Baggage Handling

I haven’t seen my sister in a little over two years. It’s not that we aren’t close (although, I’m not sure if we are close anymore – or indeed if we ever really have been properly, at least not without something else being in the way: oh, it’s complicated…) it’s more the case that we are geographically far apart and neither of us is blessed with limitless funds or a love of public transport. Guilt and love (ah, family…) made me more certain than ever that we should meet up this year and so I scrabbled together the airfare and have packed my case: getting the baggage right is very important, I find.

The last time we met up was a year after we had furtively scattered my mother’s ashes around Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens . (We had conