Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Scared of the Dark

I’m scared of the dark;
of the darkness inside.
The rotten mass of questions,
imagined possibilities,
of scarlet liquid endings.

I’m scared of the pain;
of the pain inside.
A memory not yet erased,
a reality not imagined,
the invisible incision not healed.

(Third verse added by Skint Writer)

I'm feeling the love;
of the light inside.
The pure peace of being,
beyond sham imagination,
the true bliss of life smiles.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

‘I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say "Hello." “Goodbye.” I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.’

In Mexico it is considered rude to be on time. If someone invites you to a party at say nine o’clock and you turn up at ten past nine then you are likely to find your hosts still getting dolled up and the snacks still wrapped up in cling film in the fridge. No, when they say nine, in Mexico the etiquette is to turn up anything between an hour or three later. I mention this because as I was flicking my way through my journal today I realised that in this green edition lateness has been a running theme. I am always late. I’m late for work everyday. I try; I really do, but somewhere between 7.45 and 8.45 chunks of three-seven minutes disappear from the space time continuum. I just don’t know how it happens. I’m late to meet my friends and I’m late for planes, trains and buses. I’m late for pretty much everything. So I was beginning to wonder whether this was a problem.

In some respects I blame my parents. Well my Dad, really. When he promised that he would raise his kids Catholic, what he actually raised me was late. Every Sunday without fail we were late for ten thirty mass. Sometimes we were so spectacularly late that we arrived for the midday Polish mass – or was that when the clocks went forward and we didn’t know? But in any case that’s when I think it started.

Sometimes it has actually caused me near heart attacks. When I first arrived in Paris, a grim grey February descended upon us. I hated Paris, I had no friends and Ian was away for the weekend and I just couldn’t face being on my own. So I dialled up the internet – oh do you remember those slow days of dial up connections – and booked a really rather expensive flight to Madrid for the weekend. Ian raised a few eyebrows when he found out how much the ticket cost, but I was probably sharpening knives at the time so that was as far as that discussion got. Anyway, the fateful Friday arrived and even if there hadn’t been a train strike that day I would still have been cutting it fine. If I had paid attention to the fact that there was a SNCF strike maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so stressful though. After being told that there were no trains from Gare du Nord to Charles de Gaulle, the ticket guy must have seen the look of absolute horror on my face, mixed in with a fair amount of desperation and hastily scribbled down where and how I could alternatively get to the airport. By the time I finally made it onto a bus at Opera I had run up escalators, down escalators, dodged tourists and run round the Opera building what felt like three times in search of the bus stop. By the time I got onto the bus I was knackered, but something was nagging at my brain. I got out the old mobile phone, checked the time did the calculations and realised I was going to arrive at the airport twenty minutes before take off. What the hell could I do? I was on a bus, I couldn’t make the bus go any faster, I couldn’t teleport to CDG, all I could do was sit and sweat it out. What I actually did was call Estrella and wail down the phone to her that I thought I was going to miss the plane. Then I made a nice kindly Japanese business man go through every single sheet of carefully organised paper he had to search for a phone number for the airport. Then I just stared at him in distress and he tried to reassure me that it wouldn’t be long once we got onto the A1. “But I haven’t even picked up my tickets yet.” I wailed. At which point he developed an increased interest in his paperwork and kept discretely waving his own tickets in my direction.

On finally arriving at CDG, the relay race began; I jumped off the bus at a sprint and burst into Terminal 1. Terminal 1, I reckon is loosely based on the futuristic world of Logan’s Run, a circular pod with underground travelators that lead you to the smaller pod/gates. But first you have to do a lap round the terminal to find your tickets. As I approached the desk, the hostess shouted out to me; “Are you Miss …?” I shouted back yes, somehow pulling my passport and booking slip without slowing down, I signed and collected the tickets at a trot and then I was told to run to gate 4, over there. Her voice was already disappearing as I skidded round a corner and began a steady sprint along the travelator. As it began to rise up to the pod I was cheered on by a group of boys who were obviously not late for their plane: “Run, run, run.” They cheered. “Wankers!” I muttered wasting precious difficult to draw breath. And then there was a light at the end of the tunnel and I slammed into the Lufthansa desk, waved my ticket and rasped: “I’m late for my flight.”

“Don’t worry.” The cheery hostess smiled at me. “There’s a train strike all the flights are delayed.”

I staggered away and rested on my knees trying not to cough my lungs up and trying to regain my composure then I went back to the Lufthansa desk. “I don’t have a boarding pass.” I pointed out.

“Oh.” The smile disappeared. “You are late.” I ended up getting a first class seat.

The two previous times that I’ve gone away with Jane I’ve turned up within minutes of the train leaving. When we went to Tunisia at Easter she came to my house to pick me up. We arrived three hours early for our flight and spent four and a half hours in various queues!

I was late for one of my friend’s wedding. Well, I thought I was. “Oh,” Sue smiled endearingly at me. “We always tell you to turn up half an hour earlier than you have to because you’re always late. Had you not realised? We thought you’d cottoned on that time you found us shopping in Covent Garden.” I frowned and thought back to that time in Covent Garden where indeed on an extremely rare occasion I had been on time, no one was waiting for me so I had wandered off to the market and found Sue and Will there. What they didn’t know was that in doing a flying leap to get onto the imminently departing train i hadn’t bought a ticket; I had got fined £25.

And then this weekend: I have been late for three out of the four meet ups. I am sure that I would have got four out of four if Lise hadn’t picked me up last night. When I arrived at the Cour Carré this afternoon a cool 20 minutes late Colleen shouted over at me: “Are your ears burning from us talking about you?”

“Why are you annoyed with me?”

“No, I’m starving.” She replied. We were having a picnic and I had brought a fair amount of the food.

“But I’m always late.” I replied.

“I know.” Siobhan interjected. “I told her; why are you leaving the house so early? She’s always late.”

I sat down and smiled. In the end the people that I now call my friends here are the people who are used to my constant tardiness, who just accept it as part of me. I suppose it’s a way of sorting out the real friends from the chaff.

Mind you when I do my language exchange with Cyrille every other week I do get pissed off with her. No matter how late I am, she’s always later!

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Flypaper around the Corner

Last night as we sat around a bowl of potato wedges analysing the deep and hidden depths of X-men 3, I realised several things. The first was that I had not paid close enough attention to the very last scene in the film and had been off flapping away somewhere with Warren Worthington III’s wings. The next thing was that I was having a sense of deja heard.

“Yeah Claire says she hates Wang’s Bar, but then I asked if she wanted to go for a drink after work and she said she was going to Wang’s.”

Yep it was Wang’s bloody bar again. Now at the moment I hate this bar with a passion, but I haven’t really questioned why. Is it that bad? After all how many bars in Paris do I wander into and a glass of wine and a plate of crisps materialise before me within seconds. Wang’s two expression face then appears behind the glass – he’s either smiling or scowling- and he usually enquires about my day and then I get plastered; slowly. But let’s face reality, since Easter I’ve probably had a drink at Wang’s, what, once? Yep once. Mostly I wander past between the hours of three and four, wave at Wang through the window as he’s having his lunch and head off home or to the gym. So why do I hate that place so much?

