tiny vest tops. We splashed in paddling pools in a flower filled garden, in our small neat terraced house. I remember feeling deliriously happy, she was like an angel. I would sneak out of bed when my sister had fallen asleep, just to sit with her on the settee so she could stroke my forehead. I was her first born.
I think she could have been a hippy, she wasn’t, but I always picture her barefoot and bra-less, not that she needed one. She was more beautiful than she realised. Most women envied her summer bronzed skin. Most men wanted her full-mouthed perfect face. To me she was the most important thing in the world. But we grew apart, I never saw that coming either, it crept up on me like death.
Her ever growing bitterness and sadness, my growing up, teenage rebellion, leaving home, realising mum didn't know everything, growing a life that branched away from home. Time, distance and stuff just seemed to put a crater between us, a void that I tried to fill time and time again, but bitterness had done it's dirty work and engulfed her whole. I couldn't reach her, I missed her like air. My sisters tried to but it seemed endless, pointless. She started drinking, hiding it, she started covering it up. We were sad for her but so angry, she was our mum, where had she gone? The veneer had vanished to leave a only a pitted, rough surface, one that would no longer polish up but was drab an unkempt and didn't care. I grieved her for the longest time. Right up until she had a massive stroke, I am still grieving her now. I visit her as often as time allows, but she lays in bed still and sad, longing to go home, a place she hated only two years before. She lay with a hand clawed and a memory impaired, part of my mum is still there, I can't even hold her, she is in too much pain and I miss her to the moon and back.
My first sister came along as I was approaching two, she stole my lime light and I hated her for it, I would pinch her in her pram deliberately just to make her cry - something my grandparents never let me forget. I couldn't stand her cuteness, it took me ages to fall in love with her. But when I did that bond was vehemently strong. So strong I thought it too was unbreakable, no one, no man, no world could put a void between us, me and my sister with big cameleon eyes, if she wore green, they shone green , if she wore brown they glowed like dark ale , we shared too much history. I was wrong here too. I tell you my radar is seriously screwed up. We lived through a very humble yet halcyon-happy childhood, so what if our parents weren't rich, they were fun, our house was always full, Christmases were always silly and messy and we always had piles of presents around our brightly lit artificial tree. So what if our dad was always at the pub? So what if we wore hand me down clothes, so what if we missed out a little bit of dinner-time conversation and holidays to the Caribbean. Living in an affluent area as a poor kid was a bitch but we made the very best of it.
We had a great childhood. A fun-packed holiday every year to Cornwall in a static caravan, days that seemed to stretch forever, amazing sun filled memories. We shared a whole life. My sister was always more focused at school our ability identical, her drive and ambition more serious, I was more laid back, preferred to have fun and I liked the boys, I showed an early interest, hormones raging way too soon. My sister was a late developer, very late.
She was a tom-boy no-doubt, make up of no interest. Although she did show a flare for fashion, cutting up clothes to stitch together some new creation, my dad would often complain that a pocket or a sleeve was missing when the urge to create took hold. I would describe her as arty and crafty, she likes to dabble in making things. She has good vintage tastes. You could probably have found both of us most days as kids, playing British bulldog, climbing trees, having outdoor fun, getting muddy, only coming home for tea.
Fresh air was our toy, the park alive with kids and laughter, the odd fight happened, yet the air palpable with summer and rich with happy. conquer trees lined our pretty park where cricketers took the stage on Sundays, like white sticks of chalk so stark against the green. I loved those days. I look back with envy at those days.
I remember little things about my wee sister, we were both blonde as infants, her white blonde and always cropped messy short, I was golden blonde with a row of loose curls sitting at my neck. I was always moody, she was always cheerful. She was carefree, easy going, I was a sulker and a deep thinker, over analysing everything, still do. A mardy arse as they say in my home town. We were chalk and cheese, My hair stayed fair, hers grew darker and thicker, her features more angular mine oval, somehow softer. She remained smaller than me even when we had reached our full growth she was still inches shorter.
She was gregarious, confident, a no nonsense, say it as is it girl, She was fiercely in control of her life , I was a drifter. But how I admired her direction and the way she just got on with it. I was more of a dreamer, going with the flow, in which ever direction the wind blew me. Which eventually was to Greece to learn a whole new life, never fully letting go of home.
Her direction was straight forward and off to Europe and university and new cultures, languages and friends from around the world, she walked straight to success no left or right turns. She was always destined to be the boss and not the employee. Yet she had a fairness about her, liked by all, very popular, collected friends as easily as I collect thoughts. I was so proud of her. Yet I knew we were very different. However our bond was entwined and rooted by our old life. The humble beginning. She is generous, perhaps too generous. Likes to spend and impress and keep up with the Jones's, don't we all a little? Her heart is bigger than any I know, she can fit everyone in there, a caring soul to her friends, and for such a high-flyer, can cry at the drop of a hat. I miss her, we were so close, almost twin close, I could tell her Anything, now it seems we have drifted, how life can change direction, I always seem to be caught in the wind, never still, always somewhere new. I think I run away. but I’m not sure from what exactly?
I love new, new sites, sounds, smells scenery, places, people,but I detest change! My core family, my security blanket, it was my ultimate safety net, where ever I was in the world, I knew family and home were nestled in my village, safe to return too. That had to remain the same for me to function. So when it collapsed I imploded, I lost balance and my world tipped over, the core disappearing into a bottomless void, in the blink of an eye. Granddad gone, blink, grandma gone blink, mum gone, not dead but gone, blink. I didn't see that coming either.
My sisters and I devastated. I was in another new place far away. I was drowning in grief trying to disguise it with happy. I failed, I became depressed and fell over. I’m learning to stand up In a new fragmented and disjointed world. It will take time, perhaps forever, it's changed me. I'm not as gentle, I'm hardened and sad. After this all happened, that's when my friend deserted me too, he couldn't see my suffering you see, because I was the listener, no body was there to catch me. because I was too embarrassed to say I was falling.
It was the loneliest time in my life. Confidence stripped bare, the beginning of the menopause happened, induced by shock. I was a crumpled into a heap, in a new place, a wondrous magical area with a new partner. It was all too new and strange, my core had gone and my friend with it. I stopped seeing the beauty of the place I lived in, stopped seeing everything. and I was becoming someone’s core. I suddenly became the older generation, the core of a family, middle aged. My beautiful son saw his mum break, even though I tried to hold it all together, I know he saw it. I think he heard me crack. At the time of all this chaos collapsing around me, I had not long met the man of my dreams, sensitive blue eyes and Nordic looking, my kindred spirit who shared my passions in life, a keen hiker, and traveller.
I moved heaven and earth to be with him in the very country I fell in love with all those years before. I Finally found direction, the wind still. The irony incredible. I finally find my purpose and find myself at the same time trying to cope with grief and a new relationship, while grasping for my former reality, he saw me me fall too , never once judging only picking up pieces, he saw the change and quickly, I aged of soul and face, simultaneously overnight. The whole situation asphyxiated me until I was squeezed of all hope, my worst nightmare come true.
My relationship isn't so new now and I am grateful that he chooses not to see the new lines etched in my face or the hardened personality and sharpness. He just quietly helps to rebuild me. I am settling into my new world but tentatively I'm not used to it yet. There are still obstacles to overcome, people obstacles.
When my sister and I were little, we used to go on holiday with our grandparents, without doubt the most stable part of our lives. We would be packed off on a long car journey to some red-coated destination. - probably so our parents could go on a week long booze fuelled party. We would have new clothes and high hopes of adventure. Everything was done properly, neat pack-ups in picnic baskets, flasks of hot beverages, tartan blankets should our knees get cold and an endless supply of worthers. They were superbly organised, scheduled and planned, there was a time to eat, a time to get ready, a time for everything, in a word: efficient. They were also adorable and the love for us poured from them like liquid gold. We were their everything they lived for us and to hear news of us, we meant the world to them and they to us. Important doesn't cover it.
They were the foundation of the family and when they died, my mum, an only child struggled, She always said she couldn’t leave dad until they were gone. She didn't want to disappoint them, that’s how much they meant. Of course by now she was too old, too heartbroken and too bitter to go anywhere. We were away when the earth-shattering news thundered into our new lives. Me and my first sister, moved to new lives, in new cities, only my youngest sister still around, struggling with her own young family. She took all of the responsibility, the brunt, such incredibly strong shoulders for such a fragile girl, it took its toll on all of us. Mum lost hope and wilted into nothing, that’s when her stroke came, a blow to finish us off. The load too heavy, the loss too overwhelming, and the drink too much. My dad remained close by, the eternal child, not a clue what to do. He coped, by being emotionless, he coped better than we did, I don't recall a tear escaping, or seeing him cry, not once to this day after forty five years of marriage. Maybe nothing ever compares to losing your own mother? Maybe he just cannot deal with emotion? Maybe it's buried too deep and there is no spade with a handle long enough to dig it out.
Who is to know? After all of this and with the gigantic hole left by my mums presence yet absence, I can partially understand, it can make you as cold as frost bite and wary and as hard as a rock and as angry as a writhing sea. My sisters coped, a bit better, yes there were tears and sadness and grief but they seemed to move on, had to, young children to be brought up, work to be done, we were all scared in different ways,but I seemed to be getting worse, depression digging at my heels, anger bursting from within, sadness eating at me, the hole so big I wanted at times to jump in it. My saving grace was my partners hand and my sons future. It's the first time I have ever felt so much pain.
I felt ridiculous for feeling this way, and small and embarrassed , so I hid it as deep as I could, of-course it showed, there was a marked difference, but I didn’t admit it. It came out as a frustrated demon, in fits of anger and days so low I wanted to crawl, not walk. I am mending.
Come On Harlyn.
Cornwall. what a fantabulous time. Every year, an enduring car journey, that would see us arrive far too early to check in to the static caravan. So we would nap on the cliff top in the station wagon, to the sound of the waves crashing below. We couldn't sleep the night before this journey, my dads eternal child keeping us on the edge of excitement. Big suitcases packed and ready. We always left in the early hours, no motorway back then, we took the winding country roads, weaving through the night, spying foxes, hares and owls and all kinds of wildlife, bright eyes caught in headlights .
It was a magical part of the trip. A trip we looked forward to all year, a trip that probably took for ever to save for. There were always the three of us in the back. Me, my sister number one and our dog Lassie, a collie and Labrador cross, with sandy crimped hair. She would lay across us, heavy boned and with fishy bad-breath . Our faces poking out of the window, gasping for fresh air, her panting and slobbering out of the window because she liked to feel the wind through her fur, she showed us grin teeth. A gentle dog who's loss when I was sixteen was the first death we had known, It shook us to the core. She was patient with us, we tried to ride her, painted her claws with nail polish and sat in her basket feeding her sweets. I think we even tried her dog food once. She was my dads dog. He adored her, I think she had more attention than us, he always showed a gentle kindness to animals. He cried when she died.
One particular journey that stands out for me, was the year Come on Eileen was crowding the airwaves by Dexy's Midnight Runners. We were off to Harlyn bay, with a playful couple that came with us most years. All the way down, we sang that song, whenever I hear it I think of that holiday. Come on Harlyn, such care free days of dungarees and lumberjack shirts. We played endless games of eye spy to keep us entertained on that perennial journey. I was usually sick into a paper bag, travel sickness tablets ineffective every time. My mum usually stopped for a wee in numerous lay-bys and me and my sister asked at least every half an hour if we had in fact arrived, much to the annoyance of our parents. We would play who can spot the sea first and sniff up the seaweed-salty air as we approached our beloved destination.
That holiday saw us flying kites on the cliff top. My dads friend so small he actually mistook my denim shorts for his, I was nine! My dad would throw bread onto the roof of the caravan next door, nice and early, so the seagulls would make a racket, his practical joker side out in force during holiday season. We woke to the smell of frying bacon and drifted off to the gentle fizz of gas light at the end of a fun filled day . We did hand stand races to the toilet blocks, our parents tipsy, collapsing in a heap of laughter. We spent hours in pubs, vim to, a straw, a packet of cheese and onion crisps in hand, and a smile as big as a crescent moon painted on our little faces.
We watched while our parents laughed, joked, danced and drank copious amounts of booze. Such happy memories. My sister was eternally mahogany-brown, a wiry boyish figure, modesty covered in a yellow bikini, shiny-brown hair, sunkiseed blonde at the ends and chopped messy short. I can picture her now, bucket and spade and a happy grin with the silver sea behind her, patches of soft beige sand stuck to her dark legs, as I hide under the umbrella, grumping, or up in the sand dunes digging my heals in the silky soft grains, scarf over my head, afraid of turning lobster-red as I usually did. I used to hate the sun. Now I can't get enough. I always wear sun cream.
Those first months back at the red-brick terrace with my old primary school lodged at the edge of the road, my family around me chaotic and normal are gone forever. Whisked into history warm times, treasured times. After my arrival to the UK, after the let down of Greece, after finding the job where I would later meet my best friend, I also met another woman, two years my senior. With my Greek past and current disappointment on his journey, tale between his legs, to Belgium. And with bills needing to be paid , I advertised for a lodger. What I got was a peculiar girl with the strangest history, a vague girl with a mysterious, and I later learned somewhat sordid past.
We got on, all of my friends were wary of her, I couldn't see it , my radar button obviously all the time off. We became good friends, lived, holidayed and socialised, even he live with us once, he was wary of her too, there was friction detectable between them, heckles up on both sides, in those hedonistic days of parties and lights. She was part of that world, although she didn't really belong there, she was running from her past. I loved her, brought her freckle-faced odd personality into my world, as she seemed not to have one of her own. She remained a friend after my son was born, moved close to my home, into my village, my family, my mum took to her as another daughter.
She slept with my dad!
Another nail in my mums coffin. It destroyed her. After eight years of friendship, mine and my mums. She did that, I didn't see that particular tonne of bricks heading for me either,I pin point that time to the start of my mums demise and drinking problem. My god I must have been blind? I think even from this point the seed was growing, depression starting in me, let downs, I struggle with change.
Even after the scandal of it all and the scathing hurt my mum went through, I bloody missed her. Our friendship still lingered. My best friend was dipping in and out of my life, a comfort , he listened more then. I hated what she had done and was angry at her for messing up an entire group of people that had bonded, I thought for life, her family and mine and a handful of neighbours who hung out, like a great big hippy communion, we were in each others pockets, did everything together, but after that, they all scattered to their own corners, scurried away not knowing which side to pick and things were never the same. She moved away, I saw her once, it was uncomfortable. I haven't seen her since. Change , I hate change, it always hurts and never quite leaves no matter how much time passes.
At least he was still there! My friend, who was falling out of unrequited love at this time, he was full of the hurt I carry now then. He wrote it out, exorcised it with words. It seems I held mine in, held it close to me, all of it, untill now. It wasn't to be his masterpiece the novel, but a cathartic experience nonetheless. I was his listener, his load unburdened on me, I probably never talked much about my hurt, after all he was the one in need? I was his shoulder, right?
Chapter four - motherhood
The year before my son was born 1998/1999, I was for a spell in London, living with sister number one, in a small and ludicrously expensive flat. London was busy, a shockingly vibrant place with a collection of cultures from all over the universe it seemed. I loved it, the people watching, the diversity, a labyrinth of streets, each with new smells and a jumble of faces. It was fascinating.
I spent new years eve 1999 in a vibrant crowd celebrating the millennium, anticipating the worlds technology to crash and burn, I was even looking forward to it, along with everyone else. I watched the new year in with my friends around me,he was there, it was amazing, bursts of colours lit up the sky like a kaleidoscope and hope was everywhere. crowds pushed and shoved and unity was all around. I conceived two months later , my son was born the following December. He is my best achievement to date. My friend was always there then. He wanted to be there, Did I change ?
London; after working in my home town, the enthusiasm for familiarity and the greyness and the sameness eventually wore off. I had changed a couple of jobs, some with him in tow, we have worked for four of same companies. Life seemed to have connected us fated us together. My sister was running a restaurant in London, I found a job in yet another publication and set off for more new, London new , selling my soul to the devil once more with a briefcase and a suit. I've never liked my job , yet seemed stuck with it , money and time not allowing for a re train. This was a very good job, in a very corporate world. I didn't belong there, I hated it. I always preferred smaller family run businesses. The bigger world frightened me, my self conscious me shaking in a corner, I prefer to watch from the outside, a ring-side seat.
I hate attention. The timid child afraid to come out. When I moved down to her, I would spend hours sitting at the restaurant window in Kensington High St. sipping coffee after coffee, as she went about being the boss, I often stared at the passing crowds, rushing by, absolutely awe struck. I chatted to a myriad of people, interesting people, saw a few celebrities, it was a friendly hub, a little Dickensian looking. I helped my sister a bit and one day I met the father of my son here, a man who miss took me for my sister.
London was such a lonely place considering it was so crammed, it was bulging at the seems and yet, I was lost in a sea of faces. Friends I had there might as well been in another country, the travel to see them far away and the cost paramount. So I milled around at the restaurant, spent time at home. The odd night out at a club next door to the restaurant, a place I danced salsa and tasted the strongest cocktail I have ever had -a caparhinia. My friend visited and called often, we walked and talked, kicking autumn leaves on London streets, keeping firmly in one anthers life.
I was extremely close to my sister number one then, we looked alike, dressed alike and laughed a lot. Seems like a different life. I miss her.
The father of my one and only beautiful miracle child, a Nigerian man, six foot six tall, strong and kind-looking, a happy face and a pleasant man, his strong African tones still traceable in his thick accent. He was liked by all, he was a bouncer on the door of the club next to the restaurant. He was friendly and he was good company. I was lonely, and that was that. We were company for one another, we went dancing, went for food at nice restaurants, talked, It was nice, but just nice. Maybe fate, maybe, who knows? I found out when I was was four months pregnant with his child and back in my home town, not wanting the hustle of London any more, that he was indeed married to a Spanish girl, who I later met, a very nice girl who obviously loved him.
I wasn't that bothered, my radar letting me down - once again. I never see stuff, how is that. I'm not naive, I have lived. Are all people that sly? I think part of me was grateful, there was no real love it, was artificial on both sides. We were just lonely, and I eventually found out that he was indeed a man built on a foundation of lies, stacked so thick, even he didn't know the truth. He stuck around, popping down from London to visit his son at weekends. But it fizzled out. I haven't seen him in five years. Maybe it's a blessing? I'm a good dad as well as a mum.
My sister, sister one, I have a bond with her that twists deeply into us, we are entwined by history and although we don't see one another because of life and time and distance. We are glued tight, echoes of our carefree childhood are the strength that cross stitches us together. Her son, my darling impish nephew, is a part of my new and all important core. He has her face and her cuteness. I couldn’t love him more. I was there the night he was born. I'll get to that later along with the births of my other adorable nephews.
My other sister, sister number two, seventeen years my junior, has features like my mum, she has her slight frame, her elegance and her kindness. delicate features and an innocent look, a lanky bone structure, everything about her screams lovely. She turns heads. I remember when she was born, it gave me the first clue as to how I would feel when my own child would arrive. I was fiercely protective and so in love with this adorable baby with icy-blue eyes and wisps of blonde. Me and my sister fought over who was going to have her.
We dressed her like a doll and breathed her in, the newness intoxicating, totally excited with this new addition. That was the time just before I left for Greece. I had created the bond with sister number two, who was almost three when I left home . I missed her the most when I was away. she was part of my core now and I hated missing seeing her grow. This was when I remember my mum and dad as happy, this little slice of joy seemed to bond them, my sister and I off around the world, discovering and living. It gave them time to re connect and enjoy a quiet period, they enjoyed having another child. I thought dad was reforming, maturing, it didn't last long. My mysterious-past rotten friend spoilt it for them. For all of us.
My son - born 23rd December 2000, a millennium baby, I was living in a small flat, after escaping London, a small place, in a not so nice area, but it was all I could get at short notice. I had a job, a place my friend had worked at previously. It was quiet and easy and stress free, perfect for a pregnant woman with no enthusiasm for work. All I could think about was this seed, growing in my belly. The love was so overwhelming I cried, just at the thought of seeing his face for the first time. I had been pregnant before, with the Greek Disappointment.
Eight miscarriages, one near fatal. I thought I couldn’t have children, a damaged fallopian tube. I saw this as a blessing. I didn't even care that I would have to do it alone. Welcomed the challenge, how hard could it be? I would finally have someone of my own , a person who needed love, no radar needed, just time energy and guidance. I could do that. I was ready for motherhood.
The birth wasn't straightforward, I had a mouth full of cold sores the labour was 29 hours and painfully slow, the placenta got stuck, my baby was blue and slow to respond to breathing, air not filling his tiny lungs quick enough. I was traumatised as this alien looking blueish baby was passed onto my belly. I was in total shock. his eyes were open, he looked at me, searched my face, I didn't think they could see, but I'm sure he was looking at me. I was shaking, exhausted and overwhelmed and the love was just instant. It was more than elation, more than happy. There is nothing like that feeling, it should be bottled, I still feel the exactly the same, he is my soft centre. I didn't sleep, I watched him, next to me, wrapped in a white shawl. His eyes bright, skin feather-soft and peachy. So, this was what love felt like. Wow.
It was Christmas day when we took him home. His father was there at the birth and he was elated too. I remember looking into the windows of houses as we passed by at sparkling Christmas trees, families clinking glasses in celebration, as if they it was a special day for us. It was the most precious and magical feeling, I had him wrapped tight and held close to me. I whispered 'Happy Christmas,' I was hormonal and tired and I cried with both joy and exhaustion. What a Christmas present he was. My friend visited the hospital, held my newborn son, he seemed to be there at the most crucial moments. He must have cared?
The excitement remained, the following few years as a single mum in that little flat, were supposed to be miserable, I didn't see it though, I was far too busy wearing rose tinted glasses. My little sister was there as often as she could get. bathing and playing with my son. My mum was a frequent visitor, doting on her first grandchild. I was enjoying life as a mum. It wasn't - lets say - an affluent start but it was the start of our journey together, me and my boy, an incredible journey. My friend visited here a lot too, in fact it was here at my crappy flat with my ancient computer he would tap out his first novel and re ignite his passion for writing. It was here I wrote a children's fantasy novel, I call it my learning curve with potential, I intend to re-write it one day. It was here I sat with my friend as we watched planes fly into the twin towers, open mouthed, astonished, stunned and silent.
He was there then, like a brother, like my family. My own family often asking after him knowing he was usually around. Now I question this too. I think he liked me then? He seemed to be around me when things weren't going well. A heart break, fall out with a friend, or a job loss, when the chips were down, it was me he came to. but that's what friends are for, right? you catch them, when someone you care about falls. You share a little of yourself and what you have, albeit not much.
I did this time and time again, he always stayed with me, I never stayed at his. Was I really just a place to crash when there was no one else? I don't want to believe this, it's too painful, I refuse to believe. If our friendship doesn't survive then friendship is bullshit - he said those words to me not long ago. I don't think he meant them.
When my son was two years old and never having spent a day apart. My mum offered to look after him, while I went on a five day adventure with my friend to Wales. I didn't drive at the time, so we jumped on trains and buses. I had always wanted to revisit after a memorable school trip to Llangollen, it had stayed with me, I recall eating pack lunches sat on flat smooth rocks to the soothing sounds of a flowing river, I wanted to see if the memory held up. I was now old enough to fully appreciate it's hilly beauty. I was in for a surprise, not only was it just as I remembered but twice as beautiful. After the weight of motherhood, after the weight of being a full time mum, I was more in need of the break than I realized I took everything in.
Although I found myself craving my sons little hands and the touch of him, the smell of him. I was enjoying a bit of space, sniffing up air and seeing new things, my favourite pass time. We arrived late at night, no where to stay, we laughed a lot, the journey a promise of adventure, as with most of our journeys. Nothing planned in advance, just off, discovering with backpacks and not much else. It was the most fantastical journey, I fell in love with Wales on that trip.
It was spring, grass shoots stood straight and blue bells nodded in abundance, it was bursting with life, I had never seen anything as lush. A thousand shades of green sewn together by fields, trees and woodlands, we idled through the countryside on buses as rivers sprawled across wild and rugged landscapes, like silver witches fingers. It was all bathed in gentle lemon sunshine, towering forests with pointed tips sat in clusters, breathtaking views of cascading waterfalls, wild flowers scattered everywhere, we were surrounded by fresh and invigorating air, as clean as spring water. We said wow around every corner of that trip, We ate well and travelled right up to the North, taking in the spectacle of monumental mountains and their russeted cracks and gun metal crevices. I stared in awe at the dipping valleys. We passed outrageously beautiful countryside, seemingly painted in rose-water light. I was mesmerized, it was like paradise and I vowed to go back as soon as possible, there seemed too much more to discover. Another experience shared. It was about this time my love for walking began, we had done a lot of miles and my legs were aching to go on, short walks no longer enough, as if there was too much to see, not just here but in the world.
It felt good to have my feet connecting with earth and its rustic charm so much to see just around the corner. I walked as often as I could. I haven't really stopped since, up mountains, across fields, getting happily lost and gloriously muddy in the countryside, often with my friend. Now with my partner, who thankfully is a keen hiker, camper and lover of the outdoors, his feet as itchy as mine to keep on walking. Has my friend forgotten all of this? Probably.
Chapter six - The Lakes.
2010 - For my fortieth birthday, my friend had arranged a trip to the Lake District, we had by this time walked thousands of miles, some together, some apart. It was a shared passion. He was still nursing a broken heart that was taking the longest time to mend, I had just met man, the man of my dreams,my Nordic looking man, perhaps the timing wasn’t great, I couldn’t suppress my delight, he couldn’t hide his hurt. It was a strange time but nonetheless a magical experience. This was a different kind of trip altogether, it was organised, accommodation booked at five different hostels, train tickets booked, it was a strategic and methodically planned trip with a printed itinerary, I was impressed all I had to do was turn up.
I had paid for so many of our holidays and trips where money was tight, for my struggling writer friend. it was nice to see that he felt love enough to return the favour, I felt lucky to have such a friend. It felt like It was the most amazing trip so far. For me at least. Our first real grown up trip. We were still silly and ridiculous, but a sense we were getting older, just a tad, crept in we had years behind us and a photo book memories. It was October, we were taking a risk weather wise, it was just after his birthday.
We met at the train station at our home town, with thirty-litre backpacks, new hiking boots, water proofs, walking sticks, the works. We were hungry for this trip. This was a serious walking trip, 15 miles a day ish. And three peaks to ascend, at one of which was a favourite viewing spot for the mighty well-trodden Wainwright.
We started at the beginning of the traditional coast to coast walk at St Bees. Dipped our toes into freezing water, it was a quite seaside town, flat and bleak, dreary, with a wide brown-sugared beach, a panoramic view of the ocean. An ochre-coloured Medieval church stood at its centre; The Priory, it had a pretty garden, tangled with overspilling flowers and delicate looking weeds, the church garden was littered with pretty carved benches and stern looking statues, a medieval tone to it all, ancient tombs and artefacts inside with interesting stories. St Bees also offered a big hotel to kick off our holiday, with a comfortable bed and a hearty meal after our day exploring.
It was autumn and the lakes were notoriously known for being wet, in fact sodden, so we were fully prepared to be more than a bit drenched. The reality of this set in on the very first day after setting off with the eagerness of a child going to Disney land, we were soon knee-deep in mud, soaked to the bone , fed up and and lost, in a forest, compass stuck on north. We headed upwards and got so far up, the mist was so densely thick, we actually miss took it for another hill, which my friend was all to keen to step onto. Hilarious doesn’t cover it. We walked over the same area, at least twice, before heading off in the right direction. We paused, rested on slabs of high steps, drank piping hot coffee from flasks, somewhere on a mist-covered hill top, and we laughed our socks off, utterly lost, we had the ability to laugh at ourselves back then. I have never possesed a build in compasss, my sence of direction, as anyone will tell you, is none existant,hopeless, however, I do tend to, foolishy, believe in my insticnt , which as you know always sends me entirely the wrong way. I have argued it's case so many times and eaten humble pie just as often, as we have ended up completely lost, in a plethora of beautiful and strange places. when did it all become so serious?
Not defeated in the least, after contemplating our next step for while, we set off again in the right direction, in search of hostel number one. The sun shone brightly for the rest of the week, we were so very lucky, The Lakes in Autumn are just blazing with colour, they waken all of your senses. It matched Wales , a different kind of beauty, more elegant somehow, lighter. We had visited previously, a small village near to Windermere; Hawkes Head, when my son was smaller, a place where we argued over putting a tent up in gale force winds. And ate rock cake in a quaint stone-built hamlet. We sat under an oak tree with cans of cider, on a hill top, watching orbs of light appear from the village as the sun sank behind the grey stone cottages, me, him, my son and my dog, contemplating life and planning a one-day return so we could explore this magical place on foot. Things were good. Life was simple. We took the mick out of keen cyclists, jealous of their dedicated riding, we snorted every time we saw one. We were like children being daft and acting like clowns, this is how my son remembers him too. Not serious, just him, fun.
The next few days were soaked in sunshine, I saw some of the most magical sights I have ever seen. Every lake with its own unique flavour, every corner, bathed new light and bringing breathtaking views. Trees sparkled red and gold and yellow and rust, You could walk the same route and every time see painted in a different colour, the sky lit up the ground. It was truly exquisite. We travelled across shimmering lakes by boat, sat by red canoes, visited museums and joked about pencils, drank tea and devoured cake. We took in everything at the best possible pace, slowly, unwinding, shedding any cares we had. I was so grateful for that trip.
I will be going again soon with my partner, I'm a little afraid to return here, it was our place, I hope I can still see its beauty. The end of every day, saw our legs trembling, aching and shaking with exhaustion, we had to massage them each morning, to get them to function. We definitely underestimated the length of the walks. Each hostel we visited had the grandeur of an old stately home. Nothing like I had expected. They were all fantastical, fairytale like. We ate a good meal at night, drank red wine and sat by a plethora of open fires discussing the sights of the day, or chattimg about not much. As we walked and talked and took in these magnificent sites, on those precious days, it was as if we didn’t need words. As we meandered on foot through valleys, lanes, hills, fields - unless they had cows, he was afraid of cows, - as we trekked and skirted around the edges of magical lakes, and scoured mountain tops, It was a quiet mutual appreciation, something neither of us had with anyone else. We both felt lucky to have someone to share these times with, this kind of easy friendship, that would never be in question. We sighed away all of our worries on this trip. What a major head-fuck this all is. At least that’s how I genuinely thought it was, a forever thing.
I am quietly re -assessing everything right now. How can a world you know so well become suddenly tragically different. How damaging words can be. I struggled with this for a while. He was my only constant, my anger at his desertion, before he actually did hurt me massively , who wouldn’t strike out, after everything, after all of this?
I know for that particular journey my head was in the clouds, sometimes literally, I was deliriously happy, and texting my new love about this wonderful adventure we were on. I Had something to look forward to, a future, maybe my happiness drained my friend a little? Maybe his sadness couldn’t bare my big smiles and being in love, maybe it was too much? Even after I had listened to two or more years of his heartbreak and picked up so many tiny fractured pieces and tried to help glue him together.
I think he maybe he started to begrudge me happiness. He later said at the time of our demise, we hadn’t been close since the lakes. I was shocked to hear this, I thought our closeness was a given no matter what the situation outside of our time together. I thought he just loved me, as I did him. Have I always miss read everyone?
Why did he visit me, so many more times, was it always because he needed anywhere to escape to, but found when he arrived he didn’t want to be here either? Was he simply running, all of the time, or was he always running from himself and situations he had put himself in, I have to believe this is not the case. He knew he could come to me, day or night, at any-time, he knew my door was always open, he knew I would feed him, love and welcome him, no matter the situation, was I stupid, blind, naïve, ever loved at all?
I think I was always his last stop. It saddens my heart to its core to realise this truth, if this is it, part of me hopes, I guess, that the words I spoke to him in genuine anger that day, hurt him so much that he is just that, hurt, its exactly what I wanted on that day. I know they made him cry as they did me, I know he sat on a cliff top and cried about my words, as I sat in my car, big tears dripping, feeling shut out before the actual words came. My words were born from pain, which, left to fester became laced with venom, and fully intended to sting. I hate to think my judgement was always that poor, that I was just a stop off point. Friends fall out, apologise and make up, shit happens and tempers flare and tongues lash out, but surely a real friend knows when this is born from confusion anger and hurt and forgives? A real friend does that? A friend that doesn't accept an apology and blames another, knowing they were just as much to blame, is either a stubborn minded fool or a complete fake?
A friend that looked me in the eye, told me he was sorry for the way he acted, that he should have warned me what I was getting, when I took him into my home, at the once beautifully tranquil Water Mill. Then, embraced me and said: 'you are my best friend you know that don't you?'then texts, a week later, having changed his mind, when I’m on my holiday saying; it's doesn’t feel the same, goodbye and slams a door shut. Ouch!
Was that ever a friend, after everything, only choosing to see the last chapter,not wanting to fix us. A chapter I still see as totaly surreal? I found a strange man in my attic, on the very edge, nerves so tattered and frayed he couldn't even bare the sound of his own voice let alone mine , no matter how much I wanted to help. No matter how many times I tried to reach out to him, I was dismissed like an irritating child. As for me? I was in turmoil, thinking I opened the door to my oldest best-est closest friend, a bit of easy company when we were both a bit down in the dumps, I thought he knew I was hurting too? I got a bloddy lunatic!
I tried to understand the pressure, the trail of disasters that brought him to my door, the waiting for that all important call, wodering if it would come at all. But he just wanted to be alone, I was his last stop, he knew I would just be there. As always. But I needed him too. It wasn’t permanent, he said, just to work out a plan of where to next, he wanted to travel around, maybe Ireland. He needed space. Away from everything, me included it seems!
What happens to people, does life suck them up and spit them out? Do they become temporarily possessed in times of despair? It's a strange world, I can't work out and not for the lack of trying, it doesn’t seem logical. Some-things will never make sense really, maybe we shouldn’t try to work things out. My radar has never been switched on at all, maybe I just don't possess one?
The Lakes... what a memorable trip, what an incredible part of our journey, never to be recreated, never to be replaced. You can't take those memories either old friend.
Is it me?
I start to wonder, as age starts to creep in around my eyes and lips and my look less gentle, my face more angular and post menopause mature. Was it always me that pushed people away, was I somehow hard and unlikable? Am I indeed a cold-fish that people just don't warm to or am I now so jaded from so many unexpected losses, that I have joined the masses and become emotionless, afraid of the next loss? Have I become my father? I really don't know, but I am changed.
It all takes me back to my childhood, self esteem severely lacking. I remember my first day at primary school being a traumatic day. I couldn't believe my angel-of-a-mum would simply leave me in a place that stunk of plasticine , where huge pale-grey radiators towered above me. A strange horrible place. I remember crying so much at the unfamiliarity, as I was suddenly standing in a huge echoey room, loud with children’s noise. How could she leave me there? None of these faces known to me. I felt very small and very shaken and just a bit terrified, I wet myself on that day, the humiliation of changing into white pants, that weren't mine, aided by a hefty woman with a gigantic mole, I only associated with witches, a woman I didn't know, it was just so undignified and scary. The only thing that made the whole thing slightly bearable was the promise of gold top milk in a small bottle with a small straw.
I hadn't even been to nursery or pre-school, so my experiences of these situations was nil, I wasn't prepared for structure and rules and sharing. I wasn't prepared for life outside of the comfort of my mums gentle arms. I made sure the minute my son was old enough he was enrolled, still in nappies if remember correctly.
I was afraid to speak up at school, I liked to listen, I always felt stupid, lacked any sort of confidence, forever thinking that whatever I said would just be idiotic or wrong, that I would be laughed at or worse ridiculed. It was important that I stay low, hidden in the background. I hated being put on the spot, I dreaded making a mistake. My stomach churned every day during my first years at primary school. I hated it.
I was all too aware that my family didn't have much, very early on, it was glaringly obvious. I started to hang around with girls a year or two above me, older siblings of friends outside of school, clinging to the hope of their protection. Some of them bullies, I stuck to them like glue. It was my only hope. I was later known by association as one of the tough kids. It wasn't true, I was always shaking in my boots, it was survival, but I was eternally grateful for the association. Isn’t it silly, I detest any form of bullying, yet I was eternally grateful for their protection, in that terrible place.
The innocent playground of oranges and lemons and ring a ring a roses, was short lived. I was soon popular, refusing to give in to my weakness, shyness, I developed a cover up for my lack of knowledge, a disguise for feeling ridiculous. I wasn't, but it's how I felt, as if I was somehow lacking in grey-matter. I started to act silly, getting the wrong kind of attention. I created another me, an alter ego I could bring out when I needed, a girl with confidence. I grew up with two of me, it was exhausting. The shy, knee trembling skinny blonde, pathetic me, always lurking about, and the fake and confident strong minded me, always covering her tracks. For the teachers I liked, I was the perfect student, always wanting to please, desperate to be teachers pet, the shy me, the trier, trying her best. What a dream, the poor kid in second hand clothes, being the clever one.
I was however very clever, my writing was practised and pefect-neat, I learned very quickly, I was more than capable, but my lack of confidence would always push me in another direction, towards trouble. My sister never had self esteem problems. I was pleased, envious but extremely pleased.
