Dead Men’s Bones

A photo I took as I was writing this post.

A photo I took as I was writing this post.

Brighton is my second favourite of the train stations I know, and this from someone who is more than a little romantic about train stations. My favourite thing about it, of course, is the smell, and so I step excitedly off my train and take a deep breath and fill my lungs with -

- nothing. At first I think I’m imagining it, and then I wonder if I haven’t got a blocked nose without noticing it. Neither of these things seem to be the case, however, and eventually I have to admit it: I can’t smell the sea. I keep trying with increased concern all the way down West Street, telling myself that once I’m past the first townie bit – once I get to the Clocktower – once I’m out on the front it will be alright. And yet, somehow, it isn’t. I get all the way to the Albion without catching more than the barest whiff of what was always such a robust, heady scent.

My hotel room is like Brighton itself: shabby, peeling, a half-ghostly memory of past grandeur. I don’t know what the window looks out onto because the glass is so thickly frosted it’s impossible to tell, but it certainly isn’t the sea. The room is big, though, and comfortable enough, and I never minded a bit of run-down luxury. I put down my bag and unpack my pyjamas for later and charge my phone for a bit and go to the loo and then, when I’m ready, strike out across the road to the waiting pier.

Palace Pier never changes. I look straight down as I walk to watch glimpses of the teal sea flash past as the boards bend and give under my footsteps. I remember the photograph of me and my stepfather on the helter-skelter, my aunt being the only person who would agree to go with me on the waltzer, my mother dropping a prawn through the gaps in the floor, my Nana patiently changing stack after stack of her own loose change into tokens for me to feed the flashing machines. I wonder which booth my friend Liz used to sit in to read the Tarot and try to imagine what it would be like to come to a wedding here, blustered about after listening to an exchange of vows in Victoria’s Bar. But I still can’t smell the sea.

I go shopping after that, navigate through streets that I once knew a great deal better than I do today. The grass in the Pavilion Gardens is not as lush as I remember it from picnics with Nana. It’s only been a year since I was last in Brighton and it’s not like I’ve ever gone any longer than that without a visit – as a child I was here at least one weekend nearly every month for many years – but it feels in a way a great deal longer. My favourite cafe, one that opened not too long after the war when my Nana was still a teenager, has disappeared. My favourite shop from when I was fourteen has vanished, too. The best alternative jewellers in the Lanes has gone all silvery mainstream and I can’t find the headshop where I bought my first everything.

Other things, thankfully, are comfortingly right. The Brighton Bead Shop is just as it ought to be, and the friendly women behind the counter sell me earring hooks and foiled beads with the kind of knowledgeable pleasantness everyone working there has always had. I buy some fantastic shoes and a matching bag from an almost ludicrously lovely and helpful woman a few doors down from Komedia. I have a run-in with a tobacconist on Jubilee Street who seems to think it’s still 1953 and women should smoke super-slims if anything at all.

In the evening, I wind through the dusk to the little pub that was my father’s local when he was in his teens and early twenties. I’m there to meet my cousin and her aunt, old family friends I’ve never quite been able to believe I’m not related to by blood, and we talk about how our fathers – well, mine and Claire’s fathers and Debbie’s brother, both dead this spring – sat here with their other closest friend, the man who is now my Uncle Pete, and gradually become the men we knew all our lives. We’re in the corner booth they used to claim as their own, and Claire at least drinks the ales they always favoured even if Deb and I prefer white wine and gin respectively.

Afterwards we walk past houses on Ditchling Road and Cat’s Corner, and Debbie points out where our fathers used to walk and talk and play and sit and read. We all tear up a little. What injustice, that this has come to us both at once.

Walking back through the Laines with a cone of chips in one hand and an illicit bottle of cider in the other, I realise all of a sudden that I can at last smell the sea. Once I take my leave of Claire I head straight for the beach rather than my hotel, and stand alone in the darkness squinting at the horizon past the shimmer of moonlight on ocean. The sea after midnight is intensely personal no matter how many people you share it with; there’s an entire nightclub not fifty yards behind me, but the stone-on-stone rushing of the waves drowns out its noise and nobody is paying attention to me as I talk to the water.

Earlier, disconsolate, I had texted my mother upset at how things weren’t quite right here. She wasn’t sympathetic at all, being as she is quite thoroughly disillusioned with the town she grew up in already; “remember”, she said, “that the place is a whited sepulchre. You are finally getting a glimpse behind the veil.” I think to myself then, feet sinking into shingle at almost one in the morning, that despite it all she was wrong. Salt water runs in my veins as deeply as ink, and there could be no veil between me and this ocean.

