Predator and Prey

David Attenborough’s voice

On the vast plains of the Penneys homeware savanna, a small Grant’s Gazelle picks her way past the rows of bed clothes. Distracted by the sight of a particularly fluffy cushion, she pauses in her pursuit of wildly unnecessary purchases.

A small movement in her peripheral vision attracts her attention. Suspicion causes her eyes to widen and she freezes, staring blindly across the shelf of vanilla bean tea lights. She can feel something watch her through the tangle of children’s clothes. A moment of utter stillness passes, and reassured by the lack of movement, she continues on, trotting past the scented candles.

Out of the corner of her eye she spots another movement. She stops next to the tea towels. Something is following her. Now truly alarmed, she picks up the pace and makes a break for the relative safety of the ground floor. The predator behind her veers off only to come at her from the side and corner her at the foot of the stairs. Her heart flutters with panic.

“Heyyyy….” says the jackal. “How are you doiiiing?”

“Fine thank you” says the gazelle, because maybe she is overreacting? He hasn’t really done anything yet after all. Maybe he’s just an overly friendly jackal. She tries to step around him but he places a paw on her. She doesn’t like it.

“Excuse me,” she says, and sprints up the stairs before he has a chance to react. A swift run gets her to the till, where I hand a t-shirt to the woman behind the register, because I am the gazelle and this metaphor has gone on for long enough.

As the cashier slowly scanned the barcode, my mind ran down dead-ends and alleyways in a frantic effort to keep ahead of my anxiety. I thought about asking the cashier if there was, per chance, a jackal of a man lying in wait for me, but on one hand I thought that if he hadn’t followed me from downstairs then I might seem a bit hysterical, and if he had, then I might freak out the poor woman. And what if security asked him to leave? Then what? Would he wait outside for me? And he was foreign and hadn’t exactly done anything other than make me feel very uncomfortable. Would they think I was a racist?

I kept my mouth shut and paid by card. She handed me my bag and I took it as slowly as possible, stalling for time. When she started to eye me suspiciously, I realised I could put it off no longer. I turned around inch by inch and…

… And he was there. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I shook my head at him as if he were offering me something, and bolted for the door. Afraid to look back in case he took any eye contact as a sign of encouragement, I headed up the street and across the road. I pushed into a throng of people in an effort to disappear. I am no stranger to people following me, and I’ve learned that my gut feeling is usually correct. This time my gut feeling was that I was being hunted. I made a sharp right into a women’s clothes shop and made directly for the stairs at the back. I tripped down them two at a time before heading for the farthest corner. When I had nowhere left to go, I turned around.

Only to find him there. Behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

He moved to corner me again. A frightened “No, leave me alone” hissed through my teeth and I dodged him. Back through the store. Back up the stairs. Out a different door to the one I’d used coming in.

At this point, I was texting Scrubs. Partly because I didn’t know what else to do, partly in an attempt to normalise the whole situation.

“Some dude is following me” I wrote. “Wtaf”

A quick lap of the ground floor told me he wasn’t giving up.

I tried hiding in a food hall. Every time I turned in an aisle he was behind me. Waiting. Smiling. Staring.

I was lagging and my panic levels were through the roof, so I did the only thing I could think of and ran upstairs, straight into the women’s public toilets. I sank down on the red PVC seating provided with a sigh of immense relief.

I honestly could have stayed there all day if necessary. I sat there for twenty minutes. A peek around the doorway revealed he was leaning against the wall, scrolling through his phone, presumably waiting for me.

I considered calling the police. I dismissed it as hysterical.

I waited another twenty minutes.

Finally, he left. I emerged from the toilets and glued myself to the wall as I scooted around the perimeter of the shopping centre and made my way to the exit. Once out on the street I felt exposed, like he might appear out of nowhere at any moment. I hid in the Asian supermarket until my tram arrived, and made sure he wasn’t getting on before I hopped on myself.

Honestly, the stress. I know people say that all the time, but seriously THE STRESS. I got a migraine and had to spend several hours in a darkened room almost crying with frustration.

Every so often I tell myself I should get out more, go into town more often, but then something like this happens and it makes me want to become a cloistered nun. Except, you know, without the nun part. I am a perfectly average person in every way so if this is happening to me, it must be happening regularly to an awful lot of people out there. Either that or I have the invisible tag of “ABSOLUTE SUCKER” attached to me somewhere and I have yet to shake it off.

I used to enjoy bumping into strangers and striking up a conversation, but more and more I find myself immediately wary of anyone who so much as catches my eye, much less tries to talk to me. I am becoming a social hermit crab, and my earphones are my shell.

I don’t want to feel like prey. I want to feel like a (tiny) lioness, well able to stand my ground against any jackal.