“It’s soul destroying, I sit with all those miserable people moaning on and on about the same old dross and I just don’t want to be there. I don’t want to listen to that shit anymore, it depresses me.”

That’s a little sound bite from me. Claire had innocently asked me if I was going for a drink after work and I had lashed back with that. Well actually I had said I was going to the gym first and although that was a perfectly good answer had felt the need to add that little snippet afterwards, and that’s the short version, there was more. But on further analysis, although it is soul destroying and everything, in the end it is not strictly true.

Wang’s bar is round the corner from work and it has the ability to draw you in and get you comfortable. Wang’s round smiley face – when he is smiling that is – his ability to memorise everyone’s name and drink of choice and the seemingly never ending supply of crisps, peanuts, spicy peas and fishy smelling twisty stick things. You also get to see the reflection of the Eiffel Tower twinkling in its glass every hour, although now that daylight has increased that is less a possibility unless you get really stuck there. Oh and there’s an Italian Version of the cinema ad for ‘Last Tango in Paris’. A scene was filmed in here in the days when it wasn’t filled with pissed Anglophones, and busloads of Dutch tourists. But in the end it’s like flypaper. You come in straight from work and you begin buzzing angrily trying to extricate yourself, but slowly your resistance gets worn down and you end up resigning yourself to your fate. But that’s still not why I hate it.

The reason why I hate Wang’s Bar is because he’s stolen my friends. I can resist; Champion has now got a range of Kettle Chips that far outstrips Wang’s and a 4€ bottle of wine lasts a lot longer than a 4€ glass at Wang’s, but I want my friends back! Every now and again I can tempt them out by staring them in the eye and dangling something promising and exciting in front of them. “Comedy Club, live bands, Indian restaurants, Mexican restaurants, cinema, picnics,” I say slowly in hushed tones as if talking to a small child. And then I go and spoil it; “Another bar.”

“What do you want to go to another bar for? Wang’s is cheap.”

But it seems that I am beginning to win the souls of my friends back with the help of my other friend; sunshine. One thing Wang’s Bar hasn’t got going for it is a terrace. He’s trying, but when you’ve got the equivalent of a dual carriageway passing in front of it, it just doesn’t cut the mark.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reading Matters

So I’m reading ‘Eldest’ by Christopher Paolini at the moment. Actually I’m also reading ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ and I’m near the end where Pooh and Christopher Robin go off together and leave everyone behind and I think it’ll make me cry and I just can’t face that bit yet. And then there’s my metro read ‘An Area of Darkness’ by V.S. Naipaul, it fits neatly into my handbag and was purchased a few weeks ago when I also thought I would be purchasing a plane ticket to India and a Lonely Planet guide to India, before my travel companion got put off by a little bit of rain. What’s the problem? V.S. Naipaul put up with the rain, Indians put up with the rain. Pffff! Oh and there’s also ‘The Salmon of Doubt’. I got a bit stuck with that around the bit where he starts getting all technical and talks more than usual about wires and gadgetry and Apple Macs. Douglas Adams did use the word ‘pootling’ though, which I thought I had invented when I was about sixteen. Seems I didn’t, seems it even has an Oxford English Dictionary definition. I don’t like the OED definition and have decided that I did invent the word, because in my head it’s more to do with ambling aimlessly in a Pooh bear sort of way.

Anyway, back to ‘Eldest’. Someone else wants to read it and I’m on page 166 and there are 668 pages in total (you do the math) and I’m beginning to wish I was reading it in French, like I did with the first tome 'Eragon'. See the thing with reading in French is that I was so lazy, I couldn’t really be bothered to look up all the words I didn’t know, but he used ‘guère’ so much that I did learn that*. One word out of a thousand pages! I also got the impression that I had read sixty different descriptions of sunsets or sunrises. Well I now realise that I must have because I’m on page 166 and I’ve read countless descriptions of valleys and mountains and plains and fields and... Basically our boy Paolini likes his descriptions. But it’s nowhere near as bad as Brian Jacques. I was once subjected to this author not once, but twice. I learnt that the way to read him was to skip all descriptions of food, ignore all the poems and songs and the book is about two thirds shorter, but still a very bad mixture of Beatrix Potter and Lord of the Rings... and shoot me down in flames but J.R.R. Tolkein was one imaginative man, but he was not a great writer of literature.

From this train of thought came a list, a list of such shining brilliance that I felt I ought to share it with the world at large: Authors I have lurrrrved (You have to say it in a Barry White/Isaac Hayes type voice to get the full effect there).

Authors I have Lurrrrved:

1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Best reads:
Everything I’ve read, he has an amazing ability to weave you into his world so that you do not question a thing and then his endings are so perfect that you don’t feel as if something has been taken away from you. It’s the right time for the story to end.
Worst reads:
Not that anything can be bad by my man Marquez, but ‘News of a Kidnapping’. It was a book that needed to be written, and I learnt a great deal through it, but it wasn’t fiction. (And that last sentence indicates why I am neither a book reviewer nor a published writer – sheesh!)

2. James Baldwin
Best reads:
Oh mmm, everything I’ve read. Don’t know a single thing about Jazz, but if there is a great Jazz novel, then it’s ‘Another Country’ and this man wrote it.
Worst reads:
Nope, not one I’ve read yet.

3. David Almond
Best reads:
Ooh I was going to say everything again. OK I’ll commit myself; ‘Heaven Eyes’ (although I do really love Skellig), after I had read it I realised that he was the first non Latin American author I had read who had completely captured the essence of magic-realism. Not only that, but he was a pigeon-holed as a children’s author. In his case I think adults who don’t read him are missing out, his stories are beautiful.
Worst reads:
But this is in a positive way. I recently found a book of his short stories in the library:’ Shooting Stars’ I think it’s called, I can’t remember. They all had that essence of the writer he was too become, but some of them were pretty rough around the edges. In the end I stopped reading them because it just wasn’t to the same standard as I was used to. But it keeps me writing, because I hope that one day I too can write something as magical and moving as David Almond.

4. E.M. Forster
Best reads:
Oh it’s difficult... mmm... I’m going to have to say everything again. I can’t remember any one particular book in enough detail, it’s just these impressions of people and flaws and pain.
Worst reads:
Ooh can’t do it. Why did I come up with this idea, ahh yes.

5. Salman Rushdie
Best reads:
‘Midnight’s Children’ from the first to the last sentence, this book just blows you away. I am still trying to imagine the main character’s nose, I’ve forgotten his name, but I remember his nose. And I learnt so much about Indian Independence in one chapter about mercurochrome (I think that’s what it’s called).
Worst reads:
‘The Ground Beneath her Feet’ – Oh Salman!

6. Cornelia Funke
Best reads:
Ok another difficult one, but I’m going to say ‘The Thief Lord’ because Venice was still so alive in my head when I read it and Cornelia added even more magic. And then ‘Inkheart’ just because above all it’s about her love for books, it spills out from every page.
Worst reads:
‘Dragon Rider’ not because it was bad, far from it, this woman can’t pen a bad sentence. I’m just not really into talking animals. And ‘Inkspell’ because I love fire and the magic that can be created with fire, so I’m a bit peeved. Unless you’ve read it you won’t know what I’m talking about, but if I say more I’ll ruin the book.

