Love Letters #38

Have you ever sunk down into the belly of London?

There are vertical escalators, and sometimes they squeak and squeal, groaning under the weight of a thousand feet every second of every day. Never stopping. Hundreds of stories and minds. Millions of thoughts, whispered in thousands of accents, drowned by the voices of people getting things done.

There are pictures on the metal walls, pictures that move and shift and change shapes, kaleidoscopic in their constant swirling motion, and for a moment you want to go to the theatre and see Les Miserable, and the next moment the thought vanishes from your brain as you frantically feel your way through pale yellow tunnels, following the crowd and wondering if you are going the right way, can’t turn back or else people will shove you back the way you came, the rush of hot air pulling you further and further into the belly of London.

Old walls, crumbling civilisations giving way to new ones.

I was born in London.

Tooting.

Same hospital as my mother was born in. So strange, that thought. Twenty four years apart.

My father fell down the stairs and broke his coccyx bone the day I was born. He was rushing to the hospital to see his first child. For twenty three years he hasn’t been able to sit properly.

When I was six years old, my stomach curled and unfurled itself as I clutched a small pink straw bag, descending on those vertical escalators down, down down below the crowded surface of the busy city.

Do we have to go on the tube? Can’t we go on the overground train?

Don’t be so silly, Lenora. Look sharp now, quickly!

My mother, seasoned, marching through the tunnels with myself and my little brother in tow. Stepping onto the train, grabbing the back of her skirt, sick with fear.

Then the hurtle, the loud screaming of the train on those metal tracks, the blackness outside the windows. Why were there even windows, if there was nothing to look at? Terrified. Barely able to breathe. Is this the stop? Can we get out?

No!? Ohhhh. 

A soft groan, deep in my belly.

Any minute now the lights would turn off and the train would stop and we would be stuck down here in the dark and heat forever and ever and

forever.

Loud, screaming, hurtling, whistling, wailing. I would close my eyes, begging for this nightmare to be over.

When I was eleven I read a story about the people who cleaned the underground tunnels.

You wouldn’t believe what they found there. Giant rats, and fleas the size of cockroaches, flittering in the darkness. An old woman spoke of the horrors of those tunnels. Yet, they were a refuge to many during the war. Safe havens, in giant brick pools under the ancient city of London. Curving under the Thames and even crossing by the long forgotten rivers that people seldom remember, yet traverse past daily.

And still, I was terrified.

The tube?! Really?! We can get to Victoria on the overground. What about a bus?! A bus is so much better.

Oh, grow up, you silly girl.

Stuck to my seat, sometimes shoved under someone’s armpit, holding tight, my stomach swaying as the train hustled and swerved and screamed its way through those hot, windy tunnels. Fear seeped through my skin, soaking my clothes and beading on my upper lip.

The roaring becoming louder, and louder, and louder, rising in volume and ferocity,

 – why is it so angry -?!

I open my eyes.

I am twenty three years old. I am sitting on the tube for the first time in three years, and before that, for the first time nine.

London has not been my home for twelve years.

Yet, every time I step off the train and into Euston or King’s Cross, a rush of overwhelming familiarity hits me.

The smells and the noise pollution, rising high in the sky, thousands of lives picking their way through thousands of machines, breathing in exhaust fumes and coffee grounds, heels on newspapers, sweat pooling in the creases of skin, accents and countries and worlds colliding as people get on with their business.

And I love the tube. I love the tube with all my heart.

I love the feeling of standing on the furthest end, watching everybody and their engrossed detachment from the world around them. The ginger man sitting next to a nun, sneaking peeks at her reading material. The woman who is watching a Netflix show and the audience of standing commuters, eyes glued to her screen behind the grimy glass that separates her seat from the doors.

I love the hurtling, screaming ferocity. I love the traffic of humans, all hurrying, running, racing, sweating, on the same journey but so trained in avoiding any real contact with each other. Physically pressed up against each other but mentally floating high above the tunnels through which they are carried at top speeds.

I don’t love London at all. I might love the memories I have, which lurk around unexpected corners and in strange places. That place that I vomited outside the Natural History museum. That spot in the British library where I tried to hide those chewits. That fountain in Hyde Park where I sprained my ankle and subsequently cried all the way home on the 319. That tree where the dog barked at my brother and I, scaring our five and four year old selves half to death. That rookery where we rolled down the hills and I got grass stains on my blue Alice in Wonderland dress.

But I love the Tube.

I love the old terror that rises in my throat like bile, because my twenty three year old self recognises it for what it really is;

Adrenaline.

Excitement.