Maybe it’s time to take up martial arts.

Neighbourly Concern

The new neighbour arrived without my noticing.

One day the apartment was an empty shell of freshly-applied white paint, and the next a family had moved in. Two tall, slender brunettes and their tiny child now occupied the home where Hank and Daphne had previously lived. They have no names.  If I were to see them on the street I would most likely pass them without recognising them as my neighbours.

They don’t have a dog.

What they do have is some sort of a cycling obsession. I know this, because the nieghbour man often puts his very expensive-looking bike on a stand on his balcony and cycles for hours. HOURS. Which is fine, obviously. Who am I to say whether or not it’s unusual to get dressed in your lycra onesie and hop up on your perfectly road-worthy bike only to never leave the safety of your balcony?

Unfortunately, Oscar, the once-kitten, now small-bear-cub, has taken a keen interest in all this cycling malarky. Any day with a sighting of the stationary cyclist is a good day in Oscar’s book. I know this because the first day that we saw him pedaling furiously to nowhere, Oscar made an ill-advised attempt at joining him. He was busted only as he dangled on the edge of the window – a hefty wad of fluff swaying drunkenly in the breeze – calculating how far he would have to leap to catch the cycling man.

It turns out my cats have even less spatial awareness than I do, and have yet to master the seemingly simple concept of small versus far away.

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Considering Cycling Man lives a block over and a floor down, I suppose it is – in theory – possible that Oscar has flying squirrel capabilities I am not yet aware of (who knows what lies under all that excess fluff), and was about to deploy these skills to glide gently and gracefully down to our new neighbour. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that he would have leaped optimistically off the balcony like a rotund, airborne starfish and speedily plummeted into the holly bush below our window.

Ultimately, he was snatched to safety and now I am far more aware of our neighbours’ activities than I was before, if only because I have a feline bicycle enthusiast.

If I look out the window right now, I can see Cycling Man pedaling away like he’s trying to out-cycle his demons. Oscar is watching him with obsessive interest.

The window, naturally, is closed tight.

 

 

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Tomorrow is Paddy’s Day so I just want to wish everyone a great Lá Fhéile Pádraig – please remember the cardinal rules relating to shamrocks (never clover) and Paddy (never Patty), and don’t drink too much green beer (know the one that’s one too many; one. One is one too many. Drink something decent instead)!

 

Just People

When you’re a child, everything is very black or white.

You’re well-behaved, or you’re bold.

You’re bad, or you’re good.

The world is arranged into two halves and, with good parenting, you are steered towards the positive. “Yucky” things are smacked out of your hand, and the explanations of the world leave no room for nuance. You’re too young to understand the intricacies and complications of a lifetime. You’re told that bad people are bad, and that’s it. Nobody explains why, or how, or tempers it by telling you that these bad people have good qualities too.

Conversely, good people are held up as paragons and then, as you grow, you realise slowly that they are in fact… just people. Not heroes. Not knights in shining armour. Not infallible humans. Not perfect examples of personhood.

Just people.

It makes life a hell of a lot more complicated when you realise that souls aren’t as black as pitch, or as white and sweet as icing sugar. People are a mass of humanity as seen through the eyes of a dog; varying shades of grey in every direction.

Every so often though, you seem to encounter people who are determined to be a dark shade of charcoal grey for no reason at all. Even when it is entirely unnecessary. Even when the alternative would almost have been the easier – certainly the simpler – choice. They complicate what is straightforward. In a world full of cronuts and compliments, they go out of their way to sour every interaction with casual dishonesty and ugly disregard for the people around them.

Why?

Life is hard enough. Each of us at one point or another will spend time wading through our personal Swamps of Sadness. There is grief enough, and heartbreak enough, and struggles enough to fill each person’s cup many times over. There is personal difficulty and overwhelming disappointment. There are insecurities and fears and concerns in other people’s lives that we can know nothing about. Each person carries these weighty issues around, and sometimes thin, delicate cracks of pressure appear on our façades. Of course, we hurriedly papier-mâché over these lightning bolt fractures. Nobody wants to look like the one damaged item on the lot.

Nobody stops to consider that none of us are in pristine condition. Not one. We are all of us dinged, battered, scraped, burnt out or splintered by life in one way or another. We walk around with our private stories tucked tight inside our chests, right up against the breastbone.

And we gently bump up against each other.

Sometimes we bump up against jagged people.

They snag on our scars. They press slowly and deliberately against tender bruises. Their serrated edges cut away at stitches, reopening old wounds. It feels threatening. It hurts. And when this happens it can be very hard not to revert to childhood programming.

It can be very hard to remember that people aren’t pure, undiluted “bad.”

I try to keep that fixed in my mind. They’re not bad people. They’re not pointlessly cruel. Their morals might be so flexible as to seem backwards, but their life experiences have led them to this point, in the same way that my life experiences have led me to mine. They might seem as cold and hard and cutting as steel, but they too have their own private story buried away next to the heart I sometimes suspect they might not have.

They are not entirely bad.

They’re just… people.

 

Notes From the Country

I was born in a city. I have always lived in a city. I grew up with a street lamp outside my window and the sound of a train passing by every twenty minutes. I’m used to light, and noise, and shops that are less than five minutes of a walk away. I’m used to lots of people going about their business with earphones in, purposely not making eye contact and completely ignoring the existence of anybody else on the road.

So when I take a trip to the countryside, I’m always reminded of the things country people take for granted that are – for me – hugely abnormal. Every so often something happens and I feel like I’m surrounded by Dothraki nodding and muttering “It is known” about something that is decidedly not known. At least, not to me!

Here are a few of the many things I don’t understand about life in the country:

  1. People letting themselves into your home with absolutely no warning.
    • Not so much as a knock on the door! They just turn the handle and walk in. I once got out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and padded down the corridor to the kitchen to grab my hairbrush only to find the parish priest sitting at the table casually making himself a cup of tea. I reversed myself back into the corridor at the speed of light, believe me. I stood in the corridor frozen with horror before deciding that my best course of action would be to speedwalk back to the bathroom where I locked the door and listened for the sound of the door.
  2. The lack of convenience stores.
    • I mean really, the clue is in the name. They’re convenient. Usually they are open all hours of the day and night and they sell everything you could possibly want at 2am when you’ve only just realised you’re in dire need of a pack of kitchen roll, a carton of milk, a bag of basmati rice and a tube of toothpaste. Here in the countryside there is only a single shop, it is the size of a large bathroom, and it stocks a wide variety of random items that you might – or might never in your life – require for any reason at all. It also closes at six and the walk there definitely takes more than five minutes.
  3. The silence.
    • It is unnaturally silent. The only time you hear real sound is if the rain is pounding against the window or the wind is making the house creak. The cars are too far away to be heard and so instead there are only inside-noises; the ticking of the clock, the hum of electricity, the sound of the pipes kicking into gear… It’s uncanny.
  4. The darkness.
    • It is onyx outside once the lights go out. Unless the moon is working as God’s own spotlight, you can see absolutely nothing at all. Although I don’t mind this, it does have the peculiar effect of imposing a sort of natural curfew on me; at home I think nothing of leaving the house after dark, but here I suddenly feel like it’s so much later. As soon as the windows become opaque black rectangles, I am ready for my pyjamas. There’s no way I’m going anywhere. I am not afraid of the dark, but if I were I would be terrified because it is black as pitch.
  5. The country hello.
    • In Dublin, I can happily spend half a day surrounded by people without acknowledging even a single one of them. In the countryside, on the other hand, you can’t pass a single person without them nodding their head and saying “Hello there!” or “Fine weather we’re having!” or “How are you?” or making some other kindly, weather-related utterance. When they know you, this greeting is usually accompanied by a smile, but when they don’t it’s often delivered with a suspicious, gimlet-eyed stare. If you make the mistake of coming to a standstill in front of them for any reason, it’s even worse; they try to entangle you in a sideways game of twenty questions in an unsubtle attempt to find out who you are, where you came from and what you’re doing there. Any unfamiliar face is treated to the same gentle interrogation, as if they’re trying to make sure they have a full character profile to hand over to the police for when you, the suspicious stranger, start up some nefarious business and threaten to upset the quiet community vibe.

There are things I love about the countryside too, of course.

I love the animals.

There are lambs in all the fields now, springing around in a wobbly way as if they’ve been made from cheap pipe-cleaners. There are friendly little robins that don’t look as if they should be able to take flight at all, they’re so rotund. There’s Charlie, the cat, who sometimes greets me with a bloody mess of a breakfast outside my bedroom window (usually one of the aforementioned rotund robins). There are crows, watching carefully for leftovers, and wagtails bobbing across the patio. There’s even a hefty badger that trundles up the path at night to eat whatever Charlie’s left behind. He gobbles up anything in the bowl before trotting back into the darkness. As a city kid whose only exposure to wildlife was cats, dogs, red foxes rooting through wheelie bins, and roadkill… the badger in particular always delights me.

I love feeling ‘away.’

Although it’s inconvenient not being able to go anywhere or see anyone at a moment’s notice, it’s also nice to be here. It’s nice to feel removed from the normal. It’s nice to be out of my everyday timetable; it’s not hugely productive, mind you, but it is nice. It’s like hitting F5. I’m ready for the city again. I’ve had my break and now I’m ready to put back on the robes of routine.

