Of Nuns, Time Travel and Tony Blair

squirrel

A squirrel eating a really big mushroom.

Hi. I haven’t seen you in a while. This is because I have been busy. For the past year I have been writing my book, which takes most of my time and especially my thoughts. I don’t know if you know this but writing a book takes even longer than reading one. But it is worth it because sometimes you will look at the book and you will think, This is exactly the type of book I wanted to read and I am the one who wrote it. That feeling is the best one I think I’ve ever had in the whole of my life. It is weird though, because other days you will look at it and you will think, Oh dear. This is not a very good book at all. How embarrassing.
I can’t explain why you will feel both these things but you will and this is okay because after looking into it, it seems everyone who ever wrote a book also felt like that.
Now someone else is looking at my book and so I have a little time while they work out how to help me mend its broken bits.It has given me some time to think of how I got here, to where I have written an actual book, because it has not been a straight path for me.
Take my hand and travel with me. We are going back. The year is 1990 or something. It is definitely around that time. Perhaps even earlier. I can’t remember. It is the scenery that is important. We are in a Roman Catholic primary school, the teachers are nuns, like Whoopi Goldberg. They have organised a writing competition. First prize is something, I don’t know what, because it isn’t important. It is more important that I am told I am a good writer.
I dictate the story to my mother, who types it on our Brother word processor. Here we can take a moment to smile and shake our heads, What were we like! Huh! We thought this was the height of technology and now it looks so dumb. Yes, we have come very far since then (hey, 1990 Amy, we have new five pound notes now and they are so weird) but this isn’t the point of the story, please try not to get distracted. No, the point is a young mind is being let loose creatively and it is as close to magical as we will ever know! Let us not worry that the young girl is infringing on many of the artistic properties of the St. Trinian’s series. This is not important either. No, she is having fun and she thinks this is possibly the most fun thing she’s ever done.

pen

A pen (you can write with these).

It is days until we are gathered in the assembly hall to find out the results of the competition. Because we are artists we have experienced a lot of self doubt in those days, we have said, Maybe I shouldn’t have entered! What if that bit with the frog isn’t as funny as I thought? But because we are artists we also daydream of winning the prize. Right now I think the prize might have been a colourful play set, simple block-like figures with permanent smiles and clip-on hats, but stop distracting me because the prize wasn’t what mattered most. I wanted to know, Am I good at this?
They call third prize, it isn’t me. Phew, I think. Second prize isn’t me either. I think, Oh good, I have come first. First prize is called…it is not me. We are clapping but we are confused, This isn’t a nice story at all! This is not cheering me up. This is very sad. What if this little person never writes again?
The nun – not Whoopi Goldberg – now she is saying something else. Something about a story that was so good it deserves a special mention. It is my name. I am given a colouring book. The nun explains, If this had been a competition for writing stories this would have done very well, but this was a handwriting competition.
Oh.
I was ahead of my time. I would never use a Brother word processing computer ever again! (No, 1990 Amy, you won’t, because soon every home will have a Windows computer and something called The Internet, I will explain when we meet again.)
This incident was a confusing blow to my confidence as a young writer. It would be a long time until I felt able to enter another competition. And next time, I swore, I would read the terms and conditions very carefully.
The year is 1994, I have changed schools as the Roman Catholic primary school went bust. It is a shame but we are settling nicely in the new school now. I am reading my story to the headmistress, it is a story about a mouse who falls asleep in a space suit and ends up going to space. There is some minor peril but otherwise it is a very positive story and the mouse has a lovely time. They give me a sticker because they think it’s such a wonderful story.
On the way back to the classroom I pass a poster on the wall. POETRY COMPETITION. It is for the Eisteddfod. Whoever wins gets a small wooden chair. Well, I think, I don’t know about the chair but I would like to officially be the best writer in this school. (Note: this is an artistic choice. I did not actually see a poster at this time. I think entrance in the competition was compulsory. But it is better if I tell you it happened like this because it is a better story.)
So I set to work. Traditionally I was a writer of prose, so this was outside my comfort zone. I tried many times, I screwed up the pieces of paper and threw them over my shoulder. My pencil was blunt from effort.
Finally, I knew it was done. I drew a massive leek on the empty side of the page, as it looked a little sparse, and I entered it in the competition.
The school was abuzz. There would be a special guest presenting the prize. A young and new politician by the name of Tony Blair. We do not know who he is, so don’t start going, Yeah yeah, he is a war criminal because no one knows this, in fact we don’t understand politics at all right now because we are about 9 or something.
All we know is that on that day lots of parents gather at the school gates and they clap and shake his hand as he comes in. It is like he’s a pop star but not that good looking. It doesn’t matter. Our motivation is not the politician, nor the tiny chair, but the recognition we crave for our efforts, even if it is poetry and we don’t really see what the fuss is about there.
Anyway. It is Tony Blair holding a tiny chair and we are unable to sit still. Come on Tony Blair, get on with it! Say who won! But he is smiling and he has loads of teeth and he won’t stop talking.
Eventually he says that he is going to say who has won. We are nervous because we hate standing in front of lots of people. We are shaking. We feel sick. It will be hard to collect the prize and the tiny chair will shake in our hands but we- what? Who?
Oh no.
Not her. Anybody but her.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…

