- Holly Searle
- London, United Kingdom
- Holly Searle is a writer who was born in Westminster in the middle of London. She shares her birthday with Jarvis Cocker and David Seaman and like Jarvis Cocker she wears glasses but has nothing whatsoever in common with David Seaman. She is fascinated by words, people and their stories, and regularly spends hours fantasising about being offered a weekly column. She has a degree in Film and Television which she gained from Brunel University in 1997. She has been blessed with two quite remarkable children whom she adores. She enjoys the company of her friends and the circus that is life. Long Walk to Forever by Kurt Vonnegut is her favourite short story. She is the author of the published children's tale The Story of Balan Singh, and is currently working on her first book.
Thursday, 9 February 2017
Wow what an arse of a year that was.
There’s a hill that ascends Highgate Cemetery that is particularly testing on the legs. But what is even more debilitating about this hill, is the fact that it just goes on and on and on. When you eventually see that the end is in slight (the entry gate to the cemetery), if you had any breath left in your body, you would probably shout "Hallelujah". Never, ever in your life, will you be so happy to finally reach your intended destination: the entrance to a graveyard (or maybe you will).
2016 was a bit like that hill. As Big Ben rung in 2017, we all collectively shouted "Hallelujah" even if it did remind us all that Leonard Cohen who both wrote and performed it, was also one of its many casualties.
It was alight wasn't it? Wasn't it? No it wasn't as people started to get hurt and it didn't seem like a good start to the year.
In response, we all stuck two fingers up at 'It' (not the clown in the Stephen King book, but just as evil) and attempted to became more human via technology in spite of it all.
But it just seemed to get worse didn't it? It didn't seem to ease-up on the misery front at all. Instead, it felt like it was raining death. Our collective mortality seemed to be up for auction at any price. Who will be next we wondered as no one appeared to be safe.
Then it all got a bit too personal for me and mine when my mum suffered a brain aneurysm. It was horrific for all of us: was she going to live or die? If she survived, how would it affect her? Would she remember her life? Would she remember us? How were we prepared for this?
It was an unrelenting nightmare that she eventually survived. As a child, when your parent becomes sick, you experience a multitude of emotional responses, one of which is a numb void of the exhaustion you constantly feel.
You develop compassion fatigue for all that is external or irrelevant to that time and space.
In a word, it was shit.
It could be worse though couldn't it?
Whilst my mum lay in the ICU, a ward of 10 beds, I was taking a break downstairs when I literally bumped into a family friend. I had been thinking I should call this friend and let her know about mum's situation. So when I saw her I asked her if my aunt had called her. I will never forget the look of realization that crossed her face as she covered her mouth with her hand. No, she didn't know about mum. She was there because her brother-in-law (another friend of ours) had also suffered a brain aneurysm and was laying in the bed opposite mum's. It was too much to process. What are those odds? He was a young healthy middle aged man. He didn't smoke or do any of those apparent bad life choices that people make. My mum however, well she was an all singing and dancing smoking drinker in her late 70's.
He never woke-up and died shortly afterwards.
Even as I type that, I still cannot believe that it happened. That poor man. The grief expelled by his family was just crucifying: and I felt terribly guilty about the fact that my mum did wake-up.
As the year progressed, life changed and with it relationships. Imagine trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with a blindfold on. That's what it was like.
Nothing seemed to make too much sense any more, whilst at the same time, it all seemed far too overwhelming to make sense of. Everyday life still had to go on: ironing and shopping still needed to be completed and done. But, it was hard to find an even keel on board a boat in a stormy sea sometimes.
As the year headed towards the festive season I lost my job and my mate. I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep and some days I did. My mum has always said that you should listen to your body and so I did.
Like all of you, as we crawled towards New Year's Eve and the conclusion of this shitty year, I was determined that 2017 would be a better destination. 2016 taught me to appreciate everything and to take nothing for granted. And time is ticking. Listen and you'll hear it. It won't wait for you to make the best use of it if you choose not too you know: it will just tick tock on and leave you standing.
I spent the impending hours of 2016 in the company of my dearest friend. She is clever and wise and smart and extremely emotionally generous. I love her unreservedly. Last year she said to me 'Feel the love Holly.' And even though I felt a huge amount of sorrow for all that I lost personally and collectively in 2016, I am not going to miss a thing in 2017. I am blessed and grateful to have so many and so much on my side and that my mum is still here.
Don't get so bogged down with the big stuff, it just blows away like petulant tumble weed after a while if you ignore it: just breathe, get up every day and do what makes you happy. As long as you tick all of the boxes, you're allowed.
And if you're not happy, then ask yourself why and how you can change that. You can you know.
2017 is a new chapter waiting for you to write.
Remember that Shia LaBeouf 'Just do it.' video?
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Last night, before I went to bed, I wrote the following line in an email.
Sometimes what we need and what we want are separate matters.
In bed I read a little before deciding that it was getting far too late to carry on with this nightly indulgence. So I turned the light off and fell asleep.
And then I woke-up.
Eyes opened and wide awake assuming it was, as it usually is, around 6am. I check the time and discover that it is actually just after 1:30am.
Being a self confessed opportunist, I check the news feed to see what's happening in the US Presidential Elections, to discover that it's still early days with Hilary trailing to Trump.
Oh! Oh No, Oh No, Oh No, Oh No I think.
Hang on I tell myself, just calm down and try and go back to sleep. You have an interview tomorrow and you need to be rested.
So I attempt to go back to sleep.
This is proving difficult as I am starting to stress about the state of mutanity and the prospect of Trump actually, ACTUALLY, winning and how that will pan out for all of us.
Then I try to dismiss this notion and trick myself into going back to sleep by thinking about needs and wants.
What do I need? And What do I want? I ponder in the hope that a little narrative will unfold, that will eventually lead to a sounder sleep.
A new job is a definite priority Need having just been made redundant for the second time in three years. Without work I cannot earn enough money to pay for the life I have and am responsible for providing for my son.
I Need to that to happen and soon.
I lay there scrunched-up in the duvet and decide that Needs are different from Wants: as Wants are sometimes unobtainable desires like Wanting to win the lottery. In reality, I won't win the lottery, as it is more realistic to find a job and to earn money rather that fantasizing about all the things I could do (to quote ABBA) if I had a little money.
I also surmise that Needs like family, friendship, shelter, warmth, health, food and water are all givens that I have in my life. I am therefore rich. A millionaire in fact.
To Want these and to never have them, must be a lonely predicament.
I fall asleep.
Then I wake again.
Eyes open, wide awake!
It's now 4 something and I wonder if there will be a woman or a man in the White House. So I check the news feed again. It's looking grim but as yet undecided.
I tell myself that I Want a woman in the White House. I am not a religious bod, but I say a little prayer that Trump isn't the people's choice. I also decide that the global herd's woes, worries and wishes are what's interrupting my sleep.
I doze off.
When I next wake-up, I immediately check the latest. I think it must be all over and it is now, as Trump is now a Top Trump and Hilary is fast becoming yesterday's fish and chip paper.
I get up and it's dark and rainy outside. It looks like what I envisage Armageddon might look like, although really it's just after 6am on a Wednesday morning in November in 2016.
To accompany this nihilistic scene Morrissey begins singing November Spawned A Monster in my mind palace. I close the curtains and I go and make a cup of tea as I Need one.
The day unfolds. My son gets up and I just say to him 'I don't want to talk about it.' We watch the news on the black mirror in silence and he hugs me before he goes off to school.
I return to the telly. Trump, Trump, Trump.
Dess my Step dad always called farts Trumps.
I get ready for my interview whilst watching Trump making his speech. He exits to the Rolling Stones song You can't always get what you want and for a brief moment I wonder if one of his aids has forgotten to change the record in view of the result, as this sounds like a losers song. But then I realise that it is very apt, I suppose and ironic all in the same instance.You can't always get what you want.But if you try sometime you find you get what you need.
I worry that my initial speculation about that line I wrote in the email. It's somewhat eerie that I wrote it in consideration of what has transpired.
I think about my restless night's sleep and how I Wanted Hilary to be the victor of the spoils. I sigh and go off to my interview knowing I didn't Need Trump, but that others did and that the spoils maybe spoilt.
Saturday, 1 October 2016
It's probably not advisable to listen to the slow version of Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by Neil Sedaka when you've just ended a relationship. The line that is guaranteed to set you off in floods of tears is the when Neil sings Remember when you held me tight. And you kissed me all through the night.
When I was a kid, I used to have one of Neil Sedaka's albums. It was called Laughter & Tears: The Best of Neil Sedaka Today. I played it to death. It was a bitter-sweet mix of melodic tunes, emotive lyrics that may well have been penned by either Burt Bacharach or Carol King: all of which were pulled together by Neil's dulcet tones and backed up for good measure with a full Vegas styled orchestral accompaniment.
I absolutely loved that album. It had something for every mood or occasion. I have no idea what became of it. But I know what became of me.
I got on with my life with other soundtracks.
When I started this relationship, I wasn't that long out of another one. One that I shouldn't have had. But as each and everyone of us knows, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I was quiet vulnerable and wanted to embrace life again. I wasn't looking to get entwined in something so soon, it just happened, and it felt good. It wasn't like anything else I had been able to establish as the person shared the same uncanny amount of personality traits and interests as me.
