Writing 101: Size Matters

kids-drawing http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-home/

My home at 12 years old was the same home I had from being 8 weeks old until I was nearly 16. It was a normal detached house, on a normal estate, in a normal village. In fact it was uncomfortably ‘normal’ and very middle class. Inside was everything you would look for. But the living room was too tidy, engulfed with an uncomfortable atmosphere. Somebody was always in trouble, so a frosty silence greeted visitors with fake warmth, (if there were any visitors that is). Searching further you would find a dining room. If it were a mealtime you would most likely find us either silent or arguing. Or more accurately being shouted at. The kitchen was small but functional, a walk in larder hid food we weren’t allowed to eat. There was a utility room where the cats slept, the only ones unmoved by the unbearable atmosphere everyone else had to endure; including the person who created it.

A playroom was next, filled with toys and opening out into the garden. There was a piano and a violin and even a computer (unusual in the 1980s when my dad bought it). It sounds like the perfect playroom except I remember it being used as a punishment. We would be banished there if we were no longer wanted in the rest of the house. The garden had to be played in, in a correct manner. No digging, throwing, running, shouting. I do have happy memories though of me and my Dad playing French cricket until dusk and me and my sister playing swing ball. Spinning a tennis ball round and round a pole. Hitting harder and harder, wondering whether one time the ball would just fly off into the farmer’s fields behind us. In reality that ball was unable to escape its tether any more than we could.

The farmer’s fields over looked our strange, sad home. The cows used to gather round, mooing at me in serious contemplation if I stood at the end of the garden for more than a few minutes. Curiosity getting the better of them. Munching, munching, munching. Staring with wise eyes that looked blank. There was a small, cold toilet downstairs. I hated that toilet! The seat was so cold in winter I would perch with reluctance so as to delay the inevitable icy sting. I still hate that toilet and it’s still cold, even in summer. If I were the type I’d think it had it’s own resident ghost. Up the stairs, I was shouted at for running my fingers along the wall as I ran up or down, shouted at for thumping my feet, or for switching the light on in. Apparently the ‘click’ was obtuse in itself and our arrogance in assuming we needed light irritated our Mum beyond belief. We were mostly shouted at for nothing at all really.

There were 4 bedrooms upstairs. My sister had the nice sunny front room. I was very envious of her bedroom. It seem so bright and warm, coloured with peaches and pink colours; then later with warm reds and turquoise stripes. More befitting of a style conscious teenager. My room was at the back of the house and was decorated blue. I had blue teddies with little butterflies on their noses. I loved that wallpaper, but the blue colour didn’t help in the colder room. I overlooked the back garden and as it was north facing, I didn’t get as much sunlight. I could watch the cows, but they never came to see me if I was in my bedroom so I had to just watch them from afar, scattered over the field in random patterns. My Mum’s room was at the back adjacent to mine. Memories are of a smoke filled room, door locked, TV always on. We weren’t welcome in there, it was the place we went to ask permission rather than somewhere we sought comfort and love. My Dad had a separate room because he had chronic insomnia. Something I found out only after he died, I found out more things about my Dad after his death than when he was alive. His room was even less welcoming. It was a bad tempered cave from which he rose when disturbed with grumpy coughing. The stale smell of sleep lingered in the air. The carpet was thick so there was a scraping sound when the door opened of wood dragging on carpet fibres. I never went in that room, not until I was an adult and it was no longer ‘his’ room.

The upstairs bathroom was the only vestige of peace, quiet and privacy. I used to read in the bath for hours. This was the only time of day when no one would bother me as a teenager. Although there wasn’t any actual privacy, all the doors upstairs had glass panels at the top, you could look through them if you stood on a chair. I later discovered our parents would just look through these if they wanted to know what we were doing. This has given me a long standing respect of the privacy of children. Children are not our property and they deserve the same right of privacy as adults, or at least the same show of respect. We should increase their right to privacy in direct proportion to their age in my opinion. No one ever knocked on our bedroom doors before entering. I despised this as a child and a teenager. It just proved that this wasn’t my home, but the house that belonged to my parents, which I happened to live in. It wasn’t somewhere I felt safe, comforted or loved. Even though the word love was tossed about as if somehow that was what mattered. How many times someone told you they loved you seemed to count more than any actual proof that they did.