Adventure.

Thrill.

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Alone

I’m alone.

I have been thinking about a lot of things lately. I am just going to say them.

Humanity is so vast and complicated. There is a deep sadness underlying everything. Every kiss is tinged in sadness, every touch, every hug. People can walk around preaching happiness and laughter but underneath it all is this deep violet blanket of sadness. And when they are alone, and the world dims behind a shut door, this sad reality begins to sink in.

We are all going to die. Some of us might die horrible deaths. Some of us might kill ourselves. I was washing dishes with cold water and staring out at two little boys in the street, kicking a ball around for hours in the cloudy sunshine, and I thought, how could somebody kill themselves?

And when somebody does kill themselves, they spark a tremor in the earth. People are devastated. We have to be kind to each other, they shout, we have to connect, we have to help the lonely people.

But what about the ostracised people? The people who walk around towns wearing a headscarf and feel desolate and lonely because they don’t know anybody, and everybody stares at them with suspicion because they represent a religion so often stamped with the labels of murder and bloodshed. What about the people who look different or act different and are targeted because of it?

It is so strange. I am alone. All my family members are thousands of miles away from me and it feels so strange. I scroll through their photos on my phone and smile at their frozen smiles, my mind is with them at that time and place but my mind doesn’t exactly know where their minds are at that moment. I think technology and the internet has made us come to expect that knowledge will come to us; so we become impatient.

I went out for a walk today and I did not like my town. I did not like the hostility. The stench of alcohol and cigarettes. I look at the drab way people are dressed and the way their bottoms show because their jeans are hiked low, and the way they down can after can of beer, and I think, oh for the days of yore. The days when people dressed modestly and looked like they had dignity.

I bet they didn’t stink.

Then I stopped for a moment and really thought about it. Of course they stank. They didn’t have proper running water. They published articles about showering once a month, and some once a year if they could get away with it. Their streets were piled high with horse manure and urine and flies infested their cities. They drank plenty of alcohol and smoked far more than we do. Their women had to fight to be seen as HUMAN BEINGS in the court room, and were killed trying to demonstrate for a right to vote. A right to freaking VOTE.

They stank and it wasn’t just a physical stench.

Humanity is a thousand shades, and not just black and white. Things are not just right and wrong. There are a thousand clauses in between and reasons and rules and methods and situations and circumstances.

And we just have to plough on through it all and try to keep our heads above water.

Well. I am alone. And I don’t think humans were created to be alone. Adam had a wife called Eve. They had children. Even Adam couldn’t be alone.

I also think one shouldn’t be alone with their thoughts too often. That is dangerous. People need other people.

 

Pondering the ‘Point’.

Sometimes, in my mind, I want to be this glamorous lady wearing high heels, manicured nails gleaming some classy nude colour, makeup on point, hair glossy and thick and cascading down my back, wearing something elegant and effortlessly beautiful, climbing into a pretty little fiat 500 or a purple mini cooper. I know life isn’t all about appearance and looks, but sometimes I just want to be that.

I really do.

It’s not so much for attention as it is for this inner feeling of satisfaction.

I think this, walking down the road, and then I am suddenly halted with another, sharper thought; What’s the point of doing all that if you’re just going to die one day?

Morbid, I know.

But what IS the point?

Usually, when that thought interrupts my reverie of glamour, I turn my mind to different things. But today I decided to explore it a little more. Maybe I was feeling more in touch with my spirituality. Or something.

This is what I came up with:

What IS the point of spending a lot of one’s time just to look glamorous for a few hours? Life is short. By that logic, one would say, yes life IS short, so spend it doing something that makes you happy. Right? Except, no, wrong. I think that life is short so I should spend it doing the right thing. Like, I could be doing so many more important things in the three hours it would take to fluff up my hair and paint my face and tweeze every inch of my body.

I could be doing something more worthwhile. Something I would be glad I did when I am dead. Because I believe that once I am dead, I will wish I spent my life doing things that would help me after I die.

I can still make an effort and look good, of course. It’s not like I’m saying you never should. I just feel that I perhaps shouldn’t dedicate a lot of my thoughts as to how I will. And maybe focus on internal peace.

I know it sounds so fairy-taley to some people. But that is how I honestly feel.

Love Letters #31

I think the sky is actually white, on those grey days. Where the clouds hang heavy in the sky, and the roads blend in with the horizon. The air is coloured with a paintbrush that has not been completely washed off, so the water is a little murky. I don’t think the sky is grey, I think it is white.

