Field Study

Here’s something that I read at a charity event in support of A New Leaf, who do incredible work towards greening the centre of Manchester,   I tried to write in the style of an eminent Victorian Lady Botanist (if I had more time or brains I would give you a specific name) and in this guise, imagine what she would discover on a journey across the city.

Field Study – An Exploration of Shudehill to Cornbrook, April 9th, 2018-04-09

Weather:  Cloudy, inclement showers.  I ascend the tram at Shudehill, a place which seems to be  a bustling interchange.  My first green sighting: a Broadfoot Plantain (Plantago Major) insinuating its way out between two paving slabs beside a small peach doily of vomit which itself lies in front of the ticket machine, as if waiting its turn to purchase passage to Crumpsall or East Didsbury.  I am shocked – was the vomiter unaware as to the supreme medicinal qualities of Plantago Major? If they were, they may have avoided such a distressing and public ejaculation.  I journey past the pile: A large, stately bush of Rubus Fruticosus Aggregate, enmeshed in a merry dance with Leontodon Autumnalis and Glechoma Hederacea  resides spreadeagled behind a wire fence.  I am pleased to see that it is being protected in this way.

I traverse the road and continue towards the eponymous Market Street, a semi formalised trading post, consisting of established stalls selling goods such as communication devices, shoes and something referred to as ‘sportswear’. But I digress, perhaps because there are so few green sightings here until – Oh wonder!  And I would invite all botanical enthusiasts to lift their inquiring gaze up away from potential terranean treasures and seek new bounty from the heavens above!  On the roof of a somewhat brutish building I see a whole shrub, Ligustrum  Vulgare.  It is mostly  leafless and squat, I must confess, yet it is beautiful and unexpected and it reminds me of my own dear mother at my wedding, wearing the most artful concoction of feathers and netting  atop her stern, square, naturally inscrutable face.

So there is nature in the city and it moves me.

Further along, I come to the city’s rich green centre piece – Picadilly Gardens.  Perhaps it is the season and weather (remaining cloudy and inclement)  but there is little of the conventional sense of garden to its presentation. There are trees – bare or brown leaved, there are trees -scattered about, like sobre guests at a drunken party, their feet in concrete.  As to their genus I am confounded.  They defy identification! Is it the lack of foliage that leaves me nonplussed? I request clarification from five different passers by and the responses are enlightening as to the nature of the denizens of Picadilly Gardens but irrelevant to my enquiry.  I will write to the council when I return to my lodging.  I can be sure of a prompt reply.

Exhausted and in need of succour, I return to the tram and continue my perambulation through this elusive city. I’m ashamed to admit that I am in the doldrums, and in a fit of absolute despair I almost slam closed my encyclopedia of trees (travel edition) – when I see it.  White blossom in the gardens of the Art Gallery! The glimpse is fleeting, but whose heart does not quicken at the sight of Purnus Serulata! And in full bloom – nary a petal discarded! I experience the same wonder upon every sighting – it’s transience reminds me again of my own dear mother and I remind myself again to find such wonder in all living things for we, and they, are but passing through.

I am still musing on this as we reach the river, and it gives me, as rivers often do, renewed pause for reflection. I re-open my notebook to record my observations;

Salix Sepulcralis – two fine example genuflecting at a bend in the water

A bridge – one side, framed in Ipomoea Alba, the other Hedera Helix.  A fabulous, verdant conjunction.

And then crowding the far side of the bank, a battalion of fluttering Narcissus Poeticus, craning their necks for better view of the joggers and prams and canal watchers who are out in force on this full and vibrant day!

Nature in its diverse forms and richness has revived my spirit and I arrive at my destination fortified, as demonstrated by the wild flourish with which I close my notebook and nod with firm cheer at my fellow commuters.    As I exeunt, I mark a crowd of Budleia pushing and jostling at the sides of the tracks.  Nature’s lonely trainspotter.  Their flowers are brown and crusted and the leaves are shrivelled and the weather remains cloudy and inclement and yet it prevails and we prevail and will no doubt, revive.  Such is the nature of the city.

 

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Sleep fighting, or I how I learned to stop moaning about tiredness and use it as a source of delirious creativity

Last night was not a vintage night in my household.  We were very much awake for most of it, so much so that I just had a mid morning nap, brief and blissfull, on the playstation console.  My son is also feeling the burn, pressing his forehead and eyes into any available solid object like coasters and baby wipe packets, while hankering after any unavailable solid object (I saw the way he looked at my slipper).  But it is his damn fault that we are tired, with his constant flailing and griping – when will he learn?!! By 8 months, they should have this down, shouldn’t they?  But no – if my son were a Viking, he would go by the name of ‘Theodore, the Sleepfighter’.  So, yes, we are really tired.

