This is the last time: an apology

It hasn’t been easy for me to get to this point. I’m leaving for Canada on Saturday morning, for a Christmas trip with my boyfriend. The new year is looming, and old ghosts still crop up in my mind.

I have highs and I have lows. That is the nature of my illness. I take my medication dutifully, with alarms set on my computer, I go to classes and I get on with my life. I have new friends. This post isn’t really about me at all. I’ve said before that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just under two or so years ago now. I have days of unwarranted arrogance, and days where I struggle to get out of bed. But I’ve worked hard, and I have things to get up for. Work, uni, and my social life. My pets.

My struggle with these things is not the purpose of this post. My struggle is also not an excuse for anything that I write in this post. Mental illness is not an excuse for anything.

There is a young man, out there somewhere who has been very hurt by me. I have written in the past about the wrongs done to me, but I have never truly acknowledged what I did to him. That is what I’m here to do today.

I broke up with him, in the summer 2015 because of lies he told me. A rational, good person would have honoured what we had previously had by leaving it there. I was neither rational or good. I couldn’t comprehend that sometimes things just reach a natural end. That was my first mistake.

I left my job, and things began to unravel. He was going to uni, and in my own way I wanted to support him. He would have been better off if he had never seen me again after that summer. I felt myself losing control, I felt myself changing, and I did nothing productive to stop it. Ironically, I pointed out to him that he ought to see a doctor for depression and whatnot, walked him into the doctors surgery no less. But I didn’t follow my own advice. And he paid the price for that.

I’m not going to justify any of my actions with accusations of provocation, circumstance or lack of capacity on my part. I am an adult. When an adult isn’t well, it is their job to address that.

I pushed boundaries, and I treated him with no respect whatsoever. I said terrible, unforgivable things to him when he was vulnerable himself anyway, being in a transitional stage living alone for the first time.

If he pushed back, which he did on two occasions, I hit him.

I have no idea if it qualified as hard, I was so out of control of myself, feeding off of my sense of justice, and my terror at being abandoned, I didn’t even bother to think about it.

When I met him once in the middle of the night, I drove him away in the car and told him I didn’t have the petrol for a return journey and that I was going to leave him on the dunes to catch hypothermia like his friend had experienced on the shore in his hometown. It’s the wickedest thing I’ve ever said to anybody, and admitting what I said here isn’t anywhere near as difficult as it was telling those closest to me to their face that that is what I said.

I would tell him no one would ever love him. That I didn’t love him. That I hated him.

Then I would back pedal, I’m sorry, I love you, don’t leave me.

What could he do? He was terrified of me, who wouldn’t be.

If someone doesn’t want to see you, it is not down to you to seek them out,

If someone doesn’t want to talk to you, it is not your prerogative to force them or harass them.

It is never, ever okay to hit someone. It doesn’t matter what has happened, or whether it is a tap, or a full on punch. It is abusive.

I can’t imagine his pain. At the time I didn’t even try. Whether someone is a good person, a mediocre person or a bad person, they are still a human being. And I did not treat him like one.

The knowledge of what I have done won’t leave me, and I don’t seek forgiveness from anyone. Not the people who were in my life at the time, nor the people who will be in my life in the future. My boyfriend may read this and run for the hills. I don’t care about any of that.

I can never be what I might have been, and I can never go back to who I was before it happened. I used to wish my suicide attempt during that time had been successful, but now I find myself wishing I had never applied for the job that led us to meet at all. I think he would have been better off, and although I would probably still have had my breakdown as it was chemical, I wouldn’t have had someone to take it out on in such a way, perhaps things would have been better.

But I can’t go back. And that’s what this post is about. Forward. The new year looms. I can never be absolved. If I ever have a family (I don’t want one but hypothetically speaking here) or get married to someone, when I work, when I have fun, no matter what I do, I will always be the person that did these things. There’s a lot of good I want to do with my life, but I have marred it. No matter what good I do, it won’t erase that period of time, or the consequences of it. And then, if it exists, I still have hell waiting for me after.

But I am alive. Despite everything. And medication and good advice, and time and effort has left me not wishing to take my own life. I want to live. So I have to find a way to live. I’ll carry the guilt, but I cannot always live hiding and in shame.

So I want to put this out there. If he reads it, nothing will change. My life is where it is, and I am doing what I am doing. Wherever he is, he has found a way to live.

I am sorry. I will always be sorry. I am sorry I did not truly realise the extent of the damage I was doing at the time. I am sorry it has taken years for me to get to the point where I can see past my own victim complex. I am sorry I hurt you, and nothing I ever say, no words will make it better. But I wish you a good life.

Really the rest is silence, the respect I can give to you is the void of never dealing with me, never seeing or hearing from me again. But I know at least two places where my unwelcome voice can be heard in your world, and so I am going to get rid of them. This is the last thing I will write on this blog. I am moving it. I will also delete the only other account the name of which you know, just in case curiosity ever leads you there. I know sometimes it can seem impossible to stop checking it out, stop looking, I don’t want that for you anymore.

That’s all really, I could never write enough. Consider me gone, because I will not bother you again.

G

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The chameleon soul

It’s hard to feel truly free amongst concrete and pollution, until you decide nothing really matters. There’s a lot of romanticism involved in the idea of drifters and wanderers, but in reality my mother is just that. She never really felt comfortable anywhere, unless she knew she wasn’t staying long. I don’t talk about her all that often, and in truth she never really has been my mother. She’s a complicated woman, who despite her age still has raven black curls and skin like sand. She is beautiful still, perhaps because she found the way to live that keeps her completely alive.  

     I don’t want to deceive you. She isn’t the best person. People who live on a wing and a prayer rarely are. I can’t ever imagine her decaying in a nursing home or paying a mortgage. She makes connections, all over the world, and moves to the next place soon after. But she has a child. I am her child. She has other children too, make no mistake. With other men. Other stories.
I only know my story. Our story. But she has many others. Recently though, I realised that I do too. 
I wonder sometimes, how much do I resemble her, physically and in temperament. My hair is not black. My skin is too pale for sand. I have my father’s eyes, with only a slither of her colour in one. A lopsided stare and my mother tongue are her only resonant gifts to me. 
     I had a horror, when I was a little girl, of being just like her. She made friends with strange men, some of them a lot older than her. She would come out and find me, and then we would sleep at their house. She never learned to drive, so we travelled everywhere by train, coach, ferry. Sometimes she would stand at the side of the road with me on her hip, and tell me to put my thumb out. 
     Some of the men didn’t want to speak to me, so she would usher me to whatever bed, makeshift or real that awaited me inside, shushing me and telling me it was time to sleep. Because of this I can fall asleep anywhere, and fast. 


Other times, they were pleased to see me and would fuss over me, tell her I was sweet with my broken English and my easy smile.
      On some level, I think I knew that she was doing something with them that I didn’t want to know about. But I never saw it with my own eyes. 
I asked her once if the nastier ones ever paid her. She just shrugged.
I remember her doing her eye makeup in the mirror in a public bathroom, and some lady tutting at her and rolling her eyes. When I was little, I thought the lady was jealous because my maman was pretty. But now I think maybe she thought we were a certain ‘type’ of people.


And we are. A certain type of people. It isn’t anything to be proud of. My mother was from a fairly well to do french family. I never met my grandpère but grandmaman told me he was loving to my mother. They had a large farmhouse in central France, with horses and lots of land. Still today, a tree swing from her childhood rots in the garden in the rainy months, drying to an aching, crispy texture in summer, creaking when it rocks but still functioning, like the bones of an old, old lady.
My grandmaman had a secret of her own, it turns out. On a trip to Versailles with her cousins, she fell in love with an Iranian man. She returned home, sad and heartbroken at the prospect of him being back in some anonymous dusty place, never to be seen again. She found out soon enough that she was pregnant. With my mother. 

     I don’t think she lacked for any love, despite her obvious lack of genetic kinship with her father. I don’t think she wanted anything, needed anything that she didn’t receive. 
I don’t truly blame her. Some people are just flighty, restless. 
I feel it too. Coming back to the UK after all those months alone, and only the occasional nightly company of pure strangers, was incredibly difficult. Muscles that were not exercised were once again needed. Social propriety, consideration. Alone is a selfish life, it’s just that it doesn’t hurt anybody at the time. 


