Dancing on my own

Well this year’s birthday truly has been the one that answers life’s lesson that life throws you some serious curve balls.  Back in February, friends were asking about what plans I’d made for my birthday/Easter. “Nothing big” just a day out with Sunday lunch and a cinema trip.  Then the world changed.  Almost overnight.  What simple pleasures we’d taken for granted – heading to the pub, popping in on friends and family, catching a train to work, all off limits.

Time to re-evaluate.  This blog has often provided me with something of a sanity check.  A moment to reflect on the luxuries in my life.  When I kicked things off in 2014, I had a list of largely frivolous tasks I’d intended ticking off to hit the birthday milestone of 50.  I’ve just re-read it for the first time in a few years and realised I didn’t get so far, but that really doesn’t matter.  I’m still here! Sondheim’s words are echoing round my brain, alongside a really annoying earworm of Daniel Bedingfield’s (almost) one hit wonder – which, incidentally, I’ve never liked!

Though this anniversary blog isn’t the place to bang on about the disaster around us.  We’re all hideously aware of why we’re all stopping put.  But it will serve (as my earlier blogs and my little poem do) as a reminder of the reality of a situation that has never felt more unreal.

I’ve had good days and hideous days, dull, monotonous moments.  Friends who’ve been here for me and some who are doubtless just getting on with whatever keeps them sane.

A couple of weeks ago, I truly felt a bit friendless, bit of social media overload and shit on my mind.  Deary me, what was all that about!  It feels like a lifetime ago and pretty self-indulgent, though I’m still experiencing moments of FOMO of a totally different kind.  Never before have I realised how few solo entertaining skills I have!!! Friends who craft, knit, paint, bake*  …. I quickly realised my main hobby is, put simply, drinking with friends.

So, sticking to what I know, that’s a bit how this isolation is going so far.  I’ve barely watched a tv show in weeks and instead I’ve joined mad bingo, sponsored by my old friend Southern Comfort; Isolation Disco – dressing up and dancing round my living room alongside 30k+ total strangers; virtual video chats (making the most of filters to replace the now redundant make-up, left by the mirror and hairdryer that have barely been touched in a month).  I never understood ‘Second Life‘, it was a phenomena I couldn’t relate to back in the days of early gaming – the idea of re-inventing a virtual you, but now staying in is the new going out, I’m sort of seeing the appeal and saving a fortune while I’m at it.

Though, when my birthday kicked in and reminded me of the reality that I live alone, I admit to feeling apprehensive about which way my mood would swing.  I needn’t have been – flowers in the post, chocolates, cards and gifts at my gate, friends face-timing and jollying me along and the day flew by.  Just one big thing missing – not a single, real hug.

Oh yes, that’s what’s missing.  Hugs.  Big, gripping, smelling the scent of another human being armfuls of chest-crushing, soul-smothering, non-sexual, friendship-fermenting love.

Get queuing up for that post-isolation pint, I’ll be waiting at the pub – it’s a skill I’ve honed to perfection and I’m hoping I’ll have not lost the knack when this is all over.

Now, back to that knicker drawer clear out …

#StaySafeStayHome

Stop the world I want to get off

So in just a week the world changed … given my last blog referenced Bowie’s apocalyptic foreboding 5 years, it seems it takes less than 5 days to unroot the core of “what we’re used to”. That will be a subject for another day and a longer, more contemplative blog (it now feels painfully self-loathing, selfish and somewhat sullen).

For now this felt more suited to a short, sharp bit of verse. Here goes …

Pandemic

Petty politics long forgotten

Procrastination pushed aside

Puzzling over cable connectivity complexities

Pans rattling, People clapping, tears rolling.

Patience tested

People pissed

Permanently.

Playing bingo, prancing in PJ’s

Population’s panicking,

Praying for a panacea

And a pulled pint.

Don’t you want me baby

Five years seems to have a poignancy I’d never have anticipated when I started this blog.

Apparently Bowie’s apocalyptic lyric was inspired by a parental dream apparition. Phil Oakey’s stalker like recall of a wronged relationship, possibly less visionary. Yet those of us of a certain age projected ourselves into the psyche of that particular cocktail waitress who achieves her dreams despite the ex’s slight and desultory negativity.

My 50b450 list remains unfinished and somewhat unreachable. My ambitions less. Life-changing moments. Missions adopted and abandoned. Still single. No longer a dependent. Yet here I am on the eve of some non-life threatening surgery that makes me yearn for either a parent or a partner to share my thoughts with.

