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.