     It didn’t take long for that feeling to return. That feeling that I need to get out of here. I know my travelling will be so much more fruitful once I have this qualification that I crave, I’ll be able to do things I’ll feel really good about. But sometimes I just need to not know where I’m going, or who with. 
I’ve been leaving on a Thursday night, with my backpack, to hitch somewhere. Anywhere really. Salisbury. Ely. Brighton. Gwynedd. The weekend just gone I made it up to the isle of Aran. 
The best kind of friend is the friend you have for one or two nights. They’re all out there, doing this exact same thing. Not really going anywhere, but going somewhere all the same. They never let you down. You never fight. You never think the worst of each other. None of your jokes are tired. None of your habits are all that annoying. After having this night, or these few nights, with these people or this person…..you say goodbye, good luck and you mean it so sincerely that it moves you almost to tears walking down to the nearest main road.
I feel warm when I think of these people. And the world doesn’t feel all that big. I did this in Europe, I’ve done this in England. Someday I’ll do it in Asia, America, anywhere. 
     When I come back it feels like a dream in some ways. I did it, but it’s gone now and I rarely have any photos or trinkets as aide-memoirs. 
I realised recently that I probably won’t see my mother all that many more times. She’s off, somewhere in Croatia right now. She met a new friend while visiting France, and they left together soon after. 
The reason I can’t imagine her being old enough to need nursing care is because she probably won’t ever be that old. I think some people live frenetic lives and spare themselves the indignity of dying old.
I’m beginning to make peace with being her daughter, and all that this means for me. We share some traits, and in other ways are poles apart. But the things she instilled in me are that you’re never going to lack friends and fun if you put yourself out there, love is many different things and none of those things are easy to understand, money is nice but it freeze dries the heart that cares too much about it and it is never ever too late to pick up and try again somewhere else. 
     I posted a picture of myself in Aran at the weekend to the old farmhouse in France. She’ll go there eventually, and open the envelope, wondering if the writing might be mine. She’ll see the photo, and probably feel a range of emotions. I know she’s proud of me in her own way. I know she’ll resent me in her own selfish manner. I know she’ll respect the bliss on my face, dancing outside in the freezing cold among people I have never known. And maybe, but only maybe, she might miss me just a small amount. But the strongest urge she’ll feel, as ever, is to run and run far away. I feel it too.

The line on the wall: for algae

My heart is climbing the walls of my rib cage like a feral cat in a barrel. It’s a moment I always think is better than whatever follows, the moment where what is inferred is confirmed, but with tension not with action. 

“Look here” he points at a line he has drawn on the white wall with my eyeliner with his long, slender finger. “Don’t look away from it. It fucks everything up.” 
“Aye aye” I mutter back, staring at the line, and smirking.

The air is cool on my skin, and the wood of the chair is warm under my bare backside. Between my thighs, i ache with anticipation, and I have no idea how I can sit still like this for hours while he looks at me with his eyes like that.
It started a month and a half ago. I had been to a society meeting and to stay out a bit longer sounded appealing compared to walking home in the rain to work at my place. We walked to the grubby place with the duke box that we always go to on a Thursday afterwards, and I decide not to drink but to just carry on making notes from my ethics book and enjoy the company. Justyna, always to be relied upon does the same, starting to work on her essay notes next to me, and we sit in comfortable silence, laughing occasionally at our friends getting wasted around us. 

     I had seen him at the bar when we walked in, tall for an Asian guy, and very cool in his blank unbranded tshirt, leaning on the bar studying the face of his friend. I didn’t think he looked at me but I suppose he must have. 


     It took him about an hour to come over to our group. “Are you a society?” He asked, leaning over Justyna. A few people answer him at once in the affirmative. I say nothing and watch his face while he watches them. “Cool, well our society is getting free pizza tonight and we thought if you guys were a group meeting too, we could include you in the deal because the deal is good for up to fifty people, we’ve only got fifteen…” 
Immediately, everyone is all over him. “Awesome” “legend” “fuck yeah man”. They quickly figure out we have 25 members present in the bar and suddenly he’s sitting at the table talking like he had always been part of our group. In my mind, I decide he’s a vile people pleaser, and sulk down into my slightly pretentious note-making. Justyna who didn’t even look up during the pizza offering looks at me sidelong and mutters something sarcastic in her polish-tinged french and we share a wry grin. He actually doesn’t make it round to me until the pizza is almost finished.
“You can put pizza away, huh” he says in a sort of friendly-dick voice, sitting down on a chair he has pulled up between me and J. “It takes a lot of energy to sit here listening to you talk shit all night” I say, not looking at him. His voice is way different to what I thought it was going to be, sort of well spoken and deep. I decide he’s from money.

“What do you like to talk about then?” He asks
“Justin Beiber, shellac nails and WKD”
“Sounds like a blast”
“Yeah”
We sit there awkwardly for a moment in silence, and he tries again, for reasons unknown
“What are you studying?” 
I sigh. But a tiny part of me knows we’re gonna end up having a long conversation….and the way his eyes scrunch at the sides when talks is quite…
“Adult nursing. Would you like me to check your glands?”
“Cool. My dad’s a doctor so…”
This incenses me; “oh is he? Well done, you must have worked so hard to get a doctor for a dad”
That sinks in for a moment and then he laughs. “Yeah it was my kampfe”
I don’t reply, so he pushes again “what’s your name?” 

Ha. This has become an interesting question nowadays. What IS my name? I pick one and tell it to him. “I’m Nori” he says, extending a very lithe hand towards me. 
“Wait, Nori?” I ask, incredulously “like…..seaweed?” 
“Er, yeah. It’s also a name in Japan.” 
“But it means seaweed?” 
“Yeah” 
I laugh at him. But then I look at him properly….

“Hang on, you’re not all Japanese though are you?” I say, eyeing the brown in his hair and eyebrows, the strange tone of his skin, his height.
“Good catch. No, I’m not.” 
I wait for a moment, and when he doesn’t elaborate I ask “well what’s the other half?”
“What would your guess be, ms studious?” 
“English” I say without hesitation
“Yeah…kind of boring I guess” 
“I like English men” I say, and close my book
“So….what are you?” He asks. I grin, and lean forward.
I ended up going home late, after Justyna and most other people had left 
We barely looked away from one another the rest of the night, even when people said goodbye to us. He asked where I lived, what I liked, where I’m from, what have I done up till now. I told him dribs and drabs and left out much. He told me about his course, how his dad was such a dick when he found out he loved fine art and wanted to study it. He lets it drop that he’s spending a term in Japan starting in January, and I think that’s when his fate was set. 
I loved that he would be gone soon. It made it so safe, such fun. So right there, the game started. The one I always play. I’ve spent so long deciding to indulge my love of women and ignore the other sex, but here is this opportunity, and I had to take it.
     I knew what to do. He asked if I would be hanging out there a lot, and I said I didn’t know. He asked for my number and I said I didn’t know it by heart. He gave me his number, and I didn’t call it. When he bumped into me on the third floor of the library, I knew he’d been to the bar a lot. “You are a hard lady to track down” he said smiling at me. Crinkly eyes.
We went to the coffee shop in the student union and to my delight he showed a distaste for coffee, ordering a chai latte. I ordered the same. After that we saw each other a lot, and it started to happen on its own. The tension. He placed a very familiar hand onto my shoulder at the bar, ordering me a drink, and after that I knew where we were. Once again, at the edge, which is the best place. The best feeling is being on your tip toes, at that sheer drop, knowing you’ll be over the edge tumbling (into bed) very soon, but for now you wait and drink in the feeling of that person wanting you, the knowledge that they think about you at night, in the morning, and at times during the day beyond their control. It’s so easy to craft, and so few people bother anymore. 
I tease him mercilessly. I enter him into my phone as algae, start calling him Al for short. I bow to him, palms together, whenever he compliments me or buys me a drink. But it changes the first week of December.
     I get my bad news, and I don’t respond to him for a couple of days. To my horror, I’m staring at the underneath of the duvet for the second day running, and the intercom goes. Who the fuck is that? And it’s algae. I don’t want to let him up, and waste the build up on a throwaway fuck on my sofa. “Give me a minute I’ll come down” I say into the receiver and throw on a dress and my ankle boots. I stare at myself in the mirror for a second before I go down, applying lipstick to my otherwise bare face. I give myself a warning look, ONLY FUN and clatter down the stairs. We walk around and eventually settle on the bookshop’s cake and coffee room. We’re talking like usual, when suddenly he asks what I’m planning to do over Christmas. I look at him, trying to hide that I’m wary of where this is going. “Oh I’m visiting people that I don’t see when I’m here” I say simply.


