Monday 27 November 2017

Mulled Poems, 30th November

Ashdown Forest, Winter View by Robin Webster

This Thursday evening between 6 and 8pm we will once again meet at Ashdown Forest Centre to raise a glass of mulled wine, tuck away a mince pie or two and read seasonal poems.  Entrance is free and everyone's welcome.  

Monday 20 November 2017

Reading at Lumen, Tavistock Place

Photograph by Nick Kane

Tomorrow evening I will be reading at Lumen, 88 Tavistock Place, London.   Doors open at around 6.30pm and the reading will take place under the banner of Agenda Poetry.  I will be in fine company, reading alongside Timothy Ades, Patricia McCarthy, Sam Milne, Jess Mookherjee and Shaun Trainer, and poets from the floor will also be welcome.  The event will be run by Ruth O'Callaghan, under the wing of Andrew Motion, and funds raised will benefit homeless people.  

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Filmpoem Festival, Lewes

On Saturday I'll be in Lewes, doing this.  It looks amazing.  Come if you're close.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Seventy Answers

I've come to a pause in typing up Seven Answers.  I need to draw some more initials, which takes time, and recently I don't seem to have had much of that.  There are still more replies to publish, although the end is in sight, and soon I'll have to decide what next.

It's been fun so far.  I didn't read all the replies when I first received them, so I've discovered a lot of lovable new voices and interesting stories.  The process of typing them up has been a delight too: I've felt close to each writer as I've typed, a feeling I used to enjoy when I was young, copying my favourite poems by hand so I could stick them on my walls or give them to friends.

Sometimes I've encountered editing dilemmas.  I've cut a few passages in order to tighten the replies and I've corrected a few spelling and punctuation mistakes.  On the whole though I've tried to keep my interfering fingers to myself and let each person speak.  I've also removed some references to people and places that I thought might make a writer recognisable, but here again I've tried to do as little as possible.

And now spring's become summer and tomorrow will be the solstice.  When I started typing up the replies the first primroses were coming into flower, now my garden's full of roses and there are still a few more replies to come.

Tuesday 30 May 2017

An Encounter

(I found this fragment stapled to another set of replies.  There might be more of it somewhere else, but it's rather nice as it is).

He likes the same music as me... who'd have thought it!  Another trance, folk, world-music, poppy freak in the world.  He seems interesting and interested - rather than just taking about himself.  Unfortunately, and unusually, he doesn't drink, having stopped a few months ago after looking in the mirror one morning after.  Still, no one seems to be perfect.

All in all, a really enjoyable and romantic evening.  And yes, hopefully we will meet again[...]

A Lie

I'd like to tell you about the time I arranged for someone to steal my ex-boyfriend's car and drive it into the sea; revenge for the hours he spent telling me about how camshafts work and my disappointment that the excitement he obviously felt telling me about car engines didn't last the distance from the garage to the bedroom.  I'd like to tell you that, but it wouldn't be true.  What is true is that I used to pretend for hours that I was really interested because I wanted him to sleep with me.

A Memory

(This isn't my memory.  Like all my recent posts it's one of Seven Answers).

I can remember waking up in my cot and wanting people to come.  But they were all still asleep [...], even my sister who slept in a bed, so I stood up by holding onto the wooden white painted rails and boinged my Humpty Dumpty up and down with the hand I wasn't holding on with.

After a long time my mum or dad would come and let me out, or my sister would get out of her bed and come over to chat and play.  I don't think she was able to open the cot front and release me.

I still have the Humpty Dumpty, he is Chad Valley, about the size of a big Easter egg and made of very faded and worn pink and blue velvet.  The elastic for boinging him up and down tore off a few decades ago.

A Fear and a Wish

Deepest fear: moths.

Deepest wish: to stay happy and loved.

Wednesday 24 May 2017

An Encounter

Recently I went to see a band with my girl friends.  It was a fun night and the music was rock covers so we could all sing along and spill beer down our arms.  I pushed down to the front and positioned us right in front of the band.  [...] I could feel someone looking at me and turned to the left where I locked eyes with a very, very good-looking guitarist.  He had green eyes and we had one of those stares where you both dare each other to stop looking first but you can't.  One of those stares that make you want to drop to your knees in front of him.

I broke the gaze eventually and looked at my friends who were both wide-eyed.  'What was that?!' they mouthed and I fanned my red face with my hand.

The rest of the gig it was hard to take my eyes off him.  It was clear that we fancied each other and he even sang along to some of the lyrics while he was staring at me.

After the gig I tapped him on the back and he turned round; his green eyes again.  I said, 'I have two questions for you.  One, was the cute girl standing next to me your girlfriend?'


'Oh, OK.'

'What's the second question?' he asked.

'That doesn't matter now.'  Pause.  Then in my beery bravado I said, 'You would though, wouldn't you?' and he said that I should come to the gig next Saturday and he would guarantee that she wouldn't be there.

I didn't go, but I did think about it.

Monday 15 May 2017

A House

I spent most of my childhood in a bungalow in the countryside.  Originally it wasn't particularly big but my father built an extension on to it, comprising a dining room and spare room/study.  He also built a double garage to one side.  But the garden was my home - I had a camp at the end of it with a rope ladder and hammock, and I created lots of little cycle paths around all the flower beds.

In the house my favourite place was the attic - it seemed that there was an endless supply of treasure up there: dressing-up clothes, including Mum's wedding dress; a lime green ostrich-trimmed flapper number; a red and white Hawaiian dress; then boxes of old Victorian postcards; naval memorabilia and so on.

My other favourite place to go to on a Saturday morning before everyone else was up was the dog basket, squeezing in with our beagle, even occasionally eating his biscuits.

Thursday 11 May 2017

An Experience

A near-death experience on a retreat in a mountain village.  One week of silence and twelve hours of sitting meditation in a largely unheated monastery of sorts, end of January.  Four days in, I'm nearing a psychological meltdown and start having palpitations that get so bad that I ask for an ambulance.  It takes about half-an-hour to get there and all this time I'm telling myself to just hang on, breathe, the medics will come and sort me out.  But when they do they just hook me up to an EEG thing that beeps along with my heart and stand there, defibrillators in hand, saying that they can't give me any med's as it would be too dangerous.  I guess what I learned there and then is that ultimately your life is in your hands alone, that if you don't muster the will to live, nobody can do it for you.  I still have the printout of my heart-curve, it looks like a blueprint for a roller coaster; a good-luck charm of sorts.

A Dream

 dreamt I was being a drag queen for the first time, getting changed in a public toilet when my ex-partner from 2010 walked past looking fit and healthy but completely oblivious to who I was.  

Thursday 4 May 2017

A Crime or Two

Drink driving; drug dealing and taking; stealing from my place of work; drug smuggling.

A Memory

(This isn't my memory.  Like all my recent posts it's one of Seven Answers).

I must have been about four years old.  I was riding my bicycle which had three wheels.  I loved my bicycle.  But while I was outside, riding around the car park which served the houses in our lane, the police came and took my bicycle away.  This event happened just after my earliest ever memory.  I was in my home with my mother and the police knocked at the door.  Somehow they came inside.  My mother pushed me behind her back as the police entered our living room, two of them, and my mother picked up a glass bottle from the table, smashed the end off and brandished it at the police to make sure they didn't come closer.  It was me they wanted, but they didn't take me that day.  It was the following day when they came again, when I was outside with my bicycle.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

A Wish

I have always wished that I could fly.  I dream about it often - just a slight plié and a certain wriggle of the shoulders and spread of fingers and I am in the air, effortless and easy, gravity having no hold on me.  I have wished it ever since I was a child, on every new moon and every falling star, when I should have been wishing for practical things like a proper job or a functioning car or  a non-dysfunctional family... But I always wish for flight.  I have no fear of heights - I have always known what the world looks like from above, long before I was ever in an airplane.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

An Encounter

[...] I was walking to college one day with my friend and we were busy talking when this boy came towards us that my friend knew.  He and I just stopped and started at each other with eyes like saucers and our mouths open, it was a very peculiar feeling and my friend found it hysterical.  I had never seen anything so beautiful, he was tall, cinnamon-coloured and had hair like a gypsy.  He was exotic and delicious and I had never encountered anyone like this in the miserable town where we lived.

I didn't any longer go to the college but as I was kicking around not dong much I used to go in with my friend sometimes.  After the stare-off I did get to meet him again outside a classroom and I sat on the edge of a table swinging my legs like a child and eating crisps while he painted an extremely awful portrait of me.

We ended up going on a sort of date, although I already had a boyfriend.  The friend, myself and him all went to the pub together and then she left us an we agreed to meet up that evening back in the pub.  I don't remember the time of year, it wasn't winter but it was colourless, cold, damp and dismal.

We wove our way back to his house in the dark in the early evening with a storm chasing our heels and a cheap pizza and wine.  His flat was on the seafront, the waves were crashing up over the barriers and by the time we reached the entrance we were windswept and soaked, which added to the romance.  I knew nothing about him and he seemed to be a bit of a loner, but it never occurred to me not to go off with him on my own.

His flat was minute and sparse and seemed to be in a retirement block, which was an odd place for a 20 year old to live, I think he had inherited it.  His artwork was all over the walls, it was bad, childish and unconsidered in its approach and the subject mater was wolves, monsters and men devouring women.  In his tiny bedroom he had an array of weapons on his windowsill: knives and equipment used for martial arts.

We got even more drunk, ate the pizza and ballroom-danced around the flat to Pyscho Killer.  We stood out on the balcony and watched the sea roaring, it felt desperately romantic and as we were so high up it looked as if the sea was directly below us and we were right out in it.

I never got to meet my friend that evening, but I also never saw him again, his deliciousness was offset by an attentiveness that gave me the creeps.  When I think back I am not sure if he was a really lovely man and I was too young to appreciate the potential or he was a complete weirdo - sometimes there's a fine line.

Friday 28 April 2017

A House

(This house isn't mine; it's one of Seven Answers).

The house which was most important to me as a child is the house I still live in.  It is ramshackle and not well built, but it is my one and only real home. I am the fourth generation of my family to live here.  The bungalow was featured in the Ideal Home exhibition of 1927.  However, recently a surveyor suggested that the best thing to do with it was to knock it down!

I didn't knock it down but instead replaced the roof, windows and doors and covered the attic with insulation.  Soon I will paint the walls inside and out and give it anything else it needs.

On a warm summer's evening I walk through the wildflower lawn in my garden towards my house and think of the beginning of the film Howard's End.  Of course I should mention the book first, but it is the image of the actress which I recall, walking around her house, her long dress sweeping the grass.  Both the character and actress's names escape me and don't seem very relevant since I become the character when I was the sequence.  Her feelings for Howard's End are my feelings for my house.

Thursday 27 April 2017

A House

My aunt and uncle's house was a great place to visit when I was a boy.  For a start it was three storey, and with a loft conversion too - it felt like a maze.  Loads of stairs to run up and down and rooms to explore.  It was always warm and full of people and animals and the smell of cookery, and noise.  My uncle collected jukeboxes, slot machines, BorgWarner cars and flintlock pistols.  There were big black and white 1950s posters and old adverts and rockabilly paraphernalia.  If I asked for a whisky and lemonade at the age of twelve I got a pint.  They had a black cat called Martha and a revolving line-up of other cats who would stay for a couple of years, sleeping on the old towels on top of the boiler, before moving on.  Chaotic, but in a loving sort of way.  I thought it was great.

An Experience

I lost my lovely auburn hair when I was 33 years old.  Most of it fell out when I was out shopping with my young daughter.  This made me feel inferior to other women, which led to self-loathing.  36 years later I still have these feelings.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

A Dream

am leading a group of sixty or so people across a grassy plain.  I don't recognise any one of them, but seem to know them nonetheless, like one knows neighbours or people living in the same part of town.  It's spring and there's a mighty wind blowing and everybody is in a festive mood.  We are carrying a sort of maypole, a tall, slender tree-trunk adorned with little flags of different colours, to the crest of a low hill.  There we proceed to plant the pole, some people pushing and holding up the trunk, others pulling on ropes tied around its tips.  I am in the latter group, and we are chanting as the pole goes up.  When it does, there is great cheer and I wake with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Monday 24 April 2017

A Crime

[...] School playground friendship had developed into post-school pub friendship and weekend warehouse and club-night outings.  A particular friend I'd become close to had, with another [person] I didn't know so well, decided to capitalise on the weekend environments and [begun] to deal drugs, mainly ecstasy pills and cannabis.  I had no moral problem with this, everybody seemed to be taking drugs at the time and I had a cheap supply myself.

We travelled around as three a lot, most weekends driving into London to a regular club-night or an impromptu warehouse party, the location of which was communicated by verbal social networks.  On occasions we went to a club which was located next to a dual carriageway between London and Southend.  It was a somewhat mythical place of me in as much as I could never sight the building during daylight, whenever I drove along the route, which I did from time to time.

One particular night in this particular club I was again with my two friends who throughout the evening were going about their business.  I had not [got] - nor really wanted to [get] involved, though I was envious of the month-long holiday in Barbados they had coming up.  [...]

It was whilst in the throws of my hedonism that one of my friends announced a problem he had.  Choosing to wear sweat pants that evening - a fashion of the period I'm proud to say I didn't engage with- he lamented that he had no pocket in which to hold his bag of stock.

'No problem,' I said and offered myself as custodian of the drug sack.

My task was to dispense the merchandise to my friend at point of sale.  Events were going to plan when through the mass of bodies I was confronted by two men [...] 15 to 20 years [...] older than those in the club; they didn't fit.  One with a light beard looked me in the eyes and held out his hand, palm upwards, meaning for me to give him something.  I froze, my mind made computations faster than a silicon chip processor - police - undercover drug squad - me carrying Class A drugs in vast quantities - big crack-down and example sentencing - 20 years imprisonment - I'd ruin my life.

His cold expression broke into a smile, he patted me on the shoulder.  'Have a good night,' he said as he walked by me.

I don't remember much more after that.  The relief, the effects of the pills I'd taken.  I did pass the stock back to my friend, who I don't think even witnessed the event or if he did did not share my experience, maybe he knew the two.

I slowed down after that, things were getting out of control with my friends' activities - threats were being made via go-betweens and an incident involving a gun at another warehouse party told me it was time to distance myself from them a little.  The period of this culture was ending for me anyway. It had become dull and repetitive.  I longed for evenings back in town pubs where you could have conversations.

It still scares me, that memory of a few seconds.

Friday 21 April 2017

A Memory

(This isn't my memory; it's one of Seven Answers).