7. John Irving
Best reads:
‘Setting Free the Bears’. I could read it again and again and I’ll still laugh out loud and cry.
Worst reads:
‘The Fourth Hand’. Just didn’t enjoy it as much as the others.

Authors I have dallied with:
Terry Pratchett – Loved the disc world books for a long while and then... there is only so much. Still read his kid’s books though, loved the one about the cat and ... ‘Maurice and ...’ Dear me my memory!
Kashugo Ishiguro - Will probably read more of him, I’m really into Japanese writers at the moment.
Virginia Woolf – Finally read Mrs Dalloway after watching ‘The Hours’ it had only been on my book shelf since I did my degree! Got ‘Orlando’ in my pile to read pile
Margaret Atwood – I did realise that my above list was almost exclusively male. I really really like Atwood, she is extremely clever and had stolen all my science fiction ideas –either that or I am incredibly unoriginal - but I just couldn’t justify putting her up there.
Jeanette Winterson – Read ‘The Passion’ recently, I’ve had a big break from Winterson, but I think if I read her again I would put her in my ‘lurrrve’ list.
J.K. Rowling – I am addicted to Harry Potter’s life like millions of others, but I suspect that when I close book 7 and after the last film has come out then that’s it.

Right this list could go on FOREVER and I’ve already been at this for an hour and a half, so let’s draw to a close with a final category...

Authors whose pens, laptops, computers, pencils, crayons, anything that makes a mark should be taken away and they should have their fingers snapped:

Paulo Coelho
– I know that as a jumped up wannabe that this is very contentious territory, but I can’t put a book down when I start reading it and this was the very worst waste of time EVER. I didn’t care about his characters, I went and checked up on Alchemy because his writing was so unconvincing and considering my dream was to go to the desert I just wanted everyone to drop down dead of thirst. Coelho, you made me hate the written word and I will never forgive you for that.


* It means hardly.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I’m Pissed Off

That’s right I’m pissed off again. What is it this time? Well, it was one of those days where I thought nothing could go wrong. My day of work was done and I had literary plans for the rest of the afternoon as well as the promise of a nice cup of tea. To fill the hour in between I chatted to Claire (by mistake, but it was still an enjoyable chat). Anne, Jane and I discussed the meaning of my dreams and other topics of gross importance. Then I tootled off to have another chat with Claire but ended up caught in the conversation about how a trip to Wales had changed the life of the teenager who was divulging all (I don’t think she cared, she’s leaving Paris tomorrow) and left me having to explain why you should never trust men with blue eyes – it popped out before I could stop myself – swiftly followed by my age when I announced that forty-five year old George Clooney was not too old for me. But not even that could dampen my mood. I even found it hysterical when I ambled back to rendezvous with Jim to find the two biggest gossips in the whole place reunited as I glibly said: “Right Jim I’ll go and get my stuff then.” Peter’s eyes widened and when I asked him what was the matter the invisible cat appeared to have got his tongue.

So off we tootled in a very circuitous manner to the tea room. It was a bit nippy and all, but you know I would rather walk out of my way and be sure of walking past a Tabac then get to the tea room and not have walked past a Tabac and not be able to concentrate. Even when we got to the tea room and it seemed to have upgraded to a restaurant that wasn’t open till seven, we just shrugged our shoulders and said: “C’est la vie,” and pootled round the corner to a café and had coffee instead. You see Jim wants to write a book as well. Yeah. The important bit there is ‘wants’. As much as Anne is my mentor, I can’t have these types of chats with her because Anne’s book is on my bookshelf; Anne’s published short story is on my bedside table. Anne is to be respected and revered. And Anne and I are not equal, but that is why she is my mentor and Jim is the pal I can chat about absolutely anything to and we both understand cos we’re still down there trying to jump up onto the stool and reach the keys of the laptop. Anyway we chatted and then we upgraded from coffee to Sangria and from Alma Marceau to the Champs Elysee. And then the other high point of the evening was when I was comfortable enough to say: “Had a fantastic afternoon, but I want to go home and write now.”

But hey not too soon, because after sharing something with me, I had to share something with Jim. So we tootled down to Avenue Matignon, shoulders hunched up against the rain bearing wind and there were the improbable cows. “Oh yeah, the cows. Did you know that this is the only country in the world where they’ve had to open up a cow hospital?” The words were slightly blown around and didn’t quite make a connection with my brain until I showed Jim my second favourite cow; ‘Artisticow’. I hadn’t quite seen that she had been painted up to look like a cow art folder last week in the dusk when I first met her, but now as the art folder beneath her feet was ripped to shreds I made the connection. As we dodged traffic to get to ‘Mademoiselle 100,000 volts’ I noticed that someone had been messing with her voltage, but not only that, they had swiped the tip of her horns. And my favourite - but by now I was too distressed to notice her name - someone had swiped a swathe of skin off her flank. I couldn’t quite get a sentence out I was so flustered and blustered and angry. But when I settled down in my metro seat I thought up a just punishment for such desecrators of art: two years solitary confinement in a darkened room deprived of all forms of stimulation.

Monday, May 22, 2006

What does it all mean?

As usual on a Sunday evening, my head was buzzing with the thought of twisting and turning a sorry tale into something worthy of tragi-comedy. I woke up what felt like five minutes later with the vague remnants of a dream reforming in my head. It involved a Catholic Priest, my least favourite knickers, a parked car and a therapist. Dreams are fantastic aren’t they? I mean I’m not sure that I would have mixed that particular group of ingredients together in a waking state, but I just wonder what I am preoccupied with. I can’t piece all of this one together.

I also had a vivid dream last week which invloved me being part of a gang that was robbing a grocery. There were lots of us doing the robbing, and lots of tills hidden behind the piles of fruit and veg. We filled our white bags with the hordes of cash – mostly coins I seem to recall. We piled into a white transit van with our booty and then somehow I ended up behind the wheel. Bit of a problem as I haven’t ever quite managed to pass my driving test. Well I never took it, so I don’t know if I would have not passed it. Anyway... I’m careering around the streets of a very sunny sort of lego town – it wasn’t made of Lego, but it was fairly nondescript, you know those towns built in that yellow brick with no personality whatsoever. Suddenly the van turned into a bigger van and then a double decker bus. Just as I was about to crash into a post office – I knew it was a post office as there was at least twenty postmen on a ciggie break outside watching me slightly perturbed that I may career into them. And then the bus stopped. By now only one of my accomplices were left and he suggested that we casually walk away. Which we did. Very casually. Hand in hand, but now the bus had turned into a big plastic toy bus that I had to wheel in front of me. Couldn’t work that one out either.