 

Fact 1 – no one is surprised when, as a new parent, you say you are tired.  Fact 2 – gatherings of new parents will try and out tired each other with anecdotes of extreme acts  committed while tired (you were so tired that you put your car keys in the fridge? I was so tired that I voted for UKIP!)  Fact 3 – it is an entirely boring conversation to have, up there with routes taken to destinations and one’s health.

 

I am going to own the tiredness.

 

So my son is a little peaky today – teething undoubtedly, grouchy, pissed off.  He’s okay though, in fact he is now asleep in his chair, beaten but unbowed.  Instead of trying to sleep (what a loser would do) or cry about being tired (same), I will use my delirium to think about all the ways T would have been treated through history for his current, slightly ‘off’ condition.  Bearing in mind that I have no sense of history, or geography, which is akin to having no sense of time or space, which is akin to being accurate, this should be a short and highly speculative (i.e historically false) list.  Here we go:

 

Viking era – T would have been offered to the Gods.  His moods would be used to discern the weather.  I think he would be a talisman.

Middle Ages – T would have been diagnosed by a monk with having too much bile and would have been covered in leeches.  If this didn’t work, he may have been declared a devil child.

Victorian Era – he would have been diagnosed with something, anything, in front of a paying audience.

Early 1900s – He would have been diagnosed as hysteric and sent for dream analysis and then a cure in Switzerland.

1920s – given rum

1950s – given some of those new fangled wonder drugs that everyone is talking about

1970s – bathed in breastmilk and forced into tree pose while someone cleansed his aura with a mung bean

1980s – sterilised and placed in a hyperbaric chamber

2010s – analysed via online forum by various warring factions  who weigh in on the best possible way to treat him based on what they had read online.  This in itself would then become an online story on a clickbait website.

 

As it is, I will watch him for a bit and then give thanks for the fact that he is asleep and then quietly retreat to somewhere comfortable … like a playstation, for example.

 

Night night.

 

 

 

 

Passable at faking

Recently, when I’ve written the date, I’ve been putting the year as 2016.  Am I losing my mind?  Am I a time traveller? Or am I just always somewhere else?  I worry about an early slow descent into dementia (who doesn’t at 3 am in the morning? ) but I think the reality is that I never fully concentrate on what I am doing and then I wonder where the hell the day has gone.

People have me pegged as a ‘good listener’, but most of the time, I’m not actually listening, I’m waiting for them to leave the room so I can get on with shit.  There’s a massive difference between genuinely giving someone your attention and just being so trapped by social morés that you sit and plaster on an ‘Í’m here for you’ face while secretly sweating with the urge to tell them to do one.  I have conveniently blended these two skills and convinced myself and others that I am, for want of a better phrase ‘good at listening’.  But they don’t come from the same point.  The more admirable route would be for me to tell the speaker that I’m busy and to come back another time and/or never, depending on the nature of their grievance.  but that would involve a measure of self empowerment and willingness to preserve oneself and one’s sanity.  The road more often travelled by me, to sit and ‘listen’ involves a form of self-preservation, but more from a fear of others than from genuinely looking out for the big id.  That internal monologue that cringes in your ear ‘ Oh God, I’ll look so rude if I tell them to go away now, they’ll pull that affronted face and then they’ll say something about me to someone else and about how rude I am and how I’m not a good listener after all, ah God oh God.  I’ll just quickly send this email while nodding at whatever they’re saying and then I’ll apologise for sending this email and really pretend to give them my attention’.  Lest you think me a horrific she-devil, can I just stress that I’m talking about listening not when people have a real genuine problem that they want to talk through, but when people just want a good long moan about the injustices of the break duty rota or how someone didn’t say hello to them that morning.

 

This is not Syrian crisis that I’m pretending to listen to.

And of course, everyone needs to vent, I understand this and I hold nothing against the plaintiffs in these cases.  They’re lovely people.  It’s me, I’m the problem.  Almost how certain folk were set up as the town scribes when no-one knew how to write, I have become the team’s rant-guardian.  This is my fault, I’ve let it happen.  Sure, I give all the physical signs to show that I want the person to leave; foot wedged in door, body turning away, making eye contact with others, the triple impact conclusive comment, shurg and eye roll. But still it come, a ticker tape of slights, perceived or real. And I’ve taken it.  I’ve not just lay down on the floor, I’ve written welcome on my face and permitted people to traipse their shit in and park their arses for the long haul.

