Sunday, March 30, 2008

I make no apologies!

I sincerely don't. For you see, the EVENT of my birthday is upon me and I turn the grand old age of 36 on Tuesday. All Fools Day, which is about right. I have been spending the last few hours happily cocooned in '80s nostalgia and avoiding all thought of the sartorially painful '90s at all cost.

It's funny how a time defines us. For me it was the late 1980's because I think that was when I began to realise what type of person I was going to become (which is different from having a clue as to what is going on!). I was fortunate to have my very own 'summer of love' in the shape of 1989, and a sixth form common room that I dressed with daffodils, lenient teachers (dress code wise, anyway), finding an identity of sorts and playing with the boys a little. But not too much! I've always been a dreadful prude...

I spent that summer and probably most of that year in a goth-romantic haze. I have no diary entries for this period, they petered out after the horror of being sixteen. I read Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon', T.S. Eliot, excessive amounts of Thomas Hardy and John Fowles 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' - an A level text that held a satisfyingly puzzling narrative (including several endings, a description of prostitution in Victorian London and the nature of condoms, plus probably the most unsatisfying sex scene in history). I ADORED David Eddings Belgariad books and read my copies into extinction.

I started going to concerts proper, either with friends or the current love interest (Jeff). I was content with my peer group and knew my place within it. I saw Evil Dead and The Lost Boys for the first time, and I knew film heaven. I lost my heart to Keifer Sutherland's vampire David and posted him next to the consumptive Ian McCulloch in pride of place at the side of the bed. At the head of the bed was The Master - Robert Smith looking unbelievably delightful in a Betty Boo t-shirt. I ran round Tish's back garden in a t-shirt and silver tights with an unbelievably high backcombed fringe and leather whip (don't ask...).

It was a time and a place where I felt beautiful. Radiant even, though you'd have never guessed it from the demeanour, dress and music! I played the Mission's Carved in Sand, The Mary Chain's Darklands and anything by All About Eve I could get my obsessive little mitts on. I learned which Cure albums to love and which to avoid. 'Just Like Heaven' on white 7 inch vinyl was my prize acquisition.

I wrote down my life goals on a piece of paper that I kept with the Sisters of Mercy's autographs (now sadly lost):
  1. Go to university (big thing - first in family)
  2. Go to see The Cure (Rob was god, after all)
  3. Pass A 'levels (which I did, all three though I can hardly say I stretched myself in the sitting)
And that was it...! The sum total of my seventeen year old self's ambition. It all seems so innocent. And it was. Jeff taught me to shoot a pistol in his back garden whilst we were supposed to be studying for our politics exam together (we both got 'B's which is quite an achievement considering most of time was spent canoodling in various fields) and I wore an exquisite little black top with beads that fit me like a glove and which now I can barely get over my forearm (I can't bear to part with it). I was tiny, so tiny and I used to look at my chest in desperation, willing for some growth action (cured that by going on the pill and going up 4 chest sizes in two years!).

I Tunes is currently playing 'Where were you when I needed you?' by the Bangles, a satisfyingly '80's band that Angela idolised. There's a picture below that shows us all on New Year's Eve that year, and she's at the front with the bare legs. What that picture doesn't show is me two hours earlier frantically rubbing sunshine tan into her milkbottle legs to give her a glow that our winter sun couldn't. Note I'm palm down on the right: I had stunningly brown hands that contrasted rather sharply with my magnificent translucence!

All things end. At the start of 1990 I dumped my big haired Jeff for a number of reasons (young, callow stupidity being one of them, prudery another). You see everything changed for us that night, as a group. Just after midnight we received a call to say that my friend Tish's mother had collapsed with a stroke and died. She was so young, only in her fifties. Our secure little world was irrevocably breached. Ties shattered and reality hit home. I don't think that is any coincidence that my sound track to 1990 was Depeche Mode's Violator, a far cry from 'Flowers in our Hair' and 'Shelter from the Rain' All About Eve staples. The world was becoming less pretty. Grunge began emerging and I threw myself into Doctor Martins and Nirvana with equal fervour. A dark decade for many reasons.

It scares me to realise that the first decade of the twenty first century is nearly at a close. I have better hair, better frocks than the nineties, a far more developed sense of self and liberalism. I read far wider than ever before and I write my sad little stories wondering where they stem from. I dared to dream and now I intend to take wing. Age takes no prisoners and life is fragile.