…Unless the reaction to this blog post is very positive, in which case I will Beyoncé it and drop it unannounced in the meantime.


And the Silk Inside a Chestnut Shell

Ah, I am taking a deep breath of the autumn air because it is my favourite time of the year and I want to savour every part of it. There are many things to enjoy about autumn, the toffee browns and burnt oranges of the foliage, squirrels mucking about in the trees and the triumphant return of the pear.

A woodland scene in autumn. Lovely stuff.

A woodland scene in autumn. Lovely stuff.

But autumn also marks the beginning of a period of social chaos, where conventional behaviour is disrupted and we have to deal with Strange Things for a while. It starts with Halloween, where children I have never met before knock on the door and request food. I prepare for this in advance and by purchasing sweets to appease them on Halloween night. When I answer the door they greet me with the traditional expression, Trick or Treat. They do not pose this as a question, simply a statement, and we both understand that I will offer them sweets and they will leave me alone. Except before this there is an agonising moment in which I feel like I should say a thing like, Ooh aren’t you scary! or Are you a vampire? The thing is I am not a person who is able to say such things without sounding Weird and Insincere. Instead I say, …………Here you go. And I try to pull my lips up so as to smile in a friendly way but I can feel that my eyes are not reflecting the same emotion as my mouth is.

This exchange is not even half as bad as what happens in December. In December a knock on the door makes my heart freeze up. For in December children knock the door to sing at me until I give them Something to make them go away. The problem with this is twofold:

  1. I do not know what is the correct thing to give them. I often panic and get some twenty-pees from my purse. But it doesn’t seem fair to give them my money because I do not want them there in the first place. Also, to be honest I think their singing is quite poor. If I have to give them something then why not food? It was good enough for them on Halloween.
  2. What is the appropriate amount of time to face them while they sing and pretend to enjoy it? I am not even sure if it is intended for me to enjoy in the first place. Seeming to enjoy it might get me labelled as some kind of neighbourhood creep. As I stand there facing these strange children, accidentally making eye contact, I get a crawling anxiety in my bones, as if I were the one knocking on people’s doors and singing at them like some kind of madwoman. Sometimes I forego the watching part. Seeing their shape through the moulded glass I preemptively grab my purse, open the door and do a smile, immediately look back down and root through my purse avoiding any further eye contact, then give them a token amount and say goodbye.
Autumn themed bedding.

Autumn themed bedding.

During November there is bonfire night for the whole month. During this time the neighbours like to set off small explosions and set fire to things in the garden. The smells are very nice but the noises are too often and too loud. If they planned it properly only one person would need to do the explosions and everyone else could watch safely from their own homes as all the action happens in the sky which we can all see by tilting our heads back thirty degrees.