So why did it all go wrong?
I have a friend who ended a long term relationship. One which she may never recover from. Each time she gets it together, the other person (even though he is in another relationship) taunts her endlessly by pressing all of the buttons that he knows will hurt her the most. Whilst I realize that there are always two sides to a story, I find it unforgivable of him to keep making her suffer in this way. I have no idea what he gains from this especially having just announced his engagement to his current significant other.
Maybe his new lady doesn't fulfil a certain aspect for him that he knows he can only obtain from his prior. Whatever his motivation, I wish he would just draw a line and allow my friend to move on.
There is only one word for him and it rhythms with Emily Blunt.
Moving on is very hard, especially when you have shared so much.
Good, bad or indifferent, those are your shared memories and no one else'.
Throughout the time I was party to this relationship, we dealt with a lot; love, loss, guilt, anger, sickness, shock, insecurities and unresolved grief.
I have no idea how we managed to fit so much into the last year without going mad. But maybe we did and that's why we called it a day. In the end when the bar tender called last orders, we hadn't taken the time to plan it all out and see the bigger picture instead of trying to fit it all in when we could.
I am not going to lie to you. I envy those who stick it out and work it out. I covet their ability to keep on keeping on. I sometimes wonder why that has never been something I have yet to achieve in my life with my own significant other. I worry, as the years go by, that I never will.
It's been a rough year outside of all of this. One which has made me weep openly about events that I had no control over. I have had to deal with multiple people and emotional situations that have been very difficult to deal with. I am only one person after all, and sometimes I just needed a cuddle outside of all of that (both mentally and physically) to help me manage it all. I am far from perfect, and have my own issues to deal with. So maybe this wasn't the best year to find my happy ever after.
It's all left me reeling, as you can imagine, with a mass of insecurities and misgivings about love and life. But everything is relative.
Those days spent alone in my room with Neil playing his album on the turntable sometimes feel like that belonged to someone else.
In the end, it will all be fine because it always usually is.
But it's been harsh, hard and sad. Harder than all of the other times when I had to finishes the book I had been reading, close it and put it back on the shelf.
Think of all that we've been through.
And breaking up is hard to do
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
I have often wondered over the last three decades what it must be like to not be a single parent. After raising two children on my lonesome, it's hard to envisage what having another person there to have supported me upon this journey would have been like.
Do couples with children ever think what it must be like to raise children without their other half?
I wonder if they ever ponder the prospect except in dire circumstances.
But let me tell you this. Being a single parent is both rewarding and heartbreaking in equal measures. For the parent it means that you are alone in making all of the choices for your child. There is no one else to sound off too, or ask their opinion of. It's just you working it all out and winging it for the most part with your fingers crossed and your eyes squeezed tightly together whilst whispering a little prayer to whoever might be listening that the choices you are making are correct.
And then there is the financial implications. One wage is never enough to cover all of the bases. You struggle for years in a vain attempt to make all of the ends meet and that the provision of the basics are available. But holidays are not a reality that you can envisage. That is not a priority in your annual agenda. It is something that is just not doable.
But for the parent the most upsetting aspect is the loneliness of being an adult and not having another adult to do stuff with. To be able to secure that for yourself and balance it with your role as the parent of a child or children who come first, is almost impossible, or so it would seem.
I have tried over the years to find a mate. But the issues this raises are complex and difficult to navigate. Juxapositioning a long established relationship against a fledgling one is problematic especially if that other person either has no children of their own, or, as is more often the norm, has children who are only intermittently in their life.
Parenting happens on a daily basis. It's made up of a litany of tiny repetitive mundane domestic episodes, familiarity and an established set of routines. There is no handbook for you to refer your prospective partner too for them the gain an overview and insight of your day to day life with your kith and kin.
I love children. I am intrigued by kids and their outlook on life and what interests them. When I meet the children of friends or relatives, I bridge a communication gap with them by trying to discover what it is that makes them tick. Kids are great as they have no hidden agenda, they are just themselves. They are more honest with their feelings than adults are as they have yet to swim in the pool of life and become a little tainted in the process.
And here lies the rub: if your partner cannot establish a relationship with your child or children, then the relationship that you had hoped for may never grow.
By all means find time to do things as a couple, that is really important for both of you. As a single parent you deserve to have someone for yourself. It is a must that you find and invest time in interests outside of your parental role. One day your chicks will fly away, and when they do, and although you will still be an important part of their life, they will have their own lives to manoeuvre around and new relationships to make: and you will be left to your own devices. But if your partner wants you to make them more important than your child or children, that is never going to happen. If that person enters into a relationship with you, then they must understand that they are going to have to make relationships with you and yours.
It's the most exhausting and quite frankly heartbreaking aspect of trying to establish a relationship outside of your single parent status whilst still being a parent. It can combine joy and pain. At times you will feel as though you are trying to keep everyone apart from yourself happy. You want to have it all: the security of the relationship as well as the well-being of your offspring. It's a logistical nightmare.
To welcome someone into your life with open arms to be met with a critique of your child or children is not acceptable. As a mother you have carried that child, given birth to them and then nurtured and protected them ever since. So you are not about to stand by and entertain the input from someone who isn't their natural parent. Yes as individuals they may have their own idiosyncratic and imperfect patterns of behaviour. But can the prospective partner honestly stand on their soap box and offer their opinion on your relationship with your child or children without first wondering if they are in a position to do so?
Where is the qualifications gained for this speakers corner insight I wonder in comparison to your wealth and knowledge about your own flesh and blood?
There is no comparison. In the end it's more likely that the prospective partner has some of their own unresolved issues as well as being inflicted by a touch of the green-eyes monster when they realize to the detriment of their ego, that they have to share you with other people.
It's a shame when it doesn't all workout and your secret wish to form a new family outside of the norm fails to take root. People end up feeling left out and frustrated and you just end up feeling sad.
To enable a successful union, the best foot forward would be to acknowledge what you have and what your expectations are. It's like training for a race: you need to train and to understand that it takes time and that a period of adjustment will have to be observed before all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to form a suitable picture that you are all happy with.
To enable that, my advice to any prospective partners would be although you are having a relationship with the parent, invest heavily in the offspring. If this is going to be a long term relationship they are going to be a long term part of your life as much as you are theirs. You have secured the love of their parent, so you need to prove to them that you deserve it. You need to gain their respect and by showing them that you are a fully formed and respectable human being. Why would their parent choose you they might wonder? What do you have that makes you good enough to earn their parent's love? Are you good enough to be the person to take care of their parent? How are you going to prove to them that you the wonderful human being that you think you are?
It's like a maze I know, but so is being a single parent: and if I, and millions of others can hit the ground running and produce well rounded individuals without any prior knowledge, then so can you.
It's all about the application and the extent and quality of your participation in the end, just like life.
All relationships are hard work. They are especially so if you are a parent seeking a partner. Or a partner seeking a partner who happens to be a parent.
If you truly love and respect the parent, all the training you put in will pay off in the end.
And you'll be a winner.
Thursday, 21 July 2016
A few years ago a dear friend of mine who had move away to the seaside invited me via an email to join Facebook. I had received many invitations prior to the one she had sent me from other less salubrious people, but I had ignored all of them as I was sceptical about this virtual world with its alien reality.
What was it all about this Facebook thing?
I did begin to wonder: and because I trusted her, and as I was curious, I placed my X on the spot and signed away a good part of the last ten years.
Throughout that decade, I have found friends (not unlike Pokemon Go), as well as being found by friends. I I have shamelessly uploaded images of events in my life. I have lamented the sad passing of numerous human beings. I have been unfriended by some, as well as personally unfriending and then blocking some really special characters. I have been contacted by a murderer: and have celebrated, debated and rated issues, as well as generally sharing my life.
It's not all been bad, but it's not all been good either.
About six years ago I made a pact with myself that these virtual chums, should also be defaulted back to their reality status: and so, when I could, I made sure I met up with them in the real world sociably.
Less social media, and more social me and you (and them) I decided, was my way of being able to justify the amount of time I spent online.
Of course this lead to more sharing of images of these events ironically on Facebook. It was like a hall of mirrors at a carnival. The reality was there, but by sharing it, it was becoming an illusion of itself.
Then Twitter stepped in.
I tried both for a spell, but then drew the conclusion that whilst Facebook was like a small village where everyone knew everyone else, Twitter was like the entire world.
On Twitter you could follow all of the people that you would one day lament the passing of on Facebook. These were bizarre and surreal worlds full of virtual insanity, purpose and nothing of any real value whatsoever.
And throughout those ten years I participated like a person whose ultimate goal in life had always been to appear on It's a Knockout tirelessly filling a bucket with as much water as virtually possible, whilst silently praying for the sound of Eddie Waring's whistle.
But then something change and my mum became ill and we nearly lost her, and nothing seemed to be that important or funny any more.
I would check in from time-to-time, but social media had lost its appeal.
In the end, in early July I decide to stop checking in: and since then Facebook has taken to sending me daily emails informing me like a spurned lover, that I have a set amount of notifications. As each day passes, the number grows. I have no idea what these notifications are. In the end I came to conclude that if the people that are missing virtual me, are missing me, then they would eventually get in touch.
I have used Twitter. I have used Twitter as I am less inclined to get overcome by my unfavorable perception of the futility of the posts and comments I find there as I don't personally know a healthy majority of the people I follow.