I love how clean the air feels.

I mean, I think the air in Dublin is pretty clean too, but here it feels healthy. When I inhale, I feel like I’m doing my body good. It’s nice.

I’ve been doing a lot of inhaling and exhaling, thanks to your many suggestions on my last post. It’s helped! Thanks guys. Sometimes I just need the reminder to breathe.

If you also need the reminder, here it is: Breathe!

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s starting to get dark, so I’m off to put on my pyjamas…!

A Rollercoaster of Emotions

So far, 2018 is proving unexpectedly stressful.

In case you couldn’t gather from my last post, I’ve been having a couple of weeks where my waking thoughts have been consumed by one worry or another, and my nights have been spent dreaming of strange amalgamations of the same worries. It’s just wrong; the nightmare equivalent of a giraffe with elephant legs and a crocodile snout.

Honestly, even when I’m not stressed I have a certain amount of The Fear running through me like a low voltage current. I overthink everything until it makes no sense to me. I overthink and overthink and overthink until my thoughts end up in the same place as the word ‘banana’ after you’ve said it 27 times. Gibberish. Total gibberish. The sort of gibberish you need three expert linguists and the Rosetta Stone to decipher.

So you can probably imagine what I’m like when I actually have something to worry about…

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It’s very calming.

The worst part about it is that I’ve had some great news so far in 2018! Really exciting things are happening! Good things are coming! Love is in the air! I have so many things to smile about, and yet the wind must have changed because I can’t seem to move my facial muscles into an arrangement of anything but ill-concealed panic.

So here’s a true adulting struggle: how do I juggle these sorts of extreme emotions so that I can feel them all at the one time? Or even better, how do I overcome the obstacle of overthinking to get to the happy place? Do I just wait it out? Do I simply wait with endless patience for it to pass, so that I can then unashamedly enjoy the good stuff? Or do I try to set the stresses aside for a few minutes a day and ignore the guilt that comes with that?

At the moment I’m just sitting and waiting (and hoping) for the stress to pass, so that I can stop baking therapeutic banana breads that nobody feels like eating.* I’m keeping my happy feelings safe and boxed away for a few days more, in the hope that I can fully enjoy them once life stops making me feel like I’m rollerblading on gravel.

I’m sitting, and waiting (and hoping), and baking banana breads.

*It turns out baking is an inconvenient coping strategy when you have no real appetite.

 

Notes for a Younger Me

When I look at photographs of myself when I was younger, I experience a strange, out-of-body feeling. It doesn’t feel like I’m looking at myself. It feels like I’m looking at someone else. The child of someone I know, maybe, or a distant relative. It doesn’t feel like me.

Sometimes this slightly freaks me out, because it makes me wonder if this is how it will always be. In twenty years’ time will I look at photos of myself now and feel like a different person? Will I have changed that much? Will I feel like the experiences and memories and thoughts of Now Me are so removed and foreign that they might as well belong to somebody else?

*shudder*

I was sorting through old photographs a couple of days ago hunting for something in particular when I came across a number of photos of Baby Quinn. There I was meeting my godmother for the first time. There I was going to school. There I was building LEGO and jumping through a stream and walking around with a Pampers box on my head. I have chubby legs and big eyes and wild hair. I am wearing flowery hand-me-downs (which means the anti-feminine movement must not have been active until much later) from what must have been the set of Mary Poppins.

In many of these snaps I am looking at the camera head on. There is no expression on my face. I am just staring, wide-eyed, either straight down the lens or with my gaze turned slightly upwards at (presumably) the photographer. I look as if I might be waiting for something. Maybe waiting for someone to tell me something? Maybe waiting for the manual?

Since we all know the manual never made it, I thought I might tell her something now.

Baby Quinn,

You are a small, round little ball of pudge. Look at you! You weren’t always like that (I’ve seen the earlier photos where you look like an alien beamed down from another planet complete with tubes in your head; those photos are less than lovely), but from this stage forward you’ll basically look like this, only stretched.

Not stretched by much, mind you. We stay pretty low to the ground.

In case you’re wondering, that pouty bottom lip will never go away. Don’t worry, you kind of grow into it. Anyway, it will come in handy whenever you want to make your feelings known. For example, on your way to school…

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Yep, just like that.

You will have a brother. You get on very well except for a brief period during which he does nothing but scream for things at the top of his lungs and pinch you when your parents aren’t looking. Don’t worry, he improves.

Your first friend is a boy called Peter. You spend many hours flinging micro machines at walls of LEGO, and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is an age during which you frequently collect worms and put them in your pencil case to “save them” from lashing rain and the indiscriminate stomping of children’s shoes. Please do not do this. They die from dehydration and you feel absolutely terrible when you have to shake their desiccated, hardened corpses out of the pencil tin. It’s very grim.