I’ve also had a lot of boat dreams recently. It’s always dusk and the boat is usually moored and I usually end up committing acts of violence towards the end of the dream. Not really violent, one was just a slap, another a rather vicious swipe with a cushion, but my favourite was the slamming of the head between the kitchen cabinet and its door; over and over and over again.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What I meant to write about

It’s Sunday and it’s absolutely pissing it. There’s even the occasional rumble of thunder, which makes me feel justified that I didn’t bother to get out of my jim jams today. Nope, that is crazy rain, just had to go and look at it again. The last time it rained like that the metro flooded and so did my workplace! Oooh! But no, the metro flooded. I got drenched not quite leaping over a gushing river of backed up sewage and I then sat through three hours of a Syndic meeting in wet clothes. It was a bizarre event where six of us turned up and we each represented three other people in our building. We spent about an hour discussing the insurance policy of our building, another hour discussing some other crap and then another hour discussing who owned the blinds and who owned the iron awning and what colour it was all going to be painted this spring and what about pastel green and white. I vaguely remember there was a point during this meeting where if I had had a gun I would have blown my brains out. And then when we stepped out of the meeting my sandals squelched with every step but the sky was blue and the streets smelt damp but had dried in the blazing heat and there was the sound of sirens all over the city as the Pompier rushed around pumping water from Paris’s many tunnels and catacombs and caves. I think we squelched over to Republique then to joyfully send some friends off to Mexico, but instead ended up trapped by the mad lonely Austrian woman whose summary of her year began with her holiday in Egypt where she broke her ankle. There was no good news in her life and seeing as I haven’t exactly been over brimming with good news since I haven’t bothered to get in touch with her.

What I meant to write about was writing, but I seem to have wandered onto another path; friendship. I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people, which is a bit crap seeing as the people who care about me the most are mostly across the channel. This life of wandering is a little solitary, and even if I haven’t wandered in the last six years others have wandered away from me. It’s probably easier now to keep in touch with people than ever before; e mail, instant messaging, phones, text messaging, letters, visits even. But still I shut myself away for hours with my computer and don’t see people. (Ah, now I seem to be getting back to writing). Yep, I need those empty hours so that the words come into my head, so that the characters come back. I spent last night wondering whether I could be arsed to do this re-write, was it worth writing? Whether it is or not it’s still in my head. I wrote another beginning today. So now I’ve got a new beginning, a couple of middles and a scribbled down ending somewhere. And when is it going to come together? Blurgh. It’s all a bit intangible at the moment as if I’m groping in jelly to get something out. I prefer it when it rains down onto the page like the precipitation outside my window.

I’m also pissed off that someone stole my story. It wasn’t a written down story, it wasn’t plagiarised, it was just something really funny that happened to me. I was about to tell Lise yesterday and she told me that she had already heard. “What!” I exclaimed. “How?”

“As a friend,” Lise began seriously. “I think I should tell you that Peter was gossiping about it in the bar after work. But Claire made him shut up, she stood up for you.”

Later on as we were having lunch Lise asked me about the story again. “Well, it’s not funny anymore, you’ve heard it, and he got all the details wrong.” I replied sulkily.

I’m wondering whether to mention it to him tomorrow. But how do I get across to Peter that he can gossip all he likes, but if I’m telling a story, it’s mine all mine. Am I being picky? After all isn’t this really the oral tradition of storytelling? But I would have done it better. I would have made people laugh instead of cringe. Maybe that’s the difference; his story was mean spirited and plagued on people’s fears of loneliness, whereas mine was a tale of mistaken identity, cows and misunderstandings. He’s still a bastard though!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

About a boy, or boys

The Man who Wasn’t

The man who wasn’t said he was,
but he wasn’t.
said he was a smoker,
but he wasn’t,
said he was a drinker,
but he wasn’t,
said he was five foot ten,
but he wasn’t,
said he was a looker,
but he wasn’t,
said he was a lover,
but he wasn’t.
But what he was?
He didn’t say.

I woke up this morning wondering what it meant to be a tomboy or ‘garçon manqué’ as they call it here. I’m not sure if I like the term garçon manqué – missed being a boy by a penis and a beard, surely it’s got to be something more than that, or maybe I’m being too literal. Tomboy originally meant a boy who was rude or especially boisterous and now means a girl who behaves in a boyish manner. So why do I think of myself as a tomboy? I suppose as a kid I was a bit rough and tumble, but I was surrounded by boys; what else was I to do but fight? But if I think back to my favourite 70’s outfits: one was this cute summer dress (which I ripped from one end to the other when the spike of the fence got caught under it as I was leaping over it) and the other was this very hippy chic skirt. I hated buttons – but that could be a whole different post- wearing t-shirts all the time did that make me a tomboy? My knees were always covered in scabs; did that make me a tomboy? As a teenager I ached to be a boy. I longed for the freedom my older brother had; did that make me a tomboy? On the occasions when my mother got fed up with my hair she would chop it all off and people would comment on her cute son, but on the whole I’ve pretty much always had long hair. Does that make me a girl?

I go back to the phrase garçon manqué because I was often told as a child that if I had been born a boy I would have been called Marc. I wondered what Marc would be like if everything had been the same, but I was Marc instead of me. What would it be like if I had to shave everyday instead of every week – or month depending on the time of year and dating status? What would it be like to inhabit a man’s skin? I never question whether to write from a male or female perspective, I just do what is right for the story, but what is it like? What makes Marc tick? I’m trying to rebuild thirty plus years of Marc’s experiences and I haven’t got very far. If Marc and I aren’t too different then I reckon he would have a beard, there’s no way I would bother with that shaving business day in day out. We would probably have the same musical tastes and dress fairly similar, but would we? Is it right to start from today and work backwards. No, but if I start from the beginning then I think that perhaps Marc would be a little fucked up and that worries me a little. You see I realised that as girl my parents had only one expectation of me: get married. I’m perhaps a little slow at realising this, but that’s one of the conclusions of this exercise. Despite the fact that I had goals of my own and achieved them, they still wanted me to get married. If I had been Marc I think they would have expected more. They would have expected better ‘A’ level grades and more ambition in his work. Marc may have received more guidance or gentle pushes in certain directions, instead of trying to be groomed in pink. And instead of rebelling over being a girl, would Marc have rebelled against his parents ambitions for him? I bloody well hope so. Would Marc have been a writer? Oh, I dearly hope so. Maybe he wouldn’t have begun writing a steady tribute to Beatrix Potter, but I’m sure he would have written something. Motorbikes, Marc would have written about motorbikes. Would Marc like Batman? Mmm, if he did it would have to be for completely different reasons to me. Let’s face it; my relationship with Batman is really an unrequited love affair which I say is to do with his psychology. Marc would respect Batman’s psychology - the thin line separating good and evil - and the artwork. Marc would love the artwork. And what sort of person would Marc love? Yep and that’s where tomboy or not, I get stuck. I had a fleeting thought that perhaps Marc would be gay, but I realised that was cheating, that’s where I am failing to inhabit a man’s skin.

I tried to have a conversation with a friend as if I was a man and then I realised that as she had just split up with someone that it was probably not the best time to conduct this experiment. Would a man have thought that? But in the few moments that I tried it I was as insensitive as possible. I think I need to do this more often because I really don’t think that being a man equals to crassness and a drop in intelligence levels. Mmm and after several hours on this train of thought all I’ve managed to conclude is that I am a woman, I think like I woman, probably am a bit of a tomboy in some vague sense of the word and I need more practice being a man.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Thoughts in my head last night, scribbled hastily on the metro this morning…

I am,
Je suis,
I am an optimist,
Je suis optimiste,
I am too trusting of people.
Je suis quoi?... ouverte… naïf.
I do stupid things,
Je fais des trucs stupides,
I laugh,
Je ris,
I think,
Je pense…
I want…
Je veux…
I want…
Je veux…
I hope...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I woke up yesterday morning with a sensation of mild discomfort and the possibility that I had bumped my head in the middle of the night. By five past nine as I stood clutching my head with a day’s work ahead of me I realised this was no bump on the head, a parasite was burrowing periodically into my head. I made the huge mistake of checking my symptoms on the internet and if I stuck out the whole day at work it was because I was terrified that I would come home and my brain haemorrhage would explode and I would be found decomposing in my hallway five weeks later. Alternatively I would be so weakened by the meningitis that I wouldn’t even have the strength to call SOS medecin and I would be found decomposing in my hallway five weeks later. The less frightening alternatives were cluster headaches or non-aura migraines which were caused by too much alcohol and cigarettes.