I loved sport, I ran, played hockey, shinty, netball, basket ball. I loved the outdoors, the classroom so stuffy and suffocating. By the end of my time at Primary, I had made a life-long friend - luckily she hasn't disappeared with the rest. A friend who I wasn't afraid to let see the vulnerable me. My teenage best friend, oh what messy and carefree fun we had. She was a blonde-bombshell, ask anyone. Tall, slender, too beautiful, if you looked at her for long enough you would melt, one of those. All boys wanted her. Her hair was spun from gold, I'm certain! A bit like my mum in her heyday, a natural beauty, whose teeth twinkled when she smiled. I was her besty, we spent years, kissing posters, listening to eighties songs on a crackly record player. Pinching her sister soul L P’s, snogging boys and comparing notes, smoking sneaky fags behind the pavilion on the park. holidaying with each others families. Doing all the things you are supposed to do as a teenager, experimenting.
We were naughty and yet we were innocent and my fondest memories of growing up are shared with her. The enormous Bananarama hair and blue eye shadow years. I think we lived through a summer that lasted for an entire decade, most of it spent in lacey ankle socks and Ra-ra skirts and bat-wing tops. It felt, serene. I was her side-kick, again popular buy association, her not so elegant friend, we were inseparable, right up until I left for Greece. We still talk, whenever there is a need, an important bit of news to share, distance and time not a problem. Those days are so treasured, we laugh at it all, our own kids now fully grown. We never fell out. not once, maybe it isn't me?
That shy awkward child that existed has re surfaced lately, unfortunately! I thought I had buried her long ago, I thought the confident alter ego had some how become reality and she was just a bad dream. But she has always been there, and I find her ever-present now. Lack of confidence once again with me as a companion.
I believe the past few years, maybe my past in general has been storing her away? My inner child, maybe I should embrace her ,maybe we are not supposed to be strong all the time, perhaps it isn't a weakness just a part my character that is meant to be there, vulnerable, shy, maybe it's normal to have some fear, maybe everyone’s past haunts them to different degrees?
Being from a poor working class background isn't a bad thing, but as a child it felt as if it was the worst thing in the world. But now I look back and see we had a healthy mixture of good and bad happy and sad values and morals firmly in place. A see world I miss everyday. A working class family with gargantuan hearts. What on earth can be wrong with that? How silly life can make you. Embarrassed by the very people who gave you life and made sacrifices no matter how small to see you happy.
How ridiculous that only when it is no longer there, do you get to see how vitally important it all was and live with the regret of not having those embarrassing people around any more, not appreciating them enough. How bloody sad that it takes a whole lifetime to see what's truly important
2002, When my son was two, as my love for him and all things parenting became my reason for living. I moved back into my home with a pretty rust-coloured crumbling castle, at the edge of the village, nestled under rolling yellow corn feilds. It was surrounded by a carp-filled murky moat, one I that I swam in as a child when it was adorned with dense beds of lilly pads and brilliant-white crocuses with egg-yolk centres. A village where a corner shop had stood for ever, I could name all of the shopkeepers in the last twenty years.
The whispers of my childhood lingered and my small hands laced with bruises from the now extinct years of losing at conquers. It was all so familiar and fantastic, I would get to bring my son up in the very same sleepy village my footsteps had trodden as a child. It was the right place at the right time. My sister had purchased a small house that I rented from her. As her travels grew more extensive, covering continents and her financial endeavours became fruitful. she began to invest. It was a red-brick terraced on a quiet street, around the corner from mum and dad, In this place, I knew every one. It was perfect for me and my son. And perfect for my sister to return to when ever she came home from which ever country she was living in, always laden with gifts for her nephew.
This house is where my son will forever remember as his first home. It was an amazing place, we planted together in the garden, I grew a riot of colour in all pretty plant pots. I read bed-time stories and watched him splash around in baths of bubbles and milk-toothed giggles. We built a plethora of memories here and a foundation of stability, the bond between us incredible, I lived for him. This innocent soul whose smile melted me, nothing else was of importance. I brought a bike form a car boot with a child seat at the rear and a basket on the front for picnics, we cycled for miles to farms and other outdoor fun and recreational places. I watched him blossom, my very own flower.
His primary school was at the end of our street, the very same I attended as a child, the school that instilled fear into me, I was determined it would be different for him. I socialised him early into play groups and introduced him to other children. I was surrounded by family and friends and grew to know other parents too, some became close, one in particular an Irish gem and lovely, a sweetheart. I love our conversations still, but they are not often enough. It was my paradise, this place. Being a mum was effortless. If I could go back to a place and be frozen in time, it would be here. Blissful summers and cosy winters, a small hand in a large hand. It is the best kind of love I have known.
My friend the one with the sordid-past and youthful freckles had met a guy from our village, an Elvis enthusiast and binge-drinker, someone I grew up with. They were now living just two doors away from my parents, who treated her no differently to me and my sisters. Sundays roasts, wine evenings, at each others houses on most days. Lives entangled. Her sister, who I love dearly, would be a regular visitor and great friend too, and her husband, and later their two impish children. We were a growing community of extended family, neighbours and friends, a perfect blend of happy, our lives so incidental. The barbecue lit as soon as sunshine was detected, my dad always with his tongues and skewers at the ready, my mum always rolling her eyes, knowing it would be her to clean up the aftermath. Everyone brought food , booze, conversation, sometimes a guitar and often songs, kids would dance and perform, such close friendships were formed.
They were amazing years. My dads infamous cocktails and rum-punches sending guests to their beds early. My dad's garden was the place to go. An interminable party, Neighbours would pop around, a collection of diversity, old friends, same sex couples, would appear at the rumour of shindig, it was a haven for fun. My Dad's Delboy approach to life drawing in unsavoury yet hilarious characters. It seemed to have settled, that we were all part of something that outsiders were jealous of, a community. My mums best friend and her three children mostly present at these occasions, all the special people we needed.
As those parties continued through the years, as faces came and went, one arrived with a northern accent, a loud man with curly brown hair and brown-orange phosphorus eyes. He brought a fresh ingredient to the crowd, his smile white and broad, his arms long and thick. I was still carrying baby weight, had no reason to lose it, I was totally happy. Then he started to appear, with an eight pack, telling grand stories of his years travelling. My stomach would be in knots. He was a showman, with stories so funny his audience were splitting sides, applauding his tales, eager for more. His enthusiasm for life just tangible, My freckle-faced friend although in a relationship had him in her sights, maybe that was a warning sign? I never see stuff. I was single, but wary, my son only knew us two.
I wasn't ready yet to let someone in , but as the stories grew and his face was more and more familiar, I was attracted, I lost two stone in two weeks, just to grab his attention, it worked, I dropped hints, and before I knew it, we were dating, It was easy and fun, never too serious, We never lived together, but visited one another's houses, we became a couple over the next five years. He showed me a new world with lovely and community-spirited people, a durable society carrying a history of exotic and exiting. He introduced me to fairgrounds and families with rich creative minds, engineers and the like. For some-one who liked new, it was perfect, an adventure I'll never forget. A beautiful world I never knew existed. But we never fully committed, never fully gelled, as if we both knew it wasn't a forever thing. He was a great influence in my sons life, superb morals, quirky, cheerful and a bundle of fun, always considered him, we were always three, I loved that. He missed my son when we eventually and amicably split some years later. I'm forever grateful for his influence in his life, no matter what happened to us.
I was once again relieved when it was over. Relieved for it to be just my son and me again, it was familiar and normal and I had grown used to it. I liked how we fit with no added complications, I provided all he needed. I was done with relationships and happy with my commitment to this conclusion. Happy to come home after a day at work to that angelic face, he was all I wanted. I found another new start, a job where regrettable affair took place. My friend was still around dipping in and out when he needed me. I was always glad to see him.
My stupid freckle-faced friend, did she ever know just what she had destroyed? Another disappointment and another loss.
2002 It was around this time, when my son was still an infant that I went to Menorca, I took my friend, the one who is no longer, and my younger sister, sister two. It was a week long break. My friend at this point seemed fragile, and drunk as often as he could be. He was around intermittently but also off living his own life, a frivolous life, we were careful to keep in touch. Walking when time allowed. coffee mornings and catch up conversations, snatched whenever possible. He came to some of these garden soirée’s, but not many, he was in love and wild-camping and falling deeply and having jovial fun. We were both in a different place, but both knowing the bond had wrapped us tight, no matter what. I remember picking him up so we could get to the airport, he stunk of yesterdays booze, hadn't slept and was not quite on this planet, I think he was still high for the first few days, on life and on other substances. I found it amusing, he was having fun, who was I to judge and if I did, he would quite rightly tell me to get stuffed. It was a tranquil holiday, My son was little, so it was a peaceful and geared around him, a very funny time, including the débâcle of hiring a four wheeled bike that my friend, who happens to have very little coordination drove into a car. The wearing of sombreros and walking in twilight wrapped in blankets as we scoured the cliff tops with the blue pushchair and fun conversation..
By day we lolled around by a kidney shaped pool, taking turns to watch my boy. My sister graceful and kind ever-happy and so much help. We idled away time chatting and catching up on what ever we had missed it was open and lovely to be around two of my favourite people. We stayed at the hotel airport the night before departure. I wanted a real break, a mini luxury. It was my sons first holiday abroad.
We arrived pale-faced to the second largest of the Balearic islands, a haven, nestled in heart of the Mediterranean, a shore line formed of red-rock was rugged and it's cliffs towered like giant anthills. From this northern tip that was exposed to the calm of the western Mediterranean, we travelled to Cala n Forcat, on the Southern part of the Island. Here the cliffs were less harsh, more gentle, honeycombed, cave- lined, soft sandy beaches dazzling in all shades of pale-beige and white. The warm sea shimmering pale-turquoise and glinting bronze it was still, perfect for swimming.
We swam out to and around a rock, that jutted out from the sea in our secluded bay, only minutes from the apartment. We swam far out, until we were breathless. We were refreshed, invigorated, weightless and unbothered, like kids frolicking in the deep blue coolness. My son didn't like the sea, he didn't like the feel of grainy sand on him either, wincing as it touched his tiny fingers, still doesn't today It was such a comical sight, to see him experience these things for the first time. The Island was docile, family orientated, full of quiet . We embarked upon a boat trip, emulated the scene from titanic, he cried for his own reasons, emotion choking him, as the sun shone high in the sky, the water gleaming silver and gold, his heart hurting from something. We stopped at deserted beaches littered with bolster and drift wood and dead crabs and dry seaweed. It was a stress-relieving and wonderful experience, yet another time , yet another holiday, yet another shared moment. Has this been forgotten too?
We stayed in touch after, although our years were snowballing in different directions, him in love and experiencing new feelings of adulation and finding his true soul-mate, living a euphoric yet burdensome time, experiencing true love, deep and pulsating and enthralling, passionate, yet a secret. A painful secret. One that would crack his heart into two and haunt him for years perhaps forever? A love so sincere and embedded it would take a million conversations to talk himself away from that place, no matter how difficult, but he repaired himself , it was a hellishly long road, I shared that journey with him.
My road was leading into grown up territory, I was raising a child with all of the responsibility, taking in every step, every smile, every word. A time of phonetic alphabets, noisy toys and spaghetti letters, The joy of watching my son grow, permeating my soul, entrancing, an addiction of love. He did visit, my friend, he liked to see me and my son, we still talked often. Saw each other slightly less, but always just a phone call away, whenever we met up, it was like a welcome arm around my shoulder comforting, unchanging, no matter what else rotated in my, world that never changed
2007 A new job after an old relationship ended with my traveller. It was a given that I would indeed seek out new, yet again. This time I wanted to do something that was not an office job, something entirely different. I wanted to get out there among the community and not sit still, watching life from a window. My son now at school and going through the early years as happy as can be, unbothered. I needed a job that got me out socializing. My sisters success now affording her two houses, I moved into the larger, A Tudor-style a period property, an old toll house with bags of character, a project that would eventually wipe her of her hard earned cash. I think I contributed to this, I think our agreement after she left that monstrous house, to go to work in Oxford, that I pay the humungous bills and she pay the rent, she saw as unfair. She never told me this, she told her partner, a man she had barley known for five minutes, her confiding in him, ruined any chance of a relationship with this man, what ever she had said to him , he disliked me instantly, I felt betrayed, still do. I will never understand why she never came to me?
This beautiful yet bitter-sweet house would see our relationship rocky and unstable, and struggle, here more huge changes were aloft, for me a pivotal year, for me a start to my early creeping-in bitterness, the meak me starting to lurk in shadows. I found a job as an collection agent, something completely new. It was a fabulous, job I had my own round, a group of regular customers I got to know, down to earth sorts, none wealthy, none academic, but all sincere and lovely. The pay was average, but I have never been greedy for money, as long as I could pay my bills I was okay, even though paying the bills was a struggle, as a single parent. It was always going to be, on just the one income but that was a given. I didn’t want too much responsibility, being a mum and being a single mum was responsibility enough.
I also had a new kind of boss that would one day turn and twist a knife so deeply into my trusting naïve back that I would one day suffer for making his acquaintance. I breezed through training, loving everything about it, it was refreshing to actually get to work outdoors, everyone at the office was pleasant and welcoming. My boss was an Aussie, from Perth, full of the usual Aussie confidence and elongated 'A's and a slightly slanted accent, nasally and over annunciated as if he had a permanent cold . He was cheerful, cheeky, helpful and overly charming, a practical joker and far too bright for this job, we both were.
The job seemed to small for his larger than life personality. His eye’s were docile and green, glasses perched on a bulbous nose, it was obvious he was a drinker and heavy smoker, he had that tired look. His peeking look over the top of his glasses, I think was supposed to give the impression of authority? His forehead was large, he had an almost Eastern block look about him. Cheap suits and nice ties. His face older than his years of forty two. Yet there was something that attracted me to him, I think his charm, or maybe just his palyfullness?
His battered soul I believe belonged to the devil, I'm certain.
He too was running from a past, from shame, I do know how to pick em, these people with fake exteriors and pasts of ghosts and hauntings, a closet of deceit, so deep it would take for ever to find the truth in the depth of it. Troubled people. I'm drawn to them. Or is everybody like this?
He made it obvious not only to me but also to other members of staff that he had a soft-spot for me, meeting me on my round buying me a coffee, often talking about his personal life, rather than work. I liked that he was so approachable. I liked that he fancied me. I let him flatter me. I was suckered into believing that he no longer loved his wife. I was duped into lending him all of my furniture and money to set up a flat near me, so we could be close, not wanting my son let in to this uncertain fling. We lived off of my wages, so he could pay maintenance for his children. He marked my round cards from work quite often, maths never my strong point , I was happy to hand over any mathematical workings out to him, he crossed out a lot and put his findings into the system. He offered all the time in fact. I later discovered he was also fiddling my round cards, he nearly had me in trouble, he could have had me arrested!
It was short lived, this affair which saw him buy me cheap gold jewellery for his guilt of having no intention of us moving forward, something I always knew and was okay with. I was just happy to be pampered, flattered, I enjoyed the game. We were being teenagers, writing love poetry and letters, reading each other stars. He was infatuated with the fact I was the polar opposite to his wife, I enjoyed the casualness of it after such an intense relationship with my showman, It was all silly really. I later sold the gold, which I hated, I have never worn gold, to take my some to Alton Towers. I kept the letter he gave me with it, always cherishing words more than token gestures. I started to become suspicious that he actually still loved his wife, in fact I knew he did and that this was just a temporary measure, we weren't intimate, only once, we did other stuff, kissed and caressed but no more. We talked for hours and hours by an open fire, drank red wine. We went away on fun weekends, he cooked, he was a good cook. I watched him play indoor cricket, knew lots of his friends, I had no reason initially to think he wasn’t legitimate. But, he was saving his passions for his wife. I was the ultimate decoy, to create jealousy and to re engage her interest, they had two small, children, I wish he had said, I would have been there, We didn’t get that serious, I hate liars and yes it's a strong word but one on this occasion I find it fits just perfectly! I suspected that this wasn’t the first time he had been unfaithful, a true deceitful leopard.
The part that bothered me most about this man was his dark-side, he actuality referred to his alter ego as Norman, a character from a series of books he read, troublesome frightening books about violence and thuggish stuff, gay-bashing, of course my best friend was gay, I was deeply offended. and other worrying things, rape, beatings, he asked me to read them, I read one, it disturbed me, put me off a little, I struggled to see how anyone could see these pages of terror and violence enjoyable, maybe he was trying to paint himself in a certain light, make me think he was capable of being that way, a threat maybe? It made him weak in my eyes.
My car was getting tired, I did a lot of miles on these rounds and it was nearing its expiry date. I needed to change it. He suggested I let 'his friends' take it and burn it out, insurance fraud, I was surprised, shocked, that he knew that kind of people and dismissed the comments, he persevered, I told him unequivocally NO.
With the kind of people you meet on these round, perhaps some were indeed unsavoury acquaintances? They were after all poverty-stricken areas, red brick and barbed wire and tattoos, although if there is one thing life has taught me so far, it is that to judge anyone on appearance alone, just might mean you miss out on someone that is truly incredible. So I don’t do it. Not any-more.
When he finally decided that he was going to give it another go with his wife, a nice girl, I felt sad for her, he had put her through the mill. Called her all sorts to me, an unfit mother, not academically bright, tried to excuse himself for leaving her with his two adorable daughters. And all to punish her because she had neglected her husbands sexual needs. When did the need to hurt become so necessary? What happened to talking things through? such elaborate and cruel plans for the mother of his children. He confided these things to me a relative stranger, they had been together for thirteen years. He had no loyalty to her, I sympathised with her, even felt slightly protective, how strange life can be.
When he eventually switched off the button of nice, which was brutaly swift, heartless and final, and decided that I should leave the job, that it might be best, obviously for him, of course I refused. I enjoyed the job, why would I? It wasn’t my fault he started something he no longer required. Not getting his way, which he was used to, control no longer in his hands, he did the most evil of things, of course he would never admit it, but my gut instinct told me he was out to dispose of the evidence, of me.
On this unforgettable sunny morning I had changed the direction of my round, due to a customer being out, I called him to let him know, still clinging to the hope he was perhaps just confused. Not wanting it to end quite yet, although I never really wanted a future from it either, too much baggage and growing doubt. I was testing to see if his old jovial self would appear, and at least we could salvage a freindship? We were still talking, had to for work, he asked me what time I would be there, at my next appointment. I thought this strange, he had never asked me before. The couple I was collecting from were just lovely, she had MS, I always stayed longer here, they were good people that enjoyed a familiar face, their world lonely and insular, they looked forward to my visit, as I did their company. While making a coffee for me, the man of the house shouted me to come quick, he noticed glass around the car door on the passenger side of my car.
It was the end of the week, my collections were tucked under the passenger seat, out of site, not visible, only one person knew where I kept it and where I would be. I knew the instant I saw that glass sparking under the morning sun like glitter, I knew what he had done, I wouldn’t be able to stay in work after this, the suspicion, even though covered by insurance, would be just horrible. Did she do it? He knew this, how sneaky! I could never prove it was him. After all, I had kept quite about the affair, even though he was separated from his wife , lived in an apartment with all of my furniture and was living off my money, I kept quite for his kids sake, who I met on several occasions while he looked after them on weekends at this flat, owned by my dear friends.