Through my little window I can see the winding road leading down to the town. Pristine little houses, just like mine, sit solidly, proudly by its side. Winding along with the road, built to accommodate its wayward intent. The road chooses where it wants to go, we just follow.

The house directly adjacent to mine faces the road at a 90 degree angle from the front face of my own home. Its frosted bathroom side windows look directly into my back windows, and we are separated by my garden and a little alleyway that leads into its own garden a little further to the right. From my window, I can see the trampoline in their garden. The little watering cans. The iron and ironing board through the downstairs window, a peephole into what could only be described as a utility room.

I cannot see its roof, but I can see the side of the black slate that covers it. It forms a juttering triangle, and contrasts starkly with the grey sky fringing it. Just beneath the ebony black line of the slate, there is a board made of material painted white. At the highest point of the triangle, there is a small spike pointing downwards. Both the slate and the white board frame the top side wall of the house. Beneath the slate and white board, red brick creates the rest of the side wall.

This might seem a mundane description to you. But to me, the white of the board under the slate matches the sky on the other side of the slate. And if I lie down, so only the top triangle of the house adjacent to mine is visible, and the shrouded sky spreads out beyond, I can see a bit of the sky directly under the slate. It looks just so – just so the slate roof seems to be floating a little above the red brick.

And that is why, sometimes, I think when the sky is moody and grey, it is actually a stark, stunning white. White to wash the world out and highlight the drabness of human civilisation.

On Christmas in Spain and British People

Christmas day for me was spent in Granada. Actually, travelling from Granada to Cordoba. In Spain.

They drive on the right hand side of the road, as opposed to the left side which is the side we stick to in Britain. This was confusing to say the least. There were several incidents where we drove straight into oncoming traffic. To say we angered the Spaniards is to make a colossal understatement.

It was a great holiday. We did not have brussel sprouts at all, which I am glad for. I went through a period in 2013 where I had brussel sprouts daily for months. Needless to day my stomach suffered horrendously. No, on Christmas day we ate dry cereal for breakfast, then for lunch we didn’t have anything and for dinner we had, well, I can’t remember. I think we had a late lunch in an Italian restaurant. We had a very cheesy pizza with almost no crust and a beschamel soaked tortellini stuffed with something sweet. It was a very cheesy meal, and also very delicious. Later that night I awoke from some very cheesy nightmares involving a particularly stinky brie. We walked miles and miles that day, I think we did around 18,000 steps. We relaxed and watched the sun set.

My husband checked some women out and I got super pissy about that. He did it blatantly and not just once but hundreds of times throughout all seven days. And it made me severely doubt the power of my booty. Which is a pretty good one if I do say so myself.

I am, still pissy about it and it has ruined my holiday and makes me not like him very much at all.

But the holiday itself was lovely. So peaceful and I saw and learned a host of incredible things about the Nasrid empire and the Catholicism that took over soon after. The battle of cultures is emphatically displayed in the magnificent architecture of the palaces and castles and mosques in Granada, Cordoba and Malaga. It’s a clash of religions and you know, it’s stunning. You can clearly see the gothic architecture competing with the Islamic designs and there are places where whole ceilings have been replaced, only to be broken in some corners and the mathematically intricate designs of the Islamic architecture carries on along the wall and some floors are mosaic and some are flagstone and you just stand there and stare at the deathly silence of it all; and if you stand very still you can hear the echoes of civilisation forming and building and living and dying and flighting.

It is phenomenal. Humans are phenomenal.

There was one point in Granada when we were exploring the Nasrid palace in Alhambra, when a tour guide was explaining the history of the palace to an older couple. I was eavesdropping very blatantly, because we didn’t get any audio guides and there was no information at all anywhere. What he was saying was so captivating, I simply could not help myself. The guide saw me eavesdropping and I felt like such a cheat. But he did not say anything, he just carried on talking. Maybe he felt I should have given him a tip at least, if I was too stingy to pay for a tour!

But oh, Spain was so beautiful. Courtyards and cobbled alleyways and mesmerising views and palm trees and thunderous beaches and orange trees galore.

When we got on the plane to go home we were surrounded by British people and I was reminded of how much I really don’t like British people. Maybe that is a generalisation. But a man of fifty odd years was swearing horrendously at his mother who was limping along using a walking stick. And he was effing and blinding in a most British fashion. And it just reminded me of city streets and uncouth louts.

And I got this super strange stare from him on the plane and it felt very judgey because of how big my bag was. But I guess I am judging him and maybe he was just reminded of another bag in some other place which made him angry. Or something.