Bon nuit, sweet readers. Enjoy the pics - I enjoyed the taking of them!

Big Haired Jeff & Me
New Year (Jude at back, l-r front Helen, Angela, Me. Jude's bedroom and her New Kids on the Block pics...)

Jane: The Emaciated Years

Monday, March 17, 2008

For Erinye and for friends in need

A friend Called Jack

Like rats we chased one another through the rubbish strewn corridors of Knotts Flats. Like vermin we grew into teen awkwardness with little more than a sense of home, a time, a place. Our territory expanded into the surrounding urban wilderness – the sharp metallic ruins of Victorian railway architecture that was filled with endless possibilities from its shattered iron and steel construction, coupled with the relief of thick vegetation that crawled with life and small boys when private refuge from public mischief was required.

We cut feet and teeth on the shore below the flats, angling our kicks on the sharp rocks to ensure that the limpets that lived in harmless state would fly loose from their rock sanctuary to face the internal inspection of small fingers before being cast aside indifferently to a certain death. There were worlds within worlds on our shoreline, and you created and embellished their stories with each breath that you took, a story teller dressed in thin skin and scrawny sinew. Your bright eyes could see beyond the mundane greyness of adult explanations that sought to strip the glamour you painted from our childhood views.

There were casualties amongst us. All childhoods hold some form of tragedy and ours was no exception. The industrial heartland of our playground was cruel. Tommy was lost, crushed by the fall of gigantic machinery at the shipyard, illegally accessed one balmy Sunday evening, prompting the bile to pattern my boots as you stood wide eyed with distress as we watched the light fading for eternity before adult support arrived. Soon after, following the path of the freight giants along the tracks we found so little of Petey Harrison’s father left by the sleepers that all I recall now is the sharp stench of diesel and the faint cast of rotten meat spilling from his sad remains.

We were chased by the dead as we scaled the cliffs at the Priory, and then hunted by the living, a chorus of disapproval from the good folk of Tynemouth who despised the sewer children of social housing. No respect, they would mutter, as we ran gloriously free, too wily to be caught by their lumbering, well upholstered bodies.

You wove these times into your tales, embellishing our small victories and painting a vivid world of colour through which your joy for life shone. You incorporated the sharp phizzz and SLAM! of the call to sea for the rescue crews, a sign of ships in distress in the harbour. We’d rush onto our respective balconies and hang precariously over the edges as we shouted and waved at the small craft flying past into the harbour, then we’d watch anxiously for their return, carrying the hopes of all sea dwelling folk in our small prayers.

Then the call to war caught us tight in its implacable march. Separately we were deployed, you to the Navy, myself with the foot soldiers. Without your bright chatter I entered the iron giant that I’d watched constructed, with childhood awe stripped away and replaced by fear, a fear left to gnaw at me silently without your light tales to turn it into something new. I imagined you on your separate metal warrior, cresting the waves with aplomb as your charmed your new companions with your memories of the girls you’d flattered at the fish quay, your patter woven with charm and flattery as you spun their beauty into your starry world.

Before leaving we had strutted in our uniforms, brisk with purpose and bonhomie. I will never forget how you turned to me when the bright eyes of the girls were distracted, and clasped my hand tightly. You spoke quietly, with hesitation so unlike you I was concerned. You spoke of your fear, and it burned into my very bones as you spoke. There were no fancy words, no false bravado, and as my gut clenched in agreement I hated myself for the cheery platitudes I made myself spout to calm your fears. You smiled briefly, I remember, and briefly clasped my rigid body before turning back to our bright haired companions who’d come to wave us off with furtive kisses on our separate journeys.

No need to write of the horror of war. We were both medalled for honour, although in truth I felt nothing but numbness at the reward for peddling death. There was no return for you however, no long evenings for us to spend at the Comrades Club sipping our stout, me your silent companion whilst your tales drew in the young people. The raconteur of Knott’s Flats was forever silenced beneath a grey sea, the same sea in which we sent countless small molluscs to certain death. The sea that coloured our dreams with the sound of the wash upon the banks below our childhood home, that same endless body of water we blithely ignored daily. She claimed your tales in tribute, I believe when I think of you - this the first thought I had when all eyes in the Flats watched the slow progress of the sailor bearing the telegraph to your mother. My dreams are still peppered by the piercing sound of her keening as she fell to her knees before the young man whose eyes were swimming with unshed tears as he stared straight ahead.