I hate that house, it’s still there and my Mother still lives in it. I resent having to stay more than a couple of days. Even though it looks unrecognisable on the inside, it never fails to make me feel the same hopelessness I felt throughout my childhood. My mind shudders at the thought of having to return there, as if somehow it will grasp on to me and not let go this time.

Writing 101: Death to Adverbs. Gym Time

Aldersgate-gym-floorhttp://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-adverbs/

The atmosphere is filled with pounding, fast breath. It’s humid but a cool slither of air hits me from the overhead conditioning. As I walk past intimidating machinery they blow condescending cold air at me. Daring me to try and operate them. A young guy in red and grey focuses dead ahead, legs up and down, up and down, up and down. Sweat glistens on his shaved head, dripping down his neck with an inconspicuous movement. Women sit up, crunch, back down, discipline in every painful pant. Looking to a future of health, toned flat stomachs and defined muscles. Grey haired old man, sweats on the treadmill, reaching for his water. I can’t tell whether he’s maintaining some level of fitness achieved in years gone by, or if he’s striving for something too late in life.

Strange foam mats beckon from the corners, posters on the walls. Instructing in a way only clear to those already in the know. Reading them screams out to everyone else your newbie status. Inspirational quotes painted on the wall; no doubt meant to boost motivation but instead they somehow sneer over us as we push ourselves through stitches and psychological walls. We should all be in the same club but glances and shy smiles are given and received quickly, in embarrassment from the corner of our eyes. We seem unsure of who the novices are and who the gym regulars are. The thought that it is only the muscled regulars who ‘really’ belong lingers in our minds. We buy the ‘proper’ clothes, clamouring to be one of them. Tanned, toned girl in the corner stares straight ahead, weights heaved, lunges, squats. All performed in ignorance of the surrounding jealousy.

I stand on the treadmill, headphones in, Pixies blare out and I run. Thoughts finally stop as I meditate on my own fitness. Run, breathe, sweat, run, breathe, run, running….

Writing 101: Give and Take

letters-home2Here’s my submission for an earlier task this week. I tried to imagine what it would be like if 2 people visited parts of Britain or England and only saw either the very worst or very best of what it has to offer. How would it affect any of us if our experiences were polarised in this way? I then decided to do it in a letter format to fulfil the ‘twist’ on this task and have a dialogue between two people. I also tried to write in a more metaphorical, poetic style. I’m not sure why but I felt it would be interesting to make the metaphors do the sociological and philosophical work. It also seemed to fit nicely as I always think letter writing is an almost archaic skill these days and I wanted the style to reflect that. Have a look here for a full description of the task:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-dialogue/

Dear Alice,

I’ve visited England for the first time. I embarked on this much anticipated journey with hope and unrealised wonder. But Alice, that wonder will remain unrealised and can sit in the murky depths of crushing disappointment. The England of my imagination lies limply in my mind. Deflated by the reality that hit me. It exists only in novels and poems that witter on relentlessly about green and pleasant lands, ignoring the sucking grey that feasts on the minds of the young and despairing.

The deprivation, poverty and inequality gives birth to such awful circumstances. It degrades the very environment it thrives in. The places I visited left a hard, grey and devastatingly unhappy imprint on my skin. I sweated the depression that surrounded me and it left a dirty shameful slick of film all over me. Murder Mile and Shackleton Road produce anger and hatred that is played out in an eternally grainy and fractured film recovered from the 1930s. Brutally short lives spied through a Hobbesian lens. The young fight over the generational scraps abandoned on the crumbling roads. Instead of returning victorious they find themselves picking the bones of their own children, feasting on the flesh of their own lives.

I have seen those who are old at 30. Trudging through the grey stained idyllic green fields of Gleadless Valley. Wearily pushing middle aged babies in adorned and elaborate prams. Keeping safe another generation lovingly nurtured to feed this ravenous society. My travels lead me to Moss Side. Mancunian towers stand as sentries in a war of resources. Children build their identities, constructing their own femininities and masculinities from bricks of reality. Assimilating the pyramid hierarchy into their lives, except today Maslow is weeping.