“I’m gonna spend Christmas in Japan with family before I study there in January”
“That’s so cool” I say, genuinely
“You could come if you don’t have any plans?”
I definitely pause for a beat longer than I meant to. Because the answer can only be-
“I have plans. But thank you” 
He looks at my face intently. I pray he won’t lean over the table and kiss me. I do the lunging around here.
“Hey, can I draw you?”
For some reason, the relief of him saying this as opposed to something more serious causes me to dissolve into hysterical laughter. He laughs because I’m laughing, and presses “I’m serious, can I?” 
“When are you leaving?” I ask
“The 16th”
“Right, you can draw me on the 15th”
“What? Why so late?”
“Indulge me” I say quietly, smiling over the top of my steaming drink.
The next few days went quickly, but happily. I sat my exams and submitted my coursework. We went to a German Christmas market and ate obscenely large bratwurst, and got wasted on mulled wine and gin.
On the 14th, I let him come up to my apartment. I make us real chocolat chaud, with brandy and cream, and I ask him where he wants me to sit. It’s a grim day outside, and the sky is dark even though it’s only afternoon. He chooses the white walls of my bathroom. We set up my heater in the corner, and I pin my hair to the back of my head so he can draw my neck. He carries one of my old wooden chairs in from the other room, and places it against the wall. “I want you to sit sideways on the chair and look up slightly” he instructs. I love it when artistic men tell me what to do, businesslike and authoritative. It’s sexy.
“Just a second” I whisper, and I look him dead in the eye. I love the best of fun, and this is the way to make it the most fun. I start undressing, looking him dead in the eye.

 “Why just get the detail of my neck?” I ask, gesturing to my neatly pinned hair “you could get to grips with a lot more detail this way”
I laugh at his expression, the set in of lust on his face. I sit on the chair, with the back of it to my left, as he requested. I lift my feet up off of the floor, and rest them gently on the edge of the seat, and drape my arms over my knees. I feel my pounding heart in every single inch of my body, like a bass system in a warehouse rave, blasting thud after thud into my face.
He decides that a line on the wall will help me out, to know where to stare. I direct him to the drawers across the room and tell him he’ll find makeup in the top one. He selects one of my kohl eyeliners and draws a small line on the wall in front of me. “Don’t look away”
“Is my facial expression okay?” I ask, trying not to move my face too much
“Just imagine you’re longing for someone” he says, wryly
“Got it” I whisper, and note that I cannot feel a single pain in my spine, all I can feel is the crackling, static feeling of anticipation. I hear his pencil touch paper, the first few strokes. I stare at that line, listening to his clever fingers making marks on a page that will be me, as I am now, locked forever in time on a thick, expensive sheet in a brand new artists portfolio pad.
He doesn’t stop for a rest, and I don’t ask for one either.
I don’t move a muscle, not a single muscle until he places his work on the ground and stands up to look at it. “I’m going to make a painting from it. You’re fucking….vintage to draw.”
I’ve stood up by the time he finishes his sentence, naked and tingling. It’s pitch black outside now. He makes to step towards me and I hold up a hand. “Wait.” 
I outstretch my fingers towards him “this is how I do it” I say, looking him in the eye again.
I run my fingernails, and fingertips oh so gently down the skin on his arm. His biology is so different to mine. Every muscle, every vein on his is tensed and visible, and dense. I lift his charcoal sooted fingers towards my face and gently lick the tip of one of them. And I step closer.
He asks at 3am if I want to see him off at the airport, and I say I will. I write him a goodbye message on his lower back, and we sleep a while before waking to go get his luggage.

     We talk in quiet tones on the train. Lovers tones. He touches my face a lot, and we kiss frequently.
After he goes through where I cannot follow, I walk back to the train. I smile to myself, and put my headphones in, and listen to soft music. My eyes are tired and my body is exhausted from release of tension, staying up most of the night and coming again and again.


I book my tickets to go north for Christmas, and I receive a few emails from Nori. This is how humans are supposed to behave I think. Fulfilling encounters, and no expectations.
We might meet again, we might not. But it was the best it could have been.
I told you you’d make a lovely piece of writing, Algae

Ciao for now. The line is still on my wall.

A fun tusk: a small red envelope

-a quick note: by the time this gets posted I will already be five days into my walk. I will post about my travels as soon as I reach a town with an Internet café. Ciao for now!-
In the few weeks before my walk I broke in my new walking boots, researched my route, the equipment I planned to buy and reflected on my sense of purpose.
This leads me to speak about one person.
His name is Jason. 
I don’t talk about him much. He is one of the larger holes in my heart. He was not a lover of mine. He was nobody’s lover in his whole life. He worked hard. He was one of my closest companions since secondary school. He was a straight A student and one of three Cantonese brothers that I knew.
This August, he will have been dead for two years. 
     2014 was a strange year for me. I was reeling with culture shock after my return from a medical placement in Africa. Life felt slow, alien and boring. People felt shallow and over privileged and under-thankful. I felt isolated and sad. I hadn’t felt that low since I was that teenager who attempted suicide years before. I was restless. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was frozen, stuck.
     I was unemployed until about March, when I started working in this overpriced palliative shithole that I should never ever have set foot in in the first place. 
I later found out that because I had finally got a job and was trying to fix my life after returning to England and becoming depressed, Jason didn’t immediately tell me that he had been given the black fucking flag by his doctors. Game over. 


     Back in November, he told me on the phone that he had gone to the doctors about a difficulty he was having with swallowing. He said it always felt like he had a lump in his throat. As soon as he said that I felt sick. I have some medical training and this didn’t sound very good for a 20 year old young man. I asked him how long this had been going on for. He said to me “do you remember the last year of uni when I said I thought my glands were up?” 
My heart sank into my bowels. “September 2012?!?!” I almost shouted “you’ve had trouble swallowing since last fucking year?” I could feel heat rising in my cheeks. Don’t you say it Jason, I remember thinking. Please don’t say it.
“I have cancer.”
I closed my eyes, spilling searing hot tears that had already welled up. “What are they doing for you? Is there a plan?”
“Well I start chemo tomorrow. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.”
I already knew. As soon as he told me when he thought the problem started, I already knew what was coming. I remember gently banging my head against the wall behind me and scrunching my hair up in my spare hand.
“Well it’s quite late in its growth. It has actually spread to my lymph nodes and my stomach.”
“Lymph nodes and stomach? You’re telling me you have stage four cancer?” I almost whispered the last bit of the sentence, rasping through my own tightening throat.
“Yeah. It’s a shame I didn’t go sooner I just didn’t think it was anything bad”
I barely remember the rest of the conversation. In my head, I see that last year of university living with Jason in a flat we shared with another of our closest friends. I thought about my pet mice crawling over his arms as he said in his funny British-born-Chinese accent “their feet are prickly!”
Every memory was smeared with the tar of the cancer that was growing in his oesophagus while we laughed and joked and went to midnight showings of films at the IMAX and played team fortress 2 on a LAN network. The flour fights we had. 
The snowmen we would build on roundabouts at Christmas time in the city.


But Jason cared about me as much as I cared about him. He was my Chinese chubby brother and I was his freckly, culture confused sister.
His laugh was breathy. His eyes were shiny and black. I love him so much, even now.
So in my time of selfish, all encompassing black depression between November 2013 and March 2014, Jason at some point was told that chemotherapy was not working for him and that the cancer was aggressively forming in his bones and would probably chase the tract down from his stomach into his bowel. He was thin and bald, and weak now. They said they would help him be comfortable. At first he was at home. He knew he had to tell me when it became impossible for him to stay at home.
He went back to where he had his chemotherapy, the Christie’s hospital in Manchester which specialises in oncology. Jason was so young and frail, that at 20-21 they elected to treat him on the paediatric ward. 
     He called me as I was leaving work, on my shitty mobile, and told me in a quick and gabbled voice that they couldn’t do anymore chemo. 
I went straight to the train station. 
I got home at a stupid time in the morning and went to work. The day passed. I took my boss’s son to his college show. 
I visited Jason a few more times in Manchester. 
Then he was dead. 
     I spent the days after he died in Vienna.

I kept thinking of things I couldn’t ever say to him. I thought about the last time I saw him, how we made jokes about him being “Chinese gollum”. How I had persuaded him to try eating a little cake which then made him sick. 

I had sat there rubbing his bony back while he wretched and hacked into the cardboard bowl. 
His cannulas pressed against me when I hugged him goodbye for the last time. Then he jokingly turned and put hand sanitiser on his hands as though I was the sick one. We laughed and I looked back at him as I said goodbye and walked out the door. 


At his funeral, we were all given traditional little Chinese red envelopes with gold Cantonese inscriptions on them. Inside is money. You must not open the envelope or spend the money until you get home. 
For months, I kept it in my glovebox in my trusty old car. People occasionally happened upon it and asked about it.
     I still haven’t opened it, and I carry it with me still.