Yes, I was there too.

Reflective baby blue is so not my colour.

In which I discover that there’s nowhere to clip a radio to an evening dress.

Nine years ago, at the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow, someone who went on to become incredibly influential in my life who I had only met that weekend for the first time gave me a slightly aghast look and said, “what do you mean you’ve never even heard of LiveJournal?” We weren’t always carting around three different little magically internet-connected devices then (the first person I knew who got anything on a network a bit like the 3G we all now use was her husband a year or so later, and back then we all teased him a bit for his dedication being as such that he now had the internet in his pocket at all times) and so she dragged me bodily over to one of the laptops set up in the fan lounge and opened my first blog of any kind.

I was sixteen years old and that weekend changed my life forever. From there I was taken to goth clubs, introduced to people who were bisexual and polyamorous and who liked the same music as I liked and read the same books as I read. The first fanzine article I ever wrote was published in the fanzine that had won the Hugo that year; I was pleased with this in the way that only a sixteen year old trying very hard to be impressive can be. Nearly everyone I now count as a friend is someone I met because of a chain of events that started at that convention; the vast majority of all the people I’ve slept with or dated, the two close friends I’ve been living with for the past two years, practically everyone I know. I was in my late teens, looking for a life to be launched into, and the one I ended up shooting towards has been shaped by where it started in a thousand different ways.

I sort-of left fandom for a bit a few years ago. It was never supposed to be permanent, but it was a time when I needed to take a step back – I’d joined a roleplaying group whose own events pretty much ate the money I’d have spent on going to conventions, for long and complicated reasons I was concerned that a couple of people I liked very much indeed didn’t want me around and I hated the idea of causing awkwardness, once you’re out of the habit of doing something it gets easier and easier to stay away and harder and harder to go back, that sort of thing. There was never any question, however, that Dad and I would go to the London Worldcon. They were having a Worldcon in London, for god’s sake: why wouldn’t we be there?

Of course, the truth of it is that there is at least one reason we wouldn’t be there, and as a result of that very thing one of us wasn’t. We none of us expected my father to go as soon as he did, and while I briefly wondered when he bought my membership if he might not be too ill to enjoy it properly it hadn’t occurred to me in the least that he might have been dead for three months by the time the convention started.

This has been a strange weekend: simultaneously energising of spirit and knackering of body, filled with friends both old and new yet often remarkably lonely, an event that has made me feel like I’ve come back home but also one that made it clear to me I really have been away longer than I maybe should have gone. I’ve never been any good at actually writing proper conreps – I think the only one I ever did properly was the one that was printed in Plokta a decade ago – so in lieu of something that I’m still pretending to myself I might actually sit down and write later, have a series of bullet points.

Thursday

  • I was actually genuinely nervous as I arrived at the con early on Thursday morning; Dad wasn’t with me and I wasn’t entirely certain of the reception my return might receive and there was one moment when I almost bailed. By mid-afternoon however it had been shown that none of the social awkwardness I was worried about was in any way a thing and I’d actually been being stupid, I’d been to two panels and the opening ceremony, I’d caught up with a whole load of people, I’d drunk three pints and I was immensely relieved I hadn’t wussed out.
  • The Retro Hugo Awards, for which I wore the closest thing I own to a vaguely 30s-ish dress and looked (if I may say so myself) rather elegant although not at all historically accurate, were actually really very good fun. The metaplot worked well and the note from Beatrice Welles brought a tear to my eye.
  • There was no gin! This was a disaster! Except it wasn’t, because as soon as I mentioned the convention’s inherent ginlessness to bohemiancoast she went and fixed it. Which was excellent.

Friday

  • By this point in the con it was becoming painfully clear that the hard parts were mealtimes and the big staged Auditorium events. There were enough friends around that I could reliably just amble around the fan village till I saw someone I knew well enough to go over and join, but I wasn’t at the con *with* anyone and that was, at times, really very hard indeed.
  • I’m glad I sat in on the open rehearsal for a bit with dougs, even if I did cry a bit at Jupiter and then get embarrassed about bursting randomly into tears. Dad loved the Planets Suite, as do I. The orchestral performance itself was very impressive indeed, and probably the major highlight of my convention – the 86-piece orchestra was made up of members of the Royal Philharmonic and various other orchestras of that calibre, and there were several moments when I cried more just because they were so good. I particularly enjoyed the Haydn (there’s something incredibly restrained about The Representation of Chaos, isn’t there; it sits for so long on the brink of an outburst that never quite seems to come), the Doctor Who theme tune (that theremin player was so beautiful, and he seemed so very pleased to be there – it was lovely just to watch his face, not to mention the arrangement they played was a lot of fun), the soprano they had for Song to the Moon, the Holst again, and The Unanswered Question – which seemed to me to be both about humanity reaching out into the universe looking for life elsewhere and also about the ways in which we all do that to each other on a smaller scale – sometimes life feels like we’re all trapped inside our own heads, trying to reach out and see if there are really other real people who are just as complex and deep as we feel ourselves to be. Part of the human condition is in never being able to reach anyone else entirely, nor to be entirely reached.
  • Oh my god, the late Party Maven shift was exhausting. At least nothing went too wrong! Design flaw: there’s no useful way to clip a walkie talkie radio to an evening dress. Someone should get on that.