You also stop eating around this age. Why? Who can say? You hate food. All food. You are not a picky eater, you are a non-eater. You just can’t stand the horror of having to taste and chew and swallow. You can’t bring yourself to eat. Every meal is a battlefield. The very idea of a future filled with the torture of breakfasts, lunches and dinners looms ahead of you every day for the rest of your life.

Luckily, as with the worm infirmary, this too shall pass. I am happy to relate that I now enjoy eating very much. VERY much! Food is amazing. So are drinks (although stay away from the fizzy ones; you can’t burp, so fizzy drinks make you feel like you have a chestburster from Alien struggling to get free). Wait until you try a White Russian for the first time.

You make a best friend. She is awesome. She likes Oasis when other people like Boyzone. You spend a lot of time thumping up and down the stairs of her house and playing on her road. There are many sleepovers and late night chats. Mind her, love her, be good to and for her. She’s still our best friend. She’s still awesome.

With the help of many books from the public library, you reach your teenage years with a wealth of information at your fingertips. You are ferociously outgoing and impulsive to the point of stupidity. You make decisions that are questionable at best, downright dangerous at worst. You skate along safely though, blithely unaware of the disastrous consequences you narrowly avoid along the way.

You fall in love.

The first year or so is amazing and then it’s just one long, drawn-out, awful descent into misery. You follow your heart and it leads you right into The Swamp of Sorrow. You’re not experienced enough to recognise or understand the lies or the gas-lighting. It’s a long three years of crying and fighting and crying and feeling like an idiot and crying and being manipulated and crying. Just… a lot of crying. Prepare yourself. Invest in tissues, even though you don’t use them. Your heart gets irreparably cracked (although you don’t realise it then) and over time, words and actions bluntly bash at it until the cracks grow wider.

The last, powerful, brick-breaking karate chop makes sure it’s properly smashed into glittering shards.

You end it, too damaged and much too late. For three long years you’ve been told that this is what love is, that your idea of love – with respect, and honesty, and common decency – is straight out of the storybooks and that this is as good as it gets… but you (finally!) realise that anything at all is better than this war of attrition you’ve been losing.

There’s more crying, because your heart is still broken after all.

Let’s just speed through that part.

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If I could warn you about all of this… I wouldn’t. Yes, it SUCKS. It sucks. It’s honestly brutal. The lessons you learn are emotionally beaten into you with what feels like a sledgehammer.

But after all that, you do learn.

You’ve learned what you need to be happy, and so you go do that for a while. You spend time with nice people who love you and you slowly put yourself, your sanity and your heart back together. You become a real person, not just a tangled mess of emotions  and frustration strung together in human form. You make good decisions, or at least decisions that are good for you. You take your time.

You fall in love again, and it’s pretty great. Better than expected.

Better than the storybooks.

So here are a couple of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way, Baby Quinn. The things that should have come in your manual. Here are the lessons you learn along the way:

Stay creative.

It doesn’t matter what you do or how it turns out. Some part of you is always waiting to create something. You’ve drawn, painted, cut, carved. You’ve burned names into chopping boards and made cakes that lean like drunken towers and sliced paper into slivers. You are happiest making things with your hands, and the end result is not always delightful but it is always satisfying.

Play with gouache, with watercolours, with acrylic. Play with clay, and candle wax. Crafting is the one area in which you’re never afraid to fail, so keep trying. Keep failing! Every so often you’ll find something that you’re good at that makes people happy.

Do that. It makes you happy to see other people happy.

Fall in love.

You are an affectionate child. You love hard. Keep that with you.

As you grow up, you grow less willing to be open about how much people mean to you. You close yourself off. You still care, but you hide it. You get shy.

Fight that!

It’s nonsense. You still think about people you haven’t seen in years, and cry for people you don’t even know; the least you can do is reach out to the people you love and care about now, today. I know that it makes you feel vulnerable and you hate feeling vulnerable, but the alternative is letting them think you don’t care, and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Fall in love, and not just with people. Let yourself fall in love with places, with animals, with experiences. Fall in love with lessons learned and dreams that dissipate five minutes after waking up. Fall in love with food (Italy will help), with adventure, with strangers. Fall in love with all of it.

Be excited about the future.

Sometimes things are really rubbish. Sometimes life feels endlessly terrifying and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going. You look ahead and all you see is an expanse of hopelessness. There are panic attacks and weeks of dull numbness.

DON’T WORRY.

I mean, worry – by all means worry; you’re going to do it anyway – but as Sunscreen says, know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. In the midst of all that worrying, be excited for the future! Even when things look grim and you can’t imagine what there might be to be excited about… be excited about the unknown, because great things happen.