 

So how to extricate myself?  Maybe erect a sign? ‘ You’re too wrapped up in your own problems and I’m passable at faking’?  Even this feels too passive.  I’m going to have to flat out tell people – the ‘hurt face’ has held sway over me for too long!

 

And now, having written this, I realise thatI have been moaning.  I sincerely hope that you pretend read it and got on with something more useful instead. 

Make like Patti

I went to New York recently (she says casually like Cindy Crawford would, or a businesslady from the 1990s).  Okay it was April in fact, but it’s been a turgid few months since then, filled with regret and lassitude at no longer being in New York so it has taken me a while to write.  New York is ridiculous; having haunted my imagination since I was of Athena poster buying age, I wasn’t disappointed  by the steam from the drains, the yellow of the cabs or the sheen from the mirrored skyscrapers.  It all felt unreal and familiar.

 

Boozed up and jetlagged, I took notes from every day of my stay, but do you really care what I did?  Does anyone? That’s my business.  From childhood, I vaguely remember ‘slide shows’, where we would formally gather with other families at nieghbour’s houses to have a guided tour, with projected images, of what they did on holiday. You may remember Don Draper singing the praises of the home projector on Mad Men, but he clearly never visited the denizens of Hull, because all I recall of the slide show is the click and the whirr of the machine and Uncle Brian or Aunty Sue telling us the date and time that the picture was taken, where it was taken and normally who had been sick or was about to be sick at the time of execution.To be honest, if I ask you ‘how was your holiday?’  Just say ‘fine’ or ‘shit’ and leave it at that (actually if it was shit, I’ll probably want to know why.  I’m such a schadenfreude freunde). Looking at my travel journal (which I imagined as a full blown epic) I can tell where I got bored of writing about what we did, because it becomes a ‘did list’.  And it’s awful.  If you really want to know what I did, go and read ‘Just Kids’ and pretend that I’m Patti Smith.  That should do it.

 

So now, we’ve established that I’m not going to give you the blow by blow of my trip, what am I going to do?  I’m just going to write about two things that I noticed, that’s what.  

 

New Yorkers have to have the last word, which means, as a Brit, you can get stuck in some serious politeness showdowns.  Here’s an example from a restaurant that we went to.  It’s between a waiter (played by Don Draper), me (played by Patti Smith) and my husband (played by Betty White – why not?)

 

HUSBAND:  I see what you mean about slide shows and i totally agree.

ME:  Great

WAITER:  More water?

ME:  Yes, please.

WAITER:  You’re welcome

ME: That’s great, thanks

WAITER:  Not a problem

ME:  Great job, well done

WAITER:  My pleasure

ME:  Lovely.

WAITER:  Fantastic

ME:  Nice one.

WAITER (running away, shouting over shoulder)  ENJOY YOUR MEAL!

 

As a Brit, I like to patronise waiting staff, to make them feel cared for and listened to, but most importantly I like to seal off the conversation by having the last word.  Every rejoinder takes away from my benevolence!  Really, I should face facts; my platitudes are squat: a damn big tip is worth more than a feigned grin and attentiveness.

 

Unless our visit coincided with a Tresemme conference, the men of New York have hands down collectively the best male hair I have seen anywhere on ths planet!  It is spectacular: lustrous, bouncy and product free.  Curls the colour and density of wet sand, worn long, nestling on shirt collars and flopping over foreheads.  Full white clouds of cauliflower.  A crisp afro.  I had full blown middle aged man hair envy – something in the water, perhaps?

 

Yes: everyone shouts at each other a bit, sandwiches are massive and the skyline is amazing.  But should you visit  New York, I recommend that you check out the pompadours and try to out-polite a waiter.  

 

And pretend your Patti Smith.  But that’s just a general life lesson, isn’t it?

 

Magic Eye Me

Please forgive me; I offer this post not because I think I am inherently more interesting than anyone else.  In fact, once I tell you how i discovered these things about myself, you will probably agree that I am inherently less interesting than you.  

That’s okay.  

I don’t wish to come across as someone who believes that they should be the focus of a column in a Celebrity magazine, called something like “20 questions!” “Get the lowdown!” “The skinny on …”  Good lord no.  I barely rate a mention in my workplace newsletter or all staff email list.

