Saturday, 16 June 2018

Friends at the centre of the universe

It was the hay fever. The pollen count was exponential and my eyes itched and I couldn’t breathe. I had to speak with an open dry palate, every - breath - effort. As your brain snapped in to gear it would stop intermittently with sneezing fits turning it in to sludge. 

I arrived at the bar and burst in to tears. A gin and tonic ordered straight away and they listened, carefully like teachers and molly coddled me like a newborn puppy. I cried the world was too much! My job, the work, the state of it. I couldn’t breathe! I blew my nose and had a nose bleed and drank my gin and felt better. The pair of them. Dressed in dungarees, a mustard yellow baggy sweater, crop top, bright socks, hair messed up, scrunched atop their pretty heads like bird’s nests. I loved them. And they told me tales of theatre.

Imprisoned indoors because of the grass I was sad and spoke to Susan. She listened and offered to wash my towels because of my conjunctivitis. I bought hair perming solution. Susan positioned a seat in front of the bathroom mirror, twizzling my hair, making me feel better. Her delicate fingertips massaged my head and pushed me adrift on to a swimming pool, where I lay dozing on an inflatable alligator. Not a single strand left loose, she’s a pro. I clumsily rinsed my hair out twice and woke up with curls. 

Brixton Market on the hunt for a shopfront with ‘a blue hue’. It rained the night before so the air has clarity. I feel almost human again. Sunglasses acting as protective shields, vaseline smeared across nostrils to stop particles. She lets me tell my sorry tale. Encourages, coaxes, gives me fuel.

I have a sty in my eye but it doesn’t matter, I believe. Bounding my way across London to a pub at The Centre of the Universe, where all my Friends shall meet. Four friends who’s paths rarely cross between London, New York and Berlin but it happens. Get a round-in, pork scratchings and pints, gin and tonics for me (because wine and beer contain histamines). Spilling over the pavement then filling our booth. It looks like a cabin from a timeless fleet, with portholes of stained-glass windows peering out on to the street. How much time has elapsed. None at all. Ten years. We end with pizza at Pollo’s and a bottle of red to wash it down.

Now I lie on my bed. The final night. Peripeteia complete. Annina lies by my side with her asthma inhaler, I with a bloodied tissue pressed against my nose. She tells me to tilt my head back and I can’t because I’m lying on my back. ‘Do you know the story? Of the man who is standing in the middle of the square. Looking upwards. In to the sky so people start to wonder, what is he doing? One stranger stands next to him and looks up too. Then another joins the pair and begins to stare upwards. Soon whole crowds are joining the men, all wondering what can he see? Then the first man stops and looks down. The second man asks him with awe-inspired breath, ‘What did you see? What could you see?’ And he replies, ‘Nothing. I had a nosebleed.’

I smile and believe that my friends have saved me.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Consuming and crying

I have been crying a lot lately. Like untowardly crying. At things that don’t usually make me (or anyone stable) cry. I was reading a free magazine. Picked up unthinkingly from the vendor who shoves them in to our underarms, never making eye contact, continuously thrusting bundles until someone takes it. I take it. On the morning train - I am reading about a photography exhibition at a gallery on the Southbank, I could do that during a lunch break? A black and white portrait of a front living room, mantel shelf heavy with trophies and mascots and wallpaper peeling under colourful frames of loved ones, deceased, young, alive. An upward angle shot captures an ageing woman walking laboured to the front steps of her local church. It’s like her religious commute. Going to church religiously every Sunday for a sermon and now I am crying. Not floods. Never gushing: I cry like the robots who think they’re human in Blade Runner 2. Silently crying for no real reason standing in a packed train carriage at 8:54am.

Then the Royal Wedding took me by surprise. I was sat cross legged on the living room floor, sorting boxes of old belongings in to piles for the charity shop and then, the bin. The wedding was on in the background but my mind was engrossed in some old Adidas tracksuit bottoms, sporting stripes the colour of fire. Until this rude trumpet chorus made me look up. On the screen flared a white robed queen and the church doors were flung open, light broke out over her smile and I was crying. Again like a robot. One tear that rolls off in to the shadow cast by my right eyelid. Always the right tear-duct.

I am slowly realising that my twenties were an age of anger. I could be angry at everything! It was like a hobby that became part of my personality. I loved being vocal about stuff that didn’t matter, for example, my hatred of glass modern buildings*. Recently though, I can't muster up the vitriol and instead I am overcome by emotion. Here are inexplicable things that have made me cry in the past weeks. 