I have a very strong memory of being five or six, at Christmas time.  We lived in a big, old townhouse, three floors high with massive staircases and creaky wood everywhere.  At Christmas we'd have a huge Christmas tree in the hall, covered in multicoloured lights, little carriages (like old fashioned horse carriages) with lights inside.  In the morning, when it was still dark, Dad and I would creep downstairs, crawl under the tree and turn the lights on.  I don't know why it was the two of us, as we have a big family, but in all the excitement and clamour of Christmas it seemed a really precious, almost sacred time, just the two of us in the cold, dark winter morning.

Thursday 13 April 2017

A Fear

Deepest fear, and it's a frequent one, is losing someone close to me.  I think it all stems from when my father died when I was 14 - we first heard about it over the phone.  I was at home with my sister (Mum was away with her lover) and the phone rang.  I remember it was dark so it must have been early evening.  My sister said, 'If it's Dad, don't tell him I'm here.'  But it wasn't Dad.  It was his lady friend to tell us the news that she'd found him.  I had answered the phone to her but she wouldn't tell me why she was ringing - she just asked if Mum was there but as she wasn't she asked to speak to my sister, who then became hysterical.  I imagined the worst, which was of course confirmed.

Now the phone ringing sometimes brings on that heavy-hearted feeling, almost like it's ringing with urgency to bring bad news.  It's worse if it's at a strange time, like late in the evening or very early.  I have to tell myself it's irrational and not to be such a pessimist.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

An Encounter

There was a girl I liked, but I wasn't sure if she liked me.  We'd seen each other a few times, but I wasn't quite sure what was going on - I was never very good at reading signals.  One thing we'd talked about was my aversion to fruit skin, and hairy fruit skins, like peaches and apricots, in particular - to such a degree that I cannot touch them (or even think about them) without the hairs on my arms standing on end.  One evening she knocked on the door of my apartment.  I opened it, and she was standing there with a peach.  She'd brought it so that she could peel it for me, so that I could eat a peach.  As I recall, the peach itself was not very good, but the message conveyed by it was.

Monday 10 April 2017

A House

An old orchard at the end of the garden.  A lumpy lawn where we set up tents in the summer, stayed up all night too scared to sleep and watching the stars creep across the black sky.  The silhouette of the house crouched behind us.  The back door; peeling paint.  The fly-strip hanging over the kitchen counter.  The buzz of bluebottles.  The frying pan always on the stove, encrusted with grease.  The brown teapot, always in use.  The uncarpeted stairs.  The oilcloth on the table.  The rack of pipes on the mantelpiece.  The collected works of Winston Churchill.

Thursday 6 April 2017

An Experience

(This isn't my experience: like all my other recent posts it's one of Seven Answers).

Just recently I was talking to a lady who works with autistic adults and the more we talked the more I realised that my experience mirrored a lot of things she was saying about autistic behaviour.  Since that day I have been thinking about autism a lot (a little obsessively) and been researching it on the Internet and talking to people.  I was scared but I told my mum about it and she said that it was hard to work me out because as a child I was so closed off.  I am in the middle of a pivotal experience at the moment because things are falling into place.  I make sense to myself a bit more.  Friends that I have tentatively told have not laughed or told me I am being dramatic or a hypochondriac, as I feared they might, but have also had moments of clarity about me.  I am learning to forgive myself a little for certain behaviour.  Am able to know that when I check with people, 'Is this all right?' 'Do I look OK?' it is not out of low self-esteem but that I just don't know.  I am still learning the rules.  I'm also in awe of those people who still love me in spite of my 'little ways' and can be at peace with those who just couldn't get me.  Someone who I was very fond of and who did like me recently parted ways with me, their final words to me were, 'If you were a man you would be just weird.'  I think I know what he means and that is his choice but my heart is absolutely filled with love for this who can overlook a person's shabby, dark and broken bits and see the spark inside that brings the excitement and joy out of another person.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

A Dream

am on Champix (trying to give up smoking) and it makes dreams all the more vivid.  I've also just split up with my partner of six years so I'm in emotional turmoil.  My dreams at the moment are mad - it's like entering a multimedia experience zone with images and ideas flashing in stroboscope fashion at me all the time.

Last night was a case in point.  I'm at home (or rather the sinks about which I'm talking are).  Don't know why I'm there.  The sink in my bathroom is filling up with dark brown (very dirty water), it passes the brim and it keeps filling, stacking itself up freely above the sink (it's not pouring over the edge).  It's about to reach the level of my bathroom mirror and I'm panicking - I've yellow rubber gloves on.  I stretch over the tower of water and plunge my hands in it - down to the plug hole.  The water seeps inside my gloves.  I pull the plug and the water goes down leaving dirt and debris all over my arms and my sink.

Then I'm in the kitchen - not a porcelain sink - it's stainless steel.  The same happens.

And then, for some reason - I've picked up a pint glass in the kitchen and filled it with water to drink. I drink it but it tastes weird.  I look back at the glass I filled with water and it's full of very dirty baby new potatoes floating in the water.

A Crime

Shop-lifting, dangerous driving, drug taking - you name it!

Monday 3 April 2017

A Memory

(This isn't my memory; it's one of Seven Answers).

I am being held on my mother's hip while we wave goodbye to some friends of theirs.  We are standing outside our house watching as they get into their car within the walled courtyard.  The sun is shining and we are smiling and waving but I know that beyond the wall to the left as you walk along towards the chickens in the farmyard the path dips down and there it is always cold and feels wrong.  The dog doesn't like walking past and always hesitates before running through and up the slope beyond.  When my mother carries me that way I can feel her unease as we pass through and relief as we move beyond.  The awareness of this is there as I wave in the sunshine and the security of my mother's arms.

A Fear

It's not so much a deep fear as a strangling sensation that clamps at something in me at odd moments.  It's almost trite in its universality, but when it does strike it envelopes me fully, icily.  The creepiness, the tingling from the base of my neck to a place I can only describe as my soul, is enough to paralyse me for an eternally dreadful second.  It's different to everyday fear, the fight or flight response, for it has only an obvious relationship to death.  Death is of course part of it, but it's something more.  More profound, infinitely more disturbing: the existential awareness that I will one day cease to exist.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

An Encounter

I once made love in a forest at twilight.  It was October and it was cold with a light drizzle in the air.  We were camping nearby so we could have just gone back to the tent, but we were young and passionate and now meant now and not in fifteen minutes' time.  There was never enough time to wait for things then, sometimes I wish I could recreate that sense of urgency, but it seems lost.  He was very chivalrous; he arranged his jacket carefully on the shrubs and tree roots for me to lie on and he was very gentle.  I can't remember much about the actual sex, it was probably not that great, we hadn't yet had much practice - but the setting was magical.  I remember a strong smell of green, of moss and bark and earth and leaves.  I remember the damp air on my face and legs.  I remember an intensity of feeling, of being in the moment and of feeling a connection with everything around me that would rarely return again.  It wasn't even that comfortable, I had a tree root digging in my back and a scratchy plant attacking my leg, but I didn't care.  Afterwards we went back to the tent and made a fire and drank cheap cider and I kept looking at the forest in the distance thinking: we were there, we made love there.

A House

(This isn't my house; it's one of Seven Answers).