I haven’t opened it because I don’t feel I have a home, I am adrift in life. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing, and I can carry the luck and the love from my beloved friend wherever I go in the world.
     As I packed my rucksack and settled everything ready for me to leave Rome, I realised what I needed to do.
I have spent my last week in Rome contacting everyone I know in Europe (except England) to spread the word of my new endeavour.
     I have asked that people sponsor me as I walk through these countries to my destination.
Anything I am given I will double with my own money, and donate to The Christie cancer centre in Manchester, England in Jason’s name.
He was studying chemistry. He died just after turning 21. 
We are still the best of friends.

Flanagan: Flying the flag for Lovecraft

So; the Wednesday just gone, I ignored the voice of sympathy in my head, and went through with getting my poor dog neutered. For the subsequent ten days, he must be restricted in terms of exercise, using stairs, jumping on and off of the couch etc.

  
     Now, work aside, I have actually had loads to do in terms of getting my shit all packed up and so on. But that is starting to run dry now. The stuff left in the apartment will stay here until around June, at which point a friend of mine is holding a walk in sale. Like literally, people can have my larger items of furniture for twenty pounds if they want, as long as they cart it out of here for me.

     The dilemma has subsequently been this; I don’t wanna leave my dog alone in his crate for huge expanses of time. Now I generally like to go out for many hours of the day whether it’s just walking or meeting friends or any other mundane type way to spend the day NOT INDOORS.

     Don’t get me wrong, I’ve managed to continue to work, I’ve gone for some hikes, I’ve gone to the local beach, and spent a few hours at a time at the local zoo (my latest obsession is going to stare at the white wolves during their feeding time. They are fucking beautiful.) 

      But I have felt a sense of duty to my poor little hound, and I’ve tried to spend at least several hours of a day taking him out of his crate and just sitting on the floor with him, lavishing him in post-ball-lopping attention.
     But I am incapable of just sitting there and focusing on one thing, and he attacks the books I have tried to read. So it has meant one thing really. Movies.
     Now anyone who knows me at all well would be able to interject here and state that the vast majority of movies that I will watch on a whim are in fact horror movies.
     I love all genres of movies, but my biggest pleasure is horror in all of its various incarnations. There is a planned post about how I came to be such an addict. But I have a flighty mind, so for now this will have to do.
So, on with it….
Mike. Fucking. Flanagan.
Hear me out.
Nobody starts out instantly making perfect movies, but this guy is definitely onto something. The first movie of his that I saw was Absentia. I saw it in 2013 and honestly I was pretty impressed. Let me explain. I watch horror movies with the blank eyes of a dead fish. But I continue to seek them out. I have watched probably every horror movie that the general population can think of, and additionally thousands of less heard of indies. 

     Due to desensitisation, not bravery, I am pretty difficult to shock or disturb.

  
If you’d asked me in late 2014 who was my ‘one to watch’ director in terms of future horror, I’d have probably replied Ben Wheatley. I thought Kill List was pretty grim, pretty disturbing, and fairly insidious in terms of the way it worms it’s way into your thoughts long after viewing. That’s horror, for me, the lingering feeling of discomfort which becomes so hard to find. Hence why I was devastated when I saw ‘A field in England’. Yes, yes, it had its moments. But it was such a fucking let down on the whole.

     Absentia is a slightly dreamy, low budget number which takes us to the treacherous grounds of the missing people that don’t come back, that aren’t found dead and aren’t suspected to have run away. A heavily pregnant woman begins the process of declaring her missing husband ‘Dead in Absentia’. Having started a relationship (and fallen pregnant by) the main detective who searched for said Husband, she tries to move on with her life whilst grappling with the guilt and the loss that she still feels. Her younger, trying-to-reform drug abusing sister comes to stay and assist with the whole process. What starts as a film that deals mainly with the way one can haunt oneself with memories of a loved one, and feelings of responsibility for them even when they are gone, becomes rather a different beast when it becomes apparent through the eyes of the younger sister that the disappearance of this woman’s husband may in fact be more about a tangible evil force lurking beneath the surface than about the simple misfortune of normal people.

  
     I’m not going to go into the plot of this film more than that, simply because anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but loves horror, needs to watch it. There is a subtle image at the end of this movie which is so violent, so wicked in its implications that it genuinely stopped me in my tracks. I went back. I watched the last bit again. I confirmed that yes, I did see what I thought I saw.
     A few months later, I saw Oculus without realising it was Mike Flanagan. In the cinema, I remember being sat next to my male friend who, being gay, felt the need to play off his inability to cope with feelings of dread by making jokes through the entire thing. I didn’t like the movie, save for the fact that I prefer it when evil prevails (when it is done the right way, obviously).
     I got to the present week without revisiting oculus, and without particularly associating Mike Flanagan’s name with anything. I hadn’t connected Oculus and Absentia whatsoever.
     Then, this week I ended up spending a few hours each day flicking through Netflix, bored out of my mind, but happy to be giving my poorly pup some quality snuggle time. Then I noticed something. There was a new movie available. A Horror, in fact. A quick glance at the synopsis coloured me intrigued. I don’t think I even checked the director. Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t have realised who he was. (Just trying to be honest)
     The movie in question, as fellow Netflix slaves will probably already have guessed was ‘Hush’. 

A deaf woman becomes the star of her very own slasher flick. Sounds pretty standard fare, right?
     Guys, this movie is an excellent home invasion movie. I’m sorry if you didn’t like it, but It was fucking great. Let’s remind ourselves…HOME INVASION MOVIE. What the fuck more could we ask? Never mind the excellent, swift initiation of sympathy for our lead characters (something that so many slasher films get wrong nowadays) but the choreography, the immersion, the use of sound and light. 

  
Remember what I said about the dead fish eyes? Well when I watched this movie, I felt tense. TENSE. For the first time in fucking ages. It was like being on methodone for years, and then suddenly getting a shot of the good stuff, and thinking ohmygodyes that’s why I got addicted in the first place.
So I watched it again that evening. Then I looked up the director.

This guy did Absentia as well?!

Oh wait…..he did Oculus….I don’t remember thinking much of that…..

So last night I watched it again.
But I did it right this time.

I waited until it was dark. 

Then I turned out all the lights, set up the movie, and sat in silence on the sofa. And I watched. I really watched.

I liked it a LOT more on the second viewing. 

And it got me thinking. Mike Flanagan is tomorrow’s champion of Lovecraftian horror.

No, I’m not having a stroke. I know Hush isn’t Lovecraftian. Didn’t you hear me call it a home invasion movie before? 

But Absentia and Oculus? 

There’s a rolling feeling of unease to both of them (and actually, the repetition of that same little tremolo in Oculus may seem lazy but was quite inspired. Try not to jump to lazy- think of Jaws, think of The hills have eyes. It works sometimes.) and the people in question don’t really know what they think they know about the evil that stalks them, the evil that draws them in.

  

Mike Flanagan understands the very human sentiment of obsession, he knows how to show us the Bait, the hook and the kill in ways which we can honestly nod along and say “I’d need to know too, I think”.
What I have come to love about Oculus is that it has so clearly been a labour of love. This has been his baby. One viewing of the original short on which Oculus is based (also made by Mike Flanagan) was enough to make me feel delightfully uncomfortable, and that was filmed on grimy 90’s feeling cameras, with limited special effects and ONLY ONE ACTOR. In one room. It was made in 2006, and it really is fucking outstanding. This is filmmaking, when it is in somebody’s DNA. I’m always impressed by directors who can take a camera somewhere limiting, characterless and uninspiring and create something astounding from the gruel. Think Lynne Ramsey. Well, this short is a very telling look into the way Mike Flanagan constructs his films. 
     It takes place in a white room, with a few television screens and video cameras. A table. An easel. A Mirror often covered by a white sheet. A peace lily. Briefly, a dog.
And one man.

Oculus chapter 3: the man with the plan
But the story behind the little film is at least as detailed as the story behind the feature length film. Mike Flanagan propagates his tales with care, with finesse, and deep emphasis on the details. The aesthetics of the films are either built on the story, or left out in favour of atmosphere and emphasis on the plot. It is only in Oculus, when a larger budget was thrown at him that the film he produced acquired that gleaming, polished dark shine. Quite rightly, he knows that in horror there must be intrigue, there must be tension and there must be motives crawling out of the walls. Horror that strikes on a psychological level is incredibly hard to get right. He knows that he has to focus on creating a mythology convincing enough, nuanced enough in of itself that it could get away with being filmed in the most stripped down of circumstances and still be fucking riveting. 
The folly of the characters in Absentia and Oculus is almost Shakespearean. They are flawed in ways that they can never fix, they were shaped into the people they are, and they can never unbend out of the coil they were twisted into. Naive arrogance has such a strong presence in his characters, and what is more Lovecraftian than an unwise belief that evil can be beaten? They’re so certain that they can control the unfolding, escalating evil. And we, as viewers must learn never to trust the outward appearance of control. We are doomed from the outset, for there are things in the world that man was never meant to know.