Anyway this man who was around 65 started talking to my husband about the forty years he served in the Navy. He spoke to my husband during the entire two and a half hour flight and while I didn’t hear much of what he had to say because the general sound in the plane is thunderous, I learned some interesting things.

And I felt bad for generalising my own people. The British. We are not so bad. Sometimes we can be awful, and drink too much alcohol, and reveal our pale, hairy bottoms in airports, and be generally quite stiff and awkward, and not like to speak what we think but like to show it in a manner of tuts and glares.

But some of us serve in the Navy for forty years and others do a myriad of different things and are their own people.

And some of us are not strong because we react to emotion. A strong person is not one who can fight and win. A strong person is one who can control themselves when they are angry. That is what I learned this Christmas.

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My photo of one of the courtyards in the Nasrid palace of Alhambra, Granada.

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A stunning view over Sacramento from atop Alhambra, Granada.

 

Life

Sometimes I think I want children but then I remember I am an awks person who can’t look some certain people in the face or say their name. I hang up on phone calls mid sentence because I feel too awkward to carry on the conversation and I make a right fool of myself to strangers.

Also I don’t make the best decisions about anything and I think I have a lot of growing up to do. Like, a LOT.

I can run a house, that is easy. I’ve done it since I was eleven years old. What can I say? My mother gave me a tonne of responsibility. I can change nappies; I’ve changed hundreds. Probably. I had two younger brothers, one born when I was eight and one born when I was eleven, and yes I have changed both their nappies and babysat them and bathed them and took care of them and put them to bed and just the usual things the oldest sibling has to do. I also had a tonne of baby cousins growing up and I just loved babies so much, so I helped out a lot with them.

So I can do a lot of things mums need to do.

I can even deal with children very well, since I have had lots of experience. Also I work with young children, I know how to speak their language. I honestly do.

But, I still feel as though I am not grown enough as a person, to be able to bring another kid up. I am a bit selfish, and entitled. I can be very mean sometimes and while I have a lot of patience with children, I don’t really. I can go home and relax and I can send the baby back to her mama.. but when it is my own… I am the mama. Where do I send it then?

Also having a kid might be nice to begin with but all that exhaustion? Also to have to then spend the next twenty odd years taking care of said kid, not being able to be flexible, not being able to get up and go somewhere at the drop of a hat, schooling, nurturing, emotional availability…

Oh I don’t know.

My friend just realised two weeks ago now that she is three months pregnant, after bouts of nausea and fatigue.

She told me the other day that she went for her first scan with her husband and it was such an emotional experience.

‘Why?’ I asked, completely oblivious. Why should a scan be emotional? It’s just a scan, all preggers people have it. I carried on munching my Hula Hoops.

‘Well, because although you can’t see anything there, it’s just a blob really at this stage, you can hear the heartbeat of this person inside of you, that came from the both of you, and it’s just real, it’s alive, it’s there.’

Never did I feel so immature and out of it than in that moment.

I remember my own mother having scans, and us in the room with her, a thunderous heartbeat reverberating around the room and echoing in my mind. 

A child is real.

I remember once my mother went for her scan and the nurse sent me out of the room for some reason. I was ten. I peeped in through the half open door and I heard the woman say, ‘I can’t hear the heartbeat.’ and I saw my mother start to cry, and I didn’t realise how big it was for her and how much pain she must have felt. I saw the nurse consoling her and saying they would check again, and the jelly on her swollen stomach and then suddenly, the tharrump-tharrump, the thumping sound of life swelling through the room.

A child is not a hindrance or a plan or a barrier to life.

My mother’s silent crying in the cab all the way home.

It is life. It is a person. It is a human.

I don’t know. I know I am not ready.

But I also know that I am ready to be ready someday, and I suppose that is enough for now.

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Sweet 16

Six years ago when I was sixteen years old, I hid myself inside a little bubble.

I had just moved the a different city. I left all my friends behind, and I found it phenomenally hard to make new ones. I was painfully shy and irritatingly quiet, so those who did bother in the beginning soon very quickly gave up.

I didn’t see others as people. I saw them as barriers to happiness. I was depressed. So depressed. It was hard for me to talk to people so when I got home I was filled with thoughts and words and I shared them with my mother. I was desperate for human companionship. A friend to walk home from college with. Somebody to call up afterwards and have a chat about the day.

All of it was just stuff I was so used to, being so surrounded by friends at my old school. I still had those friends, of course, but time and distance were an enemy, and soon they started talking about people I didn’t know and had no interest in, so our phone calls and emails and IMs became less and less frequent, until we became those friends who see each other once in a blue moon and when we do we get along beautifully but in between those meetings there is a long, dismal stretch of echoing silence and aching loneliness.