I had a log house at the back of our property that my father built for me.  It had three rooms over three stories so felt quite grand and special.  It was a place to hide out in, have snacks, run away from home to and have hours of fun with friends in different adventures playing all sorts of roles (cowboys and Indians, Germans and Allies, space explores (the house could fly)).  The structure and architecture of the house stands out.  The top floor was pretty high and was a good lookout point to steer the spaceship or keep on a look-out for Germans or Indians.  The middle floor served as a place to eat, discuss plans, draw maps... and the lower floor was a place for captured prisoners, storeroom, engine of the spaceship.  And as I write this it occurs to me for the first time that this place was built out of the love my father had for me.  It was a great and terrific gift, this house in the woods.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

An Experience

The most pivotal experience which changed my outlook on life entirely was when my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Where previously I had normal career and life ambitions and made plans for the future this made me much more aware of how easily we take things for granted and how easily things can change.  Not necessarily through illness but jut as easily through accident.  It brought into focus how important it is to make the most of each and every day and really concentrate on getting the most out of life, enjoying what I have today to the maximum and changing things that are not quite right rather than bemoaning what I don't have and wishing for things to be different.

Thursday 23 March 2017

A Dream

y head was in the jaws of a crocodile and there was enough pressure to stop me taking it out but not enough to cause me harm.  I lay in its jaws without fear or worry.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

A Memory

One of my earliest memories is watching my mother make a snow woman in the garden while my brother and [I] watched from the warmth of the kitchen table looking out to the snow.  She kept trying to put breasts on the snow woman but they kept falling off.  I would have been three or four at the time.

A House

(This isn't my house; it's one of Seven Answers).

When I was six, our family moved [...] to the Kent countryside on a brand new housing estate.  For the first time we had a garden although as the house was new it was mainly full of builders' rubble apart from a couple of apple trees, one of which was easily climbable.  At the end of the garden was a railway line that provided a regular backdrop of noisy trains but none of us cared; we were in a house, not a flat, and I could go to a school without constant playground scraps.  The house was a three bedroom semi-detached and my uncle, aunt and grandmother had moved into the attached property.

I shared a bedroom with one of my brothers, we had bunk beds and I had the top bunk.  Dad built some units which incorporated a desk and I remember feeling really grown up as I sat there playing Spirograph.  Our curtains were a pattern of old infantry soldiers and at night they looked a little spooky.  I was scared of the dark then and would lie in bed trying not to breathe in case someone or something would discover me.  My bunk bed became my safe house where I couldn't be touched.

Whilst Dad set about laying lawn and flower beds, my brother and I would play amongst the half-finished houses at the end of the estate, running in and out pretending to shoot each other.  We would pick up any junk left by builders that resembled a weapon and on one occasion managed to procure a new pick axe handle for Dad.  As more families moved in, our circle of friends grew ever larger and before long we were playing cricket in the street, breaking a few windows in the process, and organising marathon bike tournaments around the crescent.  Some of us even rode around hands-free, frequently coming off and grazing exposed body parts.

There seemed to always be people coming in the back door which was invariably open, our friends as well as neighbours that my parents had got to know.  One couple had a garage stuffed full with chocolate bars and biscuits.  He was a sales rep for Nestle and would often let us go into the garage and choose what we liked, our very own Willy Wonker!

After we'd been there for a couple of years there was a really bad flood that came up to the ground floor windows of most of the houses although it only managed to lap at our doorstep as our end of the estate was on a slight incline - I remember wading to school with my uniform in a plastic bag!

Thursday 16 March 2017

A Dream

Blood everywhere, possibly from a body.  I worry how I'm going to get it off the carpet.

A Fear

(This is one of Seven Answers).

Deep water.  It's not the fear of having nothing beneath you, but the fear of having EVERYTHING beneath you, and the fear of the totally unknown.  I had a discussion about this with my best friend when I was about 17.  She agreed with me.  She thought about it for a while and then described how she felt about it.  She told me to look at the ceiling. We were in the sixth-form common room at the time.  I looked up. Then she said to imagine I could see just the legs of an Action Man doll, protruding from the ceiling.  I pictured them, very small and a long way up.  Then she looked around the room.  She said, 'Now imagine all this room is full of water and it's really dark down here - think about being that action man.'  We both shuddered.  Not everybody gets it, and that's fine, but I still have trouble with ferry crossings and I can't ever imagine myself on a cruise liner.

Tuesday 14 March 2017

A Crime

When I was fourteen I broke into BBC Television Centre.  More than once.

I was the quiet friend of a group of bold girls.  I loved it.  Being quiet didn't mean I was less naughty though.  We were all odd in our own way.  Growing up in London was both exciting and very scary.  It was my time of racing hormones and thrills to be sought out.

One of the things that thrilled us most was music, all sorts, goth, punk, pop, we listened to it all and we fancied everyone in the bands.  We heard that one of the bands we liked was going to be on Top of the Pops, so we decided to take the tube to White City and hang around outside to see if we could catch anyone going in or coming out.  We waited there for ages in the cold.

Then we saw two girls being escorted out by security, two girls about our age being shown to the gate and told never to come back.  Grumpily [the girls] shunned them and walked by.  Jodie (the boldest [of our group]) caught them up and asked them if they were ok and what happened, and then we found out...

The BBC building is a massive place.  If you go around it, down one of the side streets, quite a way, there is a park, Hammersmith Park.  If you cross this park swiftly to the back, there are (well there was) tall bushes and trees which hide a very tall spiked fence and directly on the other side are humongous storage containers, the kind that would store a small house, all hidden by the bushes.  To this day I have no idea how I got my chubby body up and over the fence, aided by trees as none of us were good in P.E. but I did, we did.  Up and over and slide down the 15" gap between the fence and the containers until our feet found the fence footings which was a handy wall to walk along.  Squeazing along we could cover quite a distance without being seen, back to the BBC building.  Once we had reached the end of the containers there was a matter of one security post.  A uniformed man, with his peeked cap, in his little box, with a walkie-talkie, waiting.  But the box wasn't really pointed towards where we were hiding, so it was a short time before his head was turned and one by one we legged it to the circular-shaped building.

We were in.  The building was sectioned off into four colours.  It didn't take long to work out we needed the green section and that's where we headed.  Passing through corridors filled with doors, all with names of presenters or TV shows or administration-type titles on them, the Saturday morning kids shows, news readers, Blue Peter presenters.  We passed one that said Andy Peters, [then] Philip Schofield and again as Jodie was the boldest she tried the door.

It was open.  It was empty.  We all had a look.  Not a big room, a desk chair and lots of paperwork and books.  Sitting on a shelf was Gordon the Gopher.  We hatched a plan to take the puppet and leave a funny ransom note.  We did and we thought it was hilarious.

Passing people we recognised from TV, we did stop and ask Harry Enfield for an autograph.  He did, but quickly, he didn't really like it.  I learnt that day that even though you can be on the telly or on stage and put yourself in a position where everyone will laugh at you, privately you can be the shyest of them all.

Being interested in costume I was delighted to find rooms with rails and rails of costumes and accessories, a costume department.  Some of them we recognised from Blackadder.  One of Queenie's beautiful head-dresses for instance, with its jewels and pearls that was almost heart-shaped with its droplet in the middle that sits on the forehead.  Holding it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life.

It was also parallelled with [the] anticipation of getting caught, which eventually we did.  The closer we got to the Top of the Pops studio the more security was pacing the corridors and we just couldn't dodge all of them.  They knew Thursday night would mean chasing the pop cravens out of the place and it looked like they hadn't worked out yet how we all got in.  We were all under sixteen and harmless really, so I guess it was worthless calling the police and probably made the security look lame.  We didn't run.  It was getting time to make the long journey [back] anyhow before we were really late home and got the bollocking we deserved.  And we didn't want to climb the fence again to get out.

We didn't get to see the band, and I can't even remember who it was we went to see.