Saturday

  • I only made it to one panel on Saturday, and I was unceremoniously evicted from it a third of the way through because the room was overcrowded. What I was there for was really very interesting, though.
  • This was my big dressing-up-and-dancing night. I wore stockings and a corset and everything. The Barfleet party, with its star turn from d_floorlandmine and its terrifying shots, was the social/partying highlight of my con – I had an excellent time. Also, I went to bed at 6am. Whoops.

Sunday

  • Sunday morning was a hungover washout, but the afternoon was a success – two very interesting panels, a lovely conversation with someone I’ve known a bit for years but have never spoken to one-on-one or at length before and now feel like I know much better, and some excellent carrot cake.
  • I wholeheartedly enjoyed livetweeting the Hugo awards, and it was also pretty successful; I was the first person to post most of the results to Twitter, an author whose books I really like but who I’ve never met retweeted me a few times, and it made sitting there alone feel a lot less lonely. I was incredibly touched by the fact that Dad was listed and remembered during the memorial section, though I hadn’t thought to expect it and I did cry a lot.

Monday

  • Raising a memorial toast to my dad at the Literary Beers table on the last night was someone else’s idea, as it hadn’t occurred to me that it was something I could do – but a very good one it was too. I was so touched by the fact that people turned up, and I was immensely glad that I had the ability to buy everyone who did a pint on him. Dad’s pre-printed con badge was there too, as I’d picked it up from Registration earlier in the day. I hated the thought that after all those decades of convention-going his last ever membership would just get thrown away, so I brought it home with me.
  • I really like Dead Dog parties at cons – they’re often one of the best nights. This one was no exception, and it gave me a chance to properly catch up with people I’d barely spoken to all weekend because they were so busy and Worldcons are so big.

The problem with bullet-pointed lists is that they don’t reach nice conclusions, and now I feel like this post is just going to be left hanging…

…so I’ll just say again how this weekend was both excellent and difficult by turns (sometimes simultaneously), and how although I was keenly aware right through of the fact that Dad wasn’t there it was made a lot easier by how readily other people and the convention itself remembered him and called him to mind and listened to me when I talked about him. So thank you, for that: thank you all.

Anything So Magnificent

(c) Allie Whiteley, 2011

(c) Allie Whiteley, 2011

Virginia Woolf once said that nothing has ever really happened until it has been written down. Ever since I first came across that quote at the age of twelve or thirteen I’ve lived under the shadow of all the things that never really happened to me: not just the the parties nobody will ever remember in perfect clarity or the the startling three AM thoughts that slipped away, but also the nothings. The days when nothing happened.

What do we do with our lost days? My mother once bought me a little book called A Thought A Day, with a short space to write a sentence in every evening for five years. I wasn’t very good at keeping up with it, and so sometimes I’d find myself going back and writing up a week or a fortnight at a time, pretending to my future self that I’d developed the habit properly. I’d get to a certain point and realise I didn’t have anything to say because I couldn’t remember a single notable moment from the day in question. What did I do last Tuesday, I’d ask myself, What ever did I do, and then I’d start to panic because I’d got so keenly aware of how tiny and insignificant my life was and how much of it I was wasting on days I couldn’t even remember a single thing about. The past is a memory, and the future is a daydream, and all we actually have for real is this here – this exact moment, the one that will have fled even by the time I finish hitting the next key on the keyboard.

My father is a part of the past now, and he has been since early Monday morning. He is a memory kept alive by our scrabbling minds, a whisper fading inside an echo chamber. All I can do – as a writer, and a rememberer, and a daughter, and a mourner – is shout as loudly as I can till the urge to keep it going lessens.

*****

At about half past ten on Sunday morning, I was woken up by a phone call from the hospital. “He’s not doing so well”, the nurse said. “You should come.” I threw on some clothes and ran downstairs to where my housemate, my best friend, was sitting at the computer in the living room. “The hospital rang”, I said. She went to pick up her car keys.