Unfortunately the fun the part for most people seems to be the lighting of explosives which is something I cannot understand as school assemblies demonstrated that this is how people get their hands exploded off. Maybe they haven’t watched the same public safety videos as we did because I am sure they wouldn’t like it as much if they had.

Henry's colouring is on point this time of year.

Henry’s colouring is on point this time of year.

Photographs of aspirational bonfire parties show punch bowls full of hot cider and barbecue food like hot dogs but the weather is so cold this seems to be a trick they are playing on us to make us look silly. No, when it is dark it is best to go back inside and enjoy the great variety of high quality television programs that premiere in the autumn. It really is the best time of year and I think that is why everybody starts to act a little bit mad, because they are so happy and excited and it is okay to be a bit strange once in a while. I am happy and excited too and I won’t let it get me down when I am nervous sometimes because it is all in good fun and I will make my mouth go into a smile to let the world know I am Okay.


Hi-Ho

Lovely canteen in the workplace

Lovely canteen in the workplace

You can stop your incessant emails and comments, a new blog has arrived. It isn’t that I have forgotten about this but rather because I have recently re-entered the workforce and have been very busy.

Sometimes I stop and I think, This is absurd. I think this because of times like five-thirty a.m on a Saturday, which seems like such an unfair and unnatural time to be active. Also, moments where I catch my eye in the reflection of the computer screen and stop to consider for a while that I am in a place I do not want to be, where I can’t read a book or have something to eat until I’m told I am allowed.

There are good bits, like when I get paid and I can buy things. I’ve bought a lot of great things and also some great stuff so far and I look forward to buying more.

But it is still weird. In work, I had to have an unflattering photograph taken and now I have to wear it around my neck all day when I am there. If I was to do this outside of work I would be labelled eccentric or even a narcissist, but in work it is just normal.

This isn’t one of those jobs where you have to wear smart lady trousers with no pockets. Here you can wear whatever you want so long as it is appropriate. If you’re confused about what is appropriate and what is not I have an anecdote which will serve to illustrate the difference. So here is the anecdote then. (Please skip ahead if you feel confident with appropriate casual work attire.)

A woman who works with my mother once arrived at the office wearing a t-shirt that said, simply, DYKE, in rhinestone lettering. Though this sounds like a very nice t-shirt and shows she is comfortable with who she is (right on, sister!), it is actually inappropriate. It is not the rhinestones that are inappropriate – they may seem more suited to evening wear but it is actually acceptable to wear them on a casual t-shirt in the daytime – but the word DYKE. There are many other words you can have on your t-shirt if you want to make a statement, perhaps test these on friends and family if you are unsure.

Because of the loose guidelines I start every morning wondering if I am dressed too casually. See, it is important to me to feel as though I am wearing pyjamas, as this reminds me of being at home and watching TV. That is where I am happiest.

I miss this at work. I sit back and think of my cats, lying in rays of light on the carpet, half asleep. I miss them so much. After work I buy them gold tins of cat food with fancy names, Ocean Fish in a White Sauce with Spinach, because I love them and I can afford to now. At home I serve it to them like a waiter, saying the full title of the dish before placing it down. They do not leave a tip.

After a long period of unemployment, it is normal to become accustomed to your own company. Also, it is normal to become unaccustomed to other people’s company. You spend so many days talking only to yourself and your cats, doing a fart whenever you have to, that it can be difficult to re-assimilate with society.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

It is strange to suddenly spend up to nine hours a day surrounded by people who are forced to be in your company. In many ways this is a good thing and you realise that despite our differences we are really All the Same. Except for people who are Just Awful, and you must spend time with these people too. You must smile and talk to them even if they have just slagged off all cats.

You must be nice because we are all a team and we are working toward a common goal. You may not care about the goal, it probably isn’t what you planned for in life. Your own personal goals might include being a best selling author and marrying Ryan Gosling when he stars in the adaptation, but while in work you must pretend you care about Their goal.