On Saturday morning we kept an eye on the TV show Going Live and felt sure it would be mentioned that Gordon was gone.  Not a mention of a ransom note, its demands and Philip didn't swear on kids' TV as our demand stated.  Our Gordon was obviously one of many Gordon puppets and he appeared, as his squeaky normal self on the show.

Friday 10 March 2017

An Experience

(This is one of Seven Answers).

As a teenager, I would not/could not admit that I was gay.  I transferred the urges which I felt for certain teachers and classmates into 'wishing I could be them,' wishing I could magically inhabit a bigger/stronger/handsomer/more mature man's body, escaping my own which I felt to be small/weak, unattractive/immature.  None of this was true, of course, but one makes 'deals' with one's inner voices when one is learning how to be an adult human being... Then at the age of eighteen, during my first month of my first year at university, I met a man - no, this isn't that sort of story.  He was a floor captain of my dormitory, and all he did was help me get back into my room one morning when I was accidentally locked out.  But he was tall, handsome, bearded, funny, smart... only two years older than I was, but I automatically filed him in the 'adult' category (as opposed to me in the 'boy' pigeonhole).  And yes, I would have liked to have (somehow, magically) inhabited that big golden body... but that evening, while working myself up to my usual pleasurable nighttime experience (ahem!), I found myself not wanting to be him but to be in bed with him... making love with him.  It was the first moment when I realised that I was gay, and that such things were open to me.

An Encounter

found myself in the first few weeks of a new relationship, but with someone I'd known for a very long time who had a difficult end to her previous relationship.  We went out for dinner... no attention paid to food just the rapt dance of listening and talking, sharing and choosing that begins a love affair.  As she got into a taxi at the end of the night we fell into a kiss... I had truly forgotten what it was to be sixteen again, kissing desperately as the taxi driver taps his steering wheel.

Thursday 9 March 2017

A crime

Can't think of a crime unless you count picking flowers from a garden and selling them for 1p to a lady in the street.

A Memory

(This memory isn't mine; it's one of Seven Answers).

My earliest memory is bathing - being bathed, really by my mother - at my grandmother's house.  It's an old house and the water is heated with a coal-fired boiler.  I clearly remember smelling the smoke of the fire and the sweet bubble-bath soap, a combination I don't think I've ever smelled since.  I am not yet three.  The reason I know this is that in the tub with me is a small plastic doll, a crying negro baby with pearly-white hair; I lost this doll shortly after my third birthday, throwing it overboard off a ferry.  The memory is pure perception, I don't associate any good or bad feelings or thoughts with it.

Wednesday 8 March 2017

A Fear

Growing old alone.  I'm useless, no pension, no mortgage, no investment in my future except - until recently - the love of a man who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.  I can deal with the poverty, the uncertainty and the insecurity of finances and property - but I hate silence.

I have no friends living nearby any more - they all moved out of [...] and established families, etc.  My job is real demanding - I love it - but I work a lot - weekends, evenings - so I rarely get to see people.  At least I always had my man - but very recently we broke up.

I had a week off work a few weeks back - I stared at the wall for most of it or sat in the pub drinking. Once work has gone, I'll not interact with anybody on a daily basis - so this is something I fear most - the deafening silence, the sense of loneliness - and I know I won't feel the total clout of it until I retire.

An Encounter

We were on a train from Val D'Aosta to Turin.  We had been teaching children at a school run by nuns in the mountains.  We were to spend a weekend in Turin before flying home.

As the train jostled our knees touched.  His knees were sun-kissed brown with tiny golden hairs on them.  He was tall and well built and his legs enclosed mine.  As the sunny hills and fields of Italy went by I felt shots of excitement and knew myself to be completely happy.

Friday 3 March 2017

A House

(This house is one of Seven Answers).

We moved a lot when I was young and I have patches of memory from some places, but the house where my first memories were really formed was a Victorian semi on the outskirts of a village.  The memories are still patchy and I don't remember clearly all the rooms, but they still form a map of the house.  The memories are centred around events but inconsequential ones; walking along a roll of lino in the front room, walking into my parents' east-facing bedroom in the morning and seeing the dust floating in the light; the metal framed doors in the back room that led out onto the patio and the stained glass windows in the front door.

The house was big and quite empty.  I'm not sure if a lot of my memories were of when we had first moved in or because my parents didn't have enough furniture to fill it.  The rooms seemed dark and oppressive.  The attic room on the third floor was completely empty so we played up there, and we had some giant cardboard cut-outs of pantomime characters that acted as props for numerous plays.  I can't picture the furniture in the rooms, I remember the layout of our bedroom and eating gingerbread in bed.  We had Disney character toothbrushes and Matey bubble bath mixture in the bathroom.  We had smelly gas fires in the fireplaces and I remember eating baby food out of a tin and watching TV, that can't be right though, I can't imagine my mother letting me eat out of a tin!

I have strange memories from that time about a bizarre incident on the upstairs landing in the middle of the night where marbles are rolling around on the floor.  I have a rather sinister, unsettled feeling.  I'm not sure if it was part of a dream I have always remembered, or if I woke up in the night and got disorientated wandering around.  It has just remained one of those abstract memories in my head that I can't quantify or fully explain.  Most of my memories of that house are quite abstract.  We have a lot of photos from that time and I think my memories are mixed up with images from photos, memories and things that I was told that have all formed and woven together and are now inseparable.

An Experience

I'm not sure I'd choose to describe anything as pivotal, simply because that infers that everything else isn't.  Life works in weird ways, and the big events aren't always the most meaningful.  Cobwebs covered in dew.  School kids singing 'Morning Has Broken.'  Pixar films.  The sudden loss of people I thought would be there forever.  The gleeful, wide-eyed curiosity of small children.  Sunrises and sunsets.  That feeling of being in the right place at the right time.  Getting the giggles over something daft.  It's all important, all pivotal.  But at the same time viewing everything as a Big Deal destroys the magic, I think.  Even matters of life and death are best approached with a knowing smile, and how can anything else exceed the significance of those?

Thursday 2 March 2017

A Dream

(This isn't my dream; it's one of Seven Answers).

sit tight on a slightly damp wooden bench.  I am holding a quilted bag the colour of dry blood.  The birch tree growing beside the bench is coming into leaf; covered in raindrops.  The sun is out.  My face and hands are warm.  I am contented and uneasy.  Three men walk past.  Two of them walk swiftly, with easy confidence.  The third hangs back a little, hands in pockets, head bowed and looking at the ground.  I hear him say, 'I did not go.  I stayed.  The river told me to and I obeyed.'  Then I see the river, quite close by, and I wake up.

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Seven Answers XXVIII: A Crime

(Read more about Seven Answers).

When I was on holiday at a coastal town where we usually went every year I really wanted a chocolate peppermint patty, so I stole one from the convenience store - something about which I still feel guilty.  The only other thing I've stolen was a lip-ice lip moisturiser from my cousin's pharmacy, again when I was a child.  When my mother asked me where I had got it from I said I'd found it.  Again, still guilty.

Seven Answers XXVII: A Memory

Having stitches put in the back of my mouth.  I was crawling up the staircase with a plastic trumpet in my mouth, which caught on the next step and pushed the mouthpiece into my mouth and cut the back of my throat.  The next thing I remember is lying down with a nurse above me.  My parents say I was three-ish when it happened.

Monday 27 February 2017

Seven Answers XXVI: A Fear

(Read more about Seven Answers). 