When I got there, nothing seemed very dramatic at all; much as I’d left it when I went home the evening before. I sat with him and talked to him – to him, not with him, because by that point he couldn’t speak. He hadn’t really been able to since Wednesday. I don’t know if he could even hear me by then but I talked and talked, and other people came and went and they all talked too, until eventually they’d all gone and night was falling and I sat down in a chair by the hospital bed – we were in a private room by then, which was a blessing – and I thought to myself how this could be the last time I ever sat alone with my dad while he was still alive. I didn’t know what else to say or what more to do so I pulled out the copy of The Hobbit I had in my handbag for this very purpose and I started to read it to him.

My father and I have a special relationship with The Hobbit. He’s read it to me, and I’ve read it to him, and it was the first proper novel I read all by myself as a child, and it’s of most vital importance to us both. Dad and I can and often do both recite the first paragraph:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

For the rest of my life whenever I see those words I will hear my own voice quaking and breaking at my father’s bedside, and remember how I recited Misty Mountains almost from memory because my eyes were so thick with tears I could barely see the page. I didn’t leave the hospital till after ten PM that night and when I did, I stayed with friends who live nearby. I slept poorly and fitfully on their sofa, my phone clutched in my hand and a set of clothes laid out by the coffee table just in case. When it rang I wasn’t at all surprised. I was at the hospital well inside fifteen minutes after they woke me to tell me they thought he’d stopped breathing.

*****

The hospital lay sleeping, the ward a dimmed silence far removed from all the hustle I’d got used to being there amongst. It was a little after four in the morning and the nurses gave me a cup of tea and showed me silently into his room. He was lain flat on his back, straightened out, not in a position he could have been in during the few weeks that went before. He looked small and peaceful and very, very still. I felt myself wracked by a silent sob. “Oh, Dad”, I think I said. “Oh dad, oh dad, oh dad.”

“I love you so much. Fuck. I love you so, so much. How could you do this to me? No, I don’t mean that. I’m sorry. How could you – don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me. I love you so much. I’m sorry. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Did I ever say that? I don’t think I ever said that. How could I possibly have never said that? I love you so much.”

When it had passed, I moved to stand by his bed and I googled Psalm 23 and started reading it over him, but I was reading the wrong one – it was the NIV and you never use the NIV for Psalm 23, it’s the KJV everyone means when they think about it, but by the time I realised I’d already started and you can’t just stop and regoogle and go again, can you, talk about ruining the moment. So I read the wrong Psalm 23 and then I said the Lord’s Prayer and a collect and the Glory Be and some other things, and then I realised that I’d run out of prayers I knew off by heart and was saying the Hail Mary which is about the least Calvinist thing ever and while Dad wouldn’t have minded it wouldn’t have meant anything to him either, so I shut up for a moment and phoned his brother. “He’s gone. It’s over.”

Chris had to start getting everyone up and out and into the car, and I phoned my boyfriend and said it all over again and he started mobilising, and then I made the sign of the cross of my father’s forehead and left the room and had a word with the nurses and got back in the lift and went outside and rolled a cigarette. This was when it got bad. I phoned the vicar first – I got the poor man out of bed before five in the morning for not a lot, but he was lovely about it – and then my mother, at least in part because she and her husband get up that early most weekdays anyway so I knew I wouldn’t wake them, and then I tried to go back inside but it was so hot in the hospital that every time I started walking down the corridor I felt like I couldn’t continue. I knew I was going to throw up but I didn’t know when and I had to get it over and done with and I couldn’t bear the heat and I just felt sicker and sicker and worse and worse, and I wanted to sit and talk to the vicar on the phone for a bit and he would have done just that but I couldn’t speak I felt so sick, and all I could do was pace around the hospital grounds like a madwoman until eventually I vomited horribly in the most discreet outdoor corner I could find, horribly, over and over till there was nothing of me left.

After that I could go back inside. I sat for another forty-five minutes or so in the chair next to my father’s bed, the same chair I’d read The Hobbit to him from just the day before, with my hand on his shoulder and my forehead resting against the metal bed-frame, and I talked and talked till everyone else arrived. Dead bodies are strange. His is the second I’ve seen, and the first had been embalmed and that does make a big difference – my dad still looked mostly like himself, but his mouth and eyes were both frozen in this strange half-open way that nobody would ever stay like were they alive and I kept thinking I could see the bedclothes rising and falling with his breaths but I knew it was just an illusion – just my eyes seeing what my brain expected them to see.

