The Editor.

As best friend you get the important jobs. My official title – Legacy Contact. My job? To edit the evidence of her life. Every piece. Delete it. Burn it. Disinfect and return it in a neatly written eulogy that vaguely resembles memories. Enough to make people cry. She wants people to cry.

 I do as I’m told. I start looking for any character-flaws in her story of a sensible, thirty-something, married woman, with an extension and a middle – management job. On her phone, I find her first typo. A message to Barry the Twat:

 ‘I’m sad ads alond and I miss your dock.’ Sent at 2:48am.

Some drunk pictures. A naked selfie, wearing my missing shoes! Like a perverted LOST poster. Google search history: Menopause – does your clit fall off?; Is anal gaping real? Lump in neck tired no appetite? When to say I’m leaving you? Messages. Opinions and gossip, some about me. I was, ‘mental’ to leave the publishers. She’s right. I’m skint. I re-read our messages from her perspective.

I find a tin whilst editing her wardrobe. Inside, a pack of fags is disguised as a deck of cards. Moustache bleach. Jackie Collins. Slimming pills. Her Mother-in-law’s Order of Service. On the back is written: Bread, fags, milk, stamps. A vibrator. Underneath, love letters from a prisoner on death row. A poorly punctuated poem, penned in her hazel eyeliner, onto the back of a beer mat. Batteries. A photograph of me. A silver coin lodged in a cork. A Polaroid of her wedding-ring finger wrapped around an exotic cock.

 I put it all back in the tin, a time capsule for secrets. I fill it with everything I know of her, everything I’ve discovered. I fill it until the lid distorts, like the rumble of a thunder storm and the hinges start to falter. I fill it until I cannot lift it easily. I heave it to the park where we first met, I start to dig. I push the little box inside. She is everywhere. I fill the hole with the swings, the seesaw and the lamp post where we used to hide our eyes. The alleyway where, she was fingered by a fourth year, or maybe that was me. The park-bench where we first tasted cider. The bus-shelter we first smoked pot under. I throw it all in, schools, cars, trees, houses. Until there is nothing left but cracked pavements. I skip through the apocalypse. Like a child, heading home. I am lighter. But, I am alone.

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Nervous Break-Downs Don’t Exist

What is self-help anyway? Now, I have read enough self-help books to know that self-help is supposed to mean making small, positive changes to your everyday life in order to find true contentment and happiness. Self-help books teach us that the past is in the past, tomorrow does not exist, so all we have is now (big up to Eghart). In order to find this mystical zen of pure, unadulterated happiness we must complete ritualistic, desperate, clichés like: ‘doing one thing every day that scares us’. We must write a list of all of the things we would like to improve about ourselves and slowly, day by day, brick by brick, rebuild, re-mould and reshape ourselves into that mysterious contorted ‘happy’ apparition that we know is how we would look if we were truly content with ourselves. We must strive to be better, aspire for greater things. We must make a mood board of the consumables that we don’t yet own, but desire, and then, make a plan to work 16 hours a day, 17 days a week, in order to achieve the Range Rover in the landscaped drive with the happy, well behaved, clean children and the spineless husband in the chinos and golfing T-shirt.

Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve always been a sucker for a man with scars and stubble. And herein lies my problem with traditional ‘self-help’ writing: it assumes a model of success which therefore assumes that every reader aspires to the same model.

Let me be perfectly straight with you. I am in no way, shape or form ‘officially’ qualified to give you advice. I have no formal qualifications except for my own divine ability to make the best of life. But, then, a person who achieves a 1st in their psychology degree, spends their gap year yogaing around the world, is no more qualified to give me advice, based merely on a piece of paper that says they’ve read and understood what Freud meant when he said that we all want to fuck our parents. My point, although muddied by my own bullshit is, that advice is relative and should come from your peers, or people you can relate to.

So, why my advice? Because. Because, I am told I give great advice, even at the tender age of seven my Uncle Pot Head (who is a fabulous human being by the way) used to listen intently as I gave my tuppence worth into the adult problems being shared around my Mum’s table. Because, I have been through a reasonable amount of crap and don’t consider my situation to be particularly remarkable, except for the fact, that, in spite of: the alcoholic mother; the pot head uncle; the angry dad; the dead brother; the subsequently dead mother; the two kids (and the failed relationship behind their existence); followed by my Dad dying; swiftly followed by the abusive, violent, ex boyfriend and resulting court case – I am actually happy.