There were to be no more childhood tales from your lively tongue echoing those concrete corridors. Childhood ended with the silencing of your vibrant voice and the marshalling of mine. I took up your mantle. I became a tale spinner, widening my eyes to the unreality of life and the bright beauty that dances all around me, even in the bleakest of northern industrial life. I sought to enchant the generation of the jaded and exhausted. To carry on with your voice that implored that adults ought not to fall into greyness, your greatest fear but to show that even from apparent ugliness the most beautiful seeds can be sprung.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Amber Girl title in ref to Tori Amos' Scarlet's Walk which is playing right now. Think I'm an amber wave girl, but just don't tell anyone!

I'm stealing other people to be me today. Tori, Post Secret, I'm living vicariously through the eyes of others.

Today I am: identity confused, musically retrospective, university challenged and personally pessimistic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Economy Sized Dreams of Hope

I confess to sleeping little last night following the parent's bad behaviour. As my brother said somewhat wryly to me this morning when we talked, she has a dreadful mouth and doesn't stop to think when she opens it. Ho hum, enough of this misery. Hope has landed in the form of the creative banshee.

I visited CB this morning to talk about my final MA project, Playing the Angel. This is a pure fantasy novel, written for that genre only and therefore not particularly literary fiction. Dense, as she put it, as opposed to rushed and thin as my first attempts to get the voice right were. I'd gone completely back to the start with the submission for this tutorial because so many things didn't work for the last piece of work and it was absolutely no fun at all to write.

So I switched to first person, which feels as natural as breathing (I have asthma so make of that what you will...). She was extremely complimentary. She literally had no amendments, no criticisms other than to tweak one sentence that didn't read quite right. I was shocked, stunned and a little teary at her praise. It was completely unexpected because I was beginning to give up hope of producing anything other than bog standard third person prose with no life.

The irritating thing is, I only switched to third person in the first place because I was so heavily criticised in year 1 for writing in the first all the time and not experimenting enough. Apparently I've moved up into another level. I'm so relieved that she actually likes something I've written I am now physically unable to do anything other than slump with disbelief over me keyboard.

Oh well, the praise is nice. Now just another 65,000 words to go...

Today I am mostly: listening to shuffle on the Ipod, which means that Green Day (hence the post title), Pink Floyd and pop tarts are popping up quite a lot; being very silly and drinking two full fat lattes (I must be strung out and emotional); wondering why my husband is occasionally a numpty (to long to explain); realise just quite how much typing 65K words actually is and thinking that maybe I should back Zeus up more often...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Unlocking the Inner Demons

This title does not refer to me. It refers to my mother, who has decided to embark on yet another voyage of lunacy. There has been a great deal of press recently about depression and how - drug dependency aside - it is can often be very good for the soul, building a person's empathy and resilience for later life.

I've found this quite hard to stomach, and some of the newspaper coverage has been so flippant it's irritated me beyond belief (its probably a good job the comments box on the Caitlin Moran pages in The Times regarding a good backhander weren't working when I vented my spleen, kidneys and pancreas). The reason I'm so irate? Not a mention of the families of the depression sufferers. Not a mention of the devastation and harm that parental abdication of responsibility through mental illness causes. No discussion about the repercussion of growing up in a household dominated by blackness for the duration of your teenage years.

If there is one thing that these teenage years taught me, its not to be afraid of my emotions or who I am. My mother hid her illness from all those outside of the family and refused to acknowledge this huge, gurning monkey sat squarely on her shoulder twisting her brain into tortured and fanciful notions. She refused treatment. Outwardly she seemed like a perfectly nice if somewhat sharp tongued middle aged lady. Within doors she cast us down and eviscerated us to keep us in line.

Only in later life, once my brother and I were unceremoniously dumped from her life and refused to crawl back begging for scraps like she intended, did she seek help. Give or take the odd blip she has been relatively well behaved for the past fifteen years. This is largely due to our refusal to entertain some of her wilder denouncements or to venture into a full-on argument with her. These arguments always invariably lead to her screaming repeatedly 'You're just like your father' as she spits at you incoherent with fury.

Well, yes, I admit I am like my father. I'm very like him, without the alcoholism factor. I have a smart brain (and I'm occasionally narcissistic!!), I love books, don't mind a bit of dirt and love a good debate on politics. I'm not an all out money grabber. If there is one key difference between us its that I don't shag around (admittedly, that's a major flaw of his). I look like him, with dark eyes and red hair. This is a fact that hurts my mother every time she looks at me and she cannot forgive me for it.