I don’t suppose I need to write down all the things that happened next. They happened to other people, too, and so they’re in much less danger of fading from reality.

I will say, though, that I didn’t spend that night in my own home either, and when I got back there the next night I went upstairs to go directly to sleep and there on the foot of my bed were my father’s bags, all the stuff of his I’d brought home from the hospital. I’d forgotten they were there and I fell to my knees with the weight of the blow. When I’d recovered a little I picked up his iPad and it was still on, still charged. I glanced through some things and I found a letter, a piece of writing not unlike this one in spirit, written by the daughters of a close friend of my Dad’s who had died only a few short weeks previously. I don’t have the iPad here with me and I couldn’t quote the context, but there was a line in it that just said As if anything as magnificent as our father’s brain could possibly die!

As if indeed. As if.

More cookery

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted to Facebook that she had a couple of free Abel & Cole codes going. I had been lamenting that very day that I missed fresh vegetables and loved the idea of having an organic box delivery but could by no means afford one, so I jumped at the chance. I then ordered a far larger and more expensive box than I would have gone with if it hadn’t been entirely free, and eagerly anticipated its arrival. It came on Wednesday, and with its blue potatoes and British chard did not at all disappoint. For dinner that night I made chili chard rice with buttered nuts and feta cheese, and it was reasonably delicious.

Thanks to a string of dates with various people* I didn’t get to cook again till yesterday afternoon, when the three of us lunched on spiced tomato soup and soda bread. This was excellent for several reasons: firstly because we were all in the house at once and I got to cook for us (I really, really love cooking for my two housemates, but we rarely want to eat all at the same time), secondly because it was completely delicious despite the fact that I’m not generally a big soup-eater, thirdly because it meant I actually ate a real meal before going to a party (I am usually too disorganised) and fourthly because I got to show off beautifully and I still love showing off. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing the looks of ‘oh god we might die of hunger we shall not eat till next week’ on people’s faces when you announce that you have on a whim decided to make a fresh loaf to go with lunch, and then forty minutes later presenting them with light, airy fresh bread, still warm from the oven in no time at all. Thank you, Jack Monroe.

I’m essentially trying to use things up in the order I think they’ll go off in – chard first because fresh and leafy, then the tomatoes – so I suspect that the broccoli needs to be next and I shall use it tomorrow. What is your favourite thing to do with broccoli? I am tempted to simply fry slices of it in butter and serve it with macaroni cheese. I make pretty decent macaroni cheese (the trick is to make a good roux, which I have quite the knack for these days) and I haven’t done so in an age.  I’m very open to suggestions, though. I might then turn the other head into pesto, if I get round to picking up some nuts.

* Thereby making my life sound a great deal more exciting than it probably is

In which I am not a very good mythological being

Today, I had a small timing accident at Surrey Quays overground station. It’s happened to everyone who lives in London: the person in front of you has some kind of problem with their ticket but you don’t notice in time to fall out of rhythm, so you swipe your Oyster card anyway and then they go through on it, thinking the problem is solved, and you’re stuck on the other side unable to get out. Resigned to a dull conversation, I went to explain my predicament to the nearest guard.

“I can let you through”, he says, “but first you have to answer three questions. You answer my questions, I let you through. Okay?”

Oh god, I think, I’ve found a jobsworth. I sigh internally and prepare myself to justify my entire journey to him so he knows I’m not trying to jump.

“First question: why are you so beautiful?”

My heart sinks even further. Not this again, for fuck’s sake. I muster a smile and shine it at him brightly. “Thank you”, I reply. “That’s very sweet.”

“No, no! Don’t just say ‘thank you’. Answer my question: why are you so beautiful?”

“Um. Good genes, I guess.” I wonder if I should be telling him how inappropriate this is, but the truth is I just want to get through the barrier and go home. My bag is uncomfortably heavy and my boots are hurting my feet. He would, technically, be well within his rights to make a fuss: check the CCTV, go through my Oyster card history, blame me for not paying enough attention at the barriers.

He laughs. “So you get good genes and I get bad ones, is that what you mean?”

“No! Aha. Oh. No. Um.” My heart is hammering a little because I feel trapped, obliged, and I don’t like it. The balance of power here is not in my favour, and not just because he’s clearly stronger than I am.

“And your eyebrows. I love your eyebrows. Do you shave them off?”

They always talk about my eyebrows, for some reason. I nod. “Yes. Yeah, I draw them on.”