Hearing a nature podcast about the decline of moths in Britain

Catching a glimpse on ITV of the NHS Heroes Awards

Seeing a music video where an old woman with push-permed hair dances with an invisible hula-hoop

And all of these things caught me completely off-guard. I had no control over my weepy eye but I just let it happen. All Hang Out. Whatever, I don't pretend to understand why. But I cry. It has something to do with nature and the passage of time. It has something to do with feeling older and how the world carries on without you and that's fine. It doesn't matter. It has something to do with memories that don't seem to go backwards but are laid out before you, as if you have a million memories to be had but are not sure when or how it's going to happen. Uncertainty in certainty, that's likely what it is.

*I still stand by this

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Plays, Pints & Places 1. The Grinning Man

I stayed up really late to make this and then my garageband crashed and I lost everything. Then I did it again. Please listen if you would like to, it's a ropey podcast where me and Lou Dicko talk-rant about a play we've seen, over a few pints, in a place, which this time is my favourite pub, The Chandos. The play is The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios - May 2018

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Spirit level

I had to spend the hot sunlit days caged inside an office. Outside there was the repetitive pounding of a crane, breaking up the hard ground beneath the silt under the Thames. I imagined it giving migraines to those walking by, but filtered through my thick walls it was like the quickened strikes of a clock tower, madness. 

I ride the train every morning and some days I can concentrate on reading, other days I cannot and stare past people. There has been a lot of that lately and the views are not great. The backs of buildings and concrete. Scaffolding. As we approach the city there is too much glass. The whole train carriage overhears something that sounds salacious to the speaker - sleeping with a middle manager - but for the rest of us it as a nuisance disaffecting the daily commute.

Amongst one of these days I am leaning against a luggage compartment, blockaded by a rucksack and some shoulders, then holding on to the railing before me I see the back of a hand close-up. In biro it is written SPIRIT LEVEL. I think hard about what this could mean, until I follow the hand up the arms to see it is connected to a man dressed in overalls, with dust and paint all over his shirt. I turn back to stare at the grey everything with an extinguished sense of wonder. 

But for the last weeks I have been thinking about what it could have meant before I realised what it actually meant. ‘How’s your spirit level?’ Is a good question. If I asked myself that recently it would be, ‘Particularly low today. And your’s?’ There have been invites sent in the post sealed with happiness about weddings for me to receive in my pyjamas to feel slightly saddened about. My twenties are over. I have managed to accumulate things, which remind me that I once got that with the hopes of... then I feel a twinge of disappointment in myself or the thing for not following through with it. 

An ex-boyfriend sends me an e-mail about turning thirty and living in Honolulu or ‘Wherever the wind takes me’. The billboards on the side of buses carry slogans that don’t make sense with the aim to make me linger on their messages; I fall for it. The possibility of getting a dog seems distant, while I get invited to flat-warmings and take in the nice scenery and accept that people are moving on.

Though spirit levels are about balance and some days I am high. Like when sitting in the sunshine in a park I have only just discovered and fallen in love with, for it’s the site of a Victorian ruin. Resting a sleepy head on my lap, stretching apart my toes and watching a grandmother fanning herself, as her grandson shows off tricks on his new scooter. Spirit level rising. Later I had a bubblegum flavoured ice cream from a van, which was bright blue and had a similar chewy consistency to gum. Proving that childhood memories can be bettered by current ice cream flavours. 

So things are not all that bad and not all that good. But I do feel slightly off-balance.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Old stuff old me

I have recently been sifting through a lot of old stuff. My mum is moving house and by way of being her daughter, a lot of my old things I don’t use or think about anymore have ended up there. I emptied a cardboard box with frayed edges, scraps of old tape hanging off its corners. Squished in there amidst crumpled uniforms and a Brownies sash, was a small pencil case that had been zipped up to bursting, stuffed with what I objectively define as “bits and bobs”. A badge pin, small bit of broken wood scribbled with pencil marks, dead yellow feather, lifeless endearing lizard charms made up of microscopic beads, smelly gel pens, a ladybird pendant that doubles up as a watch. Trinkets and Talisman. 

I am supposed to be lessening the load. Of things that my mum will have to take with her to the new place, so I have to make sacrifices, I realise, but I look at these little pieces of me from when I was eleven and I can’t. I remember the feather and that bit of wood. I couldn't explain to you why they mattered or what I remember about them. But I do know them. A certain recognition you feel as with the sensation of seasons. So I keep the pencil case in tact and leave it to the side.

Then there are these textbooks. My school workbooks from Year 3 until Year 8. What am I going to do with these? Will I ever read them - no. Will anyone else ever want to read them - no. But I can’t lightly put them in the bin bag with the the old envelopes and school year planner. I am stuck. I want to get rid of things but they won’t let me! Instead, they draw me closer until I am sat in a pool of light from a cheap lamp staring down at my old work. 