So there are two things I need to learn from yesterday. The first is never self diagnose on the internet, you always panic yourself into thinking it’s the worse case scenario and then it isn’t. Mmm, except for the cases last year where I self-diagnosed myself and my soon to be ex-father in law self diagnosed himself. Bit of a paradox there. I think in the end we both knew there was something wrong with us and instinctively we knew what it was. But, when I looked on the internet yesterday I knew it wasn’t a brain haemorrhage because I think the side effects of that are a bit more serious then I’m feeling and I also knew that it wasn’t meningitis because apart from the grip, screw, squeeze in my head I feel fine. I’m just extremely pissed off that my lifestyle is digging away into my head like a constant reminder that I’m no longer eighteen.

Ok so the second thing, well the drinking. I’m not a big drinker. You see, I constantly say: “Gosh (and I probably do say that), I don’t drink anywhere near as much as the English.” And for years I have been mistakenly comparing myself with my compatriots who seem bent on alcoholic self-destruction. Normally, my idea of drinking is a nice glass of wine with my dinner and then ooh, maybe half a glass more. I like wine, I’m no sommelier, but I know the taste of hangover wine. I quite like beer, but after two pints I’m done (and usually so is my evening because I’ve taken so long to drink it). But that’s not the point. Someone once told me that as they got older their hangovers got worse. And this is the bit I’m not getting. My hangovers are getting worse and I can’t drink as much as I used to. Somewhere inside of me I know that and I kind of knew that the last week and a half was catching up on me, I just wasn’t expecting the catch up to be so nasty.

The third lesson I’m not even going to try and learn yet. When I joined the gym and had my personal trainer escort me around holding my hand I did think to myself; in fact I may even have told a few people, “When I finish this cartouche, I’ll give up.” Well I smoked the cartouche, and I had to buy a couple of packs in between as well when I suddenly found myself socialising without the security of a packet of Marlboro lights. On Sunday when I was buying another pack I did think to myself, I got through that pack quick, but I was drinking... (maybe that’s what the knocking on my head is, the realisation of this inevitable cycle towards this). But, it’s not the thought that I might pile on ten kilos and have to spend a year trying to get rid of it to discover that the only real effective diet is the break-up diet. Well, actually that is a part of it. I mean I did think yesterday if I knew smoking was going to hurt like this I would stop, but then as soon as I got home I sparked up. I can’t imagine myself not smoking. Again I’m not a BIG smoker, but I am a smoker. It’s a habit like jigging my foot when I’m nervous, or twirling my hair or saying ‘it’s like’. I know that it has a hold over me, but I’m not ready. Too much has changed in the last year and things are still going to change and I know myself as a smoker, not this skinny single woman. It’s a ridiculous way of holding onto yourself, I know, but what can I say.

Last night the digging in my head started again and kept me awake for hours. I didn’t even try to get into work today. It’s still there lurking behind my right eye and taunting me every now and again. Another thing I read yesterday was that headaches were caused by the arteries constricting and swelling. That’s pretty frightening anyway isn’t it?

*Just in case the title is a little obscure, click here for a definition. Also if you haven't read His Dark Materials, perhaps the little snippet on this link will entice you.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

We’re gonna Win

Yesterday began with a rather immature text war between my brother and me. Given that we are both in our thirties and old enough to know better, what prompted us to insult each other continuously for two hours? The FA Cup Final, that’s what. While my friends tried to fathom my allegiance to a team that I have only seen play in the flesh once, from a place where I have only ever driven past once, I watched the game from behind my hands, while muttering a tantric chant of expletives. But later on I did give it rather more thought. More thought than that evening’s dinner, which I had quickly decided would be left over curry toasties with cheese.

My memories of football are at best hazy. I recall my brother’s top trump cards and his almost autistic ability to reel each one off verbatim. I remember his green Ray Clemence shirt which I coveted and he burnt a cigarette hole into and hid. I can feel the boredom of Saturday afternoons when my family should have been paying attention to me instead of watching key football matches and I vaguely remember a West Ham FA cup final where to the surprise of all my family my brother announced that he would be supporting West Ham and I felt betrayed because I was now the lone Liverpool supporter of the family.

Did that push me into becoming a supporter? I don’t know. That and a whole number of other factors, but yesterday I was grasping at anything in the hope that Liverpool would win, I had on red underwear, red socks, my stripy red and white t-shirt. As I relayed all these good omens to Carl the only real scouser in the whole pub I also added that Claire was reading Fever Pitch and that was a year that Liverpool won the FA cup final. “And when I came that close to killing my mother.” I held my fingers close together. We both remembered that year, we both looked off into that far distant corner of our eyes where memory is held and Carl muttered. “And that was the year of Hillsborough.” And I mumbled a yes in reply and that was the end of the subject.

But it’s far from over. Ever since Anne has suggested that I rewrite one of my stories, I’ve been struggling with it. What is it about? I’ve been stripping and re-stripping the glibness away from it in the hope of reaching whatever it is underneath that is trying to come through and last night it struck me. It’s about trauma. It’s the story that’s been pouring out of me ever since I picked up my pen again last August. Trauma, trauma, trauma, the midst of trauma. But when you explore something like that you live it. To write it, is to open yourself up and bare something. When the laptop lid is closed your imaginary situation leaves you gasping in pain. But I can’t stop it pouring out and each story has been a vignette of some aspect of trauma and the big one, the one I still can’t vocalise and verbalise, that came out buried under five thousand words of South London patter.

But back to 1989. The reason I wanted to kill my mother was because Liverpool lost the League Championship to Arsenal. They played terribly. I remember this, which is ridiculous because I can’t even remember who played them in that fantastically fortuitous Champion’s League Final last year. Arsenal scored in the last minute and my mother who hadn’t even been watching the match came by and said: “They deserved that.” I felt that Arsenal should have let them win. Arsenal probably felt that pressure too, but if they had done so it would have been obvious. I felt that the heart had gone out of the Liverpool players. The season was long overdue and in reality we had all had enough of football and terraces and chants and minute silences.