He grins broadly at me and leans in closer. Our faces are far nearer to each other than I want them to be, now. “Next question: how many boyfriends have you had? I am sure you must have had…a thousand.”
Somewhat against my better judgement I seem to be playing his game, so I answer without thinking: “Oh, five or six.” This is bullshit, of course – the true answer to that question is a hell of a lot more complicated, but I don’t fancy getting into a debate about the definitions of a relationship with this man. Nor do I fancy coming out and having to explain that some of them were girlfriends instead.

“You are lying! A woman as beautiful as you, she must have had a hundred boyfriends. So then, my last question.”

I briefly contemplate pointing out that he’s had three already, but come to the conclusion that it would probably just prolong the experience even further. I’m feeling deeply uncomfortable at this point. But I nod anyway, and wait for him to continue.

“How many boyfriends do you have right now?”

I laugh, a little nervously. “Just the one”, I say.

“How long have you been with him?”

Are follow-up questions fair game? This man has clearly not read very much mythology. I kind of wish I was a dragon or a sphinx or something so that I could actually do something useful about this. All I say, though, is the truth: “A year. It was our first anniversary yesterday.”

He shakes his head. “I want to kill him so I can be with you”, he says. He’s smiling to show that it’s a joke. The only think that surprises me about this ‘joke’ is that it is by no means the first time someone has made it to me.

“On balance, I’d rather you didn’t”, I say. “I’m rather fond of him.”

“I could buy you so many more beautiful dresses, so much more jewellery than he does! I would treat you so well.”

Unconsciously I find myself checking my ears for earrings: the ones he gave me for our anniversary yesterday, the ones he gave me for my birthday last summer, the ones he gave me for Valentine’s Day this year. I adore all three pairs, and am forever obsessively checking to make sure they’re secure and aren’t going to fall out. I consider making some kind of slightly underhanded joke about how I’m quite sure that TfL doesn’t pay him more than my boyfriend earns, but it’s both irrelevant and bitchy so I refrain. “I’m very happy where I am, actually”, is what I say out loud, “and I’d quite like to go home.”

He leans in again, thwarting my attempt to take a step or two toward the barrier. “Can I come with you?”

I twitch a little. He’s actually getting slightly sinister now. “I’m sure that’s at least six questions”, I blurt out. “You said three, remember?”

There’s a horrible pause where I try not to think about all the things he might be about to do, and then he laughs loudly in my face. “Funny and beautiful!”, he says, and finally swipes the nearest barrier to let me through.
I stammer out a thanks and try to leave the station as quickly as possible. “I will see you again soon!”, he calls after me, and unfortunately he’s right – we’re at the station I use the most often.

This broad category of thing happens to me at least once a week, but it only gets this bizarre on about an annual basis. Sadly, today I didn’t manage to acquit myself quite as well as I feel like I did with the creepy Tesco employee back in 2010, but you can’t win them all.

They’re slightly radioactive, you know.

This was a LiveJournal post that I made all the way back in 2010. But I wanted to link to it from a post I’m about to make to this blog – and really, who uses LJ these days? – so here it is, for your edification &c. I promise you that my father doesn’t pay my bills any more [grin]


“Excuse me, ma’am”, says a cheery voice in a navy blue uniform, “but do you have a Tesco Clubcard?”

“Yes,” I reply, trying not to break my stride. “I do.” I’m distinctly relieved that for once they’re touting something I can truthfully say I already use.

“Do you use Clubcard Vouchers to pay your gas and electric bills?”

Reluctantly, I give in and stop walking. “I don’t, no.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t pay the gas and electric.” This is also true, but I know as soon as I say it that I should have gone with ‘I don’t spend enough in Tesco to cover them’ instead. Which is no less true, and would have ended the conversation faster.

“Who does?”, he asks. “Your husband?”

“My father”, I tell him. This too is a mistake. I’ve shared a personal detail. There’s no going back now: we’re in this for the long haul.

“Lucky you!”

“Yes”, I agree, hurriedly. I fear I am in for a jovial ‘youth of today’ rant. “I’m a student.” This detail usually ameliorates some of the embarrassment of the previous revelation. Everybody knows students are broke.

“Oh! What are you studying?”

“English Literature and Creative Writing”, I reply. I know what’s coming next.

“Are you a writer, then?”

“Well – I write, yes.”

“Novels?”

“Sometimes.”

“How many have you got published?”

“Er. None. Yet.”

“Oh. You’re not very good, then?”

I stammer something nonsensical with a lot of ‘um, er, ah’-ing.

“I’m only joking with you!”, he laughs. “What sort of novels?”

“Fantasy, mostly.”