MOVIES (written twice in bubble writing, twice in normal writing)

1. Space Jam
2. BFG
3. Jurassic Park

I list ten “movies” in total but I get the gist. My past self is listing my favourite films in order. And let me tell you, my description of Jurassic Park is nothing like Jurassic Park. I manage to list all the main characters and I am glad to say that Jeff Goldblum then, made as much of an impression on me, as he still does today. And Space Jam? That was a pretty good movie. I can still remember all the words to I Believe I Can Fly. I believe I could touch the sky. I think about it every night and day. Spread my wings and fly away. I believe I can SSSSSOAR

So. What makes me me now and me then? Am I really the same person when I have no recollection of watching the BFG, yet I still love Jurassic Park and remember Michael Jordan playing basketball against aliens? If I throw this stuff away and I forget it all, do I stop being the old me because nothing reminds me of her?

I have a job now. And in that job I get given a quarterly review, which is an assessment of your character in a professional light. I guess that’s a little bit like a school report. I have a school report open in front of me from when I was eight and it says under Listening Skills that ‘Rimika is a good pupil at listening. She always asks questions in class but in some cases, she asks too many questions about things she already knows the answers to...’ The teacher continues. And it strikes me that my line manager gave me exactly the same criticism last week; I ask too many questions to things I already know the answers to. I’m twenty-nine! How have I never taken this criticism on board?

I imagined an eight year old would be different to their thirty year old self, and seventy year old self. For one: different priorities. I am eight and I worry that my tamagotchi is dying and Olivia doesn't like me. I am twenty-nine and I worry about a flat leak and the cost of commuting. But I guess immediate thoughts play no outcome in the way you are. Because clearly I still am - very much like I was - when I was at eight. Just bigger with more money. I don’t know if this is worrying or the facts of life.

So I gather my things and place them in to piles, I throw some away and leave others to ponder over. I have a week left before they all get judged. To keep or not to keep. What about all those kids who's parents never kept anything, maybe they couldn’t, simply lack of space and time. I’m sort of lucky to have these things that remind me of a person I don’t know anymore because they morphed in to me. I’m pretty happy with things as they are so I don’t feel too bad about it. Thankfully. And that pencil case. When did I make the decision to put all my worldly treasures in to that khaki zipped sack, like Noah’s Ark adrift on a voyage until the time was right.

I remember something from my archaeology degree.

Burials and shipwrecks are what we call “closed contexts”. They remain untouched for years and years until their own civilisation forgets, and when we find them, they give us precious insight. A snapshot in time otherwise lost forever to the noise of history.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Moomin the dog

I’ll miss having the dog around. This black, beady-eyed, curly-tailed thing. Moomin. She is a true companion and as I walk with her across Wormwood Scrubs, a large expanse of playing field, with one of the only unbroken horizon lines I’ve ever seen in London, I remember how much she’s aged since the first time I walked here with her. How much I’ve aged too. The same amount technically, but not in dog years. She’s a grandma now (an obaachan) and that would make me a fully-grown woman. I am technically, but not in mental years. But then perhaps I’ll always stay this age in my brain, just my bones and body will begin to wear thin, and my memory will lapse but I’ll still think the same. Feel the same in any case, probably about the same issues, sticking even more stubbornly to my guns as I age with everybody else. Moomin’s back legs wobble, when she jumps over tufts of grass her belly scrapes the underside in a way it didn’t use to, when her skin was more tort and she had a stronger abdomen. She tires more easily and sleeps for longer. I bet I'll age without realising it and then one day I won’t be able to get my leg over a stile without incurring some pain, and then I’ll notice that I’ve grown old, a bit too late to do anything about it.

Now as she lies here, sprawled as I write I am thinking deeply about mortality. What will happen when she’s gone? I’ll probably still be here and then I will be left sad. I’ll probably get my own dog and name it after a Moomins character in honour of this dog and also to pay homage to Tove Jansson, an absolute genius in my eyes. It’s easier to say for a dog that they have had a good life. Easier to judge, if they live until they are thirteen (human years) and they can still bound with abandon, ears flopping excitedly down by their snout, can still sleep and eat healthily and dream. That’s a good life. But for humans… more difficult to judge and who are you to judge anyways? If I’m healthy and can still run, eat, sleep and dream am I having a good life? Yes, most likely. When I die will everyone be able to say, with hand on heart, that she had a good life because of these things?