That everyone will find me out; they'll realise I'm not smart or funny, or they'll decide I'm not kind or interesting.  That I'll lose everyone.  

Seven Answers XXV: An Encounter

(Read about Seven Answers).

Far away from romance she and I scuttled behind a low brick-built building to the north of the city.  It was a weekend night, Friday or Saturday, it doesn't matter, it didn't matter then.  I was drunk, I usually was if it was a weekend.  I couldn't tell you the state of her, now, maybe not then.  We had come from a club, a night club back then, a former discotheque.  We had not arrived there together, I didn't know her though she said she knew me, I guess I may have been flattered.  I can't remember if we had much conversation, probably not, just a mutual agreement to go outside.

Our building was just around the corner from the club.  I knew it, though [had] not 'used' it before I did live in the area, so did she, it was to become a problem.

The sticky details are unreliable.  I was probably exhaling my beer and Bacardi as I slobbered around her not too pretty face.  We kept clothes on, it was coat weather.  Her knickers possibly moved to a pocket, my pants about my ankles, an old-fashioned 'knee trembler'.  No love and waning lust on my part, the anticipation far more weighty than the event.  A short spurt of energy and it was over, I was satisfied, she couldn't have been.  We walked back from behind the building, a hairdressers I know to have been called 'The Snip'!  Ha ha.

I was consumed with regret.  I didn't know this person, didn't fancy this person, didn't want anything to do with them, though I had physically been into her.  She had emotionally attached herself to me.  Though officially a city it was still not a large place to live, avoidance was difficult, everybody seems strangely connected in those situations and I found myself having limited places of sanctuary in the coming weeks.

I believe it to be the only time I've been unfaithful to a partner.

Seven Answers XXIV: A House

Read more about (Seven Answers).

It was a house which existed in my life but also haunted my dreams in exaggerated form.  It was to me a magic house.  The house was owned by my great-grandmother.  It was large, Victorian and situated on the Thames.  To me it was huge and never-ending.  I remember the entrance hall with its marble floor and grand piano.  A door on the left went off to the living room and a door opposite opened onto a large dining room.  There were further doors but I don't remember where they went.  I don't even remember going upstairs although I'm sure I must have.  Upstairs was real only in my recurring dream where it was composed of magical rooms.  In one room was a horse and carriage which continually changed colour.  But as I went through the rooms in my dream I was always searching for a small room at the top of the house, a bedroom decorated in blues, a room which I knew I had been to and to which I desperately wanted to return, so I searched and searched, but couldn't ever find it.

As a child I loved the garden.  Of particular interest to me was the old air-raid shelter which was prominent beneath a grassy mound.  A solid door covered the entrance but the door had fallen a little leaving a sliver of darkness into the void beneath.  I was mesmerised and intrigued.  Many years later, as an adult, my cousin told me how he had had a similar feeling about the air-raid shelter and that he had actually gone inside.  I was jealous.

Friday 24 February 2017

Seven Answers XXIII: An Experience

(Read about Seven Answers).

It has to be when I met him for the first time.  I was very nervous - he'd sounded lovely on the phone and very funny on texts.  I was wearing my favourite dress and had a bit of a tan, both of which boosted my confidence.  I walked into the pub and as I scoured the room I had the sensation of someone standing at the bar, checking me out.  He seemed very relaxed and confident, which helped me... When he asked what I was drinking I just said the first beer that caught my eye.  Fortunately it was the best one.  We sat and chatted and drank beer for hours and the rest is history.

Seven Answers XXII: A Dream

(Read about Seven Answers). 

am stood in the entrance way to a high vaulted room.  In front of me is a short corridor of cream-coloured stone with beautiful carvings all around.  It looks quite old, medieval perhaps.  As I pass through into the room it suddenly opens up, becoming vast like a cathedral.  A woman with grey hair pulled back into a bun, like my primary school teacher, is sitting at a low stool in the centre of the room with a wooden easel in front of her.  She is painting.  But as I approach I realise her brush is not actually touching the easel, she is painting three-dimensional women into the air, creating human forms out of paint in front of me.  The painted women begin to grow and their legs become archways filling the space before me.  I am not afraid of these women and when I wake up I feel energised and strangely comforted.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Seven Answers XXI: An Experience

(The words below aren't mine; they're part of Seven Answers).

A few years ago I decided to end the long term relationship I'd been in for eight years.  It probably took a year to make the decision and I fought it all the way.  Up until then I'd been an easy going, go-with-the-flow, take things as they come sort of person, never wanted to make waves or upset anyone. But all of a sudden I found myself liking myself less and less and doing things I couldn't believe I was doing, avoiding the reality that what was wrong was that we were no longer happy together.  But to solve the problem would mean making one person, my partner, unhappy.

In the end I had to do it, even though it was hard (as we talked and I told him, my physical reaction was extreme, shaking, crying, a real adrenaline surge).  Afterwards I felt so elated and the months after were some of the happiest of my life.

The experience made me realise that to make people happy to have to be honest with yourself first, then think about others.  That life is better when you really take part in it - it's messy but then that's half the experience.  I'm a much stronger person as a result.

Seven Answers XX: A House

(This isn't my house; it's one of Seven Answers).

There is a family summer home built by my great great-grandfather that to me (and countless other relatives) meant idyllic summer days, long and breezy.  Though an undemanding place to be (being always there on holiday, we never had to be anywhere; days were our own to explore), the inside was captured time, frozen with old photographs tucked away in drawers - distant, dead relatives posing starchily like cut-out figures - while tattered, proudly dated furniture gave most rooms a museum-like feel.

On rainy days, there was a library to explore in the shaded section of the house, dark and mysterious with a Victorian sofa that scratched your legs if you got too close and an over sized desk with dusty, weighty bric-a-brac.  Formal books, all of the same golden font, lined the shelves.

Sunny days belonged to the large open kitchen, the informal part of the house, the only downstairs room living firmly in the present.  It was here, on a vinyl, plaid-covered table-top that we gobbled food, coloured and drew, and rushed furiously from to get back to the nearby lake.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Seven Answers XIX: A Crime

(This isn't my crime.  It's one of Seven Answers).

I stole a book, a paperback by Jeanette Winterson, from a  library in London.  It is the only thing I've ever stolen.  I wanted to know what it feels like to steal something.  Curiously, even now, I don't feel guilty about it.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Seven Answers XVII: A Fear

(Read about Seven Answers).

I am driving my car on a dark winter night in a port city and I skid off the road while turning over trolley tracks and plunge into the harbour's icy cold and black water to die.  For years this was a recurring fear, popping up at unexpected times.  It became quite vivid and for a long time I thought it could be a prophesy.  The city was usually Toronto, which was strange because I had never been to Toronto until much later in life and in deepest summer.  The visit had no impact on the fear, which is to say it didn't come up and the images in my fear did not seem to fit with my real experiences of Toronto.

Seven Answers XVI: A Memory

(Read about Seven Answers).

Rock pool fishing in Newquay and catching my cock in the zip of my trousers at primary school and having to be taken to hospital and put to sleep to have them cut off.

Seven Answers XV: A Dream

(This isn't my dream; it's one of Seven Answers).

arrived at a house unexpectedly, I think, and there was going to be a party that required smart dress.  The clothes I was wearing were not suitable but I didn't have anything else with me.  I went to a bathroom and washed my hair in the sink.  People kept coming in and looking disapproving.  Afterwards I went into another room and there were lots of people modelling clothes to wear.  Most of them were too casual and ethnic but I managed to choose something I thought was suitable.