My dear Alice, in some other possible world there exists a green and pleasant land but it is not the place that devoured my hope; before I wrenched myself from those stratified clutches of poverty. It smells like the rotten offcuts of consumerists, searching to find themselves in paper and gold. But all they find is the remains of those bones picked clean in oily desperation.

Don’t go Alice, it is not the England we read of in our childhood books.

It is lost, and so am I.

Yours truly,

Stephanie

Dear Stephanie,

I am left silenced by the despair I read in your letter. I cannot comprehend the cognitive dissonance created by the 2 worlds we seem to have visited. And there must be 2 whole worlds because the place you describe has no place in my England, the England I have just returned from. My England was a place of rolling majestic landscapes. Wordsworth was almost woven into the skies and the surrounding hills. Cottages written into existence by authors of years gone by. Pinter created the Hackney I was introduced to. The vibrancy of the lives that enrich the markets, the creativity that oozes and spills out of every crack and corner in this vast sprawling hub that is London. The people welcomed me with joy and experience. I was immediately incorporated into their own lives and stories. Fed with care on East End pie and mash. Forget ginger beer, it is eel liquor that soothes the souls of teenagers and the overworked in this city that never sleeps. Wooden benches guard their stories, absorbing all who sit on their soft plinths.

I saw community and intricate webs of lives supporting each other through good and bad. Surrounded by some of the most inspiring architecture. Stain Glass of the giants hangs in the forest, steel angels cast their eye. I dream of dolomite aggregated in St Helen’s expressing the thoughts of miners. Hope and levity shine through in blue skies and I feel the futures of the youth just brimming in the background. Waiting to be realised in the hands of older generations eager to manage what they perceive to be the eudaimon life. I visited the protective forests of this beautiful land and saw the rolling glistening beauty of Ullswater and Windermere. I climbed Ben Nevis and felt the immortality of Scottish highlands nourish my soul.

My dear Stephanie, I can only assume we visited different places. Or maybe we just saw them through different eyes? How can we have gone to the same country if what you describe is true? It has left me hollow just imagining the despair you’ve seen, written into the faces of everyone you met. Please instead remember the country of my own thoughts, forget the lives of those few and instead see only the good. No harm could come from only seeing the good…. Could it?

Much love to you my dear friend Stephanie,

From Alice

Writing 101 – Happy Birthday: Memories of Food.

I’m a bit behind on my 101 posts as life got in the way this week. I’m going to do a series of posts over the next 2 days now to catch up. I’m hoping I can treat this as an intensive writing to course! For a quick description of this task see here:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-celebration/

I didn’t have a very good relationship with food growing up. It was quite tortured in fact. As a very new baby in my first 3 months of life I contracted ecoli that wasn’t spotted for another 3 months. It apparently left me in chronic pain and I wouldn’t feed. I then became a very fussy toddler as I’d probably just made a strong association with food and pain from such a young age. At 4 I had severe appendicitis that left me in hospital for 2 weeks and again probably just made my child’s mind connect tummy ache, food and sickness in one big nasty loop of negativity. Then to complicate matters, as my sister and I grew up tensions rose in our house due to having an imbalanced and manipulative parent.

Our Mother regularly saved family arguments and negativity for the dinner table. I’m not sure why. I think maybe her anxiety and anger rose steadily during the day due to dissatisfaction in her own life and it just came to a head at mealtimes. She also often used food or control of food to punish us. More times than I care to remember I got handed a plate of something or a sandwich that she knew we didn’t like. Crab paste sandwiches leap to mind like a bad smell. Those little glass jars of sandwich paste you used to (and maybe still do) get. Our Dad loved them so there was always crab paste lurking in the fridge. If one of us has been naughty or she was just in a bad mood we’d often get one of these slammed down silently in front of us.

So this leads me to the only food that is genuinely strongly linked to good memories in my head. My Aunty is a fabulous cake decorator. I mean elaborate, inventive and professionally decorated cakes. Every year she made me an utterly brilliant birthday cake. At the age of 3 I was obsessed with space and spaceships so I was given a spacesuit and the Playmobil space station and rocket play set. As matching cakes I got a space station and rocket cake set so I could take one of them into nursery and have one at home. This is one of my earliest happy memories.