In spite of everything feel incredibly lucky to be me. I don’t mean that in the phony ‘I am incredibly lucky to have my health’ crap that people spout when they are desperately trying to claw back some collateral from their bankrupt life – actually I’m not even particularly healthy at the moment. I actually mean: I am a very lucky lady.  I have learned a lot about how much a human being can take in my 31 years on the planet. I think you’ll be reassured by what I know. Which to summarise is this – us human folk are as ‘ard as nails and we will triumph in the face of adversity and we will move on – I promise you.

 

You want to know what I believe self help to be? It’s occasionally hiding your grubby T-shirt under your dressing gown at 11:30 at night, finding your car keys and driving to the nearest KFC for a zinger burrito because, ‘I could just murder one.’ That’s why.

It’s dropping the kids off on a Monday morning at school and coming home and instead of tidying up, it’s going back to bed to masturbate and take a blissful, post-climactic nap. 

It’s giving up smoking until the second you’ve have a wine, insisting you’re only ‘a social smoker’ whilst devouring a twenty deck of Marlborough Lights quicker than you can say ‘I’m supposed to be saving for a Range-Rover’. Sometimes that is self-help. And, do you know what? That’s fine too.

My better-half once described me as the ‘most adult’ person he knew. That was a truly terrifying idea. I am in no way an adulty adult. What I hope and pray that my man meant when he called me an adult (the bastard) is, that I am honest and very comfortable in my own skin. I don’t have a single iota of anything to prove to any fucker, I’ve done my time proving myself to myself during the 6 week period after my mother’s funeral. I spent all of that time lying in bed unwilling and unmotivated to move. Do you know what? That was sound too, that was self-help. Instead of reading Facebook memes spouting endless Bob Marley quotes about happiness, listen to yourself. If your body is saying: ‘actually, do you know we were supposed to be getting our shit together today and joining the gym and mowing the lawn? Well, I can’t be bothered…can we do it tomorrow?’ Listen to it.

Now, I’m not talking about bone idleness here. Idleness kills more people than smoking and late night KFC’s combined. I’m talking about when you are feeling low, or experiencing trauma or self doubt. Well, in these instances listening to your body carefully is the surest fire way to get better. Your body knows what it’s doing, it has been honed by evolution for thousands of years into the, well-ard, mother fucker you see standing in front of the mirror today.

So, if your body tells you to stay in your PJ’s eating Nutella off your own fingers; then do as you’re fucking told; put the mood board down and step away from the Pritt stick you nobhead – it’s not helping.

Seriously, if there is one profound-ish thing I can leave with you it’s this: Nervous breakdowns don’t exist. Trust me – I’ve had two.

I know, I sound like a fucking moron, but give me a minute to explain. Okayso imagine this:

One day you are just going about your life and BAM!! Fucking-double-bastard-decker-bus ploughs into you at a zebra crossing, you didn’t do anything to deserve it. You waited for the green man, you looked left, right, then left again. You’re even wearing clean undies just in case this very thing happened, (as your Nan always prophesied it would), sparing your family of untold shame. That’s just how you roll. You were just going to work, it was the bus driver’s fault. You end up in hospital for months and lose both your legs. Sorry, I got a bit carried away there but, I’m sticking with it. So there you are legless, with only a £5 TV card, a tray of unidentifiable beige food and your own genitals for entertainment.

So, what next? This trauma has devastated every aspect of your life. You are no longer mobile, you have lost your confidence, your independence, your dignity. You have to lean on your loved ones for support, they hold you up no questions asked. They tell you how proud they are of you and how inspiring you are. One day, with the help of your loved ones you take that first baby step with your Zimmer-frame and new bionic legs. The next week, you walk to the bathroom by yourself. You have to adjust to life without legs but you get there eventually. You assimilate the new challenges your bionic legs present into your everyday life and you get the fuck on with it. It’s taken a long time. Maybe a year or so. But, you’re back walking to work again like the fucking champion that you are.