Then, the worst of it all, an audit that found discrepancies, I had to pay back. His discrepancies, for marking my cards, my god I am so very gullible - a little lamb brought to slaughter, I should be more careful who I let into my life. I challenged him once, he acted hurt but his spiteful eyes told me everything. His past I learned was of great deceit too, his own parents conned out of their life savings for a business endeavour that went wrong, he couldn’t face them. I never see stuff. I'm glad of my naivety. I don’t want to see this side of people but maybe its in everyone just a little?
It shook me , this really shook me, he could have hurt me and my family. I was vulnerable, he was nasty, chose his prey very carefully, the worst kind of human being. This put me off men, the entire species, yet another of life’s kicks in the teeth but it was only about to get worse, whats wrong with people, or is it me, am I so blinkered that I just dont see it?
My darling sister number one, away in Oxford, in a flat paid for by work, she was rent free, I paid the huge bills at the house,I struggled, she paid the rent, I thought it was fair. She had met a man, through a dating website. Her job was demanding and she didn’t really get time to socialise. She met him, a blonde talker with a cocky attitude, all limbs , no arse, a bit of swagger and humour as rhetoric for any conversation, if you had done it , he had dome it bigger and better. I thought he was really nice, funny even, super confident, if a bit gobby. I thought they were well suited, he was a good match for her, not many could put my sister in her place. I had always got on with her friends or past boyfriends, but not this one, the man she chose as a life partner.
I thought she had met her one, and sure enough, soon came the fantastic news that they were going to have a baby. Great, They were moving back to Leicester together. I was so chuffed. Automatically I knew that I would be moving soon, to allow for them to start a family, give them space, something you don’t need telling its a natural progression. I would move somewhere smaller, nearby. All was well, the Aussie nearly in the past, swept away as unimportant, under the metaphorical carpet with all the other rubbish one wishes to forget. I was still reeling from the potential harm he could have caused and me and yet I was thankful for my much needed resilience at that point, a very low point. I kept the romantic letters and memorabelia of that year, for no othet reason than I wanted to keep them as proof, to show work how manipulative he could be, to show just how easily the lies tumbled from his cunning mouth. I still have them. I was afraid it would harm his wife. It wasn’t her fault.
I started working as an estate agent and was saving to get together deposits and the like, the need not urgent, after all it was my sister, I was fully aware of the importance of space and family but it would take a few weeks at least to sort finances etc. It turned out that my sister had in fact been confiding in him, this relevant stranger to me, old gripes, recent niggles, things she never felt comfortable enough to tell me, she let a stranger do it, in a place I called home for four years. A place we had silky chickens, Gandolf and other mythically named birds in coups. A place we stayed awake on all night vigils and stakeouts on the look out for foxes. A place we had laughed and painted walls and stripped floor boards and brought bathroom tiles and made memories. I don’t know what words were used by my sister to certify that I was to be rid of at once, but he found it okay to sit me down like a child and say to me in front of my I think gob smacked sister:
I am giving you six weeks and I want you out!
Just like that, no explanation, no kindness, nothing. He delivered that sentence just as calmly as if he had just announced we were about to eat dinner. Humiliation stung my face like sunburn, tears stung my sisters eyes, either in embarrassment or guilt, I’ll never like him. I felt betrayed, by her, by our life, our long past beautiful, those cruel words that now distinguished the line between us, as if it were drawn in thick white chalk. I’m still afraid to cross it, Did she always think ill of me?
I have never been so humiliated , not until this day. It stung , the biggest slap of my life, nobody had ever talked to me that way and hasn’t since. It was such a shock. I was gone the next day, no time to explain to my young son that we were moving to granddads for a while. No time to tell, him that the bedroom I took for ever to paint and make adventurous would no longer be his. Luckily It was just a while I was in a superb flat before I knew it, our new home. But they memory of that day has haunted me since. Hurt seems to hurt most from those you love the most. I think he was sorry, he tried to be nice but it never felt real.
Family gatherings are not the same, my mum isn’t there, my grandparents aren’t there, but there are new additions. Three nephews. Two from sister two, and one from sister one. And of course him the man I can not grow to like no matter how hard I try. I avoid contact with my sister if he is around. I can't plaster on a smile and make false conversation, I find it too hard these days, too much has happened. I’m a tough emotionless gal, not afraid any more, I find the need for politeness unnecessary I could be autistic, Christ I could be my dad!
I sat with my old friend in his dads garden when all of this was going on, told him about my crumbling life and how devastated I was, how deceived and foolish I felt, both back at our parents, he made me a coffee and threw me sympathetic smiles. He cared didn’t he? He sat and listened then he seemed calmer, like the sensitive man I had always known. Gentle, understanding, genuine?
I was careful around this time, to stay cheerful, my son, he was going through change, I needed to keep his spirits high. I was determined not to get so overwhelmed that bitterness should creep up and around me like the ivy that smothered our apple tree with ropey veins at the barn in France and strangled the joy out of it.
Greece the early years...
It's important to get the whole story, for me to understand where my past has bled into now. What pivotal moments and influences subtly changed me, so I'm going to go back to the beginningg, and then back again and then back even further. So I can see where I am now.
1989 – It was year of new, I love new. The first time I put my feet on Corfu’s fertile soil, I was barely nineteen and I was fearless. Youth on my side, nothing phased me, my alter ego had completely taken over. As we passed pondiki Island - Mouse Island on the long drive from the airport to our destination, I was stunned by the the theatrical beauty of Greece. I listened to my companion chat excitedly about what outfit she would be swearing that evening, as I peered at the white-painted neatly-squared houses with brilliantly green mountainous backdrops. Tiny cafés with peeling hand-painted signs whizzed by us. Bright yellow kiosks selling cigarettes and cold drinks were a stark contrast to the dilapidated and crooked old buildings that sat in uneven rows. Old men were perched on rickety chairs in the shade, under vines, in their tiny porch ways of the antiquated and pint-sized villages we passed. Old ladies dressed head to toe in black with crooked limbs and wisened faces, shuffled about. It was beautifully new and surreal and I wanted to jump off the bus and explore.
I was also eager for my holiday fun to begin, My first all girl holiday, no parents allowed. I was just awakening, just living and breathing and just off the plane and excited about what adventure the following two weeks would conjure up. I was with a friend who was not only blonde but had all the classic traits that accompany this man-made condition, she was conveniently dim , yet extremely academically clever. a funny school friend from those high school years, a lover of short-black-skirts and innocent looks and classic one liners. All boobs, legs and lacquered hair, She was funny, witty and very kind. We laughed so much on that trip our Shirley Valentine débâcle. We arrived at possibly the worst destination on the island, a Blackpool look alike with thunderous tunes pouring out onto the main street and cocktail bars on the over populated beach. It was 18 -30 territory. Bright lights, noise and crowds,a consistent thud of base. My worst things, still. Classless and undignified. Such a let down after such a promising bus ride, It was full of louts, who might as well have been in blighty, eating full English breakfasts, sleeping all day and puking in the alleys after to much cheap booze. It was awful. Even then I preferred quite, rural, tranquil. Longing for flea-markets, bizarres, quaint alleys that lead to more quaint alleys, unexpected corners and undiscovered churches and relics. Curiosity forever leading me somewhere of the beaten track. I admired the buildings more than the enterprise they contained and I often enjoyed the prettiness of the sky more than what was under it. I always found excitement and pleasure in unexpected places.
Corfu town was one of them, architectural bliss a blend of British empire meets Roman empire. Dilapidated, old and crumbly and pristinely new buildings. Some wonky with Venetian-style shutters and dark patches where patterns of fallen plaster sprawled across the fronts like giant hibiscus flowers. Supporting them, on the ground were long dark corridors with impressive pillars and columns. Cool colonial tiled floors, both elegant and pompous. Tucked in these shadowed corridors, were tourist shops selling gold and leather and clothing at stupidly high prices.
The square often found cricketers on the green and Italians Greeks and English in the surrounding tavernas and bars. The cosmopolitan cafés and boutiques were stylish and smelled of new leather, expensive perfume and fresh coffee, ladies dressed elegantly with big sunglasses, all so lavish, yet so typically Orthodox and rigid in its Greek ways. In later years, when I eventually inhabited the Island for long summers, I would spend hours wandering around the cobbled back-streets, in summer dresses, hiding in shaded corners peering up at the buildings and their pretty blooming balconies. Eaves dropping on family conversations.
On our first night in this noisy place, determined to enjoy my holiday, I borrowed a short black skirt not owning one of my own and got into the spirit of things, I decided that to join them rather than beat them the only option, as I swiftly necked a few drinks to get the party started. We went to a club where I couldn’t hear myself speak, let alone think and we danced like lunatics until dawn. Then we sat on a beach, devouring delicious Souvlaki's, a beach full of eager young couples getting amorous, having a good old drunken grope. We giggled as we listened to the grunts of people who had pulled for the evening, having a quick fumble Behind the peddlos, it was that kind of place. I found it amusing but I hated everything it stood for.
We watched an apricot sun come up. Then we walked wearily to the apartment to collect our swimwear and slept on the beach in-between, cocktails and swims, to cool down from the blazing sun (which saw my friend lobster-red and smothered in yoghurt after seeking advice from a local Greek shopkeeper.) When in Rome! I hated the place more with every lobster-red idiot that crossed my path.
It was after such a night that my ditsy-blonde friend met a man, a Greek man with the widest smile in the world and a mass of sun kissed ringlets. A charmer with cool green eyes, pretty, I later grew to love this man, worked at his his bar and talked about life with him. However he was with his friend,on this night, a sleaze ball, whose English vocabulary consisted of nice eyes, baby and Hello beautiful. Needless to say I was underwhelmed and unimpressed by my friends choice of holiday boyfriend. And I was now stuck with his friend and his limited conversation and searing looks, and peeks over his newspaper with his huge brown eyes and thick black lashes, to see of I was looking at him. It was a pact, while one enjoys, the other entertains, they had done it countless times. I'm sure he was equally as displeased at his unresponsive companion. I read, he fetched coffees and snoozed in the sun. We watched the love birds frolic in the sea, It was painful. I was under his protection. I wanted him to go away. The more I let my disinterest known the easier it became, on day three of this charade he dropped all pretences and started to be a little less cheesy, the smile less false, the gestures more genuine and the effort more natural, he was trying to talk to me with the little English he had picked up from the various two week romances he had encountered, He made me laugh and I began to warm to him. And his Gringlish, he blushed if got a word wrong and seemed to be more of a pussy cat than a tiger. He took me off to a secluded beach on a battered moped, used mainly by the people of his horio – village, white sands, no tourists, No bars, just a gleaming sea with lacey edged shores and peace and quite. My smile gave away the fact that it was a much preferred choice of beach, we listened to reggae, swam, talked Gringlish, him teaching me Greek words , me teaching him English, I admired his neat feet, I hate men's feet, we smiled a lot, and fell in love under star speckled skies. I met some of his friends, he didn’t try to kiss me, it was nice, a nice pace with out being gratuitous. I think the frosty start of our friendship made it some how awkward to progress to kissing, making the moment even more special when it came, on a board-walk under a moonlit sky with music humming quietly from the open door of a car and the sea lapping gently at the wooden posts.
It was at his typically Greek rural village that I saw Mama Maria for the first time. We were on the balcony of one of his dads holiday apartments. He had a key and we would go and make use of the place , playing house and being passionate. We were smoking cigarettes, drinking iced frappes and listening to neighbouring cockerels squawking and goats bleating, in the adjoining land of olive tress and scorched grass. Rural sleepy-village sounds. A women came by on a donkey, with a bundle of precariously stacked twigs and branches atop her head. How lovely, I thought, I real glimpse of the culture here. He shouted Down 'Yasoo mama' – Hi Mum.
I laughed thinking he was joking, but I later learned after visiting his very humble, sad and crumbling stone-built home with a make-shift kitchen and oodles of love, just a fraction away from the apartments, that she was indeed his mum. She welcomed me with the tightest of embraces and immediately tried to feed me,with chicken caught from the garden and strangled earlier that day. His snowy-haired dad tried to ply me with home-made and very potent retsina, whilst eyeing up my legs. I took an instant dislike to him, something shifty in his look, A clumsy Alsation jumped on my lap. Nicta – Night, who became my protector and friend later on. For once my instinct proved right, I’ll get to it. My first opinion of the family who later took me in and taught me all things Greek , was that they were of little fortune and big hearts. It was with great sadness I left that special island after my romantic holiday, but knew I would be back, a connection had been made and I just had to see what unfamiliar road it would take me down. When I did eventually come back, months later, after bottling out once and leaving my Greek lover at the airport with a arm full of wilting red-roses and a heart full of disappointment, it was to the mighty Athens. Another new and fascinating place of wonder and ancient whispers, a romantic city, here I could explore the endless winding streets and history and its strong people, It's incredibly theatrical language and backwards bureaucracy. It was a place I took to immediately because it wasn’t anything like I had seen anywhere else it, had the yellow cabs of New York and the Mediterranean mellowness in its slow pace. It was such an unusual place, warm and noisy in an unobtrusive way.
I told my freind all of this story once, I often wonder if he thinks of our time as I do, with fond smiles and a warm heart?
My arrival at Athens airport was fraught with trepidation, I had let him down before, my holiday romance. The fear of leaving home sounding so final, yet the thought of not doing it crippling. I wandered of he would be there at all. He was but his eyes were still full of disappointment from my earlier no show, he was wary and so was I, we were like strangers. It had been a while, I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I knew I had to try, the letters had been romantic and constant showing willing. The journey to his Athens home was jittery, I had no idea what to expect. I found a sea of apartments as far as the eyes could see, a crowded and bustling city, almost how I imagined the very east. Iran, Iraq, Muslim countries, lots of concrete, a hive of activity and busy people, yet it was somehow sedate in its manoeuvres.
The apartment was second floor and dark, expensive mahogany furniture everywhere and dark-wood shutters keeping in the cool. Air fans whirred and people were every where, all awaiting my arrival. Brothers, sister in laws, cousins . All with hugs and questions, none equipped with English, it was overwhelming, the Greeks don’t do things by halves, they greet you with the enthusiasm of a long lost family member. It was too much for an English girl of nineteen. It was only on that first day I had regrets.
That evening was exhausting, I sat through an entire evening, my face aching from smiling so much, my brain crying for sleep. My stomach full of Greek delights. My mind longing for home. Yet I still had to face the daunting task of sleeping in the same bed as a man I had forgotten to be with. That night as the fans whirred quietly and light filtered through the gaps in the shutters like soft lasers of white, and Enigma played its religous monk-singing tunes in the background. We got re-acquainted and found it was just the same, I think we were both relieved.
The next morning I was shocked to find Mama Maria at my bed side with a freshly squeezed orange juice, she didn’t believe in knocking and my knickers sat on the beautiful parquet floor next to the bed. She rubbed my arm and smiled at me, hooked my knickers with the toes of her stockinged foot and flicked them onto the bed with a hearty laugh. She made it easy to be around her instantly. The day seemed brighter, I woke to lots of new, faces, smell, sounds. I was eager to get out and see where I was. He was eager to show me too. His friends appeared, one by one, curious as to who I was.
We were soon on his moped speeding up and down hills, looping through streets and stopping for iced coffees and a smoke. We were just happy to be exploring together, he said I was nosey, I asked so many questions, there was so much to learn. One thing I learned quickly was that I was to be at the house a lot, with Mama Maria. Which was a godsend. Not finding a job immediately and him having to earn, I was left in the company of females who all seemed to want to rid me of the evil eye.
Now, for anybody not familiar with this ritual To Mati - The Eye. It is something that takes a while to get used to. Tradition says among the older societies that if you see something either beautiful of evil, you are to pretend-spit and repeat 'pdoo soo na min se matiaso.' Spit spit so you don’t contract the evil eye. Not knowing what is being said while a gaggle of women are mock-spitting at you can be somewhat daunting. Luckily I have always had an acutley dry sense of humour, courtesy of my dad, and found the whole thing hysterical I was unable to contain my laughter, much to their surprise and was responded to with mutual amusement. After a few years I too became a mock-spitting citizen with an Athenian accent. It's funny how quickly you learn to live in an entirely different way, speak a language once unfamiliar and harsh. Maybe only if you enjoy new as much as I do? Mama Maria and I would sit in that tiny and familiar kitchen, me with a note pad, scratching down anything I could decipher, her pointing and random objects and repeating the words slowly, so I could wright them, It was from her I learned most of my basic Greek. She was incredibly important.
We travelled to North Greece with its Turkish ways, gentle hills and unpasteurised milk, to obtain his army release papers, for his manditory two year national service. I met a bunch of his army friends here that were to be in my life for the next seven years. We were being in love and drifting from place to place, discovering the magic of amphitheatres and ancient monuments. Shipping docks with pretty lights and watery reflections on black evening waters. Panoramic beaches and stunning sunsets and slowly realising that we would have to make roots, we couldn't drift forever. He held my hand tightly, if in the company of other men. Afraid of losing his little lamb.
When I had been living in this quirky place for a while we eventually got our very own apartment, just across the street from Mama Maria. My sister decided she would visit for a couple of weeks, which turned into 18 months. We grew exceptionally close during that time, sisterly close, I loved having a slice of home with me. It made me realise I missed it a little. Even though I didn't want to go back. She slept in our cramped attic space with only enough room for a mattress. She unscrewed a tap the wrong way until it came off, the force of the water sending a plate of spaghetti bolognaise crashing on to the kitchen floor. I chased her in anger at her unending clumsiness. We had lots of day trips and excursions to remote beaches and ancient towns. Special days, where we talked about everything in the most stunning places. Nicta at our side.
Does anybody value the past, history, connections. good times? Is it just me that holds on to this importance, eternaly afraid to move on, not letting go of a past that means so much? I cherish my memories as much as I do each new step. Am I the only one, or do others remember these times in a different way. Does my romantic view of my past differ to the reality? So many questions.
I look back at that tranquil time, where I was relatively care free and not gripped by depression and I wonder. Am I now emotionless? Or is it just something we say? I think in truth that I collect emotions, like I collect shells from the beach and I store them in a jar and secure them in with an airtight lid. When I get them out from time to time to have a look, that’s when this assimilation of emotions crash down all noisy and are so overwhelming they become anxiety and depression. Bottling things up as they say, It is no good for you yet, I know not how to stop it.
So, emotionless, I guess is just another way of saying I'm storing all of my anger, hurt, confidence, love, kindness, grief, sympathy, empathy, loyalty, frustration, rage, confusion, for a meltdown at some point, a great big breakdown and until that point I am just empty.
If only I could go back to when the losses were nil and the friends and family were all still just there and everything was as it should be. I know that can't happen, I know I have to deal with life as it is now. But it's good to look back to before my best friend ever existed and see that I coped without him then...