In the years that followed I had cakes of all shapes and sizes. One year I had a treasure chest cake with those sweetie jewels hanging out of it. Candy necklaces, haribo rings and an overflow of chocolate gold and silver coins. I was never allowed many sweets so I looked forward to them so much it’s hard to describe. It was that kind of, hop up and down and feel like you’ll wet yourself excitement. Especially up to the age of about 8. I think after that you start to take on board a kind of social nonchalance that peaks at about age 14. This is when you’ve perfected the skill of apathy that’s performed towards the world and all its inhabitants in a manner that is so dedicated it is at odds with the word itself.

My favourite cake was a sawn off tree. The base of one that had been felled. It arrived with autumn leaves made of crisp icing and spiders and bugs. There was a little snail with a big black shiny sweet as it’s shell. Everything looked like a perfect Autumn day. I’d just unearthed this microcosm in the woods. I loved creepy crawlies and nature things as a kid. I still do but as a young child you’re allowed to be consumed by such things and it’s not viewed as quite as odd. I had woodlouse at the end of my road that I thought of as friends. I loved the way they trundled about just getting on with their daily business. I used to go and talk to them. I also collected ladybirds and caterpillars and watched them socialise and live in those plastic bug cases you used to get. I guess that’s why I was a loner. It’s still deemed pretty unusual for a girl to be into those kind of things and back then it was even more unique!

Other cakes I had included one that looked like a giant beef burger and Mickey and Minnie Mouse heads. It was literally my favourite part of the year and I thought my Aunty was magic of something. I’m trying to recreate that for my daughter now. I’m no professional cake decorator unfortunately so I have to pay for my monkey’s cakes. I just want her to have those times when her jaw drops because the food in front of her looks so amazing. This year she’s having a Raa Raa The Noisy Lion cake, as that is her only obsession with a character on TV. It’s going to be a fabulous jungle creation and I just know that even at her age, the fact it’s Raa Raa on a cake will be enough to make her jump up and down.

I’m also making a huge effort to break those historical circles and create a happy and positive relationship with food for the both of us. I’ve spent the last few years arming myself with cooking techniques and baking skills. I’ve developed a love of cooking and eating and have learnt about food from all different places and cultures. I can’t wait to travel the world and learn even more things about food too. It’s this bond that is breaking my old habits of seeing food and meals as something negative and now I’m understanding the importance of showing love through food and cooking as well.

I know that in the future my monkey will hopefully link security and positive feelings with memories of home cooked meals, freshly baked bread and even with the sweet, milky spice of homemade chai. This is one of my own personal favourites out of what I’ve learned to make that immediately makes me feel secure and as if I’m definitely ‘home’ and safe. In 20 years time I’d like it if monkey was sat trying to write a similar passage. Instead of having just one food to write about, I’d like to know she was spoilt for choice and has an abundance of strong, happy distinct memories of the food we ate and still eat together. Food and family should be inextricably linked in a good way, as both should help a person to flourish and survive in a difficult but amazing world.

Writing 101: A Character Building experience

For a quick view of todays task see here: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-characters/

Now, I’m thinking it’s not a great start when I can’t think of a single interesting person I’ve met in 2014. In fact this is a terrible thing because I know it’s not true. I’ve met loads of interesting people I just can’t drag them into the forefront of my consciousness. I think I’ll maybe talk about Tommy. I’m possibly bending the rules slightly as I met him over a year ago, but I don’t care because Tommy is important.

Tommy is someone who has occupied my thoughts more than anyone else albeit in a worrisome way. He’s a lovely elderly gent who lives in some flats just around the corner from me. However I’ve not seen Tommy for a really long time and it makes me think he’s passed away, which is why I’d like to write about him. I used to see this gent slowly but surely wandering up and down my road throughout the day. He always had a young, attractive (and different) lady helping him along. Now Tommy was definitely in need of a bit of help, he wasn’t that sure on his feet and it took him a very long time to travel a short distance.  With a cheeky smile and sharp wit it always amused me but didn’t surprise me that it was always, without fail, a young attractive girl on his arm  helping him along. I always used to see him bundled up in lots of layers that covered his thin but wiry frame. He bordered on skeletal but somehow never looked fragile. I constantly passed him during the 1st year of my daughter’s life, as I was on maternity leave and had plenty of time to wander the streets too.