 

That too, is okay.  My brain contains dark workings, too febrile for the general public ……

 

Not really, it’s just that I’ve had a week off and I haven’t done much with it, which has been truly liberating.  I think back to the article in the Onion, headlined, “Area Man disappointed to find that he has failed to sort his life out in week off.” Or something like that, the point is that I work in a job that regularly grants me a week off (no I’m not a spy), so I’m all too aware of the “I will turn my life around” phenomenon that hits and I’m cautious of its effects.  Monday: get a new job. Tuesday: sort out will and revolutionise wardrobe and living space.  Wednesday: Get fit.  Thursday: See all absent friends and family.  Friday: Meditate the shit out of it. Saturday: Sort out finances. Sunday: Repeat Wednesday and Friday.  This is made more challenging if you have any add ons, like seeking a life partner, or the desire to learn to cook or horse ride, or master an instrument for example.

 

Allow me to take on the guise of a salty seadog, propped up at the end of a beer sodden bar, holding a few novices in the palm of my hand and pausing to suck on a cheroot before delivering my credo.  Beware the week off: it fulfills nothing but your well of disappointment and shame!  You will never sort your life out in a week off.  A more believable timetable runs like this: Monday: sleep in.  Feel bad about sleeping in.  Tuesday: Get up with good intentions. Wander into town at midday and feel bereft.  Wednesday: Try to do the things that you set out to do on Monday and Tuesday and realise that it will never happen.  Thursday: Netflix. Friday: Drown out impending doom feeling about work through any available vice.  Saturday: Look at what other people have done on their week off. Sunday: do laundry, cry, drink.

 

Sorry – that’s just how it is.  If you are a novice!  A better option is just to accept that not everything will be achieved and that this isn’t your one-shot at success, anyway.  This week, I’ve been to the gym, watched an entire series of House of Cards, done some writing, done some walking, failed to get Prince tickets.  That’s a good haul, all told.  Well done me.  Through hours of not doing very much I’ve also found out some previously incommunicable things about myself.

 

I am a Magic Eye.  The longer I stare, the weirder the fruit.  For example, through long bouts of not doing much, I now know that:

The default taste in my mouth is parmesan.

I can gauge how stressed I am by how many hair bands I can avail myself of.  The fewer I have, the more stressed I am,

Facially I do have a better side, but I can never remember which it is.

As child, I remember being so bored that I danced full out to the theme tune from Sons and Daughters.  In a room on my own.  Full out.

 

Don’t worry, I’m back at work next week

The shellsuit in my head

When I leave in the morning, it is generallly darker than when I return in the evening.  Some people I know would find this incredibly depressing and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder are well-documented.  I know, because I convinced myself that I had this once and even bought a lamp to help me, but I don’t really. Have SAD, I mean; it turned that I was always grumpy and tired and that actually, I had anti-SAD.  I’m at my best in the morning and I genuinely (sort of) enjoy being an early riser

 

Larks and owls and what kind of person are you and all that stuff aside, I derive pleasure from getting up early, because when I was young, getting up early was associated with a big adventure or treat; like the pre-dawn shufflings of Christmas day or the strategic planning of a trip to the airport before going on holiday.  My dad took this part of the trip very seriously.  The car journey to the airport would normally take about 3 hours and if it was an early flight, parental discussion for weeks beforehand would revolve around such crucial topics as optimum positioning of luggage in boot and the necessity of a centralised bumbag holder for the placement of passports and tickets. The night before we set off, my sister and I would be charged with making the back seat of the car as comfortable as possible.  This was the most exciting thing ever for me.  As a 7 year old, the backseat of a car is huge and ripe with possiblities (particularly in the pre-seatbelt era), so I would spend hours deliberating on where to put my pillow and blanket for the journey.  The car was my house – thrills!  

 

The possibility of sleep the night before an early start diminishes with age, but even at seven I remember being beside myself with aniticipation at going in the car to the airport in the middle of the night!  I don’t recall being enthusaistic about the holiday to follow and nor can I remember which country we ended up in afterwards.  But I do remember being lightly shaken awake, forced into my ‘travelling gear’ and carried to the car.  I normally slept throughout, which suggests that anticipation of travel is better than travel, which in turn is better than arriving.