If I think back I realise that I should have been at work. No, I had quit my Saturday job at Woolies to revise for my ‘A’ levels. It was sunny, it always is. I had missed the beginning of the match. No I hadn’t, the three studio pundits were filling time with confusion. The match was delayed because of a pitch invasion. Comments had to be made, they were negative. Liverpool had a pretty bad press at that time, they were banned from Europe because of Heysel and this seemed to be just another example of Liverpool fans efforts to bring the game into disrepute. Every now and again there would be long angle shots of the fences bent beyond use as fans poured onto the pitch and the police poured onto the pitch and the players stood around with their hands on their hips the ball lying forgotten somewhere. Gradually the commentary changed. At some point the players had been guided off the pitch and the police were not stopping this pitch invasion they were pulling people out, there were ambulance men on the pitch, too many ambulance men. The football coverage was cut to another game and we were left with the promise of more news and a feeling of numbness.

By the six o’clock news it had become clear that the snippets we had witnessed at three was no pitch invasion but a disaster that we could not comprehend. As emergency phone numbers flashed onto the screen and we viewers were told which hospitals fans were taken too, I began to imagine the horror in full gory details. Over the next few days, the media filled in many of the gory details that my imagination could not provide. The Sun or Mirror -I can’t remember which- ran a front page spread of fans faces squeezed up against the fence their eyes bulging like frightened cattle. I felt sick looking at it, but all the same I looked.

I wasn’t there, but as a fan it’s as much my tragedy as the thousands of people who were there. People have forgotten it; did Claire and Jim know why Carl and I went silent yesterday? Did they even notice? It doesn’t really matter. The thing with trauma is that it does lie hiding under the skin and then something small, inconsequential brought all those memories flooding back yesterday. Trauma never goes away. At will I can conjure up the image of a pair of dead brown eyes, the sound of a rattle of breath escaping through an open mouth, my knees wet in a puddle of water. It’s always there; I’ve just learnt to live with it. Last summer when I couldn’t leave my apartment I knew somewhere that eventually dressing and eating and drinking would happen again; I would get over it. That’s what we say, but we don’t really get over it. We ignore it, we bury it, we cover it over, but it’s always there.

I’m still no closer to knowing what my story wants to say or whether it should even be said the way I’m trying to say it. But some things are clearer: it’s always sunny, it’s always there.

Friday, May 12, 2006

When is sexual harassment not sexual harassment?

This actually started out as a joke today, but has now triggered off a whole train of thought. As a woman in Paris you get used to being looked at; or rather I am getting used to it. I never used to pay any attention to it, but last summer there was one certain road that I would stumble down home and I swear every time I did some guy would start talking to me, or whistle at me. One man caught me in a particularly bad mood and after he announced that he would like to talk to me several times I turned round with the equivalent of a roar and told him that I-did-not want-to-talk-to-him. He sheepishly disappeared from sight. I’m beginning to think that to not get attention in Paris you would have to have a beard and half your face hanging off.

But where am I going with this? Well let’s focus on three particular cases. The harmless one to begin with: the Cheese Man who minces around his Fromagerie and the last time I frequented his premises told me that he was like Beaufort cheese: ‘Beau et fort’. It may sound rather cruel but I disagree with the first and strongly doubt the second. Nevertheless, I am having a delightful love affair with French cheese and unlike the other Fromagerie across the road, when I ask for suggestions I know that I’ll get a little pre-nibble just to wet the appetite. So this is an attention that I use to my advantage and therefore is harmless.

The second is the irritating kind. The kind where you know the man in question has a wee bit of a crush on you and seems to turn up at your side just when you don’t want him to. E mail exchanges have to be carefully thought out not to appear forward, and when we go out in a group I have to carefully consider the seating plan not to sit next to him. But somehow he always manages to sidle into a seat next to me the moment someone leaves. Irritating, but I know that it won’t go any further because I think I’m sending out enough ‘Keep away from me’ signals.

Then there is the last surprising kind. Yesterday as I arrived for a meeting, the surprising one came over and said hello and stroked my hair and we chatted and laughed and I thought nothing of it until my colleagues began taking the piss. “Ooh you’ve got an admirer.” In my usual dense manner I displayed confusion. I had been looking forward to the apparent appearance of the pompiers at this meeting, but they had stood us up, so who? This was a very female environment, who was my admirer? “How are you? Stroke, stroke.” They re-enacted my entrance into the building. My face froze – Celine? They meant Celine! And then my mind worked furiously over the last few months. The way Celine ignores everyone else when I am around. She’s always polite to me, but everyone else thinks she is the most dog ignorant person on earth. When I ask her to do things for me they get done. Shit! How long has this been going on? And if she feels she can stroke my hair in front of others now, what else will she do? Is this a case of sexual harassment in the workplace, or am I getting unduly het up?
My colleagues find it hysterical. One of them is even planning a campaign of misinformation having decided that the reason Celine always ignores her is because she works closely with me.

Well who knows how this will end. In tears I’m sure, but meanwhile I’ll go nibble on a bit of cheese.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Harmony in my Head

There’s a harmony in my head today; the song and the ringing in my ears. Never again will I mock those who go to concerts with earplugs again. Went to see The Buzzcocks last night at this tiny venue La Maroquinerie in the 20th; me, Jim and all the old (or not so old) Punks of Paris. While the support band –with Che Guevara look-a-like lead singer – made the floor vibrate beneath us, we sat supping beers in the garden reminiscing of the days when we hunt sabbed, read LM magazine and in Jim’s case Class War. I guess Class War did have some kind of following then, because in the old days I used to think they were the biggest joke on earth. The average reading age of their following seemed to be about seven and their politics seemed to be aimed at that age range as well. At the time I knew the secretary of the South West branch who seemed to spend most of his time having the piss taking out of him mercilessly, especially as he never seemed to know when the meetings were and he was bound over on a good behaviour bond; so much for Class War.

But back to Punk, yep. The majority of us there were too young to have lived through it. We were still wearing flares and listening to Disco when Johnny Rotten and co played that famous gig in Manchester. And how do we know about that? 24 hour Party People has filled in our missing memories. But we still dress in the drain pipe jeans and Doc Martens and leap around in the mosh pit like teenagers.

When Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle these two old cockney geezers came on stage it seemed like Punk had grown up and got fat around the waist and jowls. Are they an embodiment of what all our ideals have grown up to be? Back then when we thought we could change the world and now we’re working full time, own property and have grown cynical.

Still it has made me think. When LM lost their libel case against ITN and went into bankruptcy it seems that yet another ideal was lost. The remaining subscription for the magazine was returned and we were left in a bit of a vacuum. I don’t really know where my political ideals are, but LM certainly used to make me think about what I believed in. It questioned everything and presented things in such a way as to force the reader to come to some kind of personal conclusion, not necessarily that held by the writer. Where is that kind of journalism now? I spend a lot of time listening to Radio 4 nowadays, and while the shows raise issues and presents information, in the end it’s a lot of background noise.

So it seems the ringing in my ears is a kind of warning bell. Perhaps its time to start exercising the political side again and finding out what is going on in that world outside Radio 4 and France 2 news. LM has turned into the Institute of Ideas and maybe I should see what some of those ideas are.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Gym Nasties Two and the Howard Gardner link

After finishing Gym Nasties I realised that I hadn’t really explored this feeling of unworthiness that came over me yesterday, but it did make me think, and this is what I thought.

PE lessons were a whole list of things I couldn’t do.

• I couldn’t swim
• I couldn’t do a cartwheel
• I couldn’t do a handstand
• I couldn’t play tennis
• I couldn’t play squash
• I couldn’t do canoeing (because I couldn’t swim)
• I couldn’t hurdle
• I couldn’t run long distances

But here are the things I could do.