This is a good starting-off point for any working relationships, knowing and accepting you are all pretending to care about the same thing, you will always have this in common. If you need to engage with someone while you are waiting for your sports bottle to refill at the water cooler, try asking them about themselves. If they reciprocate, respond enthusiastically about their life! Not too enthusiastically because this can be frightening to more timid colleagues.

Several times a day you may ask yourself, Am I weird? because often you will say something and you will notice that your conversational partner has pinched their eyebrows together in a quizzical manner. Most of the time this will be about nothing and you will determine that you are not weird but everyone else is. But once in a while you will think you are weird and you will have to tell yourself to tone it down until you get home and you can fully be you again, talking to your cats and farting, happy in your DYKE t-shirt.


Terror Threat Foiled by Vigilant Staff at Whitchurch Lloyds Pharmacy

rhysthomashello

Bomb Squad

Vigilant staff members at Lloyds Pharmacy in Whitchurch prevented a terror attack this afternoon, when they discovered a suspicious package left in a corner. The diligent workers called the police and the shop was closed whilst the package was checked. Thank goodness for these brave people who stopped what could have been a terror attack on the scale of 9/11. Apart from it wasn’t a bomb. It was my backpack.

There I was, enjoying the intense heat of the day at home when I thought, hang on, I’ve left my backpack in the pharmacy. Panicked – my wallet and notebook and pens were in there – I raced to the shop in the hope it had been handed in. The three adult members of staff seemed to recognise me when I re-entered the shop.

‘Have you got my backpack by any chance?’ I said.

The pharmacy assistant stepped forward.

‘We…

View original post 1,125 more words


Sock it to Me!

When I’m feeling blue and need to cheer myself up I need look no further than the end of my legs. This is where my feet are and my feet are where I display my collection of novelty socks. Today I have gathered for your perusal a selection of my favourite socks. Think of it as Top of the Socks, if you like, or merely a list if you are less inclined to puns and things. I have limited myself to four pairs, each special in their own way, and I hope they make you smile. Perhaps this will inspire you to look at your own socks and choose the best ones! Good for you but remember this is about my socks, so don’t start going on about your own, it would be rude.

gpigs

At number four I have selected this pair of guinea pig socks. I have always dreamed of owning guinea pigs since five years ago when someone showed me their guinea pigs. However, I can’t be bothered. Cleaning out the cage of a guinea pig or rabbit (similar in pet responsibility though not much in genealogy) is a real hassle and I don’t have time for that.

You will note the repeated pattern of the guinea pig against what I like to call a spearmint green background. It is soothing to look at. Not like the backbreaking work of cleaning a guinea pig hutch but with all the aesthetic joy of looking at an animal as silly looking as a guinea pig. Ah. I feel better already!

roar

At number three there’s a theme you’ll see regularly in my wardrobe…dinosaurs! These dinosaurs are not photorealistic and instead are what looks like an interpretation of a child’s interpretation of a dinosaur. In bright, uplifting colours these guys aren’t as threatening as the raptors depicted in the feature film Jurassic Park.

The words on them say “Roar” which is what they want you to believe a dinosaur talked like. But we can’t really say for sure they would have, so let’s not put words into their mouths when they aren’t here to defend themselves.

squarebear

At number two we have a good friend of mine, Square Bear! He is a creation by outstanding British brand Marks and Spencer. As you will have come to expect from Marks and Sparks – as my mum calls them – they are of high quality and make your feet feel like they are submerged in a bucket full of long-haired kittens, such as ragdolls. Because they are so soft.

I have multiple socks featuring Square Bear as well as a nightie. There are three things you should know about Square squarebearcloseBear:

      1. He is square

      2. He is a bear

      3. His ears are always a different texture to his body

I’ve provided a close-up for inspection.