Instead in other 5’s – over 500 friends on Facebook – suddenly realising how meaningless it is. How little is left in common with most and how totally alien and unapproachable almost all those friends seem right now. I’ve quit it in an attempt to shield myself from that vacuous narcissistic echo chamber (yet conscious of the irony that a blog is the ultimate narcissistic action perhaps).

Social media is the modern Wizard of Oz. We end up picking back up all those friends we once knew, who, on the way we left behind because of their and our various failings and fears, only to find ourselves back in Kansas on a Friday night, alone on the black and white world most of us occupy and finding that the road leads to nothing more than the reality that it was all a bit of a dream.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Years_(David_Bowie_song)

Should I stay or should I go …

As the nation finally faced the prospect of making Brexit happen this week, I’ve been dealing with an entirely different and very personal decision. Yep, it’ll not make a jot of difference to the value of the pound or the shape and size of imported fruit, but it will likely be a more significant change to my life than a blue passport will.

Back in the summer of 2016, I was compelled to help a new and exciting embryonic local pride.  The first pride was finally happening in the renowned LGBT-friendly town of Hebden Bridge and they weren’t doing it by halves.  In the space of a few months, they’d managed to corall Peter Tatchell as a patron, have local writing legend Sally Wainright at the launch night and were now putting together a week-long festival with  team of just four guys and a handful of keen volunteers.  The enthusiasm was palpable.  I wasn’t sure how much I could help and was loath to over-commit – a couple of years previously, I’d gone to a meeting about a town planning project and found myself as Chair of a near dormant Civic Trust for a couple of years, despite having only offered initially to use my typing skills to do the minutes! I got to work, helped with promotion, sat in the Town Hall and met a lot of people, I’d never met most of them, despite living in the town for over a decade and realised how much this was needed and wanted.

At the time I’d just turned 50, been an LGBTQ+ ally for over half my life and was having time off work, it was a big turning point in my life in many ways.  It seemed serendipitous in its timing and a genuine calling.

Since then, I’ve been through a couple of jobs, experienced immeasurable grief with the loss of my Mum and seen Happy Valley Pride grow and morph both in shape, structure and management.  It’s changed and so have I.

As a new year approached and decisions were being made about the future of the festival, for the first time I questioned my continued involvement.  It’s complicated, there’s a lot goes on.  Those outside of our core team get just a glimpse  – it’s damn hard.  At times, it’s been a second job, I’ve given as many working hours in the weeks before festivals as I have to the ‘real’ job.  Managing comms back on forth on the commute; early mornings updating websites and social media; ordering merchandise, getting sponsorship and generally running ragged during the festival.   But it pays off.

There’s been a whole world of politics, personalities and passion; break ups and break downs, late nights and long days and  the local pub, lovingly re-titled ‘The Old Gay’ has seen profits soar with our post-meeting drinking sessions.

I’ve served my ‘term’ of 3 years and decided it’s time to call it a day. I feel proud of what I’ve achieved, but it’s time to channel my energy elsewhere.  I’ll be humming a gay anthem on my way out the door and leaving others to it this year.

I was there, I was me and I was proud.

500faces

Photo courtesy of Jason Elliot for 500 Faces of Hebden Bridge

Rose tint my world

We’re all aware of it.  That false world of social media that makes you think everyone is having a better time than you.  I’m starting to sense and hear a backlash though. Friends who’ve ducked out. What started as a rollercoaster of nostalgia and an opportunity to see how others are doing in person.  And god knows, for someone who feared car travel more than a New York Skyscraper tightrope walker, prior to sat nav, it’s convenient.

I’m not wholly knocking it.  It has given me connections to friends and family I’d lost touch with.  Enabled me to re-connect and re-establish friendships I’d thought were as forgotten as my school revision notes.

In the last year though I’ve had such a struggle with my ‘outward’ and ‘inner’ self.  The oddest thing I’ve realised that’s happening to me is the realisation that I have so few occasions to celebrate.  Supermarkets bombarding you with cards for all the occasions I now don’t/can’t celebrate as I have neither parents, spouse or kids.

Meanwhile in Manchester, on the anniversary of the day the bomb went off.  It’s an anniversary I never thought I’d need to mark.

I’ve now spent two momentous occasions in Albert Square in Manchester, doing what I felt was right. One was against Clause 28 – oddly almost 30 years to the day.  Here I was again, jubilant and defiant, proud and just a bit ‘bolshy’.

Both occasions were all about love for my fellow humans. Clause 28 now seems barbaric and antiquated and I am proud that I still have friends on Facebook who shared that moment.  Manchester Together, felt similar and I truly hope in 30 years’ time, Tony Walsh’s rousing one minute of noise will feel and offer the same sense that times have moved on.