• I could weave fabulous stories
• I could read a book in a day
• I could paint and draw

And school didn’t really matter about any of those things. School was about fitting into a box; passing tests and playing in teams and joining clubs. As an adult none of that matters. The list of things that I could do, these are the things that are important and the list of failures just slipped away to the back of my mind until they were resurrected by the ‘club’ mentality. And this is where schools are failing, by instilling failure into us from an early age.

I don’t know if I believe in Howard Gardner’s ‘Multiple Intelligences’, but I do believe that each and every one of us has some talent. But school is not the place to nurture and develop that. In his book ‘Frames of Mind’ Gardner asks us to:

“Consider, for example, the twelve-year-old male Puluwat in the Caroline Islands, who has been selected by his elders to learn how to become a master sailor. Under the tutelage of master navigators, he will learn to combine knowledge of sailing, stars and geography so as to find his way around hundreds of islands.” (P3-4, Gardner, 1993)

Well I did consider that twelve year old. He caught my imagination and I imagined him in a two sailed, hand crafted boat navigating by the stars. I imagined the beauty and freedom of having that knowledge in your head as the warm waters lapped at the edge of your boat. I didn’t consider much more, as the book then delved into neuropsychology in a way that my head didn’t understand. What I do understand is the narrowness of the society within which we grow. Our expectations are so low. Get educated, get a job, provide, but never do we ask why? What is the point of this existence and why are we humans so capable of creating and imagining so much for such a futile existence.

Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” And that I believe in more than anything. So I imagine a world where instead of boxes and clubs, everyone can be the person they are meant to be and not grow up with that sense of failure - however buried – inside of them.

Gym Nasties


So yesterday what I really wanted to do was go home and write and instead I went out and got a sore head instead. I ended up guzzling a gin and tonic as I listened to Lise go on about family pressure for marriage, babies etc. And all the while her words were pushing me further into myself. While she is in a relationship and balks at all the ensuing baggage, I’m not but wanted all that. When I think how different my situation was last year...

I’m still having my ‘violence’ dreams, but the boat and family part have disappeared. Meg is in them more and more now. Does that mean that my subconscious has accepted her? But what am I accepting? Have I erased nine years of my life and made it all bad? I don’t know. I guess there is one side of me that wants to learn from all this, but the creative side is feeding so greedily on all this too.

But since Anne has suggested I do a rewrite and go up to 10,000 words I haven’t sat in front of my computer. She has asked me to read some of her stuff. She writes both prose and poetry, but poetry makes me feel so impotent. I couldn’t identify an iambic pentameter from a Haiku and this is what my English Literature education didn’t teach me! Maybe I should just ignore the fear; start with ‘The Things You Took Away’, that always felt like it should be a poem.

Later the same day...

‘I love Paris in the springtime; I love Paris in the fall...’ I’m imagining that Negresse Vertes song, but seriously what I love about this city is that you are constantly seeing it through someone else’s eyes. Just now the photographer with his tripod set up. What was he looking at? I look left and there is Invalides bathed in golden lights in the late evening dusk. That reminds me to look left at Avenue S... and see the Eiffel Tower casting its searchlight over Paris in wide sweeps. And when I get off the metro on the other side of Paris, all I will see is the tip of its beam swinging over my head. And that’s why I love it because everyday one way or another, I am reminded (one way or another) that this is a city that people dream to be in, long to be in, but also a city that people live in; from the Polish electrician to the Parisian magician with a strange North London English accent.


So where do I start? Well Friday came home and sat in front of the computer. It was probably not a good move as I had just read some of Anne’s stuff and what I was writing was the shit I used to come out with when I was 16, 17, 18. In any case due to e mail and temporary files and me saying no at the wrong time I lost the writing. But in the end it’s probably for the best. Five thousand words poured out but it’s now time for the hard slog. Where do the words go, where do the lines go, where does the story go?

So then yesterday... The gym... Oh dear God. There were women everywhere. There were three in particular with their perfect kits and their perfect bodies and all of a sudden the horror of being that clumsy uncoordinated teenager in PE came flooding back. But where did this fear come from? Was it just that I was never proud of my body? I don’t get it though. Apart from a period when I was 16, 17 when I was pretty overweight, I’ve been alright. My weight constantly yo-yos but at the moment I’m OK, but I still want to tone, nip and tuck and yet I’ve never really thought that I paid attention to my body or been concerned about looks in the way other women are. But somehow that situation of the giggling gaggle of women brought out all my self-consciousness and lack of self-confidence. So let’s go back to that situation and look at it from afar.

These girls needed to prop each other up by going together, that indicates a certain lack of self-confidence. Then the showering ritual: the girls were quick, super quick. But these are serious hard-ass power showers which give you a pounding and they’re hot. Fantastic hey! I spend ages under them. Then the contortionist act of getting dressed with towels and t-shirts arranged in such a way to show as little as possible while the dry clothes are slipped onto damp bodies. But I haven’t changed my dressing ritual at all; dry, deodorant, moisturise, dress. What’s the big deal? We all have tits, butts and fannies and there is cellulite and wobbles. But I think in the end don’t go to the Gym on a Saturday again!

Went to see Belle & Sebastian last night. Things I learnt there:
1) Well they’re Scottish. I’m sure I heard them on the Mark Radcliffe show and I didn’t pick up on that. Maybe I’m mixing them up with another band.
2) People look fantastic on stage. They wandered into the bar we were having a drink in after the show and they all looked rather geeky. But on stage Stevie looked rather dapper and slightly eccentric in a kind of Buddy Holly way and Stuart (I noticed) had a rather fit bod. Oh but I did think they looked rather gay whereas they turned up at the bar attached to women.
So 3) my gaydar has been completely screwed up by singledom in Paris. Obviously to keep a well-tuned machine a relationship is necessary.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

For all the cows...

Last night when I couldn’t sleep because it’s been a long weekend and my sleep pattern is all messed up, I got to thinking about the Cow Parade and my general experience with Cows. It left me thinking that on the whole, I’m far safer with a Cow Parade.

So experience number one: I’m about three years old and on holiday in Guernsey. I’m a bit hazy about whether it was a cow or pig, but given details like my age, probable height, the size of cows and pigs and what happened I think we can be fairly safe in thinking it was a cow. It was a beautiful green rolling meadow filled with Cows and Pigs and I was possibly feeding one or the other. At this point in my memory I seem to recall no angst at letting huge bovine animal slurp bits of grass off my hand. The trauma only began when I tried to leave and felt myself cruelly yanked back towards the offending animal. On trying to turn my head I also discovered that this was a little difficult and it was probably at this point that I began screaming at the top of my voice (and again this is conjecture, but I hadn’t started school so I’m presuming this is what I screamed) : “Maman! La vache mange mes cheveux!” Of course adults being adults, they found this rather amusing at first, but I had rather long hair and retrieving it all tested their patience and so that little rural image of beauty and calm is now filled with screams, tears and quite a few expletives.