You see that the body is made of regular sock but the ears are a luxurious faux-fur. Reach out as if you can touch it, so soft, so golden. It is magnificent. I plan to buy more Square Bear socks when I visit M&S this week, he is such a cool guy.

faves

Here we are. The number one favourite pair of socks. Just pipping Square Bear to the post but I’m sure you will see why. These socks are so detailed you can look at them up to several times and see something new almost each time. A beautiful scene, if you let your imagination run wild it tells you a story. I imagine it as a Norwegian landscape, the twilight hour, in a time where animals rule the earth and giant magic mushrooms grow willy nilly.

favesclose

Foxes, squirrels and look, down there by the feet, it’s only hedgehogs!

A plethora of woodland creatures. I would like to meet the artist behind these socks and shake their hand, they are masters of their craft. I bought these from Tesco, a wonderful surprise on an otherwise mundane shopping trip. When I wear these socks I feel like anything is possible, I am walking on a magical world.


Kill the Poor

Who’s got two thumbs and watches tons of poornography? This guy! No, I haven’t made a typographical error, I meant to say that. What is it? It’s a word I made up to describe television shows including but not limited to: Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, BritaIMG_3533in’s Benefits Tenants, Benefits Street and Benefits Estate. Others have called it Poverty Porn but I believe mine is better, even if it does require a little more explanation than Poverty Porn. To avoid confusion, emphasise the oo, Poooornography. I will let you practice saying it out loud a few times now so you can tell your friends about it later.

I watch a lot of poornography. There’s an influx of it lately because we are supposed to hate them for stealing all the money and living the Life of Riley while we all slug away on zero hour contracts for a pittance until we’re eighty years old. Well, you do anyway, as I am temporarily unemployed. I’m still allowed to feel superior, though, because I’m not Claiming Taxpayers’ Money. Only my mum’s. However, I don’t watch them to feel superior. I like to have the television on all the time, so there’s noise. It helps because sometimes, as you’re job hunting, you may think you value your happiness too much to apply for an outbound sales job in a call centre; but when you see the abject poverty in which some people live you feel like you should probably just do anything and be grateful for it and all.

I wonder why people think they’re living the Life of Riley when it always looks like they’re having a terrible time. It isn’t fun to not have a job. You look at things and you think, Ooh that’s nice, and that’s the part where you’d normally buy the thing but you can’t because you have to buy food instead. You apply for jobs and more often than not you don’t even hear anything back. It is a bit like screaming into an abyss, if you can find one. It is thankless. Interviews aren’t fun at all. And afterwards they tell you that you are the Reserve Candidate, Well done! But this is a bit rubbish to be honest and you think it would be good if the other person could get abducted by aliens or win the lottery. Then you think well if we’re wishing for people to win the lottery why don’t we wish to win it ourselves? You probably didn’t think that right away because your dreams have gone smaller because getting even an entry level office job seems so far away.

It is important to keep a routine. This is where many people will struggle. Do not sleep in, you must get out of bed and say, Today is going to be an Okay day! Remember that daytime television is a sinkhole. They will distract you with people who say Silly Things to get you wound up. Don’t let them derail you, instead look at all the jobs you could do. You might start to feel a bit, What is the point? and do a lot of big sighs, but try to hold yourself up like you are the person you always wanted to be because the Fuck Its aren’t conducive to job-getting.

When things seem unfair it is because they often are. If you think about it too much you might feel crushed by the weight of the unfairness and stay in your pyjamas all day eating biscuits, I wouldn’t blame you. Best not to think about it at all, if you can help it. Just put your head down and write another cover letter. Say, This could be the one! before you send it off and imagine yourself walking from the train station in the morning with a Brand Name coffee in your hand and a nice suit from Next. Try not to think about how Next won’t pay a living wage, it will depress you again.

Appreciate the things you’d miss if you were at work. Take an afternoon walk and say Hello to the other people on their afternoon walk. Pay attention to the way everything looks on a Tuesday afternoon so you can think of it when you can’t see it any more. Watch your cats sunbathing in the neighbour’s garden and break up a fight between two magpies on the street. Save a dog from running into the road and imagine your unemployment has a Purpose because you’ve watched too many films.