Early in July, when I thinking about Facebook, I happened mentioned to my other half how odd this virtual existence really was when you thought about it.
'Imagine' I said to him 'that you're standing in a room with 20, 55, 350 or even 500+ people. Some you know, some you don't, not really. Some you know by association, or via an another online friend. You're standing in this room, and each of these people are coming up to you and showing you their photos or poking you. And as you try to concentrate on the person that is showing you their photos (you don't want to appear rude after all), another person (not the one poking you annoyingly in the back), is telling you that they are unwell, whilst another is telling you that they are watching a movie, whilst another one is informing you that they can't stay, as they are off to attend an event. That's what it's like.' I said.
'It's seems odd when you think of it like that, doesn't it?'
'Yes. It does'' He replied as he loves me and knows how difficult, complicated and emotional life has been for me recently.
Then whilst I was walking home from work I met an old friend. We chatted about this and that and the Facebook thing came-up.
'Yes, I know what you mean.' She said 'Dave (her bloke) calls it Two-faced Facebook as people aren't really being who they actually are on there. Their lives are always so much better than yours. If you're feeling crap about your life, some of the comments and posts won't make you feel any better, they will just make you feel worse!' She exclaimed in a physically animated way that I have never witnessed on Facebook.
Her passion, and my imagined Star Trek Holodeck room (filled with all of my Facebook Friends), just lead me to conclude that enough was enough for now: especially in light of the other real life events that have illuminated all of the reality of the virtual reality in my life.
Ten years is a long time.
And as a farewell for now, I will probably post this as a PS to all my Facebook Friends. It's not you, it's me. I just need some space to clear my head. And even though I am not there, I am here, and if you fancy checking in with me, please feel free to do so.
Friday, 18 March 2016
For AO with love from HS X
Up until the day it happened, and throughout the previous month, before it had occurred, which by the way had encompassed his fiftieth birthday: Marty Quinn had felt both psychically and emotional out of whack with his life.
In retrospect, it was possible to map the inevitability of its arrival. It was as clear as the nose on his youthful clean shaven face: the formidable and unrelenting tsunami of stress that had shattered his world, contained one last little gift for him. Happy Birthday it screamed in his ear, so loudly that it woke him up. A clear and concise message in a bottle for a survivor shipwrecked by his own emotional and genetic history.
Just like that, when he had thought that the aftershocks of his ill-conceived marriage and subsequent divorce had finally (finally), become nothing more than a miserable memory that he could hardly believe he had once been a willing participant in: his body crumbled.
Well he certainly hadn’t. He was absolutely clueless. Prior to the night that he had stood alone in the kitchen that belonged to the guy he was renting a room from, whilst munching on several aspirin as instructed while he contemplated the imminent arrival of the paramedics: he still assumed it was nothing more than the wear and tear of ageing. After all, hadn’t the locum he had seen at the nearest GP surgery less than 48 hours before, confidently informed him after he had explained to her that he was getting pains in his right arm and across his chest, that is was nothing more than a trapped nerve?
Yes, that is correct, Marty had thought to himself as he chewed and then swallowed the bitter tasting tablets. The first doctor I have seen since I was a child, quite clearly told me it was a trapped nerve. And that is all it is.
Who knew it was a heart attack? Who knew? The paramedic that called through to Harefield Hospital that’s who. He knew as soon as he set eyes on Marty.
Was it that bad? Obviously, from the look on his face when he look at Marty, it was.
The ride to the hospital was surreal. Heart attack. It may as well have been a shark attack it was so out of the blue. Reality bite a huge hole out of the dark void Marty now physically occupied as he lay there in the ambulance connected to a machine that was monitoring his heart.
The ambulance raced along while its crew casually rock and swayed with its steady forward moving motion on its way towards the hospital.
Marty tried not to think about his heart. Instead he tried to focus on something else. But it was impossible. He wanted to cry. He felt like the loneliest man in the world. Why was there no significant other with him in this ambulance? Was this it? Was this the sum of his fifty years on Earth over? Was he going to die? What about his kids? Would they miss him? He could just see his how cross his ex-wife would be when the child support stopped. That wouldn’t guarantee a favourable epitaph for his memory in the years that were to follow.
He blew slow calming breaths out through his pursed lips and tried to focus on that.
“Nearly there now.” Said the paramedic, shattering Marty’s self-imposed glass train of thought.
As they pulled up to the hospital, Marty’s heart grew heavy. This was really happening.
Marty had been a man who had inhaled and exhaled stress in the same way that other people used oxygen. It had not been his intention of course to become the agent provocateur of his own well-being breakdown. On the contrary, this was absurd. His friends would laugh along with him later when he recounted the current events that were unfolding around him.
“You? You had a heart attack? But you’re the most health conscious person I know!”
And as the paramedics delivered him from the womb of the ambulance and into the care of the waiting cardiology team, he wonder when Terry Gilliam would shout “Cut!” Rapidly followed by the sentence. “That’s a wrap people.” At which point Marty could return to his uneventful life and obviously not that healthy life, where this would all appear to have been nothing more than a peculiar dream.
But that wasn't what happened. What happened was that he was laid out on an operating table where morphine was immediately injected into the tiny artery via his wrist. The sensation as it made its way up his arm, reminded him of the Space Dust he'd once sprinkled on his tongue as a youth.
He had entertained that at his own pleasure. This he was enduring in order to survive.
The cardiologist explained to Marty that due to his heart attack, they were going to perform a coronary angioplasty. This he explained was an operation whereby they inserted a tiny tube called a stent into the blocked artery of his heart to enable it to flow better. The current blockage was undoubtedly the cause of the heart attack. He explained. And this, along with a few lifestyle changes, would prevent Marty from having another one.
“What now?” Marty asked “You’re going to do it now?”
“Yes. Time waits for no man Mr Quinn. Would you like to watch?” Said the cardiologist as he turned a monitor in Marty’s direction.
“If you keep watching, you’ll see the stent as it travels all the way up through the now comfortable numb artery in your arm. Then I will place it just in the right spot at the cause of the blockage. Imagine Fantastic Voyage captained by one of the world’s best plumbers, and you should get a pretty good idea of what’s going on.”
Marty was enthralled as he watched the minute lifesaving piece of wire-mesh tube make its way towards his heart. He wished there was someone holding his hand that he could turn too and say “Wow! Look at that! How amazing that Proteus is on its way to mend my heart!” But there wasn’t.
With his eyes focused on the procedure and his body partially anaesthetised by drugs: Marty’s mind began to wander.
Was this it? The age and winter of his own personal discontent had now evolved into the age of health issues which would now be compounded by his woeful unrelenting loneliness. Woe woe woe is me he thought.
He had attempted to find a special someone, but it all seemed too much. Maybe he hadn’t been ready in the post-apocalyptic-post-divorce terrain of rebuilding himself from nothing with nothing. Who would be interested in someone who was obviously not relationship fodder, and who had absolutely nothing in terms of a dowry? No one that’s who.
There had been that one lady. She was nice enough, and they shared a lot of commonalities. He had liked her. But he hadn’t been emotionally ready to deal with a relationship. That wasn’t what was going to fix him. He had to do that himself. Of course now he wasn’t just emotionally void, but heartbroken as well.
He watched the stent being parked into place by the frail hair like thread.
“All done. Good good. Well done team.” Said the cardiologist.
“Mr Quinn. Don’t take this the wrong way. But I don’t want to see you again. Now go away and get better.“
“I think we’re beyond such formalities now. It’s Marty. And thank you. Thank you for letting me imagine that Raquel Welch is now and forever in my heart.”
“You’re welcome Marty. From here, you’ll be taken to a ward where we will monitor you. During that time, someone will come and explain what happens next. And what you will need to do and expect. The worst is over for now. So just try to rest and get better.”
“Cross my heart.” Said Marty.
Over the next two days Marty didn’t rest. How could he when he was attached to a monitor that would beep whenever his heart rate altered. As a consequence, he didn’t sleep. He was scared that if he did, his heart would stop working and he wouldn’t wake up. He was beyond exhausted. The only silver lining was that he was a temporary resident of the Eric Morecambe Department of Cardiology and its Intensive Care unit. That made him smile.
Then it all began, rather than ending. His blood tests showed that Marty had type two diabetes and that was the reason for his heart attack. The hospital gave him some many potions and lotions and pills, that he was overwhelmed. When he left hospital two days after his heart attack, he returned to his make shift home so exhausted that he felt as old as Methuselah both in body and mind.
Over the next few days he still found it hard to sleep. His senses now seemed to be heighten. Everything was illuminated, sharp and clear. And he could hear every single beat of his heart as the stent and Raquel continued to ensure that his blood pumped efficiently around his body.
Everything had changed. Every simple task now seemed to be monumental. He needed to visit the local shop for something and was shocked when the once five minute trip took him nearly an hour to complete. Older people, pensioners for Christ sake passed by him on his journey as if they were Olympic champions.
When he got home he was breathless and awash with fatigue. Apparently, this was all normal and something he needed to expect during the course of his recovery. And the pills. Marty hadn’t been to the doctor since he was a kid. And now he had pills for this and pills for that. Roll up roll up for the greatest pill taker on earth. The extraordinary Marty Quinn. Sit back and watch him swallow as he wallows in despair. To add insult to injury, Marty noted that an inevitable side effect of nearly all of his pills was erectile dysfunction. Excellent! What fantastic news. It just got better and better.
But Marty was getting better both mentally and physically. The tiny stent now forever embedded in his heart, it transpired was also a catalyst for his emotional well-being.
One day he decided to envisage his life laid out on his bed as if he were packing for a trip. In doing so, he could clearly see what had caused him the most stress, and what was unlikely to so if he didn’t make some changes. He could also see the benefits of reconnecting with people he had discarded to encompass all of the negative personal stressor he had had in his life. When he had mentally packed away most of the harmful culprits. He noticed that she was still there. The nice lady he had dated a few times, whom he hadn’t been ready for a year ago. Marty sat down.
I wonder what she is up to now? He thought. Be good to find out. Be good to see.
Life, after all, as Marty knew all too well, could change at a moment’s notice. And it had. His life would never be the same again. No it would be different, that’s all. And that was okay. He wanted to live and he wanted to age. And he didn’t want to be alone in the process. So he contacted the nice lady, who was welcoming and pleased to hear from him. They started a conversation as if no time had lapsed at all. She was shocked to hear about his heart attack, but not dismayed by it. Yes of courses they could meet up. And so a third date was arranged.
On the day they met, she smiled and waved at him from her side of the street, and Marty smiled and waved back.
She crossed over to his side and they hugged and said their hellos. And just like that, five weeks after his heart broke, Marty finally began to heal.
Monday, 29 February 2016
Every four years we all get an extra day. And although I knew this already, Facebook duly informed me of this fact this morning and advised me not to waste it. So I thought, okay I won't.
The chilly winter sun filled morning offered me several options: I could go for a walk (probably in Kew Garden's) and contemplate life. Or I could visit an exhibition or a gallery in London. But then I had a eureka moment. Hadn't I been questioning how I had been spending my working days? Hadn't I started to wish that I could find something that was more suitable for some time, something that would be more beneficial to me creatively?
Well, yes I had. I had been mentally procrastinating about that for a while. So look, I told myself, you have an extra day, use it wisely, and look into ways in which you could make some positive changes.
That settled it.
I changed the radio from Radio 2 to Radio 4 and thought about what my first move should be. Bingo, contact another writer. He might offer some direction and I could start from there.
So I text my good writer friend and ask if he knows of any websites looking for freelance editors or copywriters.
No, I don't he replies.
Oh crap I think. What now?
Although I have crashed at the first hurdle, I tell myself not to to give up and to think and focus. If you build it, they will come I hear a voice whisper in my ear.
What am I trying to archive? I am not trying to build a baseball diamond, I am just trying to find some regular writing work I tell myself. I am trying to be a square peg in a square hole and not a round one. The latter of which, has begun to feel incredibly painful in recent months.
You are trying to create some options I say out loud.
Hummmmmmmmmmm I frown and ponder.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock the clock on the wall interjects.
Then my neighbour goes out and leaves his dog alone (again) which starts to bark continuously.
This happens quite often and I wonder if perhaps I should go for a walk in Kew Gardens after all.
No. I am staying in and doing this.
Look Holly, my voice tells me. Stop being scared of the possibilities that placing one word in front of another can create.
Got it. Arsed kicked.
But before I consider further options. I call the Dog Warden and tell her that the dog is barking (again) and she tells me that she will come by to witness it.
And with that piece of annoyingly frustrating domestic whistle-blowing under my belt, I get back to the task in hand, the one that I have set my mind to for this additional day: the square peg role.
I am quite calm and Sherlock logical in my thinking now, as I hatch out a plan, which means I start with a minor interrogation of myself.
Have I ever been employed due to my writing skills?
Well yes, I have. For several years I oversaw, wrote and managed all of the copy on company website that I was employed by. I liaised (such a corporate word) with designers in order to obtain garment specifications. I then thought about what information I would like to read about the item I was viewing and translated that, into a concise, but informative stream of beautifully descriptive words.
There, I told myself. You did that. So you did write copy.
Yes, my voice starts up again. But that is hardly akin to anything that Virginia Wolf ever produced.
Well no. I reply. But that sort of thing, writing copy, requires a tenacious skill, as well as a lot of thinking outside of the box (another appalling example of corporate speak). So I am taking credit where it's due.
I had also written copy for friends and edited emails, letters and blog posts for those who had ask me to, all free of charge. I could therefore pat myself of the back for those. Nice one Searle.
And hold on a minute, I thought, I have kept my own blog up and running as well as writing stories for the past six years. Something which even my good writer friend had congratulated me on.
So I had achieved a lot. Although, at times, it felt as though I hadn't really delivered anything.
I was sitting in my Bet Lynch Gilroy leopard print dressing gown, when the buzzer sounds. I immediately think it must be the postman with my Ebay item.
“Hello?” I say.
“Hi Holly it's Amy the Dog Warden. Can I come up?”
I push the entry button and await her visit, as the dog has now been barking for two hours. I then realise that even though I have been up since 6:45 this morning, I am not dressed and haven't even brushed my teeth. I also have the lank remains of coconut oil in my hair (to prevent breakage according to my hairdresser). I look in the mirror, I have the appearance of a drug addict, or that of a knackered old bird having a day off from her life on the game.
Amy arrives with Catherine. They wipe their feet and come in. I apologise for my attire, although it is my home and my day off, and I shouldn't really need to make excuses for the way I look.
They listen to the dog barking and ask me if I am sure it is coming from where it is coming from. I tell them that it is. They ask me if there are any other dogs in the building. I tell them that I have lived here for twenty five years and there is only one other dog here, and that owner takes her dog over to a sitter when she can't look after him. Two other people own cats I tell them, That barking, I tell them, trying to look like a serious person rather than one who isn't dressed, is definitely the dog next door.
“Can I open your window?” Amy asks.
She does and cocks her ear intently.
“Yes it is definitely next door.” she tells the seated Catherine.
They tell me that they will go away and raise it and assure me that they will enforce other legal stuff to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
Okay I say. And they leave. And I go back to my laptop and stare at my old Word press web page which I had decided to use to market myself on prior to their arrival. Either I have lost the plot, or the site has been changed as I can't quite find the obvious buttons to confirm or save edits i am trying to make.
The dog is still barking and I give up. Plug my laptop in to charge and decide to go and see my friend Chris in the local charity shop.
I text her whilst the bath is running.
“Are you in the shop today?”
“Yes I am. Come in and cheer me up, but not while The Archers is on.” She replies.
I look up the Radio 4 schedule. I have an hour.
I mull over this morning in the warm bath. I get out and get dressed and do my face and coconut oil free washed hair. I also brush my teeth.
I see that the neighbour has arrived back and make a note.
I get dressed and walk up the road to the charity shop. Ten minutes until The Archers I note as I look at my watch. I will look at books (all a pound, including fairly new and only once read titles), whilst Chris listens to The Archers. Then we can have a chat.
“Hello love.” I say as I walk in. I tell her all about my Archers option for her and she says “Oh don't be stupid I would rather talk to you.”
Chris is the best therapy in the world. She lets me spill all of my recent happenings: family, work, love, dog.
She is brilliantly intuitive about humanity and listens to me and then tells me what she thinks. She's a tonic, the gin and tonic kind. Sparkling wit and carbonated with bubbles of knowledge and insight.
She is a diamond.
She tells me that women like her would love to be like women like me.
I say “What?!” As this is such a an out of the blue compliment coming from a woman like her. I hold her in very high esteem and think she must be on drugs and mistaken to tell me this. But I know if anything, she is a truth-speaker and I tell her that this is the nicest thing that anyone has said to me. She has made my day.
An apparent accident takes place just outside the charity shop, thereafter followed by a lone dog cocking its leg up against one of Chris' just outside the shop baskets that is full of books (not the pound ones).
I buy some phonograph albums, a cardi, some felt and pot. Chris bags the items and we hug and I thank her for the talk.
I walk home and decide that I can't be bothered with my old Word Press site.
Clear the path I think as I revert to my steadfast blog spot site on my return home.
I love it. It is where I write my uncensored thoughts and observations. I start to write this piece in an attempt to create some sort of CV writing blog that will impress writing employers so much, that they will snap me up and give me a job. I wanted to write about all of the occupations I have had. And how I envy people who trained to do something useful with their lives, rather than being cursed with the need to write.
But instead it turns into a blog about what I did on the extra day that happens once in every four years.
Dinner's on. And as the evening draws in, and work beckons tomorrow, I start to stress about having achieved absolutely nothing whatsoever today. Facebook did tell me to do something worthwhile. But then I realise that I have done quite a lot today, and it's not over yet.
Friday, 12 February 2016
Last year I was listening to Kim Cattrall on Woman's Hour talking about the joys of being single. An irony really when you think about the sassy sexy character Samantha Jones she played in Sex and the City. But Kim was was pretty chipper and upbeat about her single status. One of the joys that she cited was the ability to be able to fart in bed at night with impunity.
I mentally applauded her audacious revelation. Being a contemporary of Kim's, and also single, I hadn't really ever appreciated this first world freedom pass to be able to salaciously sound off under the covers late at night while tiny children slept and fractious foxes screamed outside my bedroom window.
It was just something I had been able to do without ever giving it a second thought. As natural as breathing, when the wind needed to exhale, it did so without thinking.