Now, replace the loved ones with people talking about you like you can’t hear them. Then, replace the bus and the double amputation with an emotional trauma that you didn’t ask for, like, for example, the cause of my first ‘nervous breakdown’  – the death of my alcoholic mother. I didn’t ask her to drink. In fact, I asked the opposite of her every day of her gradually receding life.  I did all the right things and yet, here I was, through no fault of my own, about to lose a part of myself forever.  When ‘it’ finally happened, I was in shock. It took me a long time to adjust my emotional state and feelings in order to accommodate the cavernous hole that my Mother and all of her alcoholic baggage had obliterated into my deepest fibres.

I spent a lot of that time in bed crying, not eating, not brushing my teeth, hair or seeing friends. This is what my Doctor diagnosed as my nervous breakdown.  

I, on the other hand, didn’t and still don’t see it that way at all. I saw it as a period of adjustment, a bit like rebooting a computer in safety mode. My brain was on and performing the non voluntary functions ie – breathing, beating my cold, dead heart and sleeping.

This period of hibernation was a necessary part of my recovery process. It was not a breakdown, it was a reboot after losing some major hardware. I had to learn how to live on without my Mum, without my Mum. Eventually, I got out of my pit, walked over to the window, opened the curtains, and took the tentative steps towards the kettle to make myself the first cup of tea that I had managed in 6 weeks. My children’s father, was sitting downstairs in the living room when I appeared like Bambi in the doorway, as if not wanting to spook me, he pretended he hadn’t seen me shuffling into the kitchen. I was relieved, the last thing I needed was an ‘oh you’re out of bed’ celebration. I was weak, but I was doing it; walking, unaided along this strange, new path whilst carrying the burden of the Mum-shaped void in my life. That is not a breakdown. That is a hero.

Poor mental health is not a socially-acceptable reason for bed rest. But, trust me, ploughing on with your mood-board regardless of your emotional instability is a sure fire way to end up in bed a hell of a lot longer. Cue the second nervous breakdown – this time, it’s personal.

Gritting your teeth and struggling on is commendable and, if it works for you, then honestly, I couldn’t be happier for you. Genuinely. But, the truth is, sometimes we all need to just chill the fuck out and take a minute to digest the size of the bus we have just been walloped by. That isn’t a break down, it’s common sense, give yourselves a break.

Get Over It. 

Michelle Parkinson

I took your hand and told you

Through the medium of stoned telepathy

that it’s OK – what you said yesterday.

You don’t even know you’ve said anything

You might have sensed something

A-miss in our usual bliss

But you’ve matched my silence

On the subject.

You said one word -saggy.

I’ve said a thousand since

Just none of ’em to you.

You’ve had

A letter AND a poem

You just don’t know they exist.

I’m a writer,

That’s how I deal with shit.

I’ve decided that

It’s time to get over it.

So I take your hand as

We walk and I

Give it a squeeze and it’s fits

In mine like it’s the last one

I’ll ever hold.

So, there it is

I forgive.

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Neighbours from Hell.

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EE and I are moving in together next year. These fuckers arrived today – ‘our’ new speakers.

“For the Music Suite” EE informs me.

“I’m sorry the what? The Music Suite?” It’s the first I’ve heard.

“In the new house”. EE obviously has big plans for the 3 bed terrace I’ve scoped out on Rightmove.

“The Music Suite where exactly? Hell?” One job he had – “You sort the technology out, I’ll do everything else.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t see any wires.” Like that’s the issue, with those things in the ‘Music Suite’ I won’t be able to see the friggin’ walls never mind the wires.

EE starts laughing at “your face”, it doesn’t help matters.

“The new neighbours are going to love seeing these things wheeled into the new place aren’t they?”

“Don’t worry Darling, we’ll disguise them” EE claims whilst trying to pick off the illuminous green “BADASS BASS” stickers.

A man and his new speakers is a special sight, I haven’t seen him this pleased with himself in ages.

“OK Darling”, I reply and just like that I let it go, after all, he hasn’t seen the extent of my obsession with buying ‘bargain’ clothes that I don’t need/ really even like / or fit into. It’s all about give and take – I’ll give him his ‘Music Suite’ and take half of his wardrobe.

I know what he’d say to my give and take plans, he’d say: “Darling, you can take what you like, it’s a privilege”. I know – I’m a lucky woman.