And for two years I tried and failed to make any real friends. I had a few people who would just use me for company, and when I realised that I stayed away. We had nothing in common and they would just call me up when something was wrong or when their own friends ditched them, which I felt was unfair.

I faded in those two years.

I hid away from people. I stopped trying. I would cry sometimes, alone in my room at home. I started making internet friends. It was so much simpler, and I could find the people I had things in common with and soon I was talking to them daily, the minute I returned home from school and way into the night. It was amazing. I still felt desolately lonely during the day, but I had my internet bubble to look forward to later.

I also created more. I dreamt up characters and wrote about them in the hours of free time during lunch breaks and prep lessons, typing away furiously on the computer.

I would say that although those two years are depressing, and I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy, I am glad for it.

As I am glad for all my experiences.

It made me more compassionate towards others. It made me see through other people, be more conscious of how they might be feeling and try to make them feel included and welcomed.

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Love Letters #27

 

Do you believe in soulmates?

Because I don’t.

I don’t believe the stars align when two people meet, or that their names were carved in some immortal stone. I don’t believe the universe has anything to do with two people getting along exceptionally well.

I do believe people are destined to be together, because I believe in fate. Our destinies are written, but we have the power to change them. With our actions, with our hopes and aspirations that we turn into events and happenings.

I don’t believe that everybody will find their soulmate. People might meander through life never finding anybody they can truly call home, and living out their days with a comfortable companion, or somebody they settle down for.

I do believe that souls have met before, in the space where all souls are before they alight on this planet. And when they meet on earth, they recognise each other. That is why there is a spark. A gleam of recognition in a pair of hazel eyes. Easy, flowing conversation. Carefree laughter. Calm, relaxed, companionable silences. Like pieces of a jigsaw fitting neatly together.

I believe in soulmates. But not one for every specific person. And not one specified by the cosmos. A soulmate is somebody who speaks to your soul.

If you find yours, hold it, keep it, cherish it, and understand it.

 

A Bit of a Think

So far this month things have been crazy. And by crazy I mean CRAZY.

I used to think people’s lives couldn’t be that crazy, but lately I have begun to measure crazy using an odd concept. I measure it by how many times a week I can sleep in my OWN bed at my OWN home.

This week it has only been twice. And once more tonight but that doesn’t count since I have to wake up at 4am. Which is technically midnight and not a full night’s sleep at all.

I now know truly what it means to be run down. I caught a ‘cold’ last Thursday. Thursday the 27th, I mean. It was so mild, nothing that a good night’s rest wouldn’t get rid of, you know? But I never got to have a proper rest because I spent the weekend getting ready for the week and catching up with writing and work, and then bam I was travelling again and living out of a bag and staying up till 1am feverishly working whilst trying not to fall asleep and then the weekend arrived and family obligations arose and on Saturday night we got ‘home’ at 2am, and slept like logs until 1pm the following Sunday and it passed SO QUICKLY and today is Monday and I am preparing for tomorrow when I have to leave at 5am again and I am just so exhausted. And I have not recovered, my throat is burning and has been since that Thursday and there is a terrible cough that only attacks me at night, and it constantly wakes me up.

It is time to question my life choices. I mean, really. I think I am just doing this job for the sake of charity. I am basically doing charity work because it is not like I am earning anything substantial and what I do earn goes on train fares. And I can’t quit because I can’t leave those people in the lurch, it is for a good cause, really.

But.

It’s just so hard.

And my husband keeps saying he doesn’t want me to go. And now I feel guilty too. But the big question is: Do I even want to stay at the job?

See, at first I did. I love this job. I love the kids. I love the opportunity to help out and be involved in guiding people and giving them opportunities. If it were closer to home I wouldn’t blink an eyelid. But since we moved it’s getting harder and harder to juggle two lives.

And I am constantly ill. And this illness keeps me up at nights so it is not like I am getting a good night’s rest.

Oh.

I just wanna stay home and lounge about and flick through Netflix and watch Youtube videos while I munch ice cream and D hammers away on something upstairs.

I just wanna be cosy and snuggly in my own bed instead of cold and uncomfortable in a lumpy bed in a cold room away from my husband and have to walk everywhere and carry heavy bags all over the place and have my boss breathing down my neck for those bloody target sheets.

I MEAN, I WILL DO THEM. JUST GIVE ME A DARN CHANCE.

Oh dear.

Well. I will carry on, of course. But at some point, I will need to rethink my life choices.

These decisions sound so great in theory but when you actually have to live it, it is not easy at all.

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