  
     So for this man to turn around and produce a film as exciting as ‘Hush’ makes me quiver in all sorts of places. What the fuck is he going to bring to the table next?
If you have seen any of this man’s films with annoying talky friends, or in a brightly lit room, I implore you to reconsider and try it again in sterile conditions. 

I will be watching his newest movie ‘Before I wake’, and if he lets me down I will follow him into a pedestrian underpass, undetected, and shout “TRADE”…Flanagan, you have been warned.

The man behind the curtain

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I was regretting the night before. The Singapore slings were too sweet and I felt sick after each one, and resented finishing the night off in the shitty bar where my friend’s boyfriend worked.

She was in fairly good spirits, full to the brim with food that I paid for; handing my card over without even looking at the receipt on the little tray.

We had pulled over on the way to the restaurant which was by one of the district’s most famous lakes, so I could take a call from my brother. I talked to him in low, conspiratorial tones, embarrassed by the proximity of my friend and the subject matter of the conversation I was having.

It was serious. That was the bottom line. Get on a train tomorrow, or you’ll miss him. You’ll regret it.

It was past one in the morning when I finally got into my car to drive the long dark road home. The last hour in the neon lit bar had sobered me up, and I was tired but fairly clear headed. As I drove, I tapped at my phone and got it to make a call for me.

I got a groggy, sleepy answer. “It’s me” I say quickly, “I’m driving so this has to be quick; can you book tickets for tomorrow to London Euston please. I’ll be too tired when I get home to do it.”

After we hang up, I turn my CD player off, and drive in silence in the dark. I don’t notice any stars.

The next day, I am awoken by my much-hated phone buzzing on the side.

It’s my brother again.

Things are bad. When’s your train?

Fuck.

When we get to the train station, the vacuous bitch in the ticket booth tries to argue about the spelling of my surname. Bank cards don’t accept apostrophes, but my railcard includes one.

I talk to her in a way that I would be embarrassed to be overheard doing, and eventually she prints them out for me, stony faced.

The journey to London will be two and a half hours, which isn’t too bad considering we have almost the entire length of the country to span.

My stomach sits the whole day empty. Every time the train goes through a tunnel, my pale, sharp little face flashes back at me from the window.

When we finally arrive, I walk quickly in and out of the people that make the crowd.

Out of London Euston, right towards Euston Square, onto the underground, circle line to Hammersmith. It feels like it takes an age.

Off at Hammersmith, walking, walking, one lonely little french girl among thousands of people of every creed and colour, all talking in the same indistinguishable twang. The twang of the man I am almost running to see. As I approach Charing Cross Hospital, I notice that I am incredibly hot. The smells are overwhelming, but on the final stretch of pavement in front of the entrance a faintly floral scent descends onto me. It is pleasant, but strangely funereal. My stomach lurches, and suddenly I have the strange sensation that I might actually vomit. I comfort myself with the thought of my empty stomach.

As we walk inside, following the signs for the critical care unit, I see a bearded man. I recognise him as some reviled cousin or another. I ignore him, and hurry past into the lift up to the eleventh floor. I walk in an infuriating circle on the eleventh floor, seeing not one member of staff until finally I almost run into my aunt. “I’m lost” I mutter, trying not to look as though I hate her although I do.

“Who are you?” she says, but then breaks into a wry grin. She thinks she’s pretty funny, this one.

She shows me where to dump my backpack. Then we stand, helplessly at the ward doors as the bell rings. No one answers. I start to get irritable.

Finally, another aunt appears, and opens the door for us. I kiss her cheek, and follow her down the corridor. I’ve seen this so many times. It was part of my job to see this. But this is surreal. My own family.

I walk in the room, and am unable to take in all of the faces, but am very aware of all the eyes on me. I don’t look at the man in the bed yet. I go straight to the sink in the corner of the room and wash my hands, don gloves and an apron. The faces I notice are the as of last year estranged faces of my sister and her husband, my adoptive mother’s teary eyes, and my widower uncle. The other faces fade into the fuzz of obscurity. I walk towards the bed. I don’t feel like I am IN my body. I am making it move, albeit slowly, over to that bed, but I feel strangely loose and light, as though I’m not really strapped in to this vessel I am driving.

Mum moves aside for me. I look at him properly.

His hair, which was always combed neatly back, stuck up in tufts. He looked thin. A plastic mask covered his entire face, darth vader style but with a window. a tube fed oxygen into the mask. His hands hung lifelessly either side of his body.

“Hi Granddad” I said loudly. “I got here at last.”

I put my forefinger on his forefinger. There is a device on his, monitoring his blood oxygen.

I hook my finger around his. I squeeze. I chance another look at his face.

It hits me then, and I turn away, looking out of the window choking on my emotion.

I continue to look away for several minutes. I wipe my eyes on my sleeve.

When I look back, I stare at his hair. He always combed it back, smooth against his head. I reach out my gloved hand, and stroke it a little, trying to get it to lay flat. My sister sobs.

I go back to squeezing his finger. I clearly don’t notice how hard, because the nurse in the corner of the room walks over to reapply the monitor. I popped it off like an idiot.

Realising that my disgusting human sadness has trickled onto my gloves, I march away, peeling off the gloves as I walk.

“Where are you going?” mum asks, looking concerned

“I’m not going anywhere” I croak “i just got snot on my gloves”

My sister, her husband, my nephew and my uncle all chuckle.

“You haven’t changed” says my brother in law kindly.

I put new gloves on and as I do this, the door opens. I see a face I know very well.

I go over immediately to kiss my grandmother on the cheek. “Hi Nan” I whisper into her soft curly hair. “‘ello mate” she replies in the twang that I have come to love.

Relatives gather and fuss, putting an apron on her, laughing as they try and help her put on the latex gloves. Eventually, primed and ready, she is wheeled over to his bedside.

Almost immediately she begins to talk in a low, loving voice to him, as though deep in conversation.

She strokes his hand. “Come on mate” I hear her say gently “Jump up and pull all these wires off you, show them what you’re made of”

It’s too much. I look away again, choked by the situation. My sister catches my eye. Her gaze feels alien to me after so long apart. But I don’t detect any resentment in her eyes. Only grief.

“Shall we get coffee? tea?” she says directly to me. Briefly she looks away “Mum? tea?”

We walk out of the room, single file, to the Costa on the ground floor. As I walk out, I glance over at Granddad in his bed, at Nan stroking his hand, at my mum who looked on from the side. That’s the last time I saw him alive.

It happened so fast. It was quite strange, to be outside the hospital next to the busy road, sipping crappy tea out of the cardboard cup, talking to my sister and her family as though we had never fallen out, never argued.

My Uncle quietly sipped at his latte whilst trying to fix his car outside; thankful, I think, to be out of the hospital where his own wife died a few years earlier.

My mother eventually joined us, thankfully taking a cardboard cup of her own from my sister. We stand out there in the strangely balmy evening, talking how we used to talk. Mum telling me various things that this or that aunt said or did, what Granddad said to her the last time he was awake the day before.

Then it happens.

My cousin walks towards us, gravely.

“Michael said to come and get you all” he says, his voice thick.

I dump my half full cup in the nearest bin. We all walk, quickly.

We’re in the lift. We’re walking out of the lift. I hear someone say “He’s gone”.

My mum turns to me, anguished “he’s gone” she repeats, her voice strangled and small.

We walk towards the room at the end of the ward, with windows looking out over the city.

The glass panes that separated the room from the rest of the ward are obscured by a royal blue curtain.

For a moment, I get the terrible sensation that I can’t breathe.

But all too soon it is time to go. To look behind that curtain. To see what is gone, to see what is left. Is anyone ever ready?

I  walk in. People are crying. “He’s still warm” someone says across the room, maybe to me, maybe not.

“You can kiss him if you like, he’s still warm”

Mum hovers around.

Eventually, I make my  way round to his bedside. I kiss him on the forehead. As I do this, an Aunt snaps “Don’t kiss him on the mouth!”

Then time feels like it slows down a couple of notches. My Grandmother is being helped to her feet. She takes his hand, and lays her head on his chest. “What am I going to do without you?” she whimpers, in a version of her voice that I have never heard before (and don’t wish to again).