Singing along, joining forces, holding hands, hugging, life-affirming moments.  You don’t get that from a chatbot asking ‘What’s on your mind, Nicola?’ however much you share.

Don’t look back in angerIMG_1992.jpg

 

Don’t push it …

Well, I’ve packed a laptop, two books (both half read), a swimsuit, a variety of evening wear and three pairs of tights.

None were needed for my trip to Japan.

The penultimate night before home and a chance to reflect on both my reasons for embarking on this mini-adventure, whilst also thinking about what I’ve learnt in the very short time I’ve been here.

  1. I could have packed 90% less – I didn’t need 3 pairs of tights or a pile of jewellery and a couple of posh frocks.  My 25 year old self would always disagree with this.
  2. Learn not to make plans, the weather changes, so does your mood, no-one’s watching – if you don’t feel like doing it, you didn’t write it down as a statement of facts, so fuck it and change it. In the words of the famous Scandinavians, Take A Chance ….
  3. In the words of Leon Haywood, who died on this date only two years ago, a childhood song of such dodgy lyrics, even Gary Glitter might blush –  Don’t Push It, Don’t Force It – you’ve just got to go with your own flow. My one chance for a posh night out, didn’t materialise because I’d worn myself ragged sightseeing and simply couldn’t face the idea of slapping on some slap or a smile and settled for netflix and a 7/11 bag of goodies.
  4. You’ll miss the ‘in’ jokes of being with friends and that weird thing that after a few days, where you have your own catchphrases.  But, they also won’t get on your nerves, in the way that ‘one’ slight habit you noticed at the start of your trip, has suddenly become something you want to punch your fellow companion senseless for. If they repeat it just ONE.MORE.TIME.
  5. Remember and rejoice that you have the opportunity to do this shit and others don’t or won’t. I am a lucky bitch. I learnt from the best –  Mum took me on more adventures in more places than 99% of my friends ever got to enjoy. I have a renewed admiration for her utterly amazing planning skills. The smartphone makes life so much easier, possibly overwhelming in offering us choices, but faced with a BA timetable and Judith Chalmers on the telly, boy I’m indebted.

 

Sayonara Japan – it’s been a blast. There’s a fair few other things I’d wanted to write, but time is of the essence and I’ve got a date with an onsen (my new Haçienda thrill equivalent)

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Mother’s Day

I’m not a mother and I’m no longer a daughter. Today I visited my childhood home for the first time in a little while. I felt compelled to take some flowers, same as I always would. Though I didn’t get a card, instead I found the stash she’d saved from both of us over many years and recycled one.

The kitchen clock is still ticking, her mug is still on the draining board and the camelia we always saw as the first signs of spring is in flower. It felt the same, as if nothing had changed, yet everything has.

On the picture here it was a tiny little thing, surviving each winter was a challenge, yet it’s now sprawling in the garden she loved and nurtured.

I wanted her to look out of the window with me, see Spring arriving and look forward to the light nights and have that same conversation we always had about the longer days ahead.

Happy Mother’s Day – thank you for the love and nurturing.  I know just how that camelia feels coming out the other side of winter this year.

Another ‘first’, another milestone passed.  It may be the last Spring I see that camelia in bloom.

 

Mum

It’s 7pm on the dot on a Monday.  Instinctively I want to pick up the phone . That was our routine. 3 or 4 minutes. Not much content, but a connection, a routine – a moment shared, for you a vicarious glimpse into my increasingly distant and somewhat bewildering world of work:

M: “Where are you tomorrow?”
Me: “Monday – Manchester, Tuesday – Liverpool”
M: “Oh yes … I must write it down”

Still …one I hoped you were proud of, you approved of.  I wanted to know you were content, felt you’d achieved your rest, weren’t in pain or suffocated by the four walls you’d retained for longer than my lifetime and increasingly your only boundaries. I know, for you, a glimmer into my day and I wish it had been more, that you felt you were part of it (and you were).

If I’d known it was the last time we shared a smile, a meal, a moment, how would we have done things differently, if at all?

We didn’t really speak of your aches and pains, you were stoic and strong. At times belligerent, but always selfless. You cared about my happiness more than anyone ever has or will.  I hear my own voice and know it echoes yours. My mannerisms, my nose, my hands, my values.

You were always my intellectual superior, I may have beaten you at word games (not always!), but you learned and mastered an iPad in your 80’s, bewildered me with your love and ability to complete a cryptic crossword, drove across the entire USA, understood a BA timetable and got me into more hotels and the best places in the world easier than any VIP membership, with your dogged determination and inimitable ability to research and persevere.