And then something happened. I met the love of my life.
Being in love is the most incredible thing in the world, but problematic when you suddenly realise that you have to suppress your raging wind for the sake of lascivious proprietary.
Love is a very natural state of being, but then again, so is farting. And here was where my conflict began. Goodness it was a nightmare suddenly having to become a fifty something sex siren and having to manage your daily flatulence output.
It was also quite painful.
Was it just me, I wondered, or did other women try to suffer in a muffled wind suppressed silence? And if not, how did they manage this loving interruptus night mare?
I ponder this and came to conclude that out of all of the women on this planet, it surely wasn't the just Kim and I who were worried about inappropriate trumping.
Well, the truth was, as I soon discovered, it wasn't.
And you will not be surprised to hear that this is a issue that is constantly trending in homes all over the world as I type. Just like the wind that needs to find an exit, there's a woman out there right now reading this hoping that her other half will leave the room so that she can ease her trapped wind from captivity.
And how do I know this? Well, I know this because I mentioned it in passing to a few girlfriends of mine. One told me that a friend of hers had been married for five years and was about to delivery their first baby. And, get this, she had never farted in front of her husband.
Well, I replied, both of them are in for big surprise.
Another told me that after a few years of marriage, she just couldn't suppress it any longer as it was just too painful. So now, just like Elsa in Frozen, she just lets it go.
She is, she now tells me, no longer in pain. Which is a big thumbs up. Kim would be proud.
One young woman told me that she was the product of a father who used to congratulate both her and her brother on their style and content when either one of them passed wind, while her mother cringed with horror.
All true stories, which aren't at all funny. No it's just dreadful trying to keep it all in, when your body is desperate to let it out. It's also quite bad for you.
This ridiculous obsession with wind and bodily functions is nothing to be embarrassed about. It's just the way your body works whether it is male or female.
And I don't quite understand why it is such a big issue?
So I did some research on the subject (meaning I Googled it and read a page dedicated to it on Wikipedia). Did you know that the word Fart is one of the oldest words around and it's use was considered a profanity.
Or that the act of farting is well recorded in a negative way in many works of literature? No? Me neither.
Or that Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay on the topic? Me neither. Or that some parliamentary rebels wrote a satirical poem entitled The Parliament Fart during the reign of King James I?
I know, it's all so fascinating isn't it?
Not surprisingly then, the word Fart has become synonymous with being vulgar. It is no wonder then that we consider the actual act as one of the most socially faux parric activities that we can unwittingly deliver.
So what do you do?
For me personally, it became such an issue that irritated an already delicate stomach condition, that I happen to have. And since I have addressed some of those concerns by changing my diet, I still find the odd occasion when I need to fart. So now I do.
It's not funny, or rude, it's just necessary for me to be able to avoid further discomfort.
Isn't it about time in this day and age, that we all stopped worrying about a lot, or a little, hot air?
Although, I have to confess to now privately thinking to myself that Kim actually used to star in a show called Windy City rather than the one she did.
Bravo that woman.
Thursday, 11 February 2016
In Patrick Süskind novel Perfume, his protagonist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille possesses an exceptional sense of smell that enables him to rise from his poverty stricken beginnings to become the toast of the perfume trade in France. If you know this story, you'll know that is doesn't end well. His desire to create the ultimate perfume is met when he smells the most sublime scent he has ever encountered. The only issue is, that it is the scent of a flame haired young woman. He becomes so obsessed with capturing her essence, that he unwittingly becomes an 18th century French serial killer who stalks innocent red headed virgins, whom he then murders in order to distil their essence with which to make the ultimate perfume.
He’s no Tom Ford, that’s for sure.
Historically the perfume industry in France had been a big deal since the 14th century, prior to wafting its delightful smells across the rest of Europe.
Although he is a work of fiction, Jean-Baptiste shared the same keen sense of smell as Elizabeth I whom detested the vile smells that emanated from her subjects and their surroundings. So much so that she introduced the use of perfume, which she advised them to use in order to cover up all of their noxious nastiness.
I bet Liz would have loved a bit of Shake n Vac in the palace.
Ironically she had a fine head of red hair and was of course known as the Virgin Queen. How weird then that Jean-Baptiste was trying to create a perfume from red headed virgins to produce a more fragrant France. They probably would have had a lot to discuss given their political and personal hygiene choices.
Fast forward to now, and to modern society. The perfume industry is big business. Every celebrity, sports star or pop puppet who possesses a well-oiled media constructed identity has a perfume for sale in every high street chemist or duty free lounge in the First World.
It's all part of the marketing master plan to get those who wish to mimic the unobtainable lifestyles of their heroes or heroine, to part with their hard earned cash. Or supposedly smell like them.
But do they?
I doubt very much that these nasty chemically synthesised pongs are ever dabbed behind the ears of those heroes or heroines. No, I am pretty sure they're not. If I had their cash, I'd be hiring the best perfumiers in the world to make my own. And let's face it, with all that revenue from the sale of my stinky mass produced whiff, I could probably afford to do exactly that.
About 12 years ago, I started suffering from migraines. I use the term suffering loosely as if you have ever had a migraine, you do not just have a headache, and you have a full blown pick axe in the head nauseating pain in your poor brain that means that you cannot speak or function as you would otherwise.
They are crippling, so much so, that I have ended up in A&E before now, begging and pleading for some assistance to help relieve the pain.
On two occasions, they have been so bad, that as I have laid my head down onto my pillow, I have prayed that I would still be alive in the morning.
They are horrible and nasty. When I get one, the first sign is usually when the bridge of my nose and the area around my eye sockets starts to hurt. This discomfort spreads to my head and creates a pain so immense, that I am unable to perform the simplest task. Even turning my head is a pain filled effort that makes me feels physically sick. I cannot speak, I cannot see. I cannot eat. I simply have to lie down in a dark room and sleep it off.
Migraines are caused for me in the most part by smells. More often than not, these smells derive from this modern obsession that people appear to have in covering themselves in foul smelling synthetic perfumes that would have made Jean-Baptiste weep.
I now avoid taking the bus to work on purpose and walk as these walking tester sticks are a nightmare that my nostrils can't abide. One whiff of some office worker who has literally bathed in Eau d'celebrity, and I risk being saddled with a migraine for the following two days. When I get to work, I risk the same outcome if I venture into the ladies. In there it is a twofold nose assault course with young fillies’ busy topping up their foul pre-work spray fest, or due to the air freshening dispenser that fills the air with an acrid vile odour that is more offensive than copping a sniff of someone’s poo.
Why are we so obsessed with covering ourselves, and the smells we naturally produce, with these unnatural rancid smellies?
And why aren’t people just content to use soap and water anymore?
There is a scene in Se7en where Detectives Mills and Somerset discover the near dead victim of John Doe’s. The victim is laying on a bed above which hangs an assortment of Magic Tree car fresheners. This scene used to make me wince due to the content of their horrifying discovery. But now it just makes me squirm: as I well know exactly the effect those Magic Trees would have on my nose, resulting in a full-blown migraine attack.
I do however like a nice perfume. In my 80’s hay day, I used to collect perfumes. I simply adored them. I had hundreds of bottles of the classic fragrances that were produced by many of the haute couture French fashion houses. Some of these perfumes no longer exist. Back in the 80’s celebrities didn’t bring out their own perfumes. Back then, we just had stars and personalities. And whilst stars may have worn a dab or two of Chanel No 5 (and nothing else in bed), personalities didn’t even endorse a bottle of 4711. And yes alright, maybe it’s all Henry Cooper and Keven Keegan’s fault for splashing Brut all over themselves that made way for this modern evil.
No matter who we are, or what we do, or what we have in the bank: we quite like to imagine what it might be like to be someone else. So when we buy these nasty niffs, we are buying into a little bit of this fantasy.
However, unlike those classic haute couture posh pongs, these modern pretenders are made of unnatural and nasty synthetic chemicals that can cause harm to sensitive flowers like me.
So please humanity, stop using what smells like a bottle a day of these rancid poisons because you want to be like a little bit more like your latest celebrity crush.
And to the air freshening industry, please stop insisting that I inhale your idea of what citrus fruits smell like.
Please, please, please will you all try and spray a tiny bit less in consideration of those of us who suffer in the silence of dark rooms.
Just like Jean-Baptiste, it should be as clear as the nose on your face, that some smells are not always so pleasing.
But unfortunately for me, and my nose it isn’t.
Wednesday, 2 December 2015
I have been writing a steady stream of consciousness in this tiny part of cyberspace for the last five years. The only relevance its conception ever had, was to serve as a platform on which I could stand and open my mouth.
Its deliverance was derived from a dark period in my life, when I suddenly realised (all be it later, rather than never at all), that I had always been disavowed.
Whether this was self-inflicted, or due to the actions of others, didn’t really matter. I just concluded that it was about time that I opened up. I never dreamt that anyone would actually read anything that I produced. It was a devoid space (mental and physical), where I could explore. Where I could pull a few rabbits out of the hat. In the process, the person I most surprised was myself.
This epiphany bore a tunnel into my soul and the repressed thoughts and ideas took a sharp intake of breath as I gave birth to them when they landed on the page.
With every key I pressed, with every word I wrote, and with every sentence I constructed: my mind palace began to feel a sense of relief and justification for all of those years when I felt that I was unable to open my mouth and have my say.