We didn’t drift for ever, we settled, got jobs, had friend couples and my ex-pat few. We decorated houses, tried for children and miscarried eight times. Stole pampers-grass, as the fashion was such, to display it in tall earthenware pots, sprayed generously with hairspray, so they didn’t leak feathers, they were placed either side of our living room door, in our living area with high ceilings. We sat on balconies in summer night air, sniffing up night blooming jasmine, smoking, drinking, eating and talking, The favourite pass time of the Greeks, putting the world to rights. We took Nicta, our loyal dog to islolated beaches and through scented pine-forests in summer and spring and up snowy mountains in very cold winters. Everything was rosy, I thought. We were like every other couple on the planet, building a future. working hard, playing hard. There was no rat-race in Athens, the pace lethargic, the people docile. the way of life unrushed. We travelled to Kerkyra Corfu for long summers and ate like kings in idealistic settings. My knowledge of the language now strong enough, I could communicate and manage as well as any other citizen. It felt like home. It's sounds funny when I say that now, but it was him that made the place home, no matter how much I fell so deeply with the strange but lovable culture, its foreign sights sounds, smells and all of the things that link up to spell Greece. When he began to disappear and shrink, my love started to fade for everything else there too. I have never been back. I should go.
It was one day in particular that started my questioning. I had set the table, served beef lemonato, a favourite, poured two glasses of retsina, tore neat chunks of rustic bread and chopped a Greek salad of sliced cucumber, ripe tomatoes, cubed feta cheese, red onion, olive oil and sprinkled it with strong smelling oregano. The fusion of those smells still makes me salivate. It was a ritual for almost every meal. It was all laid at the table. He came home, threw his coat on the hook, kissed my forehead and sat. He looked tired, dark shadows loomed under his big eyes. He sat at the table and was asleep face-first in his dinner after only a few minutes. I actually laughed, thought he was exhausted he had been working late, I put his feet on a stool, wiped the sauce off of his face and covered him with a blanket. I had never heard of heroin.
It took me weeks of this prolongued tiredness to see that something wasn’t right,. he was enduringly grumpy, agitated, the smile gone, the look pinched, the kind of look you have when frustratedly searching for a lost item. I later discovered the lost item was indeed heroin. I refused to believe it at first. Would not acknowledge that this middle class man with a great work ethic and good manners, a clean looking man with a respectable and decent family would succumb to such nonsense. He dressed smartly every day and went out to work - so I thought - But he had indeed become hooked and the drug does not recognise class, or colour or age or creed, it knows only addictive personalities and hunger, it is the epitome of all evil. His damned curiosity, something I once adored about him, this enormous curiosity for life, and eternal search for something new, it eventually got him killed this new thing he found. He was addicted, I didn’t realise how seriously. I thought it was something you get over, like a cold, get better from with encouragement, thought a move back to the UK would cure him, even if we didn’t end up together, at least he would be free of this demon. He never was, I watched him slowly dying, I saw the light leaving his once bright eyes. I watched his mind fade to utter confusion , I watched his reality disappear , his morals disintegrate and the bottom of his world drop into nothing. It was horrendous, my stress levels were so high I was referred for counselling to a Greek very-kind Physciatrist to cope with this devastating blow. Now you see why I was so glad to be home. I lost dear Mama Maria and got this total stranger. Huge sudden changes, all at once, loss and despair. I hate change. I think here at this point going through the trauma of looking after someone you love and being absolutely helpless, I think here was a pivotal time, here I started to bottle things away, hide feelings, dig deep and use my other me to front the fears and weaknesses. Thank god I arrived home when I did. Thank god his big brother took over. We all lost that battle. I hope he is with his mother. I should start to forgive him soon.
1984 - My first crush and my first loss
On Monday nights back when everything was normal. Mum and dad used to take us skating to the renouned skating-rink Granby Halls. I had my very own shocking-blue skates with sunshine yellow lightening flashes at the sides. Big rubber stoppers at the front and I was good. I could weave through the disco-clad crowds, the glitter and sequins, backwards, forwards, at great speed wind whipping through my blonde curls, I was fast and confident. I felt as though I was important, good at something. Being regulars we would eye up the resident boys, one in particular caught my eye, a lanky boy with a wide smile and beautiful laugh. He was older by two years and was a brilliant skater. After a few weeks and after showing off with our skating skills, figure of eights and one leg pirouettes. Glossy lipped Glances and fleeting looks, We finally got talking. He lived on the opposite side of town. We made it work, endless bus journeys to his house where his elderly sweet parents made me tea, on a council estate. We dated for quite sometime, maybe even a year, hand-holding and snogging until our lips were sore and in danger of blistering. The usual teenage urges, striving the relationship to territory we perhaps shouldn’t have so young. It was pretty lovely though. He was tall, his bone structure almost elegant. He was funny and we became really good friends, swapped rings and talked from phone boxes, until a silly upset and the rising cost of bus fare kept us apart. I thought about him often but being young and stubborn, never bothered get in touch, I thought he had moved on.
I received a phone call from one of his friends, a few months later, a mutual friend I had bumped into a few times while out shopping. He asked if I would come to the hospital as my ex boyfriend was ill. So I jumped on a bus and got there quickly, thinking an perhaps an injury? It was cancer, he died at seventeen, I sat with him day after day, week after week, massaging feet with no circulation, holding hands no bigger than a child’s, read to him , helped him choose the car he would have from dated magazines, a red Lamborghini, he didn’t know he was dying. I went to his funeral alone and the wake. I will never forget the smell of the hospital, a dissinfectant smell I now always associate with decaying flesh and death. I suffered anxiety attacks for two years after. Horrible panic attacks, I was sure i was dying. I learned to breath into a brown paper bag and to stay away from crowds. My mum refused antidepressants from the doctor, I'm glad she did. The air from above me pushing down, crushing me all the time. I was too young and ill equipped to deal with death, I wasn’t at all prepared for that event. I can't say this beautifully-spirited boy was the love of my life, but he was my first real crush, someone with whom I shared a bit of history, touched skin with, bumped hearts with, smiled at and laughed with. He gave me my first orgasm. A small sweet part of my life that had such a huge impact, a part that was abruptly no longer there. It shocked my system. I was never quite the same. Every thing around carried on, as if life was normal, but some one was missing. I couldn't process that. I spent hours talking to the clouds, I don't know what I was expecting but I pressumed that's where he must be. I had become aquainted with death, had stared at it, watched it take someone, someone young beautiful and full of hope, a nice person with a bright future. Maybe here, at this point, my seed was already tucked into my belly waiting to be watered?
I got a phone call from the hospital the morning he died. They gave me his jewellery, I got my ring back. It was too scared to be sad, I had witnessed a life perish and go, to where?. I hope I helped his journey a little.
1979 my village
It was a typically rural village where everybody knew every bodies business, we lived in a row of brick-red Victorian terraces with the ornate dated plaques proudly placed just under the eaves. We knew every neighbour by name. All of the children played out on the street, it was considered safe. At the bottom of our privet-hedge lined road was our primary school the place that terrified me and beyond that the park where most of my childhood memories linger. It was a perfect place to grow up, familiar, we had street parties for the jubilee and other such events, community spirit was still very much part of daily life, a cup of sugar borrowed from a neighbour, gossip over the back yard wall, mums got to ether while the men went to the pub. It was dreamy.
The younger generation looked out for the elderly and the neighbours often shared food. Next door to our house in the centre of the street was a lady baker and her husband the greengrocer, a couple that had been there forever, she had arthritic hands and still managed to bake the most amazing pies, you can imagine the delights that would come our way and the delicious aromas that wafted from their kitchen window to ours on baking days, We would eagerly anticipate the arrival of a this wonderful woman and her heavenly treats, a woman who kept her black curls long after becoming an old woman. At the top of the road a couple would have us up to play with their daughter a blonde quiet girl who was older than us. The house was always immaculate and her dad always with a funny tale and a huge gap between his teeth. It was peaceful at that house and orderly. Not like our chaotic house with a deluge of personalities dropping in, an open house always at number 19.
We made our own adventures, we garden crept, stealing fruit from plentiful trees and veg from unlocked green houses, raced each other around the block with a stop watch while our mums sipped on tall glasses of rum and coke, A dark haired boy and childhood freind at the bottom of the street in red shorts always won. We spent hours out doors, riding bikes, walking through corn fields, playing at the nearby farm, making tunnels from hay bails. playing fun games at the over-run park. Falling out with friends and making up, watching the odd fight, telling tales around make-shift camp fires. When they say those were the days, they really were, no fear or influences. We were simply free.
our parents let us out after breakfast and we only came back when it was time for tea or our bellies growled for food. No mobile phones or parental concerns, they knew we were safe. The castle at the start of the village was a place we gathered on hot summer days. The lady that minded the kiosk was a friends mum, a stout Irish woman with a gravelly laugh and eyes full of mischief, she would turn a blind eye so we could sneak in and swim in the dank and green moat, legs tangling in the reed beds and lily roots. We would laze around on the banks as ducks paddles by eating ice creams from Eric's Ice-cream van. Our days were innocent and filled with laughter. We hung around in groups often swapping members, I once belonged to a gang that believed in fairies, we met under the railway bridge, I remember telling my sister that if she couldn’t see the fairies she couldn’t be in our group. If course she couldn’t but then neither could we, we used imagination and created worlds that belonged only to us. Such marvellous lazy days.
We joined the red cross for something to do so we could go out and earn pocket money with the officially stamped booklet, by clearing out garages and sweeping leave off of the yards of the big houses where the rich lived, one of those houses in that beautiful tree- lined area was once the hospital where me and sister number one were born. A beautiful mansion with rolling lawns and rose gardens and swing seats.
We would bike everywhere, we were fit and wiry, active,lungs full of fresh air and our skin eternal pinched and rosy-cheeked. We fell asleep shattered most evenings and had nothing to worry about. Apart from me, who always found something to worry about, which brings me to an article I wrote about my depression:
Have you been a bit fed up lately? Felt a bit under the weather, I have felt this way for extensive periods in my life. My dad used to says I was bloody miserable. I was, It's true. I was a sulker, over analysing everything. My view mostly negative, my outlook bleak, as if my brain didn't engage with excitement or happy at certain times. I fake-smiled a lot! I thought that was just who I was. A moody mare, jealous of everyone and everything, life just unfair and yet everyone around me had the very same life, they were happy with it.
As I got older I found that this mood was consistent, I would opt for a night in rather than go out, choose to stay away from crowds and prefer my own thoughts and company, that way I didn't have to pretend. I look back in amazement that nobody spotted my social awkwardness and inability to interact in large social circles. I hated the limelight and still do.
All of my life, as society had directed, I believed there was no such thing as depression. I thought it was a load of old cobblers, utter nonsense. I would sneer and tell who ever it was that was depressed, that they should get over it, find a friend to talk to, just get on with it and bloody well cheer up, pot kettle black!
I may have damaged somebody with those remarks. It's like telling a blind person to open their eyes. It's impossible.
One day, I realised, after a sudden jolt and mind blowing trauma ,the death of a boyfriend at an early age, I realised that all of these years I had indeed been suffering with the almighty and eternally taboo – anxiety and depression and it was back with a vengeance!
I couldn't open the curtains to a bright morning and the birds chirping, make a cuppa and everything would be okay again, that didn’t work. Neither did listening to a friend or a cheerful song or meditation. none of it shifted the storm clouds that sat above me. A long walk away from everyone was the nearest I could get to relief but it was always short lived and usually accompanied by my confused thoughts and that damned persistent cloud.
I woke up one morning and wished I hadn't! This caused alarm bells to ring, furiously, loudly. It frightened me that I was that weak. A fog had lodged itself in my head and a shadow at my side , suppressing me and asphyxiating me until I could neither breath or think. I could barely smile and could barely be bothered to talk. My family started to recognize me as moody, grumpy, snappy, tired, over-tired, they thought, miserable. The pressure was so overwhelming. I was embarrassed , mortified, I had always thought myself able to cope, quite strong, able to fight through the down days, independent. I couldn't any more, I suddenly felt ridiculously small, I wanted to crawl in a hole and stay there, there seemed to be a lack of air.
It didn’t matter that I had people that depended on me, loved me, That too became a burden, a pressure I didn't want, I was ready to crack, as fragile as glass. Everything seemed to loud, amplified, I hated noise, I hated life. My temper building, my patients disintegrating. I was crumbling. I was lonely, I was terrified.
It was all too much. I had days I could easily have slept forever, It didn’t matter that I had a family who loved me. I didn't want them to know how weak I was. My world had shrunk so I could fit quite neatly into a ball, so small, I could curl into it and hide, like a hibernating squirrel and not have to face anyone.
Any amount of stress could have easily caused me to lose balance and tip forever the wrong side of happy. I struggled to believe that I couldn't fight my way out. No matter how I tried. I had to let it pass. I was silent and miserable and thought my world was about to end. I was impossible to know when that cloud would pass, there have been many and I know there will be more. Life got tough as years progressed and I grew unable to cope at times, then others I was high on life. But why? I know this particular trigger was losing a dear friendship, but why in general am I susceptible to this awful condition that drags you to the pit of the earth.
I am still trying to figure out why, This is my reason for writing a book about my life, looking at my years under a microscope, to see what triggered all of this despair I feel from time to time. I am too embarrassed to let a doctor advise me to take this pill, talk to this councillor or to do stress-less things, exercise more, eat less, take long walks, talk to people. Although I should and would recommend it to others. I have never talked to anyone about this because I was too embarrassed, worried about what people might think, I am no longer.
My therapist is for now is me. I am taking measured methodical steps to trace it's beginning I am not a doctor, or a psychiatrist, so my diary is purely that of my own experiences. But if my story could help just one person smile on a dark day It would mean the world.
2007 France away with the ladies
Off to France, me, my mum, her blonde and lovely best friend and one of her daughters, my sister number two, a childhood friend and my son. My sister before her sparkling career worked for a spell at the Euro-camp sites in France, she suggested we go. We needed a girlie time, we were all ready for a get together, some piece and quiet and good old catch up. This was just before my job as a collection agent and just after my traveller friend was becoming a memory. It was a lovely time, a group of ladies who knew each other well, no bitchiness or tit for tat, we were old friends and loving every minute of each others company. It is so easy when you are with friends who know your history, there is no pretence, you are just you, there is something to be said for that. My mum was by this point drinking, if I saw a lucozade bottle I knew its contents wouldn’t be lucozade. It was after the horrible situation, it was possibly the last time I remember a good time with her, although even then she had become quite guarded, protective of her feelings and defensive of any criticism, even if there was none. My mums friend noticed but I suppose we all felt that after what she had been through maybe she had every right to turn to something to help her. No body really knew what to do, the British thing of being too polite to actually do anything but watch. We all wanted to scoop her up in our arms and make it better. But we watched, just watched as subtle changes took place, uncharacteristic outbursts of temper. Random sarcasm, She stopped painting her nails, stopped caring about her appearance. Started looking bedraggled and lost. She must have felt so alone.
It was so sad that no words would help her. No amount of encouragement would shift her direction, no amount of love could stop her course. What ever was tried was seen as interference, So we stopped. And let it happen.
The camp-site was so quiet a typically French family site there were very few British, it was nice to listen the fluid beauty of French conversation sing into the night as we dined alfresco on fresh fish, home cooked mussels and rustic loaves . We drank red wine and chatted into the night, giggling like school girls over old memories .We danced carefree to local bands at the small bar and travelled to nearby beaches and mountain villages by day. My son hired a bike and met a young friend. It was just the most gentle of holidays.
My mums friend the lovely blonde I think was sad at my mums change in personality. She relied on the friendship, she was at out house most days, in our back yard on summer evenings with a cold drink and a ciggy. She was deeply ingrained in our lives, as were her three children , we had watched them grow into adults, they had all been there, had been for many years. I think the shock of my mums stroke later had a profound effect on her. I think she finds it so very painful to see my mum as she is now. I think the shock of it all changed her a bit too. The hub closed down, like when a favourite bar closes its doors and everytime you drive by it in subsequent years you remember how good it was. It didn’t seem right to visit number 19 with mum no longer there. It was too painful for all. It was an insignificant holiday with not much happening but tranquillity, however it was the last of the best of my mum, before the devastation of her parents becoming ill, before her daughters left for pastures new. Before she left us. Before my guiltv for not being around set about me like a chain the weight dragging me down. Before my seed was watered that little bit more
2014 The Mill...
When my friend arrived on my doorstep penniless after having called me a dozen or more times about how unhappy he was at the house he was staying at, and how that the friendship with his at-the-time house mate was in jeopardy. How the job he was doing was intolerable and he just needed to get out to escape for a while. So what did I do? I invited him to stay in my tiny two bedroomed apartment, in an old water mill over looking a meandering river, I had run here to the quiet in need of peace, my brain in serious need of a break. After my mums stroke and the loss of my grandparents. I also needed to escape to rural parts after a brief stay in Leiceste looking after mum, it was all just heartbraking.
He arrived looking crumpled, I was delighted of his company, chuffed to see him. I made no promises, said I would help him find a job, albeit a crappy one, he could have my couch until we found somewhere bigger so he could have a bedroom of his own, if he wanted to, as he said stressed it was temporary, he wasn’t sure of his movements and didn’t want to commit himself anywhere, even said he would like to maybe go on to Ireland after a while and work over there, he was an explorer, like me, he loves new. We drove to Leicester to pick up his things.
The larger apartment came up for rent next door, he decided he would stay for a while but was firm that he might move on at any given point. I made it clear that at some time, I would be moving in with my long term partner, and that I spent most weekends with him. I thought it would be just what he needed, to gather composure, rural, isolated and peaceful the perfect setting for his writing A winding gentle river at his disposal. If anybody else had come to me at that point I would have said no, but it was my best friend I was looking forward to it, I was broken and he was the only person in the world I was comfortable enough to be around at that time. We knew each other, travelled well together had history. I thought it would be nice. But soon after his arrival I noticed that the irritability hadn’t subsided and if anything was growing, if asked a perfectly normal question , he would snap with an answer and start an almost-argument, it was not what I expected and certainty not what I needed.
I didn’t receive the old friend I had always known, I figured that he had had a rough time as I had, he seemed totally at the end of his tether. I let some things slide, just as much because I didn’t want an argument as I couldn’t be bothered. But I found him difficult argumentative, ungrateful, mean. Not the man I knew, not in any way did I recognise him, all sense of fun and mischeif gone, he was serious and in a dark place and wanted to be alone, but couldn’t afford it, so he was stuck with me and I paid for that time with our friendship. I was so angry at him for being so selfish. I fed him, found him a job, one that we lost, as the company went under and he couldn’t get out quick enough, away from me, already had a caravan lined up through a friend he had met, it was as if were the last person on earth he wanted to be around. I didn’t understand, not at all, I was massively hurt and shocked. If he had beef with me surely he would have talked to me? I was confused. So, he moved to his coastal caravan and I in with my partner as was always the plan. Even if it was sooner than I really wanted. We didn’t have any contact, I was too mad. I wasn’t invited to this new place. Or introduced to his new friend, I drove up to see him , wanted to see he was okay, I had given him a little furniture to start up with, wanted to see if he needed anything else, I missed him, wanted a coffee and chat like the old days. I had already lost too much I couldn’t lose him too. My impromptu visit wasn’t welcome, he ignored my phone call. I freaked out, saw red , sat in my car with hot tears and anger tapping at my phone. I was so angry, I called him a user and other horrible stuff, its how I felt used and betrayed, not valued, after years of friendship. He chose to ignore me. I drove home both furious and sad.