This causes something in me, some final shred of reserve to snap, and tears start to freely roll down my cheeks. I stand there, arms by my sides, at the end of his bed watching on as my grandmother sobs into his still chest.

A nurse tells us that if we leave for a moment, get a drink or some fresh air, her and her colleague will clean him up, get him looking more comfortable, and then we can come and say a proper goodbye.

My sister sobs uncontrollably. I call my brother. His flight back from abroad isn’t until tonight. He didn’t make it. I tell him that Granddad has died. I keep my voice flat and unemotional, as I know that emotion makes my brother uncomfortable.

Outside my mum cries sporadically. Then, finally, it is time for us to go back.

He is already a different colour, there behind the royal blue curtain.

There is more yellow in his skin. Nan says her final goodbyes. She kisses his cheek. I watch various other relatives say goodbye. I step backwards at one point and trample some old relatives toes. I don’t remember her name, but I apologise.

A much detested female cousin sits next to her mother, weeping. I offer her some tissue. She turns away.

Eventually I step forward. I need to make this quick. His fingers are almost translucent now, like a figurine carved from wax. I step over purposefully. I squeeze his hand once, then lean down. “Cheerio Granddad” I rasp quietly, and kiss him hard on his cheek. He is cold to the touch now. He’ll never be warm again.

I leave. I say goodbye to my mother, I say goodbye to various other relatives. I kiss my grandmother. Then I leave. Back to the tube. Off to Farringdon where I have a suite booked at the Malmaison.

On the tube, there is some sort of school trip or youth group of children from Northern Ireland (by the sounds of it). They’re laughing and joking, enjoying an exciting trip to London. I smile at them gently.

My chin has begun to burn by this time, as after kissing my grandfather goodbye, we were all told to wipe our mouths with an antiseptic wipe due to the infection that he had towards the end. My skin has never liked alcohol.

By the time I get to the hotel, I can already feel contact dermatitis rearing its ugly head on my delicate skin.

As soon as I drop my surname at the desk, one of the women recognises the name from the booking, stares at me for a moment (I clearly don’t look like the sort of person that books that suite at the last minute-although to be honest I would have gone for a standard room if the arsehole on the phone hadn’t made it abundantly clear that they didn’t have any standard bookings available)

She asks me if I have any preference over it being a room high up or low down in the building, front view or back view. “I’m just going to sleep” I say testily. It’s such a comfort to stay somewhere where I can speak in my mother tongue. All Malmaison reception staff speak French. It’s strangely comforting.

“I’ll find you the quietest suite mademoiselle” she says kindly.

I stare at my face in the mirror in the lift. I look like utter shit.

I take a shower as soon as I get in the room, and then order steak frites from room service. I eat it, miserably, every bite; knowing that I would have to make the long journey back home in the morning and that I won’t want breakfast. My night’s sleep is fitful. The room is too hot for me, even with the air con and the window ajar. the pillows are too soft.

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I toss and turn.

In the morning, I catch the train as soon as I can. I can’t even get a seat. the train is declassified, and the aisles are packed with people standing, because the train is filled with West Ham supporters on their way to the match against Manchester United. they sing, obnoxiously happy. The train is unbearably hot, and the proximity of so many drunk men sets me on edge.

As I stare out of the window, I see that the day is sunny and pleasant. The sky is unfettered by clouds, an expanse of pure, yawning blue.

I think back to the curtain behind which he lay. I wonder where his body is now. Is he alone now, as well as cold? Where did his thoughts, his memories, his personality go?

Can it really go nowhere? Is it not energy? Energy, scientifically speaking cannot go nowhere. I’ll settle for somewhere.

I think about him, as he was when he really was him. He would laugh at the expression on my face as he chewed spring onions whole (I like the burn! he would say). I remember the prank he played on me when I was nine. I used to like to comb my grandmother’s hair, and Granddad often got his comb out of his pocket to give to me to use. One day, he passed it to me, and on the first stroke, about nine of the teeth came tumbling out into Nan’s hair. I looked up at him guiltily, my mouth an ‘O’ of shock. He tutted at me. “You’ve gone and broke it” He said, crossly.

“I’m so-” I began, but he was already laughing. I realised then that he had done it on purpose, that it had already broken before he gave it to me. Nan laughed too. He loved making you think you were in for a real roasting, and then just laughing at his own joke.

I have these memories now, to sustain the rest of the road. I’ll hear the laughing in my head, but never out loud again.

This is the first death of someone pivotal in my adoptive family. And He is the only grandfather I have ever known, adoptive or not.

I’ll miss him the longest, because he has been the first to go.

This post is dedicated to my Grandfather, 1925-2016.

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Loves of my life: loose leaf tea

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In 1999 I was on a family trip to portugal. I was all legs and arms, and had a thick accent that made it hard to make English friends. The trip abroad was a welcome one.

It was about 6:30am and I was wide awake. I can remember the sound of the crickets, a sound that I had never heard before. It was constant, like a toothache, like a life jacket whistle a thousand times over endlessly pitching itself into my ears. The morning was cool, a relief from the day before when we had baked as we walked around the marketplace.

I grabbed my towel, and slipped on my flip-flops, padding my way outside and down to the pool. I pulled my goggles down over my eyes and dove in at the deep end, swimming a couple of lengths before coming to rest on the bottom of the pool, cross legged.

I came up for air a few times, always returning to that silence, that cool isolation tank down there in the bottom. Eventually, when I came up for air I wasn’t alone. My English dad was walking down the steps towards me.

“Morning” He said, just above a whisper. Everyone else was still asleep.

“Bon Matin” I smiled at him, and swam over to the edge where he was sitting down to dip his feet in the pool.

“Is everyone else not up yet?” I asked, holding onto the edge and letting my legs float up to the surface of the pool, gently paddling.

“Nope. Lazy lot, eh?”

I chuckled, and stared at him. His thick set eyebrows, and his jewish nose. Kind crinkly eyes. I loved my new daddy.

“Would you like to go somewhere this morning?” he asked gently

“like down to the beach?”

“No, somewhere else.” he paused for a moment and then spoke again in a sing-song voice “I-haave-somethiiiing-to-shooooow-yoooou”

I laughed “Sure! Oui. Yes” I said

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He buttered us some bread and cut a pomegranate in half for us to eat as a quick breakfast. He called through to my mum that we were “nipping out” and we were off in the car, driving down the little cobbled streets. He parked us in the town, and opened the door for me.

We walked in companionable silence through the little side streets, as the locals were starting their day. Eventually, we came to a very old looking shop, with an awning out the front made from persian rugs.

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“What is it?” I asked him, but he just smiled and waggled his eyebrows as he went inside.

I followed him in and immediately knew why he had brought me here.

It was a curiosity shop. Old books, antiques, and a very very fragrant room at the back. As I walked around, squealing over various trinkets, I got very very close to this strong smelling room. It had a bead curtain hanging in the door way. “Can we go in there?” i asked dad, pointing to the doorway.

He nodded, and made an “after you” gesture with his arm.

I walked in, and the scent intensified. All around the room were shelves upon shelves, full of jars. Thousands of jars. In the jars there seemed to be an assortment of dried leaves and flowers.

“What is it?” I asked dad

“That’s tea” he said

“Thats’s tea?”

“Yes, that’s what proper tea looks like.”

The shop owner smiled at me, and picked a jar up, unscrewing it for me and holding it out for me to smell. I inhaled deeply, and was hit by the heavy perfume of jasmine.

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I smelled various jars, noticing how I liked some more than others, how some were more colourful while others just looked black. Some of them were just whole dried flowers in the jars that could be steeped with hot water.

“Pick five” dad said, smiling at my enthusiasm.

I excitedly accepted the scoop from the man, along with five sealable plastic bags. I was beside myself. Pick five, from all these thousands of jars?

I chose first the jasmine, which had bewitched me when first I smelled it, its flowers curled up like elegant spiders, deep in colour, rustling in the jar.

Eventually I selected the other four; wuyi oolong, silver rain white tea with delicate dried rose, a smoky lapsang souchong and a warm, heavy chai.

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Finally, back in the other part of the shop, dad selected a strainer, paid the man and we left for home, stopping on the way home to buy oranges.

That whole week I spent learning to brew the tea. Dad taught me that I had to “Hot the pot” before filling it with boiling water, and showed me how to make sure it had brewed for the proper amount of time, and finally how to balance the strainer on the cup, ready to catch the leaves as I poured.

I had never smelled, and I had never tasted anything so fragrant in my young life. When it was time to go back to England, I took that little shop back home with me, a special pebble in the pocket of my mind, ready for me to thumb and stroke for the rest of my life. I had fallen in love with tea.