I remind myself of that fact several times whilst counting to ten and taking deep, calming breaths and watching EE set up ‘our’ new speakers for a test run. I can feel myself starting to smile.

“What’s up Darling?” EE asks, concerned that the speakers have finally pushed me over the edge into madness.

“Oh nothing Darling just enjoying the look on your face for a change”.

 

New Bike Day.

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Regal. Elegant. Eccentric – my new bike. A gift from EE and a vast improvement on the citronella candles he gave me for Christmas. That’s EE all over. Christmas is all dust busters and citronella candles, Friday ‘just because’ is new bikes, book vouchers and fancy face cream. This time it was my new bike. I’m so happy! It’s Dutch and when I ride it so am I. Eager to try it out, I decide to ride it to Sainsburys with the Six year old on her scooter. The decision to bring the scooter is always a poor one and this time was no different.

The entire twenty minute journey (NB – walking alone it takes me ten minutes) was accompanied by the usual ‘let’s bring the scooter’ decision-related bullshit:

“Mummy! Wait! You keep leaving me behind!” (literally ten feet ahead).

“Mummy! My legs are tired, I don’t want to ride my scooter”.

“Mummy wait! My shoe is itchy!”

“Muuuuuuuuuuuuum can you carry my scooter and I walk?”

“MUMMEEEEAAAAA YOU’RE NOT WAITING FOR ME!!!”

“Mummy look how fast I’m going!”

Straight into a divot, falls off the damn scooter and uncontrollable crying ensues. With the new bike momentarily discarded on the pavement, I try to fob the Six year old off with the usual “give it a rub” and “blow on it”. When that doesn’t work, I pull out the big guns – magic kisses. They seems to do the trick and we’re off again.

The Six year old has no respect for new bike day. I wish I’d come on my own.

Finally. Sainsburys.

“That’s a beautiful looking bike!” I turn to see a chap as eccentric as my Dutch bike, all the gear, fit as a fiddle, mad as a hatter. “I collect bikes” he explains. “I’ve got twenty bikes, I’ve got one that’s two and a half grand and I can get from here to Warrington in an hour and five minutes, I’m gonna buy a THREE and a half grand one next so that when I move to Llandudno I can pose on it up and down the promenade, I’ve got loads of bikes I’m Sixty three this year”. He’s caught me on a good day – new bike day. We share five minutes of our time. As he starts to tell me all about his health scare (an epileptic fit) I can see the Six year old trying to work out if we know him – we don’t. We listen until he has shared what he needs to share, exchange well wishes and as we leave the Six year old observes keenly “He was lonely wasn’t he Mummy?” She takes hold of my hand and I give it a squeeze, “yes, I think you’re right”.

On the way home the Six year old doesn’t want to ride her scooter again because her foot’s itchy, her eye stings, her legs are tired, there’s a fly in the way, the road is too bumpy and all the usual rigmarole. I think about our new friend on his next new bike day. I push my new bike alongside the Six year old to make the moaning stop and we chatter about our days.

“I’m glad you’ve got a bike now Mummy cos we can do this all the time now can’t we?”

“Yes” I smile “and Mummy can’t wait”.  It’s not even sarcasm.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/generous/

The Girl With The Coco Pop Tattoo.

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EE arrives home at gone 9pm. I have shaved my legs especially.

Within ten minutes a ‘debate’ quickly descends into full on shouting (on my part) and a reddening face (his) . Never before has doping in athletics caused such a furore.

“I’m just saying it’s obvious why they are picking on Mo Farah but the only reason that they picked her results is because she’s pretty”.

EE will ‘debate’ that this is not what he said, but I say he did.

“No EE” I begin, trying to call off my inner raging feminist and failing miserably,

“I think you’ll find darling that it’s because she WON a GOLD medal in the women’s hockey and scored the winning FUCKING PENALTY” – this was an ad-lib, I have no idea who scored the winning penalty but it strengthens my argument so I deliver it as a fact – “NOT BECAUSE SHE IS EASY ON THE EYE!”

“I don’t mean that”

“Well what do you mean exactly? Because what you said was the only reason she is of any public interest is because of how she looks!”