You taught me to cook roast potatoes, good gravy, grow a garden, travel the world(!) but be frugal (mini marsbars and cuppa soup in the best hotel in Aswan).   Only you would have paid a $100 a ticket to give me a Las Vegas birthday of Joan Rivers and The Village People, but nick an ashtray as ‘compensation’ for the ticket price.

You were my hero, my role model, the woman who showed me how and survived a life time of shit, your sister, your aunt, your dad, your Mum, my Dad and your own lifetime of trauma and above all else, I was your ‘miracle baby’.  Gloria would have said, “I could have crumbled … ”

You inspired me. I could do anything. I tried.

Your best girl, I hope I made you proud.

Love you Mum. Zeb time x

Donations to Prevent Breast Cancer via:

https://mary-jones-1930-2017.muchloved.com/

Things I can do

I’ve eaten my meal without a plea or a purring,

I’ve left a plate on the floor.

I’ve closed a door without thinking,

You’re usually pushing in with  a paw.

I’ve left a dress on the bed,

Usually hung up for a second wear.

I filled a glass for my bedside,

Unusually un-sipped.

The pillow remains un-dinted from a day of  desultory grooming

The duvet remains un-clawed.

Companion,

Confidante,

Cat.

IMG_4987

 

Whatever Lola Wants 

An obituary

? 2005 to 22.9.2017

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Whatever Lola Wants 

As most will tell you, many 52 year old female divorcees are almost obliged to be cat owners. Seems I’m no exception. I’ve had a cat most of my life both pre and post marriage. Each a wilful character, with more personality than a month’s worth of Okay magazine wannabes. Whilst humans generally cannot avoid anthropomorphism, I’d argue Lola has by far exceeded her predecessors with her singular sense of entitlement and an inner royalty befitting her “Princess” title.

I knew little about her first year. She’d had kittens young (I’ve often referred to her as a “gymslip mum”). Found herself in a rescue centre, where they were quickly adopted and she was left behind. Only briefly. Having shown off that, despite having had a litter young and found herself in this godawful place, she was feisty, vocal and brighter than the other co-habitees sustaining “time” alongside her and took up residency in May 2006 where my house has been her only home for over a decade.

A year or so later, when my husband left, she quickly chose to occupy the “other half” of the bed. It was a happy arrangement, with neither fighting for the duvet. My only regret was her inability to bring me a cuppa in the morning, though she had her own bedside glass of water, contrarily preferring this to her free-flowing fountain bowl only a staircase away.

I instinctively reached out for her tonight, as I have for many years, whenever I’ve lain awake, with my usual bouts of sleeplessness. I’ve always received a little purr of pure pleasure and the recognition we shared our lives. This was usually followed by a fervent tummy-treading session and quickly spread-eagling herself across my belly, tail just wafting gently across my face. During my recent menopausal moments, clearly the heat rivalled any well-maintained radiator, resulting in my need to ‘come up for air’ on the occasional warm summer’s evening.

She patrolled my garden, surveying the planting with, what seemed, as much pleasure and pride as if she’d chosen the planting from Riggs with me. We’ve frequently spent evenings together outside. No words necessary, akin to the couples you see on prom front benches, staring out to sea.

She never became a YouTube sensation, endured no heroic mishaps or performed some infeasible antic captured forever to be shown on late night re-runs.

There were moments I’d wished had been caught on camera, 7 poor canalside inhabitants in one evening bought to my bedside as condolence gifts, reminiscent of some one-cat, macabre, Egyptian funereal procession.

The stand off one day with my neighbour’s cat, where they both sat in adjacent corners of my living room, like boxers awaiting the bell, both staring at the humongous shit sat in the middle of my cream rug – I never did ascertain where the blame lay for that.

We had a shared language. She surprised most with her stream of chatter.

She was never greedy. Never pushed her luck, but loved a lick of a yoghurt pot; the end of my cornflake milk; the last of a lasagne dish and you’d find her in the kitchen faster than a fly as soon as you flicked open the tuna tin can lid.

She treated the constant procession of house guests either with weary indifference or occasional curiosity and chatter, but increasingly kept an almost constant position on a corner of my bed, with a half eye on those passing through.

She hated to leave the house and on the last occasion, we endured our usual battle. Her immediate and innate sensing of a cattery stay, resulted in a tantrum worthy of a two year old and well-rehearsed tactics of trying to de-claw her from under the bed, via deployment of my choice of weapon, her arch enemy, Dyson.

I hope this wasn’t what caused her little heart to beat its last. I hope she knows how loved she was.

She will always be my beautiful showgirl.

Whatever Lola Wants – Eartha Kitt