After this initial trauma it seems that for a good long while my experience of cows was limited to watching them through vehicle windows while we sped by on the motorway; however, my favourite cousin’s penchant for favouring butt ass nowhere locations to live meant that this experience was plentiful. And now we arrive at yet another peaceful, idyllic family holiday in Perth, Scotland when I was twelve. We were staying in this lovely white cottage, with a lovely white picket fence a couple of miles from anywhere, but very close to cows. And boy those cows loved us. Yes, at four am every morning they came and mooed mournfully at our white picket fence. Why they couldn’t go and moo somewhere else in their field I do not know. It’s not as if they didn’t have oodles of space, whereas we had a little two bedroom cottage, but no our fence was their favourite place to moo at four am. Needless to say there was no love for those cows and yet again quite a few expletives.

Now at seventeen my father asked me where I wanted to go on holiday that year. We were past family holidays it seemed and I can’t say that I had really thought about it, but seeing as I was being given the opportunity who was I to turn it down. A few months later I landed at Dublin airport and was sped through the hugely moonlit countryside to... that’s right: butt ass nowhere. I was staying with a pen pal at the hub of the village social life; the village pub. I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, apart from when the Ma and Pa asked me where in the West Indies my parents came from. At the time I remember being quite offended and thinking what sort of people are these who assume that anyone of a bit of colour comes from the West Indies? However, the pub was cruelly lacking in mirrors and it was only when I got my holiday snaps back that I realised that my trendy perm resembled an afro and where the confusion may have arisen. But cows...

Well it seems that the Village pub was the most profitable organisation in the village and Pa having made a pot of gold or two had decided to hand up his jugs of ale and retire to the country house. He had bought this mansion of a farmhouse a mile or so down the road but was still waiting to sell the pub. We kids: me, the pen pal, two of her millions of brothers, Pa and a baby cycled down to the farmhouse and went to take a peek at the property. It was pretty special, millions of rooms as far as I can remember and all very romantic and then the distressed mooing began. As we looked out into the yard it appears that ONE OF US had left a gate open and one of the cows had wandered in and was now a bit confused and couldn’t find its way out. Pa sprang into action goading us all into the yard and positioning us strategically. “Now when the cow comes towards you, flap your arms and scream.”
I have to admit registering a wee bit of surprise at this notion, but I did what I was told ... almost. When a full grown cow is mooing in a distressed fashion and running towards you, yes flapping your arms and screaming seems quite logical. But I then committed the ultimate faux pas; I took one look at the cow which was very obviously bigger than me and I stopped flapping my arms, stopped screaming and ran.

My next encounter is quite a few years later when for some unknown reason I opted to do a ‘rural teaching practice’. So the first of many cow experiences didn’t happen. We were due to stay with families during the week and return to our own lodgings at weekends – painless. Except I was due to stay with a family who ran a meat farm. As a vegetarian I found this a little distressing, but apparently not as distressing as the family lodging a vegetarian. They didn’t want me. What did they think I was going to do? Invite all my hunt sabbing friends up? ... Oh ... maybe they did! Anyway, I ended up with this lovely middle-aged lady who woke me up with a cup of tea everyday and made me lovely meals. So it was day one or two and the aromatic smell of silage filled my nostrils as I ambled back to the cottage when I noticed what looked like a field of auburn long haired, big horned bulls and they were all next to the fence watching me. I edged away from the fence and scuttled along to the security of my cottage. Later that evening as I was being served yet another scrumptious meal I mentioned the field of bulls.

“What made you think they were bulls?” She asked me an eyebrow arched.

“They had horns.” I replied.

“You’ve never lived in the country have you?”

It wasn’t really a question that needed answering.

So the next encounter is yet again on this same teaching practice. As Sadie was zooming towards a particularly nasty bend in the road which was followed by a one lane bridge she choose that moment to inform me that sometimes she forgot which pedal was which. Not feeling entirely confident in her driving I was quite relieved that we had to stop for the cows; a whole bunch of cows slowly but surely ambling shambolicly across the road. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so shambolic if the cows hadn’t been so slow, or if the impatient drivers hadn’t kept edging towards each other every time a cow left an extra inch of space. But eventually it was bound for disaster and one cow got a bit befuddled and decided to climb up a car bonnet instead. As cow and driver regarded each other in a rather confused way I began to realise where the phrase ‘Stupid Cow’ had come from.

The last cow experience is about four years ago coming up to a New Year’s Eve. We were driving through one of those never ending British red skied dusks when we began our descent into the Welsh valley where our friends lived. The sky turned black, the sky turned grey and snow began to descend; slowly and gracefully at first, but then as big as snowballs and before long everything had become white. Whether you’re a city lover or country bumpkin everybody loves snow. The next day we all piled out into the snow and bounded into the nearest cow field to make snow angels, have snow ball fights and take ‘fun’ snaps. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised when the first person to get fed up with all this gaiety was Liam the six year old. He was a kid for Christ’s sake, weren’t they supposed to enjoy this thing? Apparently not. So we tootled off Liam on his Dad’s shoulders so he didn’t have to wade through any more snow. Now where are the cows? You may ask, but this one is a little more abstract.

On arriving back at the cottage we unwrapped ourselves and rubbed ourselves vigorously and stamped and it was probably about then that I noticed my left hand looked a little naked. The ring finger in particular. Sarah noticed me looking in a perplexed manner and asked me if I had lost anything. I could see she was worried so I sort of mumbled: “mmma wing.” And shrugged my shoulders in a nonchalant way.

“Is it an important ring?” Sarah asked.

At this point Ian looked over pointedly to see how I would answer. “Ugh well, but... I’ll have another one to replace it soon and that one’s far more important.”

“Is it your engagement ring?” Sarah looked crestfallen. She felt worse than I did and for years she told me that she looked for it every time they were in that cow field. I just hope they’ve stopped looking for it now.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Fete de Travaille

I want to book my summer holiday. I'm getting so impatient. But MSN is fantastic, at least it means we can discuss things quickly.

So as I suspected Estrella is not into the idea of India in summer, so she's thinking this Christmas instead. OK, so I'm thinking that the first time we hit India it's probably not a good idea to go in full monsoon season, but... Xmas in India rather depends on this whole flat buisness. There are so many ifs and buts and its all getting rather complicated. I suppose the one good thing is that I've got a million options for future holidays. And Estrella definitely wants to go to India one day, but I guess for this year it will be Bali... after I've done a little more checking out.

I'm listening to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. There are some songs I can't listen to and I think that I would hate Tango in the Night (which I also have) now, but I love Stevie Nicks' voice. Apparently I taped this on the 15th January 1989. I thought that I'd had the LP's for longer than that. I had this silver Sony (or Sharp or something) record player that played both sides of the record. So the turntable didn't support all the record. If the LP's were a bit warped, when I taped them then there was this bump sound. When I bought this cheapo piece of shit stereo in November, this was the first casette I ressurected. I cried when I heard that bump sound. Probably a mixture of regret that I was in the same situation I was in when I first listened to the LP (although I hadn't had my heart broken yet) and that line in Landslide:
"...and I've been afraid of changing,
cos I built my life around you."

Oh bitter regret!

But on a lighter note the COW PARADE has arrived in Paris. I want to see ALL of them. 1st stop Rue Matignon 8eme. OK actually it's Avenue Matignon and you start from the rond-point and then go up the avenue. How exciting!


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