EE knows it’s a trap. He also knows that I am always going to win this argument by default of having a vagina and him not. After trying in vein to scrabble together a reply in which he doesn’t come off as a misogynist he goes with,

“That’s not what I said, I apologise if that’s how it came across”.

Wise man.

Tense silence swallows the room. All eyes are hyper-focused on Tattoo Fixers like it’s the first time either of us has ever seen an idiot with a camel tattooed on their big toe. (it is the first time, who does that?).

A girl drops her trousers.

“What would you have done?”

“What for?”

“To cover up a mole like that.”

“What? On my arse?”

“Yeah”.

This is a big decision. “Oooh, I dunno, maybe, well … it would have to be feminine and nothing too big and certainly nothing too graphi…”

“I’d have The Coco Pop Monkey” EE interrupts.

“I’m sorry who?”

“Yeah the one off the adverts, you know… ‘We’d rather have a bowl of’… I’d have him swinging across my arse cheek and picking up the mole like a Coco Pop”. EE has clearly given this a lot of thought.

Hysteria descends.

I congratulate us “We would be hilarious on Gogglebox”.

Monday Morning.

 

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“Muuuuuum will you tell her, she’s winding me up”.

6:45 Monday morning.

“If anybody else woke me up like that” … I take a moment to fantasise about all of the unspeakable pain I would dish out to this imagined “anybody else” if only I had the chance.

“Muuuuuuuum!”

I settle for muttering the obligatory “for fucks sake” before shouting “Okay! Hang on! I’m coming now”.

Another “for fucks sake” and I’m out of bed and in a dressing down. One breast hangs out unnoticed and the remnants of Sunday morning’s coffee in bed cling to the front. I wear them as a bitter reminder of a life I once knew.

“If anybody else woke me up like that….” I begin as I open the bedroom door.

The Ten year old couldn’t care less, she’s just waiting for me to finish saying words so that she can complain:

“Mum will you tell her, She keeps trying to break my arm”.

I step over the pile of children fighting on the landing and feel my way blindly to the kettle.

“leave your sister alone” I manage as I stumble down the stairs- the full capacity of my parenting abilities reached at 6:fucking:48 AM.

Cheerios are poured half into a bowl and half on to the kitchen floor by the Six year old.

I state the obvious.”In the bowl”.

We all settle in to our morning routine of eating breakfast and ignoring each other. The Six year old decides to play the ‘swimming Cheerios’ game – she’s very good at doing the voices.

The Ten year old stares off vacantly at some point in the distance where she doesn’t hate everybody and life isn’t so unfair.

I sit and silently add up how many more years it is that I have to put up with this shit – Eight more with the Ten year old.

I understand now why all parents are desperate for their children to go to University – Twelve more years of this with the Six year old I conclude – a little disappointed with my answer.

The Ten year old is allowed to cycle to school now, “But not before you’ve tidied that hell hole of a bedroom.” I pick the fight and wait for the abuse:

“Oh my God MUURRRMMMMMME, that’s SO unfair, She never tidies up her mess (points at the Six year old who is wearing a nightie and a floppy hat) and I always end up doing it AS WELL as tidying my own, how is THAT fair? I’m going to be late to meet S now and it’s all going to be your fault! I HATE YOU BOTH!”.

Feeling strangely vindicated for my rude awakening,  I stir the pot further:

“If you had started it when I asked you to instead of standing here arguing then it would have been done by now”. An inaccurate statement at best but, I can see it’s annoyed her so I go with it.

“OHMYGODAAAAAA”  infuriated, she storms up the stairs.

“I’m not even going to tidy anything anyway, I’m just going to sit there until it’s time for me to leave”

“oh are you?”

“yes!”

“OH ARE YOU?!”

“YES!”

SLAM.

” I don’t know where you get that attitude from Lady but you better watch it!”

Lady? I’m even getting on my own nerves.

She gets it from me – the attitude.

I’m reassuring myself that I turned out alright in the end as I hear the bedroom door swing back open.

Brace yourself.

She’s crying. Not like the tweenager from hell any more, like my little girl.

We hug it out on the sofa.

“Mum your boob’s hanging out of your dressing gown”

“I know”.

We laugh.

“Only Eight more years” I think.

And there it is – the sadness.