Great things happen to you, I promise. You, I, we have fed pelicans at a zoo! We’ve played with a tiger cub! We’ve bumped around Goa on a scooter, and gone swimming with sea turtles in Gili Air, and seen Mayan ruins in Tulum, and eaten ramen in Tokyo, and galloped around the pyramids of Giza, and sat drinking mint tea in Marrakech, and had gelato in Rome, and lived in Heidelberg, and gone skiing in Bansko, and seen a fever of rays in San Diego, and, and, and…

… And we’ve had hot chocolates on snow days. We’ve read great books. We’ve had long conversations with our grandfather. We’ve had hugs when we most needed them. We’ve danced in the apartment alone, and talked with friends over cups of tea. We’ve discovered maltesers in salted popcorn (the only decent way to watch a movie), and combed the beach for seaglass after a storm. We’ve had quiet, happy slices of time where everything was just right, just for a moment.

Those moments are all you need.

We’ve had good times so far, Baby Quinn. We’ll continue to have them. In the darkest times you couldn’t even have imagined any of those moments ever happening, but they did. They continue to happen. Right now I’m sitting here typing this to you under a barrage of raindrops with a cup of tea next to me and a cat curled up at my feet. I’m more than okay. We’re more than okay.

You’ll be okay.

 

Retail Therapy

Yesterday I bought myself an uncharacteristically pink jumper.

I am not really a pink person. I can probably count on one hand the number of pink items in my wardrobe, and they are all varying versions of “nude”. ‘Girlie‘ isn’t really my style, partly because I was raised to think ‘girlie’ was a synonym for ‘simpering halfwit’ and partly because now that I know that’s not the case I feel… unworthy. Floral, ruffled, pink things with bows are for delicate, graceful butterfly people who can braid their own hair and wear white without getting stained in the first five minutes, not galloping whirlwinds of disaster who wear black to disguise the mess and faceplant in public places with startling frequency.

I usually stick to jeans and white/grey/black because anything more complicated than that necessitates the intervention of people like Olga.

And we know how that turned out…*

Anyway.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with a good friend, an old friend, a friend who time and circumstance has distanced from me. She now lives on the other side of the world, and has a husband and a baby and a life that I barely know. We talk, but I miss her. I see her over skype, but I miss her. When I walk into Penneys, I don’t have her there to tell me that I definitely need those fifteen things that I definitely don’t need. When I go to Butlers and get a free chocolate with my coffee, it tastes a little less sweet for not having her there with me.

So it was strange seeing her again after three years; I felt distressed about missing so many of her milestones, but delighted to have her back again. The emotional tumble-dryer in the pit of my stomach propelled me into a shop, where I blindly walked the aisles trying to sort out my feelings.

In Penneys I spotted the aforementioned pink jumper. This shapeless chenille cloud the shade of mass-produced raspberry sorbet made me smile. I tried it on and looked in the mirror. I looked like a fuchsia version of Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka.

It made me smile.

I bought the ludicrously bright jumper, and it kept me smiling all through the day. Even after I realised that it was leaving a fine but determined dusting of pink fluff all over my black jeans. Even after I realised that the fluff was relentless and probably uncontrollable. Even after I met up with Scrubs and his eyebrows shot up into his hairline.

“That’s… bright,” he said. He side-eyed it, probably worried that looking at it straight on might strike him blind. “You look like a marshmallow.”

I looked down at myself and plucked at the hem. “I think I look like a raspberry.”

Scrubs nodded slowly, considering this comparison.

“Mmm,” he eventually said. “Maybe a raspberry marshmallow…”

That made me smile too. I handed over €10 for a jumper that is high-visibility enough to be used for cycling on country roads, and that ridiculous purchase lifted my mood through the rest of the day. I guess that’s why they call it retail therapy. Sometimes all you need is a break from routine, even if that’s as banal or minor as reaching for a pink jumper instead of yet another grey one.

Sometimes all you need is some time as a happy raspberry marshmallow. 

*TL;DR: surprisingly well, actually!

 

 

Temper, Temper

I have anger issues.

Or rather, I have a single anger issue. It’s not an issue clouded in a dangerous red haze, that bursts from my forehead like the emotional descendant of Athena, explosively demanding TO SPEAK TO THE MANAGER!

No.

It’s the other kind of issue. My anger issue is that I am not terribly good at expressing my anger. Either I am emotionally involved – in which case my eyes invariably leak in a way that looks suspiciously like crying but is, in fact, just a watery expression of intense frustration – or I am not emotionally involved, in which case I would just rather not, thankyouverymuch. Here is how my (unemotional) anger tends to develop:

The idiot does something idiotic.