He looks shocked. “What, like” – and here his voice drops to a whisper. “Dirty books?”

“No, no”, I smile. “Magic. Time travel. That sort of thing.”

“Oh!” He looks a little disappointed. “Like Harry Potter?”

“Er. Um. A little bit like that, I suppose. But for grown-ups.” I avoid the word ‘adult’. That way madness lies.

“You look a bit Harry Potterish.”

I smile again, feigning ignorance of his point.

“I knew a gothic once. He had a coffin instead of a bed. I thought, that’s a bit weird, innit? Isn’t that a bit weird?”

“I have a normal bed”, I assure him, and instantly wish I hadn’t.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes”, I reply, with ringing certainty. It’s the first out-and-out lie I’ve told him, but I refuse to break the golden rule of women conversing with strange men. When that question comes – which it inevitably does – always, always say ‘yes’.

“Alright, alright!” He throws his hands up in mock surrender. “I weren’t offering.” There is an awkward pause.

“I really must be going,” I say. “I need to find the baked beans.”

“Black ones?”, he asks, grinning broadly. I don’t get it for a second. “Is everything you eat black?”

My basket is full of brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables. “Um. No, I just eat…you know. Normal food.”

“Why do you draw your eyebrows on like that?”

“I like the way it looks.”

“Why not just pluck them really thin?”

“Er. Um. I like them like this.”

“Do you need help finding the baked beans?”

“Oh, er, no, thank you. I know where they are. Thank you.”

And then comes Inevitable Question #2: “What’s all them scars on your arms?”

I look down with an expression of surprise, as though I’d forgotten they were there. Which I do, most of the time. “Oh, those”, I say. “It’s a very long story, and it involves a porcupine and a banana.” He looks at me as though I’ve gone utterly barmy. “Trust me”, I continue in darkly confidential tones. “Porcupines really don’t like bananas. They’re slightly radioactive, you know. The bananas, not the porcupines. Not unless they’ve been eating bananas. And then…” I gesture to my forearms with my eyebrows raised ruefully.

In the ensuing confusion I smile apologetically and take my leave, to spend the rest of my time in the supermarket carefully taking circuitous routes through aisles so as to stay out of his line of sight.

In which I do not have pie.

Lesley’s week-one meal planner includes what looks like a completely delicious big Sunday lunch for proper grownups and families and the kinds of people who get up in the morning-time and make pie. What actually happened this weekend was that I got in from a party at 7am, fell asleep face-down on my bed still fully dressed, woke up at two in the afternoon and staggered downstairs to make myself raisin pancakes, got about halfway through, realised I felt too much like I was actually literally about to die to continue, put the remaining batter in the fridge, crawled sickly up the stairs and slept right till Best Mate came to make sure I was alive at a quarter past ten in the evening. Now it is twenty to six (how the goddamn hell did that happen) and I am eating pasta, peas and grated cheese while wondering slightly forlornly if I will ever be a real girl. It will be dawn soon. Whoops.

Bloody good party, though.

Oh. my. god.

I am eating these raisin pancakes for breakfast right now and they are possibly one of the nicest things I have ever put in my mouth. I didn’t make them on Monday because I didn’t have all the ingredients then so this is my first time eating them and now I want to have them for breakfast EVERY DAY FOREVER. I made the batter with semi-skimmed milk instead of water and cooked them in butter instead of vegetable oil but they were still really cheap* and dude – dude – there is a breakfast party in my mouth and all the raisin pancakes are invited.

On Sunday morning we are going to have a house full of tired and hungover people – the three of us plus two guests – and now we are all going to have raisin pancakes for breakfast. I have decided. That is a thing.

Seriously you guys. These pancakes are the freaking bomb. Next time I think I will add a little mixed spice to the batter for ENHANCED DELICIOUSNESS. Lesley, you are some kind of crazy breakfast genius. It would never have occured to me to try and make pancakes without egg but I like these WAY MORE than I do “normal” pancakes. And I like normal pancakes a lot.