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Today my collection is extensive. Yes, in my cupboards I have the usual selection of teabags; breakfast, green, lemon and ginger, fruit teas etc, but my shelves are always well stocked with as many types of loose leaf as I can lay my hands on…stored in: you guessed it, glass jars.

It is an intimate moment for me, the preparation of tea. while I boil the water I carefully assess the jars, maybe smell a few (slipping away into the sandal-sporting child, smelling a jar in the hand of an olive skinned portugese man with a grey moustache and eyes like currants) taking the decision with the gravity it deserves.

I love watching the colour burst from the infusor basket as I fill the pot with water. I inhale deeply every time, letting the steam warm my nose, moisten my cheeks. It feels private, religious. Mine.

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I think it is in these simple pleasures, gained in childhood that we find the last inch of ourselves. Whenever we have lost ourselves for a little while in too much of today, there is always one act or another that can reel us back like motherly arms; “no. this is you. Remember?”

I think the magic of this memory and its lasting effect on me is in the fact that I can be anywhere in the world, even on a cold rainy gray day in my apartment, just me and my pets and a whole lot of idle time, but I can prepare my little ritual- brew the kettle and within that moment, I am there feeling the growing heat of the day in a shop decorated by rugs smiling at my dad. I can smell the oranges we bought on the way home.

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What’s in a face?

I like the aesthetics of Christmas. I enjoy christmas baking, I enjoy decorating the tree. I like that when I go out at this time of year, the streets are awash with a thousand lights. I think it’s a beautiful time of year. I buy candles in festive scents; Nutmeg, gingerbread and cinnamon. It’s all good.

My one true gripe is actually the social aspect of Christmas. No matter how antisocial I get, every new Christmas season seems to come laden with a denser and denser population of engagements to be attended than the last.

Christmas parties, outings, lunches, drinks. On and on, the merry go round turns, and I’m here sitting on my carousel horse just blinded by all the lights.

Checking my landline answerphone gets more and more stressful.

“Hey it’s only me. We’re all going to Strawberry, you know the place with the amazing burgers? Get out of bed and come with- The first whiskeys are on meeeeee”

 

“Hiiiiiii! Thanks for helping me out the other day, I couldn’t have rolled all those fucking truffles without you. Anyway, Steph, Rob, Ryan and I are going for drinks thursday night but after that we might go to whatsernames evening thing. Are you going? Call me!”

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“It’s only mum. Grandad’s in hospital again. Don’t be upset, but we’ve already started driving down. We’ll let you know if it looks like you need to come. Love you.”

I got that last one checking my messages, deeply hungover yesterday morning. Fuck. I knew I should call her, but my heart sank as I thought about what to say. I check the time. I have four hours before I have to be ready and on my way into town, going with whatshisface and his mother to dinner, drinks and then this fucking arthouse film that I actually cannot summon the will to tolerate. I look in the mirror. Last night’s mascara gently blurred around my eyes. What the fuck did I do? What the fuck did I say? Was I polite to people? I’ve been advised that the Fluoxetine is making me hypersocial and not to drink with it, but I don’t much feel like telling people that I can’t drink because one of the meds I’m on will make me an arsehole if I mix it with alcohol.

I spend most of the four hours sleeping on the sofa, nestled under the duvet like I’m hibernating, then I get up, wash my face, blow dry my hair upside down, and scoop it all up in a clip. I don the new biscuit coloured wool sweater that my parents bought me for Christmas, with the new fawn and black tartan miniskirt. Black stockings, cherry red ankle boots. I don’t wear my glasses to drive, in case I forget to take them off for dinner. I want to avoid all “sexy Velma” comments tonight. Fuck that shit. I don’t bother wearing lipstick, but I do reapply mascara. I’m already a little late when I set off.

We meet, exchange gifts, and before I know it We’re in this restaurant in this pretentious loft where each table has to have allocated coat hooks in the foyer, because everyone in there is unoriginal and boring and their 92% Wool overcoats all look the same.

My companions immediately begin to chatter inanely about the movies, work and whether or not Chris and his girlfriend are going to do well now that they’ve moved back from hong kong. When the waitress comes, They look at me politely, and I realise with a stomach drop that I haven’t even looked at the menu yet. I look at it quickly and order the first thing I see that has olives in it. “And to drink?” the waitress says smiling. I know they’re expecting me to order a soft drink because I drove here. Fuck off, I think to myself. “Southern Comfort. Double.”

There’s an uneasy silence for a moment, just like I predicted, But I fill it by saying something incredibly rude and horrible about the woman at the next table who looks like Liza Minelli in twenty years after a triple bypass, still desperately clinging on to the unfathomably young hairstyle that she can no longer pull off. They find it funny, and laugh thank god, and then relax back into their chatter. The food is fine, just I don’t have an appetite whatsoever. I gulp down my drink and pick at the food. Every bite is turning to ashes in my mouth. When dinner is finally over with, we decide to order drinks at the bar but ask for them to be brought to the lobby where there is art for sale on the walls. The art is grey, and flat. Pictures of pens artistically slung across notepads, and pears on tables beside telephones. Meaningless drivel. We end up going into the movie soon after, and I find myself pleasantly absorbed, but still preoccupied with the drive home. The weather is shocking, storm warnings left, right and centre, and I think about the long dark country lane that will take me back to my empty house. My stomach churns a little.

To be quaint, the cinema has an intermission. It is during this intermission that it gets said. We are standing to stretch our legs, and people are queuing up to buy ice cream from the awkward teen who clearly hates his job. Someone calls over to us, and approaches. It is a woman that used to know us when we were younger. Chatter chatter chatter, blah blah blah and then BAM. “You haven’t changed a bit! You’ve got such a lovely, young face. those cheekbones!”

It’s weird isn’t it, how people think it is perfectly natural and normal to comment on your face like that. But every time someone hands me a good natured compliment, it sends me straight back to something Grandmaman said to me when I was very small.

She was looking at pictures of my Papa’s other children, that he had with a dutch lady in the 80’s. Maman had stolen them, heartbroken to have found pictures of this family in his house, in a drawer by the bed. Grandmaman traced a finger around the faces of those two girls, and then touched my chin gently. “You do look like your Papa” she said “But you have your Maman’s bone structure. That’s why you don’t look like a potato.”

At the time I laughed, and didn’t think about it again, but there certainly came a time when this very ordinary exchange started to invade my thoughts so very often. One of those girls in the picture is dead now. She died after Papa, years after. And where his death was on purpose, her death was from an illness. When she died, her sister got in touch with me. She said “You never met up with us, and now you’ll never know her.”

She was lashing out, in grief. I simply assured her that I had not intended to reject either of them. I asked if I could see photos of the two of them in happier times. She directed me to a gawdy memorial page that featured many pictures of them, from childhood to adulthood. I showed the pictures to my English parents, and a few of my friends. They all commented on the family resemblance. they all stated that my Papa’s genes were very dominant. The dutch woman, their mother, was blonde and tall but both girls had the same colouring as me, dark auburn hair and pale skin. Celtic.

For the brief period that I attended l’école maternelle in France, the other mothers would comment on my colouring. How unusual! Doesn’t she look wild! They called me beautiful, striking. The French thought that the Irish in me made me exotic and beautiful, and the Irish thought it was the French in me that made me exotic and beautiful.

I stare at myself in the mirror sometimes and I can’t see much past the echoes of the two people who made me by accident. I know their faces well, and neither of them are in my life much anymore. Papa is dead, and Maman is on a double-decade long bender that started with his death. But their faces greet me in the medicine cabinet mirror every morning, and will as long as I live.

I think that this is the most coherent reason I can think of that explains why I am so disturbed when people compliment me on my looks. People might look at me, and see my unusual melange of looks and find them pleasant; but I look and see the amalgamation of a suicidal alcoholic and a promiscuous drug addict. Can I ever see that as truly beautiful? Does it matter?

I think that our faces are undoubtedly a piece of our identity, and that it is a truly devastating thing to lose that aspect of one’s identity, for example in an accident where one is disfigured. But do we have to approve of it? Do we have to like our faces to need them? I think it is a curious question. I think our face is like a family member. It is constant in our lives, although we may not communicate with it, or even let the truth sink into it. Maybe that is why we are so often resistant to compliments. We are disconnected from our faces in asmuch as we are not melded with members of our family. Or maybe I’m as fucking delusional as both my parents.