I try to ignore it.

The idiot continues to do the idiotic thing.

I consider the fact that perhaps the idiot doesn’t know any better and is, in fact, doing what they think is right. I continue to try to ignore them.

The idiot starts involving me directly and pre-emptively defends their idiotic position out of a (valid) fear of being judged.

I feel a twinge of pity that the idiot finds this idiocy a productive use of their time. I think about the many things the idiot could be doing instead, like reading, or going to the zoo, or taking a long walk. I feel a sort of remote concern about the life circumstances that have brought them to this point. I wonder about their parents and whether or not they have any friends. I take a long, slow breath and calmly explain my point of view to the idiot, while accepting that they clearly have their own view of the matter at hand. I tell them they don’t need to agree, they just need to try to at least understand that others feel differently.

The idiot does not understand. The idiot does not even try. The idiot simply gets louder, more annoying and more aggressive about their idiocy.

I start to feel a stirring of annoyance. Not because they are an idiot – after all, I’ve already concluded that they probably can’t help it; who chooses to be an idiot, after all? – I just really dislike loudness. Can’t we keep it to regular decibels? Is the hysteria really necessary? I regret not having bought ear plugs with my last amazon order. I ask them to keep it down, please. I ask them not to scream in my ear, because it happens to be quite disagreeable. Also, I am not hard of hearing and would really prefer for this discussion to come to an end with this still being the case.

The idiot ignores me and continues to shout, but is now approaching a sort of feverish level of rage, and so the shouting is louder and more unpleasant. Their face has turned an unflattering shade of puce and their hands are trembling with indignation.

Now I can feel that strange, unfurling of anger deep in my stomach. A small part of me is stirring, galvanised by the grating sound of unrestrained agitation. The idiot cannot tell, of course, because this part of me is well concealed beneath layers of decorum. I cut in while they’re taking a wheezing breath. I speak the idiot’s position back to them, to make sure I’ve grasped their (idiotic) point, and then make my argument as clearly and concisely as possible. Again.

The idiot is INFLAMED that I might understand their position and still argue against it. They escalate into a mad frenzy of spit-flinging fury. At this stage they are so psychotically furious their words have devolved into incoherence, and I can only lean back and watch the spittle fly.

Now I am angry. Actually angry. I can feel my entire body stiffen with adrenaline and blaze with a rage that has been slowly brought the boil…

…And I’m out. I’m sorry, but I really don’t believe there’s anything to be gained once the idiot is foaming at the mouth. I say something like, “Okay, let’s just leave it. We’re not getting anywhere with this.” Then I walk away, my veins pulsating with unreleased anger. I go for a walk. I let the cool air bring my temperature back down until it’s no longer the same as that of an exploding star. I read. I go to the zoo.

Sometimes I enjoy a flicker of satisfaction in imagining how it would feel to yell “YOU RUDE, INSUFFERABLE GODDAMN IMBECILE! CAN YOU PLEASE RUB THE TWO LONELY BRAIN CELLS THAT ARE FLOATING AROUND IN THAT THICK SKULL TOGETHER AND GET THEM TO START A SMALL SPARK OF UNDERSTANDING! THERE’S NO REASON TO BE SUCH A HEINOUS TOOLBAG, FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

But it never makes its way to the surface. It stays stuck in my throat like a spiny hairball. I swallow it down while I’m on my long walk. It sinks to the bottom of my stomach where it joins the rest of them; the many words of anger that are left unspoken. My anger issues.

Staying Alive

The other day, while out walking with a friend, we took a detour on our way home and found ourselves in an old cemetery.

It was, as she put it, the sort of place Tom Riddle might show up to challenge you to a wand duel. The ground, bulging with overgrown roots, was uneven and covered over with long blades of grass that soaked us to the ankles. Most of the engravings on the oldest headstones were illegible; the inscriptions had been gently buffed to smoothness by the passing of time. Speckled with lichen and pushed by either weather or slowly shifting soil, the stones leaned drunkenly at different angles. We wandered between them, calling out unusual names to each other or pointing out particularly old dates. Some went back to the 1800’s.

We found a few sad ones; children, siblings, husbands who died in their thirties with wives who died in their seventies. We found a few interesting ones; a headstone marked the passing of a man named Lemon Booth who had died in 1910 (I pictured him as a kindly eccentric with a penchant for wearing yellow). We also found a slab of what we assume is a family crypt dug into the foundations of what used to be a church.

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Some people strongly dislike graveyards. They find them creepy, or depressing, or taboo in a way that makes their skin crawl. The thought of dead people underfoot gives them the heebiejeebies. Some people feel it’s almost sacrilegious to walk through a cemetery full of people you have no connection to, propelled by nothing but curiosity. Some think that cemeteries should only be for the broken-hearted. Some think that it should only ever be a private place for grieving and goodbyes.