Then I was dancing at the party with a friend.  She told me that a man dancing towards us had been eyeing her boobs earlier and calling them doggies.  As she told me he came closer and I looked down and saw that one of her boobs had slipped out of her dress and her nipple was showing.  The man danced around us saying nice doggy!  Nice doggy!

Eventually we managed to get rid of him  and then abruptly we were given some frozen lamb to prepare for cooking.  We were discussing how to cut it up and then we were being offered a whole cooked sheep carcass to eat.  I must have looked a bit confused because someone reached inside the carcass through one side and slid out a baking tray full of cooked offal.  That was when I woke up.

Monday 20 February 2017

Seven Answers XIV: A Fear

(Read about Seven Answers).

5.  Tell me one of your deepest fears or wishes.

My deepest fear is of being alone, followed by failure - I will do anything to avoid those two things.  I fear that I am not good enough, that I will be found out as being a fraud at any moment.  I over analyse things to the extreme, which can drive people away, resulting in fear one - and then the failure kicks in.  I am my own worst enemy though for these two things.

Seven Answers XIII: A Crime

(Read about Seven Answers).

7. Tell me about a crime you've committed or a lie you've told.

I ran away from home when I was 17 with a guy and we lived on the street for a year.  Our lunch was often from the bakery, when we would distract the assistant and I would stuff the goodies into any pocket I could find.  This habit escalated into me taking some money from a supermarket, being arrested and sent home to my parents.  Walking in to see my mum staring the gravy as if I had never left and telling me quietly to go and see my dad in the sitting room.  Finding him there with his head in his hands, crying like a baby.  Feeling so, so sorry.  Being buried in his loving embrace.

Seven Answers XII: An Encounter

(The words below aren't mine; they're part of Seven Answers).

4. Describe a romantic or sexual encounter you've had.

Having sex outside MI6 while clubbing and feeling all loved up - probably on camera somewhere.

Seven Answers XI: An Experience

(These aren't my words; they're part of Seven Answers).

2. Describe a pivotal experience in your life.

That'll be the death of my father's partner of 20 years.  I'm gay, Dad is too, but we've never got on.  There's a history there - I'm his brother's son (my mum had an affair).  So Dad heaped love on my brother and I was the one that did wrong all the time.

Anyways, Dad left Mum ages back and met E - his partner.  They lived together in a caravan park and, while relations between us improved, they weren't as good as they were with my brother.

Dad and E went to Spain on holiday.  E collapsed from an aortic aneurysm and was put in hospital.  My brother was on holiday and Dad could not get through to him.  He rang me and I let it go to answerphone.  He rang again and I picked it up.

I flew out to meet him.  E died and I, with my dad, organised the funeral (Dad can barely say yes in Spanish).  He really appreciated that.  The really strange bit was that Dad had - up to that point - never talked about E as his partner - they were always friends - I think he thought it meant he was less of a man by being gay and so he didn't want his sons to know.

That time in Spain though, he talked about how E would stroke his back in bed until Dad fell asleep, how they loved each other, their pet names, etc - I saw a side to Dad I had never seen - one that showed he was capable of love.

The time in Spain was terrible - we had to take E's passport to the British Consulate and watch it be stamped with 'Deceased' or some such (as if E was over - finished with), we had to carry E's ashes back to England and had issues at customs - and most of the time Dad just cried.  I was pleased to be able to step up to the mark and support him.

And that changed everything.  My relationship with Dad is now on an equal footing as that which he has with my brother (although they are very different) and Dad for me is a friend - not a distant father - someone I can talk to about anything.

Friday 17 February 2017

Seven Answers X: A House

(I've never met this house.  It's one of Seven Answers).

3. Tell me about a house that was important to you when you were a child.

My best friend at primary school lived in a hotel.  It was three huge Victorian houses joined together, plus another one, The Annexe, across the road.

When I went to stay the night, aged seven, we visited her granny upstairs.  You didn't know where you would end up with the back stairs of the hotel.  I called the granny Mrs Lang.  She lived in a dark brown area called her flat, it had folded wooden screens to change the shape and size.  She wasn't brimming over with chat and adoration towards children like my granny was, but silent and not at all friendly.  I wondered if I was doing something wrong.

There were chambermaids who were very smiley.  They seemed quite young and small, with very short skirts.  They lived in tiny little rooms, we didn't go in, they came out to chat, one one of them had a baby living in her room.

The front stairs just went the usual one floor up at a time and were huge and grand but also brown and dark.  There was a shiny little brass lift which we weren't officially allowed to touch as it was all too easy for one of the 'residents' - very old tiny ladies with Pekingese dogs, fur coats and hair dyed red or black - to get stuck between floors if you opened the gate a bit.

On the first floor was the ballroom, the most enormous room you could be in, with dusty gold twiddly framed enormous mirrors.  It looked as though nothing had been painted since the hotel opened in the 1880s.  When we were teenagers we went to the New Year parties my friend's dad organised.  He often seemed drunk and had no idea who I was - Is it Arlette? he said.

Later we drank in the hotel bar ourselves and once saw Cliff Richard there, wearing a plum crushed velvet suit.  And once, the Wombles.

My friend is still my friend.  Her parents went bankrupt and the hotel closed down in 1978.  It was full of dry rot.  All the profits in the early years had been used to send the granny and her sisters on Grand Tours, where they did watercolour paintings of the pyramids, and there were no profits in the 1970s.  Now it's housing association flats but some of my dreams are still set there.

A couple of years ago, looking at mysterious spaces made of folded brown panelling in the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at Tate Modern, I was transported back to the slightly scary fascinating dark brown crumbly faded grand interior of the White House Hotel.

Thursday 16 February 2017

Seven Answers IX: A Dream

(I don't know whose dream this is; it's one of Seven Answers).

1. Please tell me about a recent dream you've had.

In my dream I am in a room along a corridor, a bit of a cross between a house and a hotel as there are lots and lots of rooms but the decor and feel is quite homely.  The house expands as I explore it and turns into a warren of tunnels.  At this point there are no other people about but noises in the distance that I try to follow and locate the source of.  These are not threatening or scary but elusive and continually move away.  Eventually I get outside and find that I am on a campus, with lots of people running hither and thither.  The sheer number of people carry me away, and somewhat panicked I lose  my way.  With rising dread (although no specific threat) I run around until finally finding myself back in the room I started where I shut the door and relax.

Seven Answers VIII: A Memory

(The story below isn't mine and I've no idea who wrote it.  It's one of Seven Answers).

6. Describe one of your early memories.

hen I was three years old I was run over by a car although 'run over' may not be the right phrase.  

I was at a cricket ground where my father was playing and to amuse myself I was jumping off a low wall surrounding the pavilion onto a gravel drive and then running up the steps and repeating the process.

As I jumped off for the umpteenth time, a car was cruising along and stopped when the driver saw me.  Unfortunately he came to a halt on one of my feet and so I was trapped under the wheel.  To make matters worse he froze and was unable to move the car off my foot.  As my screams reached the cricket pitch, several players ran to the car and had to bodily lift the car while the driver sat paralysed with fear.  I was taken to hospital and my leg was put in plaster up to the knee.  My parents were told that I should make a full recovery but had I been a little older the bones would have been crushed beyond repair.

Seven Answers VII: A Wish

(Read about Seven Answers).

5. Tell me one of your deepest fears or wishes.

I have plenty of fears but try not to dwell on them as they are so inhibiting despite nearly all of them being irrational.