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Loves of my life: The Swimming Pool

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and while I’m sitting here enjoying the thousands of flickering lights that wash over my home in the form of candles and fairy lights, all in the name of Christmas spirit, I have decided to make this post in favour of another kind of light. The pale blue, serene light of the pool. The pool that I swim in every morning is closed for Christmas. I find myself thinking of it, each day as I adapt to my ‘new’ routine of taking the dog for longer and longer walks every morning, trying to find that peace-that oblivion. He stares up at me with his shiny black eyes, silently questioning my strange behaviour. “We didn’t used to walk this much!”  “I’m ready for a snooze in front of the heater!”.

As a child, my favourite thing about holidays was that my English parents usually paid for us to stay in properties that had their own pool. It was a special time, a time where everyone could stop working so hard, and enjoy the culture of this foreign land, and amenities that were not part of every day life at home. I would get up, before everyone else, donning my swimsuit which felt like a second skin against my own. I would slip under the lilting membrane of the pool surface, still and glassy-disturbed only by my presence. I would pull goggles down over my eyes, and sink down to the bottom of the pool until I came to rest, cross legged on the pool floor.

I loved the feeling of my hair floating up around my head, and the way my limbs were just weightless. The cool water, the silence. The eerie feeling of being the only person in the whole world. The crushing, endless, beautiful silence.

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As an adult, it’s another one of my addictions. I’m one of those women. If i’m not talking, and I’m sitting quietly, then you know I’m talking at 60 miles per hour in my head. I wake up early, eat some oatmeal and sip a hot drink before leaving, half the year in the dark, on my way to the altar of blessed silence.

There are no thoughts, there are only lengths. A mile’s worth of them, minimum. Forward, thinking one one one one one, reach the other end, two two two two two, turn back, three three three three. On and on, quiet, peaceful, uninterrupted meditation in the forms of chlorinated water and numbers, sweet uncomplicated numbers.

The pool, apart from on public holidays, is my constant, faithful companion. The pool never speaks, it only lays there, glowing and inviting, beckoning me like a friend through a crowded and noisy room. For anyone who has ever suffered in their mind through anxiety, depression, manic depression; this is serenity. Or at least, it is to me. I cannot remember the first time I entered a swimming pool….it feels like I’ve always known the pleasures of them.

I think the most important thing of all is that every so often, I cannot go there. This is when I realise how much I miss it, and how grateful I am for its presence in my life. It isn’t the most glamourous, nor the most simple joy to take in life. But that’s the point isn’t it; finding things, no matter what they are that bring you pure, unblemished joy.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

The Event Horizon: Broken hearted clown

It’s the most isolating illness in the entire world, and in the UK it is thought that around 1 in 5 of us adults are wandering around in our own sad little bubbles.

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I never used to push people away in the way that I do now. I definitely think that as a younger teenager, and certainly in my prepubescence I had an urgent need to be social, and to seek the acceptance of others.

Yes, I know, that seems odd considering my first suicide attempt was at 14. This is just it: paediatric depression is so glaringly different to adult depression. That child that woke up in the grey light of a day that she didn’t think she’d see performed that act of self violence because the charade had become all too tiring, and it was impossible to see a way out.

There was a lovely period of time, thereafter, (when the immediate anger response of everyone in my life was over) where I was really trying to be happy, and it was working! Things started to drift a little out of hand, at seventeen. It was a very very slow process. It started with me staying back a year to do different subjects. Brand new friend group.

The new friends only knew the mask. This meant that beyond seeing them on days when I had class, it was harder and harder to muster the energy. Eventually, over a period of about four years, this led to a constant rebuttal of offers of social outings. I couldn’t bear them. Christmas time with the family was exhausting. I stopped answering my phone. Eventually I got rid of it altogether, so that the only way anyone could contact me was through another person. Family had to contact me through my English mum. Friends could only contact me through my partner. People got frustrated. Hoardes of people, including my adoptive sister slowly either faded or exploded out of my life.

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The most recent downward spiral probably started somewhere in July 2015. Here I am, in December, and I am not currently working a regular job, not seeing anyone socially and when I broke down and cried on my bathroom floor this morning, I realised there was no one I could call for help.

People have limits. Love has limits. I have pushed every one of my lasting friendships and or relationships to that limit, and I know that if I push harder they will all shrivel and die.

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It is actually something to think about, this vacuum that we exist in when we feel like this. It is an oft-laboured point to compare depression to a black hole, but I think this is a more than pertinent comparison. There is nothing there, nothing nothing nothing, but it has this ability to suck, to devour and destroy. In July 2015 I wrote about the way I was starting to feel. I recently re-found this piece of writing, and I knew I had to post it here. This is a few months ago, when I still had my steady job.

“The Event Horizon of a black hole is normally shown as being a band right the way across the middle of the abyss. It is the point of no return- the point at which it is impossible to fight the gravity of the black hole. It is the point at which there is no escaping the fact that you are going into that black hole, no matter where it leads. It is also, therefore, the band where the most reactions, and events occur. Hence being called “the event Horizon”.

My freefall, looking back, started before now. It started back, back, back. I won’t know the very moment, but i can remember a slow tendril of hopelessness seeping in, in early spring and I was either too in denial or too dumb to realise that I knew this pattern- knew this ladder into the dark cold ground.

I’m so like my mother, I can’t look back, I can’t see that I was already in trouble. Because I’m here, in this moment and this is what hurts. I’m in a dark empty room full of pages and pages of shit about people who are long dead, or have moved on somewhere new. I’m staring at the fabric of a jacket inside a coat, and despite myself I push my face deep into it, and howl for three minutes, before neatly folding them up, putting them higher up, on a filing cabinet, so I can remove the archive boxes that lay underneath. My eyes were already dark underneath before I micro-wept, so no one notices and I am relieved.

They didn’t smell like what I was looking for, but they smelled of a familiar brand of detergent and softener that always underlay the scent that i had longed for when I pressed my tears into fleece and wool, in a storage unit under the stairs of a place where people go to die.

There’s no instruction manual for what to do when you have a queasy realisation about yourself, but my realisation is this;

I am on the edge of my personal black hole. I have been inside it, I have lived in a vacuum of misery and endless pain, but I have been catapulted back out before now. Here, I teeter on the edge; in the event horizon, and I’m stuck there- things continue to happen, events. but until I fall in, I will stay here, like a basketball circling the edge of the basket. The point of no return. is it narcissistic to say that I am scared for myself, that I think- still think that I might be worth more?

I remember previous times that its been like this, and I think I know what’s different. I had things to achieve. People were always telling me “you feel like this know but wait until…..”

College. University. Travelling. Getting a job. Getting my own place.

I’ve done it all. I’ve struggled and fought for all those things.

It isn’t any better and there’s nothing left to achieve.”

I can’t tell you how fucking lonely it makes me feel to read this, now, on a day where I am the very worst of myself and feel beyond help. There’s something so fucking demeaning about the realization that I seem to constantly come back to this feeling of agitation, of despair.

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     The worst part is that I really think that when I am my best self, I am not a bit self absorbed- but depression does make you self absorbed. I make lists of everything, catalogue every imaginable aspect of myself, everything is about me- will I be able to get my swim time in that morning? Will there be time for me to have a bath? What about how tired that day will make me feel? That train has too many changes, it’ll be draining for me. Me, me, me, me, me. I no longer have adolescence to blame for this constant introspection.

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     We depressives sleep long hours, expend unbelievable amounts of energy on our heartbreaks, our traumas; which we never ever forget. Then there’s the mine field of the fucking medications. this one makes you fat, that one means you won’t be able to climax, this one will make you have so much adrenaline that you’ll never sleep, but that one makes you drowsy like a zombie.

     Most often, I get pissed off at the side effects, and after a while I just stop taking the pills. I often feel pretty good at first. But slowly lurking in the sidelines is this creeping beast, this slow-onset flu of listlessness. I wish I could spend my whole life moving from third world country to third world country, the way I did when I was fortunate enough to travel after I finished my degree. Fuck, I was still slightly whiny at times, and had the ability to feel a little morose on my down time, but when I was working I couldn’t help but feel happier-after all I couldn’t think for a fucking second about myself.

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     And that’s just it, isn’t it. That’s why I gravitate towards yoga and swimming; you cannot think when you’re doing it. The years of abusing various drugs in my teens; the whole thing was an exercise in oblivion. The problem is that this is my real face, under the one that I can conjure when I’m thoughtless and serene. The second that voice can get back in, everything starts to sink into the mud and the shit.

     People I knew in high school remember me a lot different. The party girl. So funny. Crazy! Never stops. This is the problem isn’t it.

Behind every happy class clown is the sad, withering thing behind the facade. Eventually, everyone gets exposed to the effects of the real face, even if they never meet it in person.

And there’s no one left to call.

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