Soon I was hooked like a fish on a line.
It was an egotistical treat.
For all of us that write, would surely be liars if we admitted that the process and result in itself was enough. Or is that just me?
I doubt it.
Personally I like it when someone pats me on the back, shares a piece that I have crafted, or reacts to it. These chapters in my life, these moments of being, they are like my other children. The process in creating them is pure magic. The satisfaction gained in their production, is a massive high that no drug can emulate.
But they also required an immense amount of dedication during their creation.
Like Victor Frankenstein, I become momentarily insane when I write. Don’t bother trying to speak to me whilst I am in the zone. I can’t hear or see you. You’re dinner maybe later than usual, or you can just call for a takeaway. I honestly am beyond caring. PLEASE, CAN YOU JUST SORT YOURSELF OUT AND LEAVE ME ALONE. For each piece has to be better than the last. It must deliver the goods, and have something of significance to say. It has to be perfect.
And I have to bring it to life.
When I have finished creating a new piece, I rarely return to the scene of the crime. The entire process is so exhausting (like childbirth), that I need to rest, and get some peace and quiet, until the next idea starts to form in my head
However, revisiting some of them reveals how much better I have become at honing my skills. Whilst mapping the histrionics of my life; past lovers, the haste and rush of life, the distain with humanity, the social comments, the impracticality of it all, and the beauties that have breathed life into my bones. I can see improvement.
Some I cannot read again. They make me wince. For all of their cringed worthiness’, they have to remain accessible, because without them, the jigsaw isn’t complete. Some I reread and am astounded by their content. I can’t quite believe that a shy child once ridiculed in class in front of her contemporaries by her English teacher for failing a spelling test when she obviously had a word blindness, wrote something like that.
This tells me that all endeavours, however perilous, that have been tarred and feathered by others, will succeed. There is no romanticism attached to that image or statement. It is just pure stubbornness on my part. I wanted to write it, so I did.
Feck you Miss Jones et al. Truth will out, as they say up North.
As this year concludes, the one that follows it, will feature new and more exciting adventures. The story arc for which will be less available here, but more tangible and bound in the reality of formed creative partnerships outside of this tiny static screen. These partnerships will deliver something new and visual. Something exciting.
A natural evolution of creativity that would have made Darwin smile.
I can only blog for so long. I have written thousands of words here. I may still dip my toe in from time to time. But now it is time to focus of other creative enterprises with likeminded souls. These people harbour rich veins of untapped talent and like me, they are ready to be mined.
And more importantly, like Charles Foster Kane, they are passionate about their long term goals. To succeed is everything. To be or not to be isn’t even a viable question. Their adventure is now mine, and mine theirs.
And together we can build a stronger platform from which to speak.
And like me, they all remember their Rosebud. It’s the love they have for what they do. Never lost, never forgotten and never neglected.
Stand by for action.
It’s going to be great.
The slipstream is calling.
Monday, 9 November 2015
Prior to a life online, those of us of a certain generation sourced our information from a series of books that presented a world of illustrated gems, full of facts, that we knew existed beyond our front doors, but knew nothing of in the reality of our daily lives.
They were a collection of 74 unique titles of shiny A4 paperbacks produced during the 60's and 70's called The How and Why Wonder books.
The collection was established to introduce children to the world of science and history, and included a vast variety of topics.
Each book was produced in the same format presented with the words The How and Why Wonder Book of, followed by the individual topic of that edition.
On the back of each title, there was a pictorial listing of all of the other titles that were also available in the series.
They were marvellous magical things.
I can't recall how many of these delightful wondrous books we amassed between us, but I can remember how excited my brother and I were when we both received a new one.
The surprise was always in the not knowing which new title we would be presented with. And when we had received our individual new copies, we would spend many indulgent childhood hours, feasting on their contents and scrutinising all the facts and images that had now become part of our lives.
As there were two of us, the delight was doubled as we would share them between us.
And when we had read them from cover to cover, we would turn to the back page and endlessly discuss the ones we had, and lust over the ones we wanted next. Then the pain of waiting would become unbearable, until the new additions arrived.
In today's world, it's as easy as the press of a button to source any information that you are looking for. I can't decide if this is a good or bad modern attribute: and if those born within its existence, appreciate how incredibly educational Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web can be.
Personally, I like to imagine that he himself once pondered a How and Why Wonder Book here and there, which in turn influenced his mind-blowing, globally connective invention.
How great would that be?
Hand on heart, I can honestly say that I owe my own fascination with subjective detail to this series of books.
A few years ago when Child Two showed a keen interest in Dinosaurs, I came across a copy of the How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs in a charity shop.
I was beyond excited engulfed with nostalgia.
I purchased it and returned home, where I sat down and flicked through its well worn pages. On doing so I was amazed by just how naive its contents were. So much so, that I correctly assumed that a child of the techno savvy 21 Century would not find this book of interest.
I was partially right.
To me however, it still held its value, which of course, still is, and always will be priceless.
Saturday, 10 October 2015
When I was a little kid, I never thought of myself in terms of being a girl, I was just a genderless shy and sensitive child knocking about in the world. And when I think about it now, I wasn't defined by society as one either. I was just me.
I don’t recall ever being made to feel special for having been born a girl, or dressed up in buttons and bows or in pink. Maybe this was a very modernistic approach on my parent’s behalf, although I tend to think it was more to do with their lack of Joie de vivre in relation to their income that rendered them (and me) without that option.
It was more of a calamity than Calamity Jane.
We were painfully poor. It was the sort of poverty that enabled us to survive rather than affording such lavish choices like acquiring new clothes.
In our house, my dad would cut out the shape of a shilling (that's five pence in today's money) from the top of a tin can, and push it into the to the electricity/gas meter to keep our supply going. I can remember how we would all have to hide, and pretend that we weren't in when the utility man came to empty the meter. And how my dad would have to cough up the money, when the man eventually did gain access to ours after pay day. The shame was palatable as he unlock the little draw in the meter, and poured out all of those faux tin shillings.
Still, at least we had access to these utilities and were taught the important lesson of how necessity was the mother of invention.
I spent the first few years of my life in those unattractive black slip on PE plimsolls. I always thought they were quite cool and to this day if I even get a whiff of that rubber smell, I am immediately transported back to my days wearing those unsupported and unattractive canvas poor excuse for footwear.
I can only remember going to buy one pair of shoes as a child, and my overriding memory of that, was why I couldn’t have the red shiny ones instead of the ones I had bought for me. Now I can buy my own shoes, I am, as you can imagine, very particular. But alas, my feet are a problem due to these early Start-rite lacking years.
I can’t ever remember buying clothes off the peg. To be fair, and fashion accurate, in the 70's there weren't any specialist girls clothing stores, there were just departments for them within department stores. But I can remember my mum making me clothes that were all constructed in a particular style to cover my apparent girth. My nan was a pretty good seamstress, as well as being a sterling knitter. And my mum had inherited these amazing long forgotten skills.
By modern standards, I was not an obese child by any means, but for some reason I was dressed in these tent like dresses that she made to covered me up.
There I was, a concealed child, who also happened to be female. What sort of unconscious message did that send to me I wonder? Probably the one that was just as effective as the comment that I nan made to my mum during a family holiday in Devon one year when I must have been eight or nine. “Holly is very fat.” I heard her say to my mum. I was completely dissolved and devastation by that comment for years. I felt like a freak and hated myself. It consumed me and I felt socially unworthy because of it for many years afterwards, and hid my post-adolescent slim body under mountains of oversized clothes.
The comment and the tent dresses were like two scarlet letters which I wore with shame throughout those last two years of primary school, and beyond. Being a child had been okay, but realising I was becoming a girl was harsh.
When I started secondary school I wore a uniform just like everyone else. I found tremendous comfort in that as I was no longer singled out and could take cover and disappear into a crowd of other people who were all dressed just liked me.
But at this moment, the one in which I had at last found some sanctuary, my body decided it was time to evolve.
This evolutionary process decided that it was time for me to have breasts. Girl bits grew where they had not been before and I was so mortified by their appearance that tried to flatten beneath my school blouse with an ugly tight waistcoat. I was horrified by these changes that were defining my gender. In the shadow of recovery were I was able to hide after being the fat freak, I was now going to have to become a proper girl. I hated my breasts. I was so embarrassed. How dare they do that to me? How dare they appear and ruin everything in such an obvious and apparent way.
My femininity was never cherished or presented to society in the correct débutante way. On the contrary, something somewhere had been wholly unsuccessful in my coming out. And my breasts suffered because of that the most.
Their existence also seemed to me marred by other people’s perception of them. And that perception, stigmatised my own enjoyment of them. Where I should have been celebrating these changes, I was ashamed by them.
Later after I had stopped trying to restrain them with that waistcoat and had got a well fitted bra, I had to visit the doctor due to illness. As I was still too young to see the doctor alone, my mother was with me. The doctor (a woman) asked me to remove my top so that she could examine me. When I did, she gasped at my breasts. This response was not due to their magnificence, but rather due to the fact that she had known me as a child without them. Their presentation startled her and her audible recognition of them, was yet another set back.