I was busy for the following few weeks settling my son into a new school, starting a new job in a new town, one I didn’t like very much, it was all a bit strange, I missed my friend but was too hurt to approach him, I felt unstable and rocky and miserable. I text him one day to apologise for the words, I got a quick cold text back, I wasn’t forgiven, but I was still hurt too, so I left it at that, I didn’t really check face book, hadn't really had time but the day I did, I saw that he had gained the contract he had been working towards for so many years, I was so chuffed, elated, shocked, I cried my eyes out in my office on my own, so bloody pleased, I thought this would finally see him happy, I knew it was the only thing that would. I messaged him to say congratulations, he messaged me back in gobbledygook, saying I was his mighty-friend . I wanted to pick him up and squeeze him, swing him around and around, I could tell he'd been drinking, I figured celebrating. I was so damned pleased for him. I told my son, he cried too. I arranged to drive up to see him that night, left work early, it was a two hour drive, it could have been ten , I was so exited I didn't care, we had talked about that moment for years, his moment, I was beginning to think it would never happen, I feared he was failing, feared what that was doing to him. It turned out he had known for weeks, only put it on FB that day. I was immediately disappointed. I thought I would have been one of the first people he told. I wasn’t.
When I arrived at the village he came hurtling towards me, lips stained from red wine, celebrating, and why not what huge fucking news that was. He embraced me but not in his usual bear hug way. It was limp, too gentle. We got a bag of chips and sat at his caravan, a little oasis in a pretty garden with bird tables and fine tall grass, I liked the sight of his muddy boots outside, a familiar sight. It was cosy and lovely, homely, ecclectic, an antique lampshade, and unique to him art. We have similar tastes. I was so proud. It was all coming together for my friend, We talked about him, how he found out his news, where he was, how he felt, I didn’t want to bring up the disagreement, it was his time his glorious moment. I was off to France the next day on a pre-booked holiday. I left thinking we were sort of patching things up, I knew it would take time to mend. He said he was sorry for being who ever he was at the mill, looked me in the eye and said: if our friendship doesnt survive, then freindship is bullshit. I said sorry for my words, I thought we were okay, but I had a feeling that we weren’t. I think perhaps because he had been drinking, his softer side that missed me wanted to see me, see the reaction he had been waiting for all those years. but he had already made his mind up before, he was probably mad with himself once he sobered up and had that tight-lipped stubborn look he has when he is mad, I can see it now.
It wasn’t the same, I couldn't place exactly what it was but I detected something unfamilar in his voice, a hurt and bitter accent, scarcley there, yet it was there. Sometimes the sting of something never quite goes away, I dont think he could erase those words. I said when I got back we would do a cliff top walk as we done so many times before, this time with champaign. I thought then would be a better time to talk things through, I was still hurting. I never got the chance. He text me, it was a blank text on my holiday, thought maybe he was drinking, still celebrating. when I got back I text asking if he wanted to meet up for that walk, he replied saying, sorry no, it didn’t feel the same , goodbye friendship over , just that abruptly after twenty years. I sobbed, it hurt so much, I think that was the reaction he was after. I later found that not onlywas I blocked from his social media but he had asked his entire family to block me too, people I had known for very a long time, what had he said about me? So cruel , My old pal, how was this possible? He knew I didn’t mean what I said , I apologised, he accepted, he apologised too. That was that, the end of an era, in a sharp thoughtless sentence. I still cry about it, I don't want to but I can't help it, its torn me inside and made me question everything about myself. Has brought back memories and feelings from my past that haunt me once again. The saddest thing is that we could never be friends again now because of that cavernous year of not being friends, I wouldn't know how to cross that uncertain and treturous bridge, not even sure I would want to. it will always be in the way that year and would always be awkward, so I will live with the hurt until it fades. It hasn't yet but it will... in time, The biggest betrayal of my life came from my best freind. Life can be so unexpectedly weir
Today, in attempt to cheer me up, my partner took me somewhere inspiring. A treat in our new family addition, a campervan, Coral, which bares the promise of long winding open roads and adventures in far away places. We visited Laughane. A strange little place, Dylan Thomas called home, a place he raised his children and loved his understanding wife. I stood outside his writing shed, perched on jutting rock, looking over the estuary with a sombre floor bed of mud and silt ridges and exhausted looking flat-black seaweed. Here he sat once and penned an assortment of words, stitched them together to make something remarkably beautiful, a patchwork quilt of exquisite prose. I wanted to break into his shed and sit in the quiet of this Sunday morning with sunlight streaming through square panes of glass and see if I could absorb just a little of him. Here where he wrote of birthday walks and herons and trodden footsteps. Instead I peeked through the window in awe and shivered at the thought of his shadow there, Caitlin bringing sandwiches, down the lane wrapped in a shawl, as he is lost in a world all writers know, or perhaps a dram of whiskey. I can trace the outline of him as he dreams of words to match his thoughts, pausing to catch the light and mood change over the water as it floods back in. I wish I could write so effortlessly, poised, crafted, elegant and melodic, singing words.
I see my writing as less pretty and poetic, more brisk, dramatic, harsh and of fast pace as if I am in a hurry to peek around the next corner afraid to linger to long on one thought should the next escape me. I write in a matter-of-fact quite unbeautiful way, an unremarkable and honest vocabulary and plane visionary, a blunt prose, almost rude. I was once told, write as if I were male, no flowery romance in my skies, I march my words forward with the military quickness of step, left right to my destination. No stopping to smell the flowers. Perhaps I should slow down a little?
Of course here, today, more than anywhere I would think of my friend, it is exactly the place we would visit, exactly the thing we would do. Trace the footsteps of a writer, Home, office, watering hole and grave. A moving journey through a town, not strange but simple, docile and dreamy and whispering the past out to be captured and remembered. Gatherings of people wanting a glimpse into his life. Today I thought of my friend more than most as I ate dense scones with clotted cream and sugary sweet jam and sipped piping hot tea, in the very house Dylan Thomas once lived in. A quaint boathouse, stark white and humble with astounding views. Of course I would think about my friend here as I stared at the shimmering light bouncing off of the estuary, the warm sun caressing my face, my partners reassuring hand squeezing mine as we witness something powerful, beautiful. Of course here I would be reminded of our time doing exactly this type of thing, over and over. At least I smile when I think of him now.
I’m glad my partner is here does he know he is saving my life with his kindness and love?
In a time where my world is askew, does he know just what normality he brings to me, what sanity to my chaotic mind? My saviour and Nordic looking rock-of-a-partner. I certainly don’t tell him enough, but as you probably know by now, I’m afraid one day he might disappear too, always expecting a loss. I’m hoping he doesn’t as I’d like what we have to last forever. This uncomplicated sincere love. It’s something that sees beyond just passion and the physical hunger we share. It's buried deep into us, a sense of growing old together, something I had never contemplated until this man. Something I couldn’t do with another man. I’ll talk about my man later.
My persistent search for New, as I have inspected it, dissected it , I realise it has come at a cost to those I love and I may well have contributed to the loss of friendships? Abandonment, is that a feeling I created? As I eagerly strode into new, new places, work, peeked around new corners, and walked new paths, I hadn’t considered how this would impact on people I left behind, or my son who I took with me. I thought that to reach for your dreams was something others were envious of? It seems that they would rather I stayed and was around when they needed me, whiles saying: go, you deserve happiness , go have a great time! They really meant stay, dont go. We will miss you. They never say that though. My mum, I left her to deal with her ailing parents, as she saw them nursed until their death, alone she was, weak and as fragile as a daisy chain. It all happened as I was settling into my new life. My sister with two shiny new children, depended on me, just being there, I was the next best thing to a mum. My friend who is now on his own adventure and search of new, perhaps he liked that I was in the same town for walks and talks, and was resentful of my new chapter, maybe this time I was too far away, perhap he started to push me out of the freindship circle? My workmates who had grown to love me, felt upset that I was not going to be part of their plans. My Irish friend, I was just around the corner, suddenly I wasn’t, did I leave a hole, was she mad with me? Did my pursuit of happiness, somehow knock the equilibrium out? I didn't consider this, was I selfish? Did my finding happiness create a feeling of: out of site, out of mind, because I can honestly say that the sadness of leaving home, sometimes outweighed the joy of new, no matter how in love, I was, am still, Sometimes I would lay in my new bed with my new partner, fretting about my boy and how he was settling in an unfamiliar place with a strange tongue and a strange people and a new man he barely knew. I worried if my mum was crying in her bed at night at the situation, her daughters far away. I would cry at the mere distance; it would take me five long hours of mountainous roads to see what was always familiar. It was a thing that crept up on me called guilt! Something that lives with me daily here in this beatufil land, but I like it here, like my life, detest the distance between me and mine.
2005 San Francisco
I received a phone call from sister number two, who was at the time working in San Fran, she asked if I would like an all-expenses paid visit as she was to have surgery and wanted me there for moral support. Of course I jumped at the opportunity, although apprehensive about leaving my son for two weeks, it would be the longest time I had been apart from him. I sat on the plane next to a woman with a toddler and baby, who cried for the best part of the trip. She was tearful and exhausted so I sat her toddler on my knee and read him stories and brought endless cups of tea to a tear-stained and exhausted face, it turned out she was travelling alone, as her husband couldn’t make it until later.
It made me miss my son, who was tucked away with his Nana and about to be spoilt. When I arrived I was shattered but soon the tiredness melted into fascination. As we sped down the main boulevard in a taxi, I hadn’t really had time to think about the city, California’s sparking jewel. it was clearly unique, a long wide road flanked by tall glass apartments, the reflection of our yellow cab blurring as we sped past gleaming buildings, water curling around the gentle coast line, beautiful bridges closing gaps over pretty waters.
I was pleasantly surprised, I hadn’t really given any thought to the surroundings or history, I was just so looking forward to catching up with sis. She had her hair fashioned into a bob and had golden highlights, as thin as gossamer thread running through it. I always admired her trend setting new haircuts, she was always changing her look, this suited her. I tended to let my hair grow, as I would, never be able to afford regular trips to the salon. I was so good to see her, I never liked when she was out of the country for long, it felt too far from me.It was great to raid each other wardrobes, swap tops, talk hair and clothes and life and loves and just catch up, both hungry for news. The only person whose history paralleled mine with such accuracy. She was the only person I ever really felt close to apart from my ex best friend.
That night I watched her sleep, wide awake with jet lag keeping me alert and caffeine coursing through my veins. I have always had an addiction to caffeine, I ventured onto the balcony, in the cool night breeze, looking at flashing billboards advertising coca cola and other unrecognisable American products,I loved how foreign it looked. I peered at the San Francisco Giant’s stadium that loomed to the right of us.
Her apartment was a high-rise, glass fronted, a contemporary space. The view into other apartments opposite I found fascinating, it was like a multi TV screen, you could switch off the lights and just watch people in their homes, go about their lives. I found this odd, people didn’t seem to close curtains, or shut themselves in. A perverts paradise. I watched people, it felt like spying but I couldn’t not look. I'm sure if I had a telescope I would meet someone’s eye at his own telescope. I smoked and drank coffee and sat in the relative silence of the main boulevard just watching until I started to get chilly and feel sleepy, I tried to force myself to sleep, I’ve never been good without sleep, I get grumpy and am not able to function..
The following day we made our way to the consultant’s office and I waited and waited in a dark wooden-panelled corridor, as she lay on the operating table, for three hours more than I was told it would take. I wandered the streets, apprehensive, not venturing too far, drank coffees, read papers, bit nails, worried. She bled out and they had difficulty stopping the flow. I was in a foreign country alone and panicking, I was so relieved to see her wake up. The operation a success, new pert boobs proudly in place, bra shopping one of the first things she mentioned upon waking. That was my sis.
She was advised not to raise her arms above her head. Not to wash her own hair, I was there for that, to do the things she wasn’t supposed to. She was on Vicodin, spaced out and funny.Of course sis being sis and not able to sit still for long, she was soon dragging me around the shops on the lookout for a plethora of bras and bikinis. We stopped opposite Alcatraz, ate clam chowder and dipped hunks of soda bread into its creamy and dreamy richness.
We watched humongous seals laze and loll about on the decking under a warm sun and tourists skate by. The gay capital of the world, my friend would have loved to explore here, perhaps he will now? Not long after the operation we were soon out in a jazz bar meeting locals and dancing, arms above her head, against my advice. She had a set back and spent a few more days in bed recovering , giving me the freedom to roam the city and walk around the back streets, ride the tram, admiring the unique architecture. Each house representing a completely different period and style, so eclectic, I loved it.
I felt as if I were in a 1970's TV series , it had that sedate feeling.
When she was better recovered, we walked to the golden gate bridge and under it and over it, explored that bit of coast and wilted in the hot sun, we had such a fantastic day. As a treat she had booked a night out at a circus, but this was no ordinary circus, it was Cirque Du Soleil , A touring circus with a world renowned glittering French star at the centre – Gigi? It was set in a tall Grand marquee, opulently lavish, draped in swathes of thick red velvet, plush and swishing, embellished with gold tassels, dark solid wood pillars and circular tables sat in each alcove, each one set for six with heavy silver ware and exotic flower arrangements. It was like walking back into the early 19’00s. The atmosphere full of oohs and ah’s and wide expectant eyes.
A five course meal and expensive wine was served as a clown waitress tiptoed across the tables holding a precariously balanced silver-tray of drinks, trapeze artists swung overhead dangling by the crook of a knee, dressed in the skimpiest of sequinned costumes, everywhere you looked there was tasteful and exotic entertainment. We were at a table with random couples, one a honeymooning couple from Texas, full of love, smiles and romance, it somehow added to the ambiance.
The entertainment was world class; I was mesmerised. I watched my sister ease into conversation with this newly-wed couple. I envied how easily she connected with people, how they warmed to her. That’s how she gained success. She has that something I always wanted, confidence and sparkle, she has many friends from all over the world.
We were invited into the limousine with the wealthy newly-weds and whisked off to a jazz and blues bar, like one you see on TV, they exist and are truly beautiful, old faces with old souls, cowboy hats and crooners, supping whisky and Rye, jamming, fingering guitars and strumming base, lost in memories. It was incredible, I had to tell sis not to raise her arms, as she danced and swayed, she was getting intoxicated on drink, life, vicodin. happy and euphoric with her fascinating new boobs and the change that they would bring. Chatting to everybody, she was always the life and soul. We had to smoke outside, something that hadn’t settled back home, it felt weird and somehow right being made to stand outside.
My sis ever looking to do something new, something we shared, she convinced me that I should go back to my original colour, my hair at the time was long dark and lustrous, she said that I should get back to my lighter shade, although I couldn’t remember my exact natural colour, as I was struggling to keep up with grey roots, I started to go grey as early as twenty-six, something I put down to the stress of my latter years in Greece. We booked into a very expensive salon, where my beautiful locks were stripped bare, cut and dyed. The product of those three hours of labour , a ginger, not just any ginger but a luminously bright ginger, they tried to highlight it with gold to dampen the obvious colour and my floods of tears, it didn’t work, my sister called it strawberry blonde, behind a snigger, as I cried in the taxi. It makes me smile to see how vain I was, I even asked the taxi driver to confirm what colour he would describe my glowing hair, the answer unequivocally: Ginger which sent my sis in to fits of laughter.
My five-year-old son upon greeting me cried upon my arrival home, he had a new ginger mum, he eyed me suspiciously. I laughed and tried to convince him I was indeed mummy. I was back at the salon within a week and spent another three hours returning to a brunette, much to the relief of my son and everyone else.
Another incredible time in the land of wine tasting and eclectic buildings and open people.
2016 Present- Storm Cloud
Yesterday I had a down day, a storm cloud hovered over me, a complete bitch of a day. I felt low and angry for feeling low, I needed a duvet and chocolate and sleep in that order, after making my self go to work. I think it may have been the weather? May have been memories flooding in since writing this book? May have been the first cloudy day after three of brilliant sunshine, beach walks and a remarkably light moods. It may be that I was just fed up? I felt as though something was inside my head gnawing, as if my mind was woolly and where ever I looked was surrounded by smoke or haze. I wanted my partner to notice and squeeze me with a loving hug, but when depression grips you, it seems to rob you of your voice, I can't say 'I'm depressed,' my mouth won't allow it, nor will my pride. However I want someone to see it and grab me and stop it for me, I want then to notice it, so I don’t have to say the words. Is that silly?
I don’t want them to think I’m just grumpy or moody and needed a bit of quite time, I want someone , anyone, to take this bastard away from me and stamp on until it dies. That’s how suffocating it is, I don’t want it, I never asked for it. But it is here, always has been. It's stopped me being successful, I'm hoping to outwit it one day. I couldn’t smile yesterday, my shoulders were gripped so tight that I was all hunched up, like I was hung from dolly pegs by my shoulders and swung from a washing line, I looked stressed, pinched, uptight. My partner thinks I don’t love him, on these days because I find it impossible to get close or be warm, emotions totally wiped away as if I'm bewitched and I simply cannot smile, I'm locked inside me, my face looks severe,mean, but it isn't me, it's depression, it paralyses my emotions, I need to be taken and held tight. I just wish someone would realise.
1997 – Seville
I was still blonde, working at the Monthly's, my freckle-faced friend , living with me, we would sit for hours smoking, talking laughing, in our purple kitchen, her gappy-toothed laugh always contagious. We booked a holiday to Seville, She was dating an Italian man at the time, twice her age, maybe older, they only ever met at hotels, I never met him, He paid for a hire car and her airfare, I guess, she was his fancy bit, he wasn't married, so she said. She was embarrassed by him, but took his money all the same. Is this what she did to my dad? I was dating a man from work, the thespian, my rebound from my Greek disappointment. He invited himself, I was too polite to say no. So he tagged along. My sis, number one, was at the time on a sabbatical, away from university, six months in France , six months in Spain, a fair deal I thought. The perfect place for a trip out to catch up.
Seville was gothic-pretty, grey stone churches with intricate lattice work and gargoyles hidden in shaded corners, and a masterpiece cathedral with lots of sharp pointed spires and stain-glass windows , complex masonary skill creating laced patterns and silk smooth edges rising up into the sky, so delicate on looming towers, It took centre stage like a dark sketch in the middle of a sedate town. This was the home of marmalade, the famous Seville oranges, sour and yet ripening on row upon row of emerald green trees, in tended neat square groves. All nestled on the outskirts, filling the countryside air with citrus scents and boosting the local economy.