 

A note on travel attire.  One winter, my father booked us a last minute jaunt to Spain.  The weather in England had been pretty terrible, which added spice to planning our voyage to the airport.  Assuring us that it would be ‘white hell’ on the motorways, dad fretted, cogitated and formulated on the additional time that we would need to catch our flight.  He decided, and we agreed, on leaving at 2 in the morning for a 10 o ‘ clock flight, giving us an extra five hours.  Travel kit became even more essential; it’s one thing to dress for comfort but what about durability?  What if we became stranded on the motorway in an avalanche or blizzard or something and have to rely on our wits and survival instincts to get by?  Once you consider these questions, there’s really only one answer for a family of four of varying ages, sizes and genders:  we’d all wear our matching shellsuits!  That way, the helicopters or SAS rescue soldiers would know that we were a team and we’d get airlifted out of the snowdrift together, of course.  At two in the morning, the atmosphere in the car was tense, but by the time that we arrived at the airport, a mere two hours later, two hours during which we hadn’t seen so much as a flake of snow, , we felt a bit like dicks. Prepare to fail?  You betcha!  The phrase ‘white hell’ is still used in my family to imply that someone is overplaying their part.  But that trip also had its uses.  Sometimes, when I’m dozily and reluctantly pulling myself together before the crack of dawn, I like to don the shellsuit in my head and relive that jolt of excitement that I felt as a kid.  The adventure begins ….  

 

 

A birthday carol

Like gathering around a camp fire to tell ghost stories, it has become something of a tradition of mine to tell a tale of a gruesome birthday past on my anniversarial day.  I think last year was the tale of the panto drubbing, but this year I will tell you another tale so horrifyingly embarrassing, so soul-quashingly mortifying that you will doubt whether you ever want to celebrate a birthday again.  So grab your jacket potatoes and an extra blanket if you need one and gather round ….

 

This time I will take you to a land  of heat and passion, far removed from my cold flat, North East upbringing: my dad had wangled us a trip to the Gambia!  Apparently, the mayor of the capital city used to play in goal for Derby County and my enterprising father had thought that a good enough reason for him to produce his press card and request an interview with a flourish, provided we could all travel at reduced rates and stay for a week in a hotel on the beach.  Amazingly it worked on this occasion, and so on the 2nd January we boarded the plane and set out, with our sunglasses, flip flops and a week’s supply of Larium.

 

Ah, Larium, the anti-malarial dug of choice.  I’d been taking it for some time to build it up in my system and was happy to ignore the list of possible side effects which sounded remarkably like the characteristics of a post-lobotomee.  Ah, Larium, which with the benefit of hindsight I would have gone without, but hey ho, i was 18 coming up 19, what could be the worse that could  happen?  Ah Larium, you deadly stranger…

Our hotel was made up of a series of bungalows; my sister and her boyfriend were in one, my mum, dad and I were in another (embarrassing, yes).  There wasn’t a lot going on around us, a little pool, a bar, the beach and an incessant wall of heat that peeled the skin off your back and forced you into the shade at all times.  But that was okay, because on the second day it was my birthday and i was going to show what a sophisticated traveller I was, much like those tanned lithe Swedish families that one always seems to encounter on any break abroad.  

 

To prove that I was 19 and very cool I ordered a Bloody Mary ‘ just for starters ‘.  Sitting at the pool bar I felt utterly in control of my life; alcohol already felt like a lonely friend as I listened to my mother’s chaffing and witnessed my father’s attempts to engage strangers in conversation.  God I was so old, experioenced  and mature.  A sage sophisticat.  By this point, the Bloody Mary had arrived, equal parts paraffin and tomato puree in a glass.  I wasn’t entirely sure what a Bloody Mary was, but I was being old and sophisticated so I drank it even though it tasted of engine parts and chilli and was undoubtedly the worst drink to order in the baking heat from a novice bartender.

 

But in my stomach, my tomato-petrol really came alive when reunited with sweet sweet Larium.  Within half an hour, my hand slipped off the end of he bar where I had been posed, international traveller of the month.  I was escorted back to the bungalow by my mum.  I threw up in the bushes on the way back.  Burning up, she removed all my clothes and put me on the toilet, catatonic.  The floor swam up to greet me like a wave and I passed out on the tiled floor.  I came round as I was lifted up, floated though to the bedroom, and placed blissfully on the bed.  I opened my eyes to catch my dad stepping away, pivoting on his heels with his eyes down and then scramming.

 

Yes, listener, the unthinkable – the unforeseen consequence of my choice of cocktail led to my dad having to see me with no clothes on.  No clothes on at all.  Aged 19.  The poor poor man.  I  had managed one drink on my birthday and, and  …this.  To avoid any ‘dealings’ with my poor embarrassed dad, I pretended to be ill for the rest of the week and lay in bed, listening to the sound of splashing in the pool, and laughter and strange holiday techno sounds from the dancefloor and feeling thoroughly miserable for myself the whole time.

 

So the moral of this tale, one which I fail to live by is ‘ never pretend to be something that you aren’t ‘ and probably avoid Larium/vodka cocktails when the temperature tips 40.