Their presence eventually grew on me, and I accepted them as I started to grow into the woman I was becoming. Then one day a friend’s mother informed me in front of a captured audience that she didn’t really think I needed to wear a bra as she thought my breasts were quite small. “Mother!” I heard my friend cry out in despair. What is it with women and other women’s breasts I wonder?
Maybe Jean Paul Gaultier should have made me a conical bra outfit instead of Madonna. Now that would have been something to comment on for its sheer audacity.
That observation hurt. And in that moment, I was ordained with the same freakish mantel as I had been all of those years ago by the comment that my nan had made about my weight.
It was all turning in to a game of Snakes and Ladders this girl stuff. I had enough ladders to climb as it was without those that shared my gender forcing me to slide down patriarchal snakes before I needed to.
They were my breast for the love of Mary! And the more attention they drew, the more protective I became for their well-being.
Were they small? Or were they just my size? Who gets to decide what is small and what is big? Where does this obsession come from?
Less is more according to a poem by Robert Browning. Maybe it was his fault that people paid so much attention to my breasts, and felt the need to comment.
When I became pregnant, my breasts and I were given the gift of foresight. If, I had wanted bigger breasts, this was the perfect opportunity to consider this option as nature increased their size naturally for me.
After I had had my baby, I can recall going to the loo which was situated on the maternity ward and whilst washing my hands in the sink, I suddenly noticed the size of my breasts in the mirror that hung above it. There they were reflected back at me in the mirror this huge pair of breasts heavy with new motherhood. I was delighted and amazed with them. But that didn’t last long.
It was great having those around for a while. They were certainly cheaper and less painful than surgery. They were natural. But they soon lost their appeal and I was glad when they were reduced to their initial size.
Then one day I found a small lump in the left one. I was beyond scared. I was a new single mother with a baby. I went to my GP as fast as I could because that is what we women are told to do. As I opened the door to his room, and before he gave me the opportunity to sit down, my GP gestured for me to lift up my top for him to feel them. He then informed me that there was nothing there and I was just being silly.
Six weeks later I was in hospital having the lump, a milk cysts removed. I knew he was wrong. The one thing nature teaches about your body after you have had a baby, is that you know your body better than anyone else. And I knew my breasts.
Then I went through a phase where I lost a ridiculous amount of weight. This just so happen to coincide with the fact that I was on the first run of starting a new relationship with a particular man. The night we did it for the first time, I removed my top exposing my breasts to which he exclaimed “Oh my God you’re a boy!” It was horrific for my ego, and for our fledgling relationship, that died a tragic and mournful (for him) death soon after.
They grew again when I had my second child and have in the aftermath of his arrival, just reverted back to being my breasts.
I love them. They are mine and no one else’s’.
I have shared them quite successfully with each of my children. That after all was their raison d'être.
They have been admired, fondled and loved. Most of all by me and a few others over the years.
Recently they were relentlessly squashed during my routine age appropriate mammogram examination.
I didn’t enjoy that at all. But I enjoyed the negative result.
I often admire them. For although they are smallish, they remain my second most favourite part of my body.
It’s been a long and emotional love story between my breasts and I. They are part of me and I am lucky to have them. Not all love stories end so well or continue to grow so successfully.
Friday, 2 October 2015
The first time I ever visited Kew Gardens I paid one old penny to get in. I can still feel the turnstile against my body as I dropped that penny into the slot and pushed against its cold mechanical resistance. It creaked and then cranked, and then suddenly stopped with a sharp thud that granted me entrance.
As I broke free from its constraints, I realised I wasn’t in Kansas any more. What lay before me, was the safe freedom of its lush green wide open spaces and I ran and ran. Sprinklers swirled delicate soft umbrellas of water in the heat of the afternoon, and I laughed manically as I tried to dodge them all.
I had never paid to go into a garden before. The only garden I was familiar with, was my Nan's in Mitcham. And although her garden had always seemed huge to me, she had dedicated beds for her roses, which interrupted any possible access to a free run.
Kew’s gardens were immense allowing me to be able to run quite a distance without ever encountering a single rose bush. It was pure unadulterated bliss, full of warm earthy smells and small forests of tactile trees of every description, with the odd shaped sculptural buildings thrown in for good measure.
It was a complete joy to and for me. Who knew that on the outskirts of the city such a place existed?
I didn't have a garden growing up. I still don’t. I have never lived in a house with access to one. It’s the one thing I intend to rectify before I die. So over the years, Kew has become my foster garden. It is my own personal bastion of tranquillity in the over subscribe hectic crazy city I live in.
I paid one old penny that first visit, and continued to do so until it rocketed up to the hefty sum of ten pence. Then I didn't visit for many years. My life and other less salubrious activities somehow got in the way.
That was until a sad pause for thought in life presented itself, and I was advised that the best place to grieve was within Kew's gardens.
And so I did.
I returned and found the sanctuary I needed, and since then, I have never looked back.
And I was delighted to see that the turnstile was still there. And even if they no longer rotate excited small children with old pennies into their gardens, you can, if you so wish, rotate yourself out of Kew for old times’ sake. And of course, being me, I always do.
In the years since rekindling our relationship, I have fallen in love with the place all over again. Each time I go there, an immense feeling of calm engulfs me. I am safe and free to wonder and think and just be.
I can’t think of another place that I have ever spent time in, where I felt so secure. In the intervening years since my return, I have spent days there in all types of whether accept when it has snowed (as they close it for safety reasons). I would love to be able to experience it in the magical silence that only snow brings.
I have been there in the morning, during the day, and late in the evening. I have spent New Year’s Eve there, hosted birthday picnics amongst Henry Moore bonzes, watched winter become spring and spring become summer, and summer turn into autumn.
I have thrown coins at the foot of the Japanese Gateway with wishes attached to them. I have travelled on the minibus and listened to the tour guide retelling the antics of its previous royal tenants.
I have considered climbing up the Pagoda, but have to confess I never have. I have marvelled at all the history that has taken place throughout the life cycle of the Cycad that resides in the (Day of the Triffids) Palm House, and has been around since 1770. Remarkable. Imagine that?
I have comforted friends within its grounds, been comforted by friends, gone on dates there. Then gone there to recover from those dates. Met up with old friends, read to my son. Written. Laid peacefully in pools of silent sunshine during the plane strike. Ran into friends I haven’t seen for years there, discussed lovers. Avoided lovers. Walked and walked in rotations to improve my fitness levels.
Drank tea, drank coffee and have eaten lots of cake.
I have laughed. Read. Thought. Pondered. Sat on benches dedicated to people who like me love the gardens, but of whom I know absolutely nothing. Taken numerous on a whim sunny day picnics there. Been amazed by the giant redwood trees. Visited the bluebell woods in the spring. And, felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up one afternoon in the palace. It is endless the discoveries and experiences one place can offer you if you engage with it.
There is always something new to learn, see or do in my garden.
So when Kew decided to host their first literary festival, it was my idea of paradise. There between its beautifully manicured boarders, exotic plants, and elderly trees, writers, authors and journalists would descend and take root for the last week in September.
The variety of subjects that they would be discussing were vast. And if I could have, I would have attended each and every talk and lecture. For me, to be able to hear artists talk about their work and their lives, is a wonderful thing. I was invited to attend, and thereafter became Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket on her way to the chocolate factory.
As I was fortunate enough to be able to attend several talks during the final two days of the festival, I had decided that I would chose a balance between science, fiction and poetry and children’s literature as the subject matter of the hour long talks I would like to attend. I also thought about the person that I wanted to hear, and based this upon how much I knew about them in advance of the event. With my tickets secured, off I went.
The weather was glorious on both days. Perfect for visiting Kew. The sun was shining and the gardens were full. I made my way to my first talk, situated in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre to hear the doctor and writer, Gavin Francis discuss his book Adventures in Human Being.
This seemed like an appropriate talk to start my two day attendance with, as in his book Gavin maps a route from head to toe of not only the human body, but of the way in which different parts of it are represented within our various cultures. I sat there lapping it all up, intrigued by how he had managed to research and deliver so much.
Within his hour long lecture, I was most captivated by his chapter relating to all of the faces he had dissected during his training. Here he discussed how it was possible to differentiate between those who had spent their lives laughing, and those who has spent their lives frowning, simply due to the tone of the muscles in their post mortem faces.
Some he told us, had well formed cheek muscles, and had obviously spent more time smiling and laughing, as opposed to others who had more well formed muscles in their foreheads that had been built up from years of frowning. It was both insightful and telling, and a good lesson of how in death, there are those who will be able to identify what kind of person we were: one that laughed or one that didn't. The literal mask of comedy or tragedy as seen through the eyes of those in the medical profession. It was fascinating stuff that was certainly food for thought.
I then went off to a Novel Literary Lunch hosted by Mel Giedroyc. Mel's guests were ex-editor of The Lady and sister to Boris, and now novelist Rachel Johnson and John Mullan, a professor of English at UCL and Jane Austen aficionado. We the audience were introduced to Mel and her guests Individually, each who then proceeded to present us with their own home-made trays of cakes. I think mine was a Mullan creation. I shouldn't be eating cakes, I pondered, but then again when it was handed to me on a plate, how could I say no. Then Mel informed us that the purpose of the lunch was to give each of the trio the opportunity to present a starter, main and pudding in the form of their favourite choice of books.