So I guess it was inevitable we would eventually get chatting. Tommy is Glaswegian born and bred and within about 10 minutes of talking to him these are the things anyone would know: He’s 89 years old and has travelled to over 80 countries. He never revealed how but I always assumed he was in the war. I wanted to ask but I grew up with Grandparents in the war that didn’t want to discuss it because they lost so many friends. My parents always warned us to never ask my Papa in particular and so the questions just stuck in my throat whenever I was chatting to Tommy. He didn’t tell and I didn’t ask.

He was always wearing a big thick tweed coat, a thick stripy woollen scarf, a trapper hat and he walked/shuffled along with a stick. Tommy was always dressed like this apart from one summer when I saw him down the bottom of the road in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. I really can’t convey how much that made me smile. It was too hot for him apparently but he was the brightest person on the street that day and his presence made me so happy. He was clearly used to being active and was always out and about chatting to anyone who he could along my street and along the main road at the bottom. His Glaswegian accent was so strong that I sometime struggled to get the full gist of what he was saying. He often talked about visiting friends in LA but I could never get whether he was going or just wanted to go.

The more I talked to Tommy the funnier and cheekier he got. I suspect if he’d tried his lines on me as a younger man, I might have felt differently. But somehow at the age of nearly 90 he got away with blue murder. So one day I was chatting to him, I’d not seen him in a while and I’d been concerned. I was asking if he needed anything bringing in to his house or if he had food cooked for him. He asked me if I wanted a rich sugar Daddy! Now somehow coming out of his cheeky smile with a very definite sparkle in his eye, mixed with an appropriate amount of sincerity he got away with this. I suspect I’m not the only one he asked either. When I laughed he said “but more importantly Titania, can you cook??” He said this with all the seriousness it required. I suspect if I’d said yes he’d have moved me in later that day given half a chance. I think after this, because he knew I’d laughed he just got braver.

Now before I say this next one, in all fairness I was breast-feeding, which had pretty much tripled me in bust size. It was also a hot day so I was wearing a V-neck vest. Tommy shuffled over unassumedly and looked like butter wouldn’t melt. We had a bit of a chat and I was asking him if he was OK. After an appropriate amount of time (if there is such a thing) he looked down and said “Now Titania, have you ever considered wearing a bikini? Because you’d look very fine in one indeed….”. You’re going to have to picture the relentless twinkle in his eye and imagine the thick but smooth Glaswegian accent. I suppose I’m making poor old Tommy sound like a sexist dirty old man, but he wasn’t. I guess his age, mixed with his charm and his glorious little twinkle in his eye meant he pulled all this off with the skills any 20-year-old lad would be supremely jealous of. I know it’s maybe a cop out to say he came from a different time where rules and boundaries were different but he did. And I suspect in his heyday he was a right old charmer and always had a pretty lady on his arm back then too. As my friend said at the time ‘God loves a trier!’ And as non-religious as I am, I’m inclined to agree.

Tommy was always asking to go for a coffee with me. But he had a habit of bumping into me when I was on my way home, with a crying or hungry baby and a load of shopping that needed to go into the freezer. I promised myself if he ever caught me on the way out I’d go for that coffee. More than anything now I regret not being able to. I regret not having the time to sit for 20 minutes and have a coffee with a funny, but possibly lonely old man. I have a suspicion that the reason Tommy spent his days roaming the streets of the West End of Glasgow was because he was alone in that flat of his and desperate for some human contact and conversation. My one comfort is that he was so sociable, outgoing and likeable that he got it in the streets from all those lovely girls I used to see him with.

I miss Tommy, very dearly actually. I know he would have most definitely been one of the most interesting people I could have ever met, if I’d have just been able to take the time to have coffee with him. Unfortunately he met me as a brand new single mum, as always life gets in the way and things just never lined up so we could get that drink. If you know a Tommy out there or you see a Tommy regularly – do me a favour and sit down with them at least once. Because when you stop seeing them, you’ll wish you had more than anything. And Tommy, if you or anyone who ever knew you reads this, never mind God, I love a trier! You really made an impact on my life and you still do. I’m pretty sure that also goes for lots of people in and around Glasgow who crossed paths with you.