It was the funniest holiday I remember to date, punctured with humour and tear inducing laughter and so much fun.The car we hired, courtesy of freckled-face's lover, enabled us to travel around, five of us squashed in, one in th footwell, we visited quaint fishing villages with a seemingly ancient population and a sea of tangled nets and a strong odours of fish and salt. Baskets of natural sponges lined wonky pavements and wooden fishing boats sat askew in ridges of silt and sand, the tide out, way off in the distance.
We drove down to Granada and spent approximately five minutes on top of a mountain in the Sierra Nevada part of the region. This was owing to the fact we had driven up from glorious sunshine at the foot of the mountain and were all dressed in summer shorts and t shirts, girls wearing platformed black leather slip on's, as was dictated by the fashion of that time. When we reached the summit after a stomach-churning and winding trip, we arrived to snow, it was freezing, we agreed quite hastily that it was very beautiful and sped of back to the warm. There were five of us in a tiny car, a small framed, perhaps cotortioniast khalid in the footwell.
My sis was a dating a Muslim guy; Happy-Khalid, he didn’t speak a word of English, he had a lovely, freindly smile, and yet managed to wipe the floor with us at the post it note game 'gooday mate.' We visited the Alhambra Palace and admired the beautiful and jig-sawed walls of mosaic and cool shaded corridors and Grecian pillars, and cascading flowers, it was a lovely oasis in such an other wise plane and ugly area. I've never been keen on the baronness of Spain but envied its always sunshine.We larked about, hiding behind pillars taking silly photos of arms and legs sticking out. My freckle-faced friend walked directly a lamppost that evening and almost knocked herself out, no body could speak for laughing. Serves her right! We drove through quiet towns on warm nights, just observing everything.
Late one night,we went to a restaurant where the food was so disgusting, we all stuck two fingers up at it and took a picture. We saw Flamenco dancers flashing legs and swathes of colour and petticoats and sis took us right into the heart, where the depth of Spanish culture lived, thrived and pulsated with guitars and song, Spanish locals, a collection of nationalities and friends from her uni in Seville. They gathered to meet us, we drank local wine, raised glasses, talked and ate pealla and other local delights and celebrated being young and stupid. We smoked weed, I pretended to inhale although some went in and I sat dazed, we drank until we were too tired to take another sip. Played ridiculously funny drinking games. We laughed every day, all day. My Thespian friend feeling a little left out I think? It was obvious it was over before we stepped on the plane for Spain . He was there just to see if I could, my stepping stone from Greece to the UK, I should have stopped him going. I was too busy laughing and breathing in everything to be serious, after everything I had seen of deep relationships, no one could realy compare to the Greek man who adored my very soul nick named me something so very sweet, all those years before. I had a burning desire to just be as free as air. I looked at some of the photos today, we all looked so young and happy.
My sisters room mate was a uni friend K, she had the most amazing and alluring huge grey eyes and wore fake fur trim on her coats. Her make up always done to perfection, she was just gorgeousness itself, a fabulous looking girl with blonde hair cropped into slices and gelled back, she had a gargantuan heart too, she was sad behind those big eyes, loss touching her too, how life effects us. One of sis's close uni friends, there were many. I knew most of her friends from that decade, hung out with them from time to time, again cool by association, they were just that too, uber cool, and intelligent and cultured and forward-thinking go getters with pretty faces and pretty boyfriends, just like sis. Friends for life.
I spent time with these people in London, in Portsmouth, invited to nights out, meals, parties, clubs, carnivals, salsa nights. Again I never got really close, I was an observer, and an outsider, I wasn’t of course, but that's how I have always felt. Isn’t that sad? I put limitations on myself. I never spoke up much, just drank, smiled, watched and made polite conversation, evying their easiness and natural ability to be confident. A fraud I felt, I listened. I liked that, I love to watch everything around me, all the detail unfolding, as if I am not there but just a fly on the wall. I'm so used to it. I'm quiet.
More memories made.
Land of Dragons and Prince charming – 2011
After my writer friend had let me down, cancelling at the very last minute, on a two week tour of Ireland with my son. I was suddenly at a loss. I wanted to give my son a holiday still, my mind turning immediately to Wales, a place I had by this point visited on numerous occasions, both with friends and family and with of course him. I whipped up a last minute deal at a place that was tried and tested and quiet and rural and ruggedly coastal and just right. I arranged for one of my sons friends to come along, so he had some company. It was my very first holiday completely alone. It was after the trauma of the Aussie nonsence and my life was ticking along beautifully without a man in site. I had absolutely no interest, fearing the opposite sex were indeed all cretins with evil intentions. So I set off on a route I knew all too well. Winding roads, cut through dramatic dark, towering mountains, sprinkled with sheep, we were spit out into the mouth of Aberystwyth and its tall Victorian seafront and tired promenade.
I loved the drive, stopping at every nook and cranny to drink it all in. I never got bored with those superb views, views that relieved me of any stress, every time I peered at them in wonder watching red lites riding the wind. I told tales and silly stories as we crept along roads that went on for ever, I watched the boys stare out of the window as we passed an uneven coastline. I loved everything about the landscape here, the drama of it. All sharp hills and jagged lines and crashing seas. Glimpses of silver water apparent as we curved around the coastal road. A long trip for small boys.
I wasn’t in the least phased that I was alone , in fact it was refreshing, invigorating, most of my friends were knee-deep in relationships or married or coupled up, some desperately unhappy. I was glad of the freedom. I figured that it would just be me, alwyas, I liked it, I had really lived on my own for years. I was used to it. Saw no reason to believe that would ever change, I had my little man and my best friend, who had received a letter of scorn for his last minute let down, which I believe amused him no end, and my dog, what else could I possibly need.
We arrived at the most gorgeous of bays, small, tucked away. Rocks jutting from a lovely sea and a few simple necessary shops and a quaint Inn that would change the direction of my life for ever. Tranquillity reigned in this haven of mine. A local haunt. A place where I could stare at the sea for hours, vacant, and really not think about much at all. My son would build sand castles and tip toe tentatively around the sore line, peering at it under shielded eyes, uncertain of what just what lurked in it. He is still unsure of deep water, my long now teenage beautiful boy.
It was such a leisurely holiday, cooked breakfasts and hot coffee, reading newspapers, and watching kids at play and walking my jack Russell across long stretches of unspoilt beach. Perfect for an observer , not wanting to participate, only watch. We travelled to a nearby complacent town, with a lifeless arcade and a few tacky shops for the pleasure of the kids, and a more populated beach for their intrigue. I brought a blow up dinghy and wet suits for them and watched them float around the boats in the harbour with the dog sat looking apprehensive in the middle, not looking at all amused, as they giggled and splashed and got befuddled paddling the wrong way. What great days, we were blessed with sunshine. The entire week. One of those care free summer nights back at the inn we were staying at, my son had dragged me in to play pool, insisting I participate a little, concerned for my being alone. It's hard to explain to a child that solitude is some times bliss. So we went and placed out fifty pence species of the table.
It seems at that very precise moment another blonde haired boy had insisted the same of his blue eyed father. We were alone in the room and made polite coughing glances, acknowledging one another’s presence and nodded heads. I thought no more about it, played my son, beat him several times and then left to sit outside after ordering our evening meal.
The sun was setting, every where looked golden, it was still warm and I sat and kicked off my flip flops and closed my eyes listening to the sounds of holiday, seagulls wheeling and crying over head and the gentle soothing sea lapping away. I opened them to the man from the pool room, his shadow blocking my sun, he asked if he could sit at my table to eat as there was no room elsewhere. I was, if I’m honest slightly agitated. For no other reason than I was so enjoying my own company for the first time, a new experience.
Our meals arrived together, I remember he ate sea bass, a favourite of his still. The kids ate in the pool room. I listened to this man chatting away, a pleasant and ordinary man with extraordinary piercing blue eyes, bluer than the perfect summer sky earlier that day. Gentle, kind and his hair blonde with silver flecks, he looked Nordic and strong and his words flowed as easily as the sea water flooded in at high tide.We talked about kids, life, where we were from, all the normal pleasantries one talks about when there is no history to share. This man made him self available the following three nights, I thought he was on holiday too. He wasn't. He seeked me out after work. Later admitting he fancied me. I felt nothing of the sort, he didn't let it show. I did enjoy the conversation, it was very grown up sensible and easy, effortless, I never felt uncomfortable or threatened or eyed up. His son was playing with my son and his freind, It was simply nice. On our third night of sunsets and talks about everything that came into thought. We said our goodbyes with a light peck on the cheek and the promise of a perhaps catch up call one day, swapping numbers, or maybe a reunion to carry on talking.
It hurts my partner that the attraction wasn't instant for me, but it is that fact alone that would determine that he would be my life partner. Something grew that I never imagined possible. I think it has to grow this way for you to know for certain you have met your one. All of my relationships until now had been an instant attraction, infatuation, a body, a smile, confidence, something that is absolutley replaceable and is okay for now, but nothing to want to commit too. This is where I can easily trace the beginning of all of my past relationships, untill this one, I knew after our fist kiss there would never be another.
Our relationship started by telephone, no kiss to speak of, no cheesy chat up lines, no lust. Just a kind friendship that blossomed, with kind words and understanding and laughter, until one day, I realised something was brewing, a stirring and I looked a little deeper, closer, and suddenly I saw it, everything I had ever wanted, right there, in a blonde shell stood in front of me outside of a crumbling castle on a warm day where we shared our first kiss, the best kiss of my life, months after meeting and after endless conversations with not one mention of sex. That’s all it took. I was wooed by a gentleman and that’s all I had ever wanted.
My attraction grew from then, became unstoppable, passionate and romantic, the way it should be done, in romantic settings, beautiful locations. We popped a champaign cork on valentines day on a mountain side, both with mature outlooks and warm hearts. The best I have ever known, respectful, decent, and with the bonus of the best male legs I have ever seen. That combination together is powerfully attractive. When someone kisses you that loves you truly and you honestly love them back, I swear you can feel it from your head to your toes. I was forty before I felt this.
And it put me in a real quandary too. Now what on earth do I do? This is a long, long distance relationship. I was so settled had just moved to a new house, was making a lovely nest for me and my boy, We were good, school was great, work was great too. A friend had moved back to the village I had history with, my best friend only a phone call away, life was balanced and normal. Of course, this was new, but I would have to take a massive risk this time, my previous adventures of new I was alone, no body else to think of but me, now I had to consider my boy, the most precious thing in the entire world. What would this do to him? Would it unbalance him, could he adapt, would it be okay? I think it was only the absolute certainty of this being for life that made my mind up.
We spent most weekends meeting up in remarkable places, we walked across farm and field, up mountains and through valleys, hand in hands always, our feet striding in perfect rhythms,we had the same leg length, as if we were made to walk together, maybe this irritated my friend, the fact I had met someone to walk with? This was something so deep for us both, we made many memories and quickly, with the kids too, we weren’t young, no time to waste. My depression out of sight, for now, I thought he had cured me. All past relationships blown out of the water. It was him and no doubt about it!
This was it, we both felt it. Euphoria, light at the end of the longest tunnel. But what about our kids? What would they think, could they possibly learn to have new people in their lives? We had to introduce them into this relationship soon, maybe too soon, he was divorced a few months before, a doting father, had his kids at every opportunity, wanted to, needed to, I loved that he was a great father, I didn’t want to leave my son out, We had to involve them all pretty much weeks into this. It was after all because of our boys that we met.
What would this do to his daughter? A confused daddy's girl, who wasn’t going to let anyone near him quite so easily. My obstacle to happiness was her, is her, she was going to make my journey as difficult as she possibly could, which as a thirteen year old child was acceptable, understandable, she was hurting, I got that and I really tried to give her freindship extend my hand. Now, as an eighteen year old, you would think she would just let it go. She is still trying, to create issues, where there are none, silly really, battling her own demons unsuccessfully, a cotton-wool wrapped princess, with a fragile heart. This excuse has lingered for too long. Respect is either present or it is not, it is not. She is a madam, who has fought life with tantrums and tears, and is used to winning, I don’t come from that world, and will not accept that world either. I have met and tackled much worse in life, it will fade, or it won't, either way is fine, I love her stupid stubborn face, she can't see it, wants to fight, not just me, the world it seems. His boy, easy going, light-hearted, fun, no problems there, he and my son get on, get on well really well.
Our time together only got better, gets better. Things are rose-tinted and we were, are, just, in-time, perfectly harmonised, peas in a pod. Were and still are totally in love. We continue to walk into a brightly-lit future, both settled in the type of days we wish to live as our children, one by one disappear to worlds of their own. My man, my lovely uncomplicated man, whose arms are strong, whose heart is loyal and whose passion is eternal. How lucky I am for him. We walk at every opportunity creating the best memories, always hand in hand and kissing on every bridge. I think I am right, I hope to god my instinct, for once, is right!
We had been glued tightly together for two amazing years, when the news struck into our lives, like a lightening flash, invading our peace, interrupting our journey. I froze completely, I suddenly forgot how to be this new happy me, like someone had turned off the music, dimmed the lights. Depression immediate as my grandparents left this earth, my only true stability, I didn’t cope well, people said; 'Well, they had a good innings, both in their late eighties.' But people didn’t get the closeness, didn't understand the severity of those losses. They were a rock, that taken away, would cause worlds to crumble, especially mine and lives to change forever. People didn’t understand I could not cope with change and this was huge, by the time I was slightly getting used to the fact they weren’t there at number 33 eating foxes cream biscuits and drinking strong tea and eating doorstop sandwiches. BAM, my mum goes and has a bloody stroke.
It broke me, right there on the spot. And he, my beautiful man, has been putting me back together ever since. This lovely lovely man. I'm not fixed yet. When we met, I looked in my mid-thirties at fortyyears old, now I look mid-fifties at only forty five, he pretends not to see it, compliments me every single day, tells me he loves me at the end of every phone call, still holds my hand, treats me as if I am his lady, the most precious thing in the world. God I love this man. He never gave up on me, dont think he ever will. Please, please instinct do your job!
My boy was at this time still waddling around in nappies and was fascinated by all things new. we had booked a holiday, all of us, the garden gang, we took bikes and food and laughter and booze, all that was needed. Whispers that the northern man with white smiles might join us for a night, piqued my interest, having me franticly searching my wardrobe for something that didn’t make me look fat.
My freckle-faced friend, her sister and her partner and his guitar, a sultry neighbour and her 3 kids, my mums blonde friend, my immediate very quiet and lovely gay next door neighbour. And other interesting characters assembled in this nature reserve, not an hours drive away from my red-brick village, yet it seemed a world away, a man-made oasis of calm, white swans, grey squirrels, and lakes and an abundance of tall trees shadowing the mossy forest floor. The freedom of a holiday with all of the people you know and love was easy and was much needed. My dad, the silly child creating obstacle courses and traps to entice squirrels into the apartment, a Doctor Doolittle, his fondness of animals annoying the hell out of my mum, who spent the entire time sweeping peanut shells and other remnants of squirrel food and shooing uncooperative, aggressive swans out of the apartment.
He came one night, the Northerner, loud and obvious, and as mum watched my boy sleeping and dreaming happy thoughts. A few of us decided to do a ghost walk, adults and the older kids, after too much drink, weaving in and out of dense woodlands , spooking one another and annoying fellow tourists with our slef scaring screams. We got hopelessly lost and found giggling the best resolve to the situation. We were out until the sky turned from tar back to navy and the Northern man flirted and suggested the green light for romance. The guitar was playing requested songs by our talented C, He was so very good, a gravely voice and a natural ability to pick up a tune, I wrote him songs, we sang together. It was all so good. Friends, how important they are.There were many holidays like this, with this specific group of wonderful normal people, we holidayed, called, visited, laughed, danced, celebrated, became together as if it never hadn’t been that way, history winding around us all like bind weed.
We had two apartments, next door to one another, we all went off on various adventures, bike rides, spa treatments, my mum drinking quite a bit, even back then, my dad noticing with a critical eye.My boy discoed at night chasing flashing lights on the floorboard, exhausting himself and falling asleep in his pushchair and by day, I held him as we floated around the pool and played games and ate chips and ice cream. My freckle-face friend was with the Elvis enthusiast a drinker with such a lovely heart, his sister was their too all fun and silliness, skinny as a rake, would joke about anything that moved, she was hiding fear, covering up alcoholism and fear. Later, much later, suffering her own breakdown as she let the pretence drop and let someone help her, her kids are adorable and stunning, and successful, she has the kind of personalty that makes you want to stay, to be around her, easy-going and kind and so very down to earth, a stunningly attractive woman in her hey day, who was whisked of to the Seychelles for the wedding most girls dream of.
Her mum was the strongest, loudest and funniest personality in my home village, aunty M. Everyone knew that name, Irish descendant, one of nine, I knew them all. A character to rival all characters, witty, comical, drank most men under the table, danced until her soles were worn, lived live to its absolute maximum, she had the biggest sense of mischief known to man, Her funeral was the best attended I have seen, every one immaculately dressed in black and laughing at the pire of stories aunty M had got up to during her infamous years in our tiny village. There should be a plaque with her name outside of the local shop reading: And now you know it! A line she said over and over all of her exiting and fun life. I remember being about seventeen and going in to visit her at home, where she sat next to an orange glowing gas fire, supping on half a Stella, I was wearing a top she liked and she badgered me until until I left without it. Her philosophy on life was; live it, enjoy it, maybe there's a lesson there? I saw her at the hospital shortly before she died, I took her to see my mum, her old pal, who was also in on the adjacent ward, convalescing after a stroke related illness. They held hands knowing there was no time left, all of the mischievous days had run out, they were at the end, a tear escaped them both but not a word spoken. Thye never saw each other again.
At night we often stayed in drinks flowed, conversation just bled into the night, we wrapped up in blankets and sat outside, watching giant moons and milky shadows, checking on sleeping kids, supressing laughter, while we sipped on spirits and nibbled on snacks and laughed so loud we were told off by the neighbours. We were a giant group of family, not blood family but just as important. I could pick up the phone to any of them at any time should I need a friend. It was taken for granted, only when that era ceased, did I miss it like nothing else. My Freckle-faced friend, what did you go and do?
Meeting Miss P 2003
This is quite bizarre. Across from the redbrick house where I lived with my son, my dream home, when I was growing up, there used to live an Irish family The B's, At the head of this family, the lady that worked at the Castle, taking money in the booth with the hearty laugh. She lived with her sons, daughters and hubby, She was great friends with Aunty M. The house was a typical Irish open-house, endless cups of teas and chatter. One of her sons I knew well, I attended his funeral only last year, a shockingly early and unexpected loss for such a lovely handsome man, some one who once tied me to the roundabout and spun me until I threw up and threw away my shoes! His sister used to babysit us. It was that kind of village, all familiar and entwined. When The Irish Matriarch Died and the house was sold on , it was by coincidence to another Irish woman. Miss P. I Met her one day, walking back from play school, one sunny morning, her daughter was there and became a play mate for my boy.