Well, there is little I can do about this. However, what I can not - and will not - allow is for her to turn her twisted mind on my fifteen year old niece and by extension my brother. My niece is smart, funny and beautiful. She is sweet and cute but she sees and retains information effortlessly and my mother has a careless tongue. My niece has also strayed perilously close to an eating disorder and is monitored closely for signs of slippage. My mother uses this against and tells her she's getting fat (the girl is a spelk). Whilst she's done this to me for years (including when I was seventeen and six stone nine), I cannot allowed her to destroy my gorgeous niece's self esteem the way she did mine.

But my mother's sights are set on more than controlling my niece. She is now hellbent on destroying my brother's two year relationship with his lovely girlfriend. She doesn't care if she loses both of us in the process because her fevered delusions are more important than our happiness. It is reasonable to expect that my brother and his girlfriend wish to create a home elsewhere from the marital abode he lived in for ten years with his ex wife, or so you'd think. Oh no. All the excuse needed to release my mother's inner physco (how in Tartarus do you spell that?). Worse, she's doing it through my niece without bothering to ask her how she feels, but assuming she knows her thoughts better than anyone else, because 'she knows...', the stock phrase she always turns too when she can't win an argument.

I refuse to be drawn into a bitching session at my brother / his girlfriend / ex-wife etc at her behest. Now she is no longer speaking to either he or I, but she is still happy to brag about his achievements (he's a very successful businessman, just won a rather nice award etc). She feels keenly her loss at not being the centre amongst my brother's 'professional' friends, amongst who she could pretend she was important. The job title is more important to her than the person beneath...

God I'm exhausted. I'm caught up in the middle of gross unpleasantness with little hope of reconciliation and my dear parent has ceded responsibility for explaining her hatred towards my brother and his girlfriend to my niece to me, because she will not take responsibility for her own actions. It is all so pointless and futile. We are all supposed to be adults. Is it so wrong that I believe my brother's happiness means more than the location of his house?

Today I am mostly: shattered, reading Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart (again), needing to get it all off my chest, hit by darts of ice whenever I venture outside, eating bad things like kettle chips and white chocolate, wishing I didn't have to be a grown up anymore :-{

Monday, March 03, 2008

Let Me Steal Away

Firstly, I am beyond cold. Why this room is so cold I can't even begin to fathom. Even with the added benefit of dog water bottle on my feet I am cold to the bone (and probably bad too).

Secondly, I am supposed to be tidying up some work to send to uni to be distributed amongst my fellow students for critical discussion. This is scaring the bejesus out of me so I am procrastinating. It's futile of course, it just means that by the five pm deadline I will have achieved little and embarrass myself even more fully by the submission of substandard, poorly planned prose. Oh well. Be that as it may be, some of the inertia comes from being uncertain which way the wind blows in terms of authorisation to take the project forward. I'm pissing in the wind if I expect direction from my tutor, who cancelled my latest tutorial. Besides which, this project is boring me. I want to do something else but the Creative Banshee won't let me at this stage of the course. Oh man.

Thirdly, I am contemplating the godlike loveliness of Eric Bana (a state which occasionally rears up in a most welcome, distracting way). I'm so very much hoping that he shows some bare naked flesh in his new movie, The Other Boleyn Girl. OK, so I'm being slightly crass here, but sod the acting, just bring on those big ears and long limbs. AS Mr Bana has very little to do with the book I'm allegedly writing (Playing the Angel) I suspect that this is another form of creative procrastination. And the 'heroes' are modelled on Billy Joe Armstrong and Viggo Mortenson, so that clears that up!

OK, so I've burnt my heroine's parents and baby brother to death, I had her outcast as scum from her family, lose her first boyfriend to an alpha female, exchange sparky dialogue with the family patriarch which ends in her throwing her shoes at him, almost run away with a hot as hell vampire angel, and then abducted by the son of said angel, then called a liar when she is returned to the family, all within the first 8th of the book. What more does the banshee want? Blood apparently...

Today I am: stroking new cds by Juliette and the Licks and the Killers, loving 'Deus' by the Sugarcubes (see, reading Terry Pratchett's Making Money (I wish...), bunking off uni to finish uni work, thinking about the box of organic chocolate truffles in the cupboard that technically belong to Paul...