Again, this was a real treat as it presented us with their three personal choices and their reasons why they had choosen those particular books. My favourite was Mel's The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies by Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud . If you have ever needed a book to read as a cure to an issue in your life, then this book does just that. Need a cure for a broken heart, writer's block, or a myriad of other aliments, then you can simply look up your issue, and this book will recommend what to read to cure it. Genius. My copy is on order. And if you are wondering what to buy that reader in your life for Christmas, there's your answer.
The guests choices included; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, the C.J. Sansom Shardlake series of books and All I Ever Wrote: The Complete Works of Ronnie Barker.
All of this was mental food for thought and a clever, witty and revelatory insight into what and why certain books appealed, or resonated with each of the speakers.
It was late in the afternoon when the talk ended and the sun was still high in the clear sky and I left my day one wishing I had accessed more.
My second day was only a sleep away I mused on arriving home, and what treats it held.
10:45 the next morning and I was rushing as I was late. How could I do this to the woman I was about to see? She is 92 and has had the most extraordinary life. If you haven't seen the BBC Imagine documentary about her, I would suggest that you do so. For Judith Kerr has had quite a remarkable life.
I arrived to find a lengthy queue leading into the Sir Joseph Banks Building. The chatty security guard informs me that Judith is running late so not to panic. I say at her age I think she is allowed. The guard agrees.
I am slightly annoyed at my lateness though as it means that I will have to sit nearer the back and my eyesight isn't as bionic as it used to be. Still, I am there and eventually so is Judith.
Judith is really an illustrator. Judith is Jewish. She lived with her family in Germany. At the age of nine it was brought to her father's attention that they were about to receive a visit from the Nazi party. As such, her mother packed what they needed, and left all of what they had, and escaped. Remarkably she packed some of Judith early childhood drawings. These intricate colourful drawings are now housed in the Jewish Museum London.
Their escape from Germany is an incredible story in itself. She came to London and worked as a textile designer and then after her first child was born, found herself at home with time on her hands within which she began to create stories.
Her most well known story is The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
What became apparent during her talk, was that Judith is a funny, imaginative, creative person, who despite all of the horrors that took place in her and her family's wake, finds beauty in life. Her new children's book Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, tells the tale of one inspired by her father's real life efforts to save a baby seal that he rescued from certain death. She amused the audience when asked how she had researched what the fishermen had worn and the how the seal should look for her drawings “I Googled them” she said.
She also admitted that she felt relatively new to this role having had her first book published at the age of 45.
It was a charming and gentle interview. When asked about those who weren't so lucky to have escaped the Nazis, she said that she didn't like to look back, but preferred to live in the present. She said that was amazed on a daily basis at all the beauty that the world has to offer and preferred to focus on that.
The talk ended and I queued for coffee thinking on her positivity. It was a beautiful morning and I was free and able. The cloudless sky was blue. God is in the detail I thought to myself.
I made my way back to the same building for the next talk on my agenda.
I was early this time and nabbed a better seat for the benefit of my eyes.
I sat down and waited for Sandi Toksvig. I always remember seeing her and her family in Chiswick High Road years ago. I can't put a date on this memory. But I remember thinking at the time about her and her life. She is a vivacious character, and one that I admire as she uses her time wisely to do as much as she can. Be that as a writer hell bent on educating people about facts that are crying out to be remembered. Or as an exponent of equal rights. Sandi Toksvig is colouring in every page of her colouring book with as many colours as she can.
Her persona couldn't be more opposite to my previous talkee Judith Kerr. Sandi is absolutely passionate about all of her projects because she knows from her own experiences how important it is to be a living sandwich board of information and detail.
She was simply magnificent in her deliverance of the information that she wanted to share with us, and incredibly generous with all of her stories about her life. She is an open book, and I recognised in her someone like myself who speaks up, because it is important to have a voice and to be heard.
My heart pumped with this realisation as I was handed the microphone to tell her what an inspiration she is, and to asked her how she found the support to keep going?
She was very gracious and honest in her response and shared with us her experience of coming out as gay and the ramifications that this had on her family. Recounting her story of numerous death threats and having to flee her home with her family under police guard, brought a tear to my eye. Here was a woman brave enough to be honest about her sexuality in the latter part of the twentieth century, years after Judith Kerr and her family had left Germany, being persecuted for another equally abhorrent reason.
I honestly believe that these collective experiences amongst writers, afford them the courage to be who they are. They are positive creations of their experiences and not in spite of them.
Sandi was there to promote her new children's book called A Slice of The Moon. A story that is based on a young heroine who leaves Ireland as a result of the potato famine for a new life in America.
Sandi is a arduous researcher and her attention to detail is what defines her books and who she is.
I left there inspired. I did feel a little guilty that my question had rubbed salt in an old wound. But then again, she was happy to share that memory and it's one that shouldn't be forgotten.
I had a while before my next talk. It was with a man, who when I think of, I just picture Daniel Day-Lewis with dyed hair sitting on a washing machine in a launderette.
I sat in the sunshine and ate a sandwich logging all that I had seen and heard so far. The gardens were busy with people travelling to and from various lectures. The creativity was palatable. I smiled and made my way to The Jodrell Lecture Theatre once again, to hear Hanif Kureishi talk about his book Love + Hate: Stories and Essays.
Like my two previous writers, Hanif Kureishi had turned to writing as a platform to speak up about a social injustice. For him it was the racism he had both witnessed and been on the receiving end of.
“I looked out of the window and thought I am fucked.” He began as he told us about the options open to him as a young Asian in Britain. In a heartbeat, after he had had that thought, he decided to become a writer. His premise being that there was no one like him writing about the things he had experienced.
Hanif is funny. He has a dry sense of humour that you could quite easily use to sand down a rough piece of wood. I laughed so much, that if Gavin Francis had been there at that moment to dissect my face, he would have found physical evidence of this.
Love + Hate: Stories and Essays is a series of essays and stories that deal with both of those emotions. Hanif amused us all with his well documented experience with an accountant who stole not only his money (£120,000) but also the money of many other lesser known individuals. He recounted his first meeting with the accountant Adam Woricker whom he believed to be a trustworthy person as an amiable man who had a passion for collecting James Bond memorabilia.
Hanif's main thematic was that even though this man had broken his trust by stealing his money, he became obsessed with him and what motivated Adam to do such a thing, given that he was in the main a likeable person.
Is there a thin line between love and hate, or is that just a Pretenders song? Absolutely there is. We have all at one time or another in our lives become intrigued by people who are likeable, but who do something to us that we cannot quite accept or understand. Ex-lovers for example. Hanif talked about how these incidents break our trust in people, but how we cannot let their behaviour colour our perception of trusting others. For if we do that, if we have no trust in the people we know or or yet to encounter, what hope is there for us?
He was incredibly engaging, witty and ardent raconteur. My face hurt by the end of his talk from laughing excessively. My only regret was that I was time rich but money poor (the irony) to purchase a signed copy of his book.
I was verging on being emotionally drained as I left the lecture theatre. I had so far attended talks that dealt with the holocaust, homophobia and racism. What next?
I made my way over to Cambridge Cottage (which is surrounded by my favourite garden within Kew) to hear Howard Jacobson talk about his rewriting of Shakespeare’s Shylock.
This was what I would call the intellectual heavyweight session of my weekend at Kew's Write on Festival. I have to admit I am not familiar with Howard, so I sat there and felt a little out of my comfort zone as to what to expect.
In walked Howard accompanied by Alan Yentob. They took their seats on the small platform and started discussing how Howard had arrived at his latest project.
It was an enjoyable and informative insight into the representation of being Jewish, and how the character of Shylock and been constructed and how that in turn had informed the perception of Jews. Was he a caricature or a valid construct? And if either, how did this inform and educate all of those that had read or seen the play when it had first been written and since?
Alan and Howard talk at great lengths about this and then Howard read from the manuscript of his as yet unpublished book. We were also treated to an rough edit of the BBC's opener of the forthcoming Imagine series which features Howard's journey with the play and his interpretation of it.
I warmed to Howard. He was incredibly intelligent and passionate about his work as all of the writers I had heard during the weekend were.
As a nearby clock tower struck six o'clock, the session was wrapped-up and those who wanted to queue for a signed copy of his book J were invited too do so, while the rest of us existed via the front door and found ourselves on Kew green.
I was out of the wardrobe and back in the real world.
I made my way home with my head full of information and new memories of a weekend spent in my garden with some incredible people who had shared their work and their passion for life with me and many others.
And it was bliss. If you like words and the way people string them together to amaze, delight, insight, captivate, and inform you. Then you would have been happy in my head as I lay in bed that night mulling over in my mind the two days I had spent at Kew. I could have attended an entire week of talks and lectures that were held there, I pondered, and for me it still wouldn't have been enough.
The pleasure was immense and fulfilling. Boy George was once cited for saying that he would rather have a cup of tea than sex. That might be pushing it a bit far for me. But I would say that the experience tapped into a part of my brain that finds an equal pleasure in both. Hearing people talk about their passions may well be just as fulfilling for me as sex. It's all about what stimulates your senses and leaves you wanting more of the same.
And I will be there next year, and who knows maybe someone will one day be listening to me talk about my work and my passion for it.
If anything, I hope that this piece has inspired you to read some of the books I have mentioned and to visit Kew's beautiful gardens.
And next year treat yourself and your literary senses and attend the next Write On Festival.
If you do any of those things, please let me know.