My greatest wish is for all human beings to find true contentment, not through material gain buy by realising that we are all connected and part of a greater consciousness, one that doesn't 'do' but just 'is.'  Maybe my greatest wish will transpire for everyone if I can just find such contentment myself, is that how it works?

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Seven Answers VI: A Fear

(Learn more about Seven Answers.)

5. Tell me one of your deepest fears or wishes.

That I have to attend my children's funerals.  To have to choose what to wear and get dressed.  That I would have to get through the day with the greatest pain and wonder how the hell I stay alive for the rest of my life.

Seven Answers V: An Encounter

No idea what this is all about?  Let me explain.

4. Describe a romantic or sexual encounter you've had.

I talked to someone online for quite a few hours the other night and we seemed to get along really well.  A lot of internet stuff is quite tawdry and rather cheap, however, [...] was immediately engaging and appeared, as far as you can tell from words on a screen, really genuine and interesting.

Jump forward 24 hours as we had arranged to meet up and see if we got along.  The fact that he was late wasn't a good start, however...

He is Albanian, [...] is, but been over here for about five years.  He works as a care worker in a home.  We talked from the moment I met him, as we walked ([...], a bike and myself) along the sea front in the icy cold and continued as we went to a pub overlooking the sea (sans bike!).  A dimly lit pub, with candles and a view of the promenade and the beach.

We continued talking all the way back to Hove - me overshooting my normal turn-off for home so that we could carry on.

Seven Answers IV: A Pivotal Experience

(Find out more about Seven Answers).

2. Describe a pivotal experience in your life.

Getting depression.  Ended up being the most positive experience of my life.  Finally realised that people liked/loved me for me, and not for what I was able to do for them.  Was no help to anyone, but my friends and loved ones still wanted me around.  Helped me with my self-esteem and to work out who I wanted in my life.

Seven Answers III: A Memory

(Read more about Seven Answers).

6. Describe one of your early memories.

I was fourteen months old, still in diapers, and sitting in the mud puddle which always formed after a rain at the corner of our dead-end street.  It was a shallow puddle, very warm, and I vividly remember the feel of the clay-ey mud below the water, soft as butter, squishy and impossible to grab, and the way it would 'powder' up and turn the water opaque when disturbed with a fist or a foot.  I remember fishing out drowned worms and throwing them to one side.  I don't remember anyone lifting me out of the water or scolding me for playing in the mud, but I have been told that I did it quite often...

My partner, who is a psychologist and very wise, has patiently explained to me why I cannot be remembering this, that no one can truly remember something from before the age of three or four at the earliest... but I do.  Soft as butter...

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Seven Answers II: A House

(Find out more about Seven Answers.)

3. Tell me about a house that was important to you when you were a child.

My great aunt's house was mysterious and fascinating and I loved going there.  I always wished I could live there.  It was in the middle of a Victorian terrace, with green paintwork on the outside, and lots of rooms on the inside.  We (my sister and I) were hardly ever allowed in the front room because it was laid out for best with a big posh wooden table and lacy tablecloth and candlesticks and silver and pictures of people I didn't recognise but was undoubtedly related to.  The middle room was rented out to Mrs Riordan and you had to be careful not to press the wrong doorbell when you arrived because no one was to disturb her.

My great aunt lived mostly in the back room and the scullery which was a tiny kitchen with no fridge.  The toilet was outside and we tried never to go in there because of the spiders.  It was quite cold in winter, and there was a gas fire, but you could never get anywhere near it because of Mitzi, a black and white cat who didn't like children.  She didn't like anyone if you ask me.

Upstairs there were several bedrooms, one with a bath in it.  There was a 'new' indoor toilet with a bench seat that, in retrospect, looked like a medieval garderobe!  At the end of the landing was my aunt's bedroom.  At the front of the house it had a view over the busy main road.  Sometimes she used to sit in the window doing her sewing and looking out.  She used to make lavender bags.  Once I sat with her.  I can't remember where my mum was at the time.

Next to the bedroom door was an alcove with a curtain pulled over it.  Behind the curtain was a little stairway.  This led to the attic rooms which were dark and full of stuff, with a tiny tiny window.  There was also a cellar where we probably were allowed, but didn't want to go on our own, and Mum wasn't coming with us so that was that.

There was a long garden at the back.  We spent loads of time there playing with the lawn roller, picking up apples and looking at the millions of flowers that grew in the borders, on the stone walls and even out of the hollow stump of a tree.  My great aunt had very green fingers and a very soft wrinkled face.  She had a son, who I never met.  When she died, well into her nineties, she left the house to him and it was sold.  Sometimes, very occasionally, I go past it on the bus and I always look.  It isn't green any more.

Seven Answers I: A Dream and a Crime

You can read about Seven Answers, my slow-cooking polyphonic project here.  

1.  Please tell me about a recent dream you've had.  

I have a recurring dream which varies in its details but retains the central theme.  The dream is that something has been taken from my house.  It is generally a picture or a piece of furniture.  I wake up in my bedroom and look at the walls, still convinced that certain items have been taken, though I am never exactly sure what they are.  I try to picture the things which have been taken but can never fully bring them to mind.  I fall asleep and when I wake later on I realise this [sic] nothing at all has been taken.  

When I wake first I am completely sure that things have been taken but it's not burglary.  It is rather that someone I know thinks there is an arrangement that they can take them due to something I have omitted to say or do.  I've had the same dream for some years now and have been known to wander about in the night checking that my possessions are still there.  

I can see some interesting links with my answer to question 7 here which hadn't occurred to me before.  

7. Tell me about a crime you've committed or a lie you've told.  

I'm too much of a scaredy cat to commit much crime knowingly.  However I do remember coming home from a friend's house when I was very young with something which wasn't mine.  It was a little metal hair clip covered in felt gloves for a doll's house.  I seem to remember thinking that it was so lovely and I wanted it so much that surely I should have it.  It didn't really occur to me that it was wrong to take it until the girl's mother telephoned my mother to say that I'd taken it.  I had to take it back in person and apologise.  

The experience had a big influence on me, before this I didn't realise what it really meant to steal someone else's property, though part of me still felt I should have the hairgrip since I valued it much more than she did!  And now my dreams are all about how it feels when someone takes something which is yours!  

Seven Answers

Samuel guarding the polyphony

Five years ago I devised a project based on seven writing prompts.  I sent the prompts to my friends and asked them to reply anonymously.   
Thirty-three people responded, each answering at least three of the prompts.  My plan was to make a polyphonic prose-poem in seven parts, using fragments of their replies woven together to create a new whole.   

These were my prompts:

1. Please tell me about a recent dream you've had.

2. Describe a pivotal experience in your life.

3. Tell me about a house that was important to you when you were a child.

4. Describe a romantic or sexual encounter you've had.

5. Tell me one of your deepest fears or wishes.

6. Describe one of your early memories.

7. Tell me about a crime you've committed or a lie you've told.

In the five years that have passed the fragments have refused to weave together.  The trouble is that the responses are so interesting that chopping them up destroys them, and it misses the point too: the replies often sound like delicate confessions.  There's a sense of freedom about them and they're often giddy and childlike.  Cutting them into pieces robs them of their quality of spontaneity.  

I've decided to publish my favourite replies as they were meant to be read: in their entirety, each one the voice of someone I know, though I have no idea whose story is whose.

Like other spring flowers, the pieces will emerge over the coming weeks.