* Partly because both the milk and the butter were bought by Best Mate and are technically hers and I am a thieving thief

As an aside

I’ve not been getting a huge amount of comments on this blog yet – lovely as though it is to get the ones I am – but I do seem to be garnering rather more likes and follows and pageviews and internet cookies than my comment numbers would lead one to believe.  Which is wonderful. Somehow, however, they are not quite from the sorts of people I might have expected. Hello, people I might not have expected, it is lovely to have you here and you are endlessly welcome. However, here are some things that you might want to know about me and this blog before we go any further:

  • I am fat, and that is okay. I do not intend to try and stop being fat. It’s very nice that so many diet and weight loss blogs are following me now, but I wouldn’t want them to labour under the misapprehension that I am attempting something that actually I think is pointless, expensive and dangerous – not to mention part of a foul culture of bullshit.
  • I am ardently, stridently, proudly and determinedly a feminist*. I am pro-choice, and pro-equal-marriage, and pro-people-being-happy, and pro all those other fun things that come along with being a feminist. I’m totally  willing to enter into a discussion about these things with someone who vehemently opposes me on them if they really want me to, but I’m not sure how much good it will do any of us.
  • I’m both a pagan and a witch. In the context of this blog that isn’t relevant, and I won’t be mentioning it much. It’s wonderful that I now have a couple of overtly Christian followers, and you are very welcome here. I just thought you might want to know that, in case you were a) unaware and uncomfortable with the idea or b) suffering from the delusion that you might be able to somehow convert me. Otherwise, we’re all good! :-)

* Also, I like adverbs.

Welcome to the new year: same as the old year.

I really love new Year’s Eve.

Like, I really love New Year’s Eve. I love New Year’s Eve in the same way that kids love Christmas or their birthday. In fact, I love New Year’s Eve more than that, because I love Christmas and my birthday like a kid does too but New Year’s Eve is even better. It’s my favorite day of the year, which is actually kind of depressing when you think about it too hard so er, don’t do that. Because I want my love of New Year’s Eve to remain unadulterated by nihilism, even though I just realised how nihilistic it actually is.

One of the most nihilistic things about my love of New Year’s Eve is that it is – every time – the start of a brand new shiny year, unblemished by the flaws and failures of the twelve months that have inevitably preceded it. It’s a whole clean slate; a brand new bedroom that you haven’t made messy yet, an essay you have yet to get dug into and not get a first for, a notebook that you’ll fill with scintillatingly wonderful notes and plans and ideas and somehow your handwriting will no longer look like a drunk spider and you’ll magically be able to draw.

Digression: All through my teens, I kept diaries. Pen and paper diaries, because I am still old enough to have done that. In my head they were always going to look like this:

Image

And instead they were always just page after page of my awful messy borderline-dyspraxic scrawl, with the occasional attempt at a shitty drawing that was worse than the attempts made by my sister who was back then still basically a toddler. She’s fifteen now and a really really good draw-er and I bet her secret private diaries all look amazing. Except they probably don’t exist. I bet she just has a password-protected tumblr. Jesus, I’m so old. Okay, end digression.

The point is I always make New Year’s Resolutions, because there’s a whole big shiny new year for me to do stuff in and be a proper grownup and not fail, and that’s a remarkably tempting idea really. And now it is October, which means we’re well into the final quarter of the year – which has always meant something to me for some reason too, I do seem to get ridiculously romantic about the passage of time – and that means I can start looking back at 2013, which is now a little raggedy around the edges and not very shiny-looking any longer, and try to figure out what sort of a hash I have made of it.

  • Resolution One: Get my working life in order, and start building some kind of Actual Career.
    Well…sort of. I mean, I’m in a much better position right now than I was at the end of last year: I’m not on the dole any longer, and I have been getting enough writing work to scrape by on since April. That said, I am a long way away from being what you might call “self-sufficient”. I wonder if I can somehow find another £500 a month by the end of December? That would be nice. That would mean I didn’t have to rely on anything except my own competence any more, and I would like that. However…I do not know how to do it. Hmm.
  • Resolution Two: Start doing more exercise.
    Dear holy actual god, I had forgotten I wrote this. If anything I am less active than I was when I was thinking these things up and I’ve actually gained about 10lbs over the course of this year. Can we please just gloss over this one?
  • Resolution Three: Try not to get dumped. Getting dumped sucks.
    [laughs] Yeah, so when I wrote these I was at the beginning of a new relationship which was the first one to have happened after the end of one that had significant uprooting-and-complicating effects on pretty much every area of my life. I am pleased to report that I have not yet been dumped, and that The Boyfriend does not seem to have any impending plans to so do.
  • Resolution Four: Do a special thing for every one of the eight festivals.
    Ugh, I feel really rubbishy about messing this one up. It was all going great – we did Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane and Litha – and then I was too disorganised for Lammas and too broke for Mabon. I’m really sad about it, actually, because they were a lot of fun to sort out and it really meant something to me to not be crap with them. It’s Samhain soon enough, though, and I am determined to not screw up for that and Yule. And then next year I can be a completist about it all. Right?

On the whole, I think I’m going to count 2013 as a “tentative win with room for improvement”, I think.