She was new to the area, didn’t know a soul, I introduced myself and said if she was ever at a loss for a bit of company, to call over. She did, and I'm so glad she did. I spoke to her just two days ago, we talked for nearly two hours. I told her about the loss of my freind, her reply made me smile, she isn't sublte and I love her for it. She puts things into perpective in the simplest of ways, she gets me .
She made me laugh, there was something quite unique about her, Her accent strong from southern Ireland, I struggled to make sense of her words, still do sometimes. Especially after a few pints. I called her my little leprechaun, she has a pixie-like face and beautiful blue eyes that shine with long-lashed mischief, she is tiny and yet has the heart of a lion, ferocious if needed. God help anyone who upsets her girls. I love that despite her own background, very similar to my own, where she was granted absolute freedom ,mostly becuause it was easier than instilling rules and making any effort to be a parent. She is such an amazing mum, her daughters are not only virtous and kind but beautiful fromwithin, the type of kids you actually enjoy being around. Her dad recently passed away, I know how she feels, I'm probably one of the only people who has felt it too. Dealing with this has crushed my little leprechaun , I recognise the faded light and the sad tones in conversation and the devastsed sighs. He was her closest allie in life. I know she must be in terrible pain.
Her open-house continuation and her endless cups of tea and pints of lager or wine and down to earth ways were so warming. I genuinely love people who are just themselves, no pretence, no need to impress or to prove anything, I admire people just oblivious that pretentious world. I loved that I could sit in my PJ’s with unkempt hair, last nights make-up and she wouldn’t bat an eyelid, a sisterly friendship. If I needed sugar, money, an ear, it was there, if dinner was served and I was present, I ate too. My boy was an extension of her kids, always welcome. I like that side of people. A levendissa as Mama Maria would say. We spent a lot of time putting our worlds to rights, enjoying summers our kids in paddling pools, trips to the park, endless trips to the sweet shop for icepoles and a quarter of this or that, school plays and back yard performances, we watched our kids shift and change with the years. Her oldest daughter was recently accepted into university, I was so proud! I missed her when I left but she never changed, thankfully she stayed just the same. Just there, in that house in that street, just a bit broken.
My fear of alcohol.
Growing up alcohol was everywhere, I was swimming in it, not literally of course but it was everywhere. My dad was either at the pub or at home, pushing a drink into someone’s hand in our living room and having a good old knees up. My mum drank to join in ,knowing if she didn’t jump on his wavelength she would most probably have despised him. It was a village full of drinkers, big Irish families with a pub as its communal lounge, drink driving hadn't been introduced and there seemed to be pissed people everywhere after dark. It was just what everyone did, had a beer, fell in a garden, got taken home in a wheel-barrow, these things actually happened.
I feared any kind of alcohol would turn me into some psychotic bitter nut case, or at very least a blathering idiot, as I had witnessed tears,tantrums and strange alcohol induced outbursts in my mums living room, at most parties. It seems I shouldn’t have worried, the menopause took care of that all by itself.
It started when we were young. Parties with dollie-birds in stockings, and their long-haired partners, status quo guitaring it's three repetitive cords into a small packed living room, raucous voices, drunken play and they were all stinking of booze, dancing, slurring and looking very ridiculous to innocent young children. Guests waking us up as we slept in fleecy nighty’s, mistaking our bedroom for the loo, pinching our cheeks, telling us how cute we were. Lipstick smeared faces, leering and pretending to be sober. We hated it. I wanted our family to be normal. Like the blonde girls at the top of the street, quiet and still and familfied. I wanted a home cooked tea sat around the table, where parents talked to you about your day and showed an interest in progress.
Patted you on the back for a good exam result. Rewarded you for good behaviour. I wanted to be shaped by my parents eagerness for our success, instead of their selfish need to flutter away money on booze and pubs. I wanted them to save, should we want to go to university or get married or need a leg up with a first car. I wanted normal parents. We had dinner on a tray on our laps in front of the TV, I now insist on diner at the table, although, when alone, I love a lap dinner. I guess old habits die hard.
What I got was fun-loving party goers, with good looks and no bloody sense, Love yes, especially from mum, but it was a gentle love that didn’t shape us, she wanted to be our friend to be liked by our friends, and it worked, our mates loved it at ours, of course they would, there were no rules! Every kids dream, friends came and went as if it were indeed their house. It wasn't normal. Out parents couldn’t be bothered to see that we worked hard for our education or made sure we went to college. They couldn’t get us to work fast enough so we could help with the bills.
My dad actually thought it was a farce that sis number one should go to college at all and later uni, a waste of time when she could be earning. It was as if we were the parents and they the children, not educated, stubborn and would not bend or conform. It sometimes felt as if you were in prison with no way out, unless you fought to the top or ran away. Which is precisely what we did. We scattered to anywhere but home. Our poor little sister didn’t have us around, but she had friends, lots of them, at least we had each other.
I recall one day sitting on the sofa holding my mums hair as she was sick into a plastic bowl, after one too many rum and cokes. I remember looking at that bowl the next day as she filled it with hot soapy water to wash the pots and I was disgusted. I'm sure she would have bleached it, but the memory she couldn't wash away. What kind of life was that for a child? We were brought up in a party environment where nothing was too serious, everything smoothed over with laughter or jokes.
But - I forget she held my hair too, when I was sick she also held my hand when I was scared. As an adult I realise I had no right to criticise, I hadn’t lived in her shoes, such a lesson.
Perhaps this is why I’m so serious and such a deep thinker? Maybe it was only when I left homes and spent years away in another country, where children are at the epicentre of importance. Only then did I forgive them for such a shit start. Only then as an adult with distance between us, could I enjoy the delights of number 19 and its generosity and party atmosphere. Of course I had learned a new language, a culture, I felt a sense of achievement.
May be only by distancing yourself do you actually get to appreciate it, in all of its absurdity. Maybe that childhood was my trigger to always be searching for new, better, different?
1986 -Meeting Sister Number Two
Little sis, When she came along I was seventeen, working two jobs as a waitress and babysitting where ever possible to top up my wages. It was after one of these exhausting shifts at midnight, that I returned home to my mum who sat cradling a tall glass of rum and coke, sat under our multi-lit flashing Christmas tree with a tear-stained face.
I kicked off my shoes, made a coffee and sat next to her, cross legged on the floor, immediately thinking the worst. I was just coming out of my anxiety and panic attack period, I was dreading that she might have more bad news. I questioned her, almost not wanting to know the answer. Asking her what on earth brought on tears at midnight. She assured me I would be ashamed, I thought for certain this was going to tell me she was dying. Impatient for the answer, I snapped she should tell my right away. After battling the news out of her, I got
She was 39 years old, today no would would think twice, but she was embarrassed because of her age. I was so relieved I squeezed her tight as she sobbed into her drink, I guessed hormones? I thought it was the best news I had ever heard, I was elated and didn’t sleep a wink that night form both shock and excitement. I rememberer running my hands across the lumpy wall paper smoothing them over the rice grains sized lumps, cooling my hot hands and picturing a new baby, where would it go? I wondered and hoped it might be in here with me, one of the two small bedrooms of the house. The very next morning I was walking on air, such terrific news, I couldn’t stop smiling. It's just what we all needed, a new innocent face to bring light into our disorderly home.
I think my reaction gave her confidence, a green light to go ahead and let the news out, although she didn’t manage to tell her parents until she was seven months gone, just how she kept it from them, I’ll never know? They came every Saturday morning for tea and biscuits. I'll never forget the day mum stood up in a baggy top and smoothed her elegant hand over a pregnant belly. Grandma spat out her tea and I'm sure granddads falsifies popped out just a little. It was so funny, she needn’t have worried they were ecstatic at hearing this marvellous news, someone else to love, another addition to watch over, another child to spoil rotten and cherish, their own personal lottery. That's what they did best, love.
The morning I finally got to meet my little sister, I had been babysitting and had stayed over. My dad came to get me and my sister who was babysitting else where, it was a very lucrative business back in the day. His smile was wider than wide, it could only be good news. He waited until we were together to say:
'You have a sister!'
It was a sunny morning and my dad couldnt't contain his excitement. He hurried us into the car, we got cards on the way.
My mum, true to form after a very short and easy labour, sat looking radiant in a pink nighty, her face shiny and beaming joy. She was holding this tiny morsel with a shock of black hair , I had never seen so much on a newborn, It all disappeared after a few weeks and was replaced with wispy white-blonde.
The smell of her I remember most, the newness, a fresh unique smell only babies posses. her skin was as delicate as silk and as soft as a peach, her eyes cool and inquisitive. She was gorgeous, we fell in love with her instantly, I have been in love with her ever since, she had added an beautiful dimension to my life, she was sent from god, to keep us sane and together, such a beautiful soul.
Mum had an easy ride, two grown up daughters, fighting for the opportunity of taking over. I took her out paraded her to my friends , took her to work, changed nappies, fed and cuddled. It was the strongest sense of feeling protective toward someone, in hadn't experienced it before. I remember taking her down to the tree-lined park, for a stroll, and feeling nervous, like maybe I should have a machete, in case anyone should try to harm this innocent shawl wrapped thing that shared my blood, such a powerfeul experience. I was overwhelmed by how strong this feeling was, and knew when my time came , I would be a good mother.
Sis number one was off in Barcelona not long after she was born , so I got to have her all to myself for a short while, until I went to live in Greece. I missed her so much, my wispy-haired ball of cuteness.
Mum was so relaxed, such a mother earth, she didn’t have that jumpiness of first time mums, she was seasoned, had done it before. They were really lovely days, in that red brick house.
WTF? Greece, Secret Door
WTF, If that phrase had been around in the late nineties, I would have probably used it very often, like when my Greek partner started to wear a leather jacket in the middle of summer to hide his arms. Like when he woke in the night disorientated and pissed over of the balcony onto the street below, so out of it. Like when he came home with a tag heuer watch as a gift on a bakers wage. WTF, Yes it would have come in useful.
One sunny morning as birds chirped he informed me that he was asked to help on a do-gooder mission,delivering bread to the less fortunate, he asked if I would like to join him, although uncharacteristicly nice, and although I had never met these friends, I thought they must be wonderful, doing such a lovely thing. Of course I would go, I wanted to help do something nice.He borrowed a van from work there must have been over two hundred loaves of freshly-baked bread and a thousand bottles of water, perhaps more. It smelled divine.
We drove in this uncomfortable van, we drove for hours, in the sticky heat as an orange sun was setting, I kept my eyes on it slowly sinking. He was tired, always tired, and in no mood for conversation.We drove until we were out of the city, until there were no building, just acres of baron rock-littered land. I was surprised when we pulled up at an old deserted air hanger, I thought we would be off to a rural village with a poor community welcoming us as we handed out bread like Jesus. It was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Miles from anywhere. A huge mud-green door covered the front of the concrete building, there other cars there. I opened the door to jump our eager to strength my legs curious as to where we were. He barked, I should stay in the car. I took um bridge, turned my back to him and shoved my nose into the air, I hadn’t driven god knows how many miles to sit in the van, he was insistent, snappy.
Two men came out looking all around before meeting his gaze, I heard hushed tones asking what I was doing there, something didn’t feel right. I think I heard something about less suspicious in his reply? What could be so bloody secret about bread and water WTF! They unloaded all of the crates of bread and water, the door open a fraction , I thought I heard groans and whispers, shifting bodies, shuffled and muffled voices? The men looked sinister, they didn’t smile back at me, they didn’t seem like the charitable types. It was days later when I over heard a conversation, something about a ship and people drowning, at first I thought perhaps he was discussing the news. After I saw his temper rise and his fist slamming into the the wall, I realised what those people were. Those souls behind that secret door must have been asylum seekers, mid journey? I was scared to ask afraid of what that could mean if I knew. I stayed the little lamb , quiet, dumb. Longing to get home.
The next WTF day was not long before departing for home. The final straw. We were due an outing after a long week at work and organising the move to the UK we had planned to relax at our favourite café, drink ice cold frappes, and sit under the shade of an olive tree and stretch our legs as we people watched. This particular café was on the side of a mountain, that sold Christmas trees and honey in winter. A bit of time together before I left, secretly hoping he wouldn’t follow.
We arrived and took our places under dappled sunlight. Just as our shoulders relaxed into the morning and we were – I thought – shaking off stress. A car pulled up and a tall man in a leather jacket and ray bans got out. His car was shiny with blacked out windows and sounded throaty. My Greek man appeared to know him, they embraced and slapped backs, they knew each other well. He introduced me I was polite but pissed off too, I thought we could at least share a day, a moment, even if in my heart it was to say goodbye, just in case.
The man suggested we go for a ride in his car, my Greek man suddenly remembered he had to pick something up. We left our brand new moped and got in the shifty looking mans car and drove towards an affluent area of the city. I gave my man a death stare, I wasn’t happy at this obviously planned diversion. He assured me that it wouldn’t take long and that we would soon be back on the mountain doing our planed walk and talk.
We pulled onto a busy street, it was a scorching day, they jumped out and asked me to stay in the car, I had steam coming out of my ears , our day ruined. They pulled a small holdall bag out of the boot. I was sticky, my clothes sweat soaked, I got out abandoned the car and went to get an ice-cream, and a newspaper, they were taking ages. I sat under a row of trees on a bench, fanning my self with the newspaper. When I wondered back to the car he was there, running sweaty fingers through black curls, yelling 'I told you to stay in the car.' Agitated. My blood was by now boiling. The car screeched away without us in it, he dragged me to the bench I had just left and grabbed my paper, pretending to read as police car after police car screamed onto the street skidding in front of the building my man had just vacated. Blue Sirens whirring and doors slamming as a plethora of uniformed men ran into it shouting, pulling out guns. I said nothing but my heart was racing, I could hear blood rushing through my head. WTF had he just done? I followed the news for the next few days and found nothing. I was terrified and eager to be as far away from this place as possible. I remember looking at his face that very evening as he snored away as if were just a normal day, I wanted to punch him and wished for the physical strength to do him harm, it is the first and last time I have wanted to physically harm someone.
The next day I took myself off, away from him, finding a hideaway. A walled garden in the centre of Athens, A place overrun with feral cats, there wasn’t much love for them there, apart from a few, like me, who would leave food and a charity that would neuter a select few. I took a carrier bag full of scraps of food and left it in various spots under trees and bushes. I strolled around shaded paths until I came to the zoo, at the centre. A small zoo it was so neat, a row of trees at exactly the same height, ducks floating around a dirty pond forming a perfect circle. Hedges recently trimmed into oblongs, the sky cloudless, blemish free. It all seemed so in order, compared to my chaotic life. I found sanctuary here, I sat for hours people watching. Trying to ignore the pulse at my temple,tapping and squeezing, stressing. I was Counting the hours, desperate to get to that place I cursed for my shitty start, back to number 19.
I didn’t tell anyone, maybe sis number one? After all who do you tell that you suspect your seven year partner an armed robber and possible a refugee smuggler too? Who? Thank god his mum wasn’t around to see this. Did I tell his brothers, who would have beat the crap out of him for being so stupid? Maybe I should have? Did I tell my work colleagues who were decent law abiding citizens? Did I tell my parents and worry them to death. The authorities? Who?
I told no one. I kept it all in my head much to my detriment.
I should of told his dad, who had not long been on a trip to Albania to buy himself a new wife for his island home in Corfu. He liked to bully people. That boat sank and saw them rescued and the new wife shipped back by the authorites, until he could afford a new boat. WTF! No wonder Mama Maria, wanted out of that life , she was such a dignified woman, We laughed about this Mama Maria and me as we sat in that tiny kitchen, drinking super sweet coffee. She never once let on she was hurt. The humiliation must have been such a burden. He was a horrid man, Eastern, ill-tempered, a chauvinistic pig. I was glad she was rid of him. Bloody mess it all was. Ilonged for number 19 and all of its relativly normal chaos.
So, who am I? What have I discovered about me?
I am not a bad person, I honestly thought I must be. I am Carla Joanne Day, born at ten to midnight on a Monday,on the second of November, supposedly fair of face, maybe once upon a time. I am an ordinary person in an extraordinary world, living an ordinary life. This isn’t a story ending on a podium of success, it isn't a love story, rather a story of love, my complex life story and all I have loved and lost.
I don’t have favourites, no favourite colour, song, film, food, flower, book, poem, season, place or person. I think there is too much beauty and variation in this world to limit yourself to just one of anything. I think my obsession for new things wouldn’t allow me to settle on one item alone.
I believe knowledge is power and the best thing you can do for your children is empower them and surround them with love. My political beliefs are labour, through and through, I come from a long line of blue-collar workers, of whom I am massively proud, the backbone of our nation who got their hands dirty for our benefit. I have lived as a single parent and believe I wouldn't have faired so well under another government. Even though I worked hard and have little to show for it. I love that we live in a democracy, that we have that choice.
I am a fiercely loyal friend, friendship means the world to me, I love the history to it. I love to drive on a summers evening with the windows down, it reminds me of long journeys to holiday. I like Sunday morning lie-ins, followed by a bacon sarnie, fried not grilled. My biggest joy has been to watch my boy develop into this decent and kind human being, I'm extremity proud I had something to do with that, a pretty big achievement in today’s selfish world. I love my family unconditionally, no matter how mad they make me, I forgive whatever there is to forgive, if you don’t forgive , you become stuck in a very horrible place, who needs that? I plan to laugh more.
I know I will walk into my future with muddy boots and lungs bursting with fresh air, I will be peeking around new corners for the rest of my life, or as long as my legs will carry me. I'm glad I have someone with the same wish by my side. I will always write for my own cathartic pleasure, even if no one ever reads it. I suffer with depression, I no longer cringe when I say those words, it doesn’t define me , I wont let it!
I hate cruelty to animals, racism and bullying. I think we should look after our planet for future generations. If I could change just one thing it would be absolutely nothing. It has all been a wonderful lesson. Even the storm clouds. If I could do one thing again it would be to re capture my sons early years, they were irreplaceable and truly magical. I hope to be reunited with who ever I have lost during this lifetime, somewhere in the universe, on my next journey, even though I believe in no god. If I could suggest one thing that is a must, it is be to do a random act of kindness, just once in your life.
I think even on my death-bed I will be in search of new, perhaps I will demand a funeral pire on a raft like the Sikh goodbye, request to be dressed in white silk and be covered head to toe in fragrant gardenias and set alight on a tranquil lake at sunset. With everyone I love at the waters edge, lighting candles and setting them on the water, wouldn’t that be something?
I do not want to be buried, my only wish in death. I am forty five now and hope to write my next chapters in my late seventies, I'm hoping they will be just as eventful, just as adventurous, and just as happy and just as sad. I hope to travel the world, there is far too much left to see, If I could give one piece of advice, it would be that of aunty M's; Live life exactly how you want to live it, dance until your soles are worn ,laugh until your belly aches, look as if you are seeing things for the first time. Be kind, considerate and don’t let anybody make you fell bad about yourself.
As for my old friend, as I said in the beginning, I let him go, made peace with that situation, I wish him well.