I actually quite like them.

Not – obviously – during burials, when my heart feels like it’s being finely grated into ribbons of despair and deposited straight into the ground with the coffin… but after. Later. I find comfort in the fact that so it has been and so it will always be; humans losing loved ones and creating rituals to say goodbye, with something tangible to mark the passing of generally unremarkable people. That’s you, and me, and most people. We, the Wikipedia-entry-less.  We, the people who live important lives but on a private scale. We, the remarkable unremarkable. We live full, busy lives of friendships, and stories, and memories. We have favourite activities, and things we are most proud of, and quirks that are unique to us. We laugh and cry and develop habits and grieve and love and then, at some point, we die and leave it all behind.

Honestly, I hate the idea as much as the next person. Saying goodbye to loved ones has always been so hard, and although my grief stems from not wanting them to ever leave my life, a small part of it also comes from the sadness that comes with the thought of leaving my life. I grieve for myself, but I also grieve on their behalf, for their having to say goodbye to everything. I love this world, the colours in it, the smell of petrichor, the taste of freshly baked bread, the feeling of a badly-needed hug, the sound of a loved one laughing. I love this world, even with the really rubbish bits. Even with the tragedies. Even with the dangers. Even with the Trumps.

I like my unremarkable life. I like being alive.

They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time. I always think of this as I read the names on headstones, shaping the consonants beneath my breath, taking a moment to wonder about the person behind the name, and the life that person left behind.

It comforts me to think that over a hundred years from now, someone might find the marker of my unremarkable life and say my name aloud, wondering about me…

Keeping me alive a little longer.

 

 

2018

We are now in 2018. Welcome everybody! Grab a glass of bubbly! I’m glad we both made it. It’s so good to see you again!

I always start the new year with a niggling feeling like I just barely made it through a stargate and am now standing in a random field, swinging my arms, wondering what happens next. I swear I spend the first week of the year with a cloud above my head that says, ‘NOW WHAT?’ in bubble lettering.

Even though the passing of a year is fairly arbitrary.

Even though it makes no real difference.

Even though it should just be a continuation of what came before, and not some odd date on the calendar that feels like a new page, a clean slate, a blank wall of concrete staring you in the face when you have an unused can of spray paint in your hand.

It’s time to start over.

You know….

Again.

So here we are, in the future of the past which is now the present. I rang in the New Year in Spain, choking on grapes and crying with laughter. I spent the first day of 2018 exploring small towns with medieval walls, before chasing down chocolate con churros with a single-minded focus usually found in bloodhounds on a hunt.

Nothing gets between me and my churros.

Today, the world is glitteringly cold. The sky is a clear, pale blue and if you run outside in your socks (as I – very briefly – did), it feels as if your feet might stick to the ground, rooting you to the spot, freezing you to the flagstones. Everything has been delicately brushed with a thin coating of twinkling frost. In patches of sunlight the ice has melted away, retreating to the safety of the shade, revealing the bright, true green of the grass or the vibrant red of the few remaining autumn leaves.

I have no list for this year. No boxes to check. No impossible goals or overly ambitious aims. Instead I have a word that I’m hoping will propel me into the new year with all the fire and energy I felt I was lacking last year:

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Great things happened in 2017! I visited Mexico! I visited Bali! I swam with sea turtles! I got engaged! I got two enormous kittens with over-sized portions of personality! I planned an apartment overhaul that has turned us into nomads with capsule wardrobes that consist of jeans and more jeans (the toilet did eventually arrive by the way, for those of you who have spent the holidays on tenterhooks waiting for an update about our plumbing)!

I’m hoping that by the end of this month, we will be in apartment 2.0. I’m hoping that it will be the first of many great things in 2018. Part of making that happen, however, involves taking action and pulling on a blue boiler suit (size XL; I look like nothing so much as The Michelin Man in a cleanroom) and a respirator so I can continue the work I started yesterday*.

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So far, ‘action’ is turning out to be deeply uncomfortable…

If you have a word or a resolution, let me know – I find they rub off on me sometimes! Whether you do or you don’t, I wish you all the luck in this new year. I wish you personal successes and private accomplishments. I wish you joy, and love, and happiness. I wish you a minimum of tears (unless they’re from laughter – those are allowed), and I wish you pride in yourself, bravery in your actions, good company and great friends.

Now if you could all just wish me a bit of sunshine so that I don’t freeze and spend the first month of 2018 as a glittering but immobile garden gnome….

 

*I am in the middle of spray painting our kitchen cabinets, and it is both messier and slower than is truly ideal in minus degrees.