Do things you Love. Do writing. Do painting. Do exercise. You might forget what you like about yourself if you don’t. Try to imagine you are the beginning of your movie, the bit where everything is bad, and you have to have this bit so your character is Relatable. Then imagine the rest of your movie, when your book is published to much acclaim and your boyfriend Ryan Gosling is on about what an inspiration you are. Smile to yourself. He is handsome.


Babygate

When my friends first said they were pregnant my first thought was, On purpose? because I am still eighteen, I think, before I remember I’m more like thirty. They are my friends, so I decide I’ll try to bond with this baby, to start off on the right foot. I knit her a Thing but she doesn’t know what Things are yet so it’s hard to tell if I’ve made a positive impact.

When I see them – babies – all over Facebook, I often wish they were cats. This is when I think I might be broken, when I don’t want to hold them or create one of my own. There’s not the longing or the pull in my chest I get when I look at a St. Bernard puppy or double bacon cheeseburger. Instead there’s a dull acknowledgment, Yes there is a baby. I robotically click Like in case someone notices I never clicked Like and look at me with accusing eyes, You are broken, Why don’t you Like my baby? They probably won’t notice yet though. Not for a few years. Not until ten years when they see my Facebook and the pictures of cats and wonder if I was unable to have children or, worse, I did not want them.

Perhaps I only think people wonder these things because of the two times I’ve heard people wonder them. Once, after a woman told us she did not have babies and would never want them, the two girls I was with said it was the saddest thing they’d ever heard. Another time, a different person was aghast when I said I didn’t think I wanted a child. Aghast, hand on chest in shock, mouth in an aghast O. They said, But if you don’t have a child there will be something missing from your life. I’d feel sorry for you, they said.

Don’t feel sorry for me, I thought, because I hate getting up early in the morning and children always do things like that. I like to have naps and go to the cinema on a whim. Children are difficult to talk to and when they are around you have to talk to them, you have to say, You okay there? and smile and nod because they stare at you and you can’t tell what they are thinking. Two times, children have remarked osquirrelbuttn my big nose. Rather than find this charming I only think it is exceptionally rude and want to say, Well what about your weird shaped head? Or something. It is tiring. Talking to them is hard and explaining things is boring. They haven’t seen Breaking Bad and I am only vaguely familiar with Peppa Pig. It is restricting.

Children are difficult, babies are troubling. They are so delicate and tiny but when someone makes you hold one they are squirming oblongs of muscle. What if it wriggles from my grasp. What if I don’t hold it properly and the head falls back and it’s like The Elephant Man. Then there is the noise. They are like little trumpets made of meat. It hurts my ears and in cafes I fight the urge to cover my ears with my hands and scream back because it hurts. They can’t help this and I don’t hold it against them. I understand how it is, but my hearing is sensitive and to be fair that is not something I can help either.

I’m not broken. I can see they are cute, with very tiny fingers and way too big eyes. It is funny when they fart. But I don’t have the pull in my chest like I do when I see pictures of Disney World or a good corner sofa.

I wish I did feel the pull. Perhaps it will happen one day like it does on the TV. Where you, the broken woman, encounter a person in labour somewhere inappropriate, like a bus station. And at first you think, Blimey I wish I wasn’t here. The birth is difficult and when the baby comes out it’s silent and there’s an awful few seconds but then the Meat Trumpet sounds and you’re so relieved. You look down at the baby in your arms and smile and nod. You don’t need to say anything because the other person knows that your tough exterior has been penetrated by this miracle of life. The sirens are audible now – bloody hell ambulance, good timing! – and this means you don’t need a proper dialogue with the woman, you just hand her the baby and wipe your hands on your jeans because they’re probably a little gross.

I hope this happens to me. Everyone looks so happy. I hope that if this doesn’t happen to me that I will find the other thing that makes me happy and when people see my photographs they won’t think, I feel sorry for her because she has no baby. I hope they just feel happy I am happy, while I feel happy they are happy, and click Like.