On the way home from something I noticed on the path infront of her house a black figure lying there. A small furry black thing with limbs outstretched as if it were sleeping, the way Moomin does on her blue cushion upstairs. My heart stopped. I edged closer as if walking over a frozen lake about to crack and splinter in to shards, any minute, when I saw it was a black cat. Dead cat. Black-fluffy-big-dead-expensive-looking creature, just lying there, not moving a whisker. I couldn’t be sure if it was dead but I really couldn’t touch it either. I was afraid I’d wake it up and then it’d be angry. I said out loud to a passing stranger, ‘Dead Cat.’ They turned around, confused possibly, so I said it again louder and more clearly pointing at the laid out cat on the pavement. Thank god the stranger came back to check, he bent down and checked the cat’s pulse (is that normal for things that aren’t human?) and I asked, ‘Is it cold?’ The man said ‘Yes. Dead.’

There was a pause that may have been a long a silence. ‘I’ll go and get a bin bag.’ He said and sauntered off. I tread carefully around the cat and wondered what had happened, no markings or wounds, no seeming violence or blood, it looked like it had been placed there. Probably chucked out of a car window or off the curb-side after a hit and run. I worried about the human owner of it. How sad they would be to see their cat in that state, distraught. Something still bothers me about that cat. I went upstairs and patted Moomin down, brushed her a bit and read a book, turned the lights off and went to sleep. I dreamt about a black furry creature that night, whether it was a dog or a cat was unclear, it was just a nice animal that I liked a lot.

Now I’ve been thinking about that dead cat again, and seeing it lying there was so unusual because I have always believed strongly that cats land on their feet. Even out of four-storey buildings when they leap, they still land on their feet. That cat looked like a suicide and that’s what been nagging me, a little.

Thursday, 16 November 2017


I got my teeth cleaned and scraped today. They feel quite nice, though it hurt in the chair. I walked to the dentist because I didn’t know how close it was to my new workplace. A few Saturdays ago I was stuck on a bus, no, I was sat still on the top deck of a bus that was stuck in traffic. Barely moving at all because of sodding road works up ahead on my narrow street. I wasn’t doing anything: being a lemon thinking of nothing, staring out of the window with no thoughts when my phone goes off - with that awful jazz tune I programmed it to play, so that I would answer it faster. The noise was playing loudly and I answered it then a voice on the other end said,
‘Hello Miss blah blah blah this is a courtesy call from your dentist. You haven’t been to the practice in over a year and we’ve been sending you e-mails…’
By the time I hung up I had an appointment booked in for two weeks time, ‘You can cancel within 48 hours notice’ she said. I was still stuck on the bus.

It was too late to cancel because I had forgotten all about it until the day before when they sent me a reminder text, sneaky bastards, so now I was walking towards them from work. Quite pleasant actually. I walked down a nicely paved road that led me from the city, north to town. Near where the Library stands. On the way I saw a greasy spoons, serving hot plates of bacon and beans-on-toast. Pubs being swept out before the evening crowds and a pallid young lad reading a book, with those spectacles on from the thirties. Then I hugged the side of wrought iron railings that enclosed a stucco building, that’s when I saw a goat grazing on the other side of them. Really close too, to pedestrians like me on the pavement, I felt like I was at a farm but I wasn’t, I was in Euston. 

I entered a green space, a small park, technically a square because it’s called Brunswick Square. I didn’t take a photo but I should have because the colours were bang-on. Yellow doesn’t do it justice but the leaves on that plane tree, or maples? or whatever they were so yellow, golden, reds, on fire. It looked like pure autumn and pigeons were plump, the air was cold and still, I had more minutes to kill before the dentist because I wasn’t going to be a mug and turn up early, to sit in their disinfected waiting room for ten minutes (and appointments are always late, they aways make you wait, maybe so that the waiting room can live up to its name, think, what if they had named it the on-time room).

So I stood, looking up at a faded sign that had been made to inform passers-by like me about this little square with the grandiose trees. I see the square had been part of the property of the Foundling Hospital, the first ever charity for children. They had wanted to keep an open space for them, as respite from the city, back then in seventeen-hundred-and-so-and-so we were at the outer edges of the city of London. After this it was all fields and common land, until you reached Highgate and other remote villages. So I guess the goat came from those backwater days, when I could bring my goat and untether him to graze on common land, because these lands belonged to me as much as it belonged to anybody else. They should have more goats in London. Bring back the goats. I also learned that one of these plane trees had been here since the beginning of the square, some two-hundred-odd years ago. Impressive that, I think when a tree stands tall during two world wars and sees the decline and fall of empire. One tree, some goats. And that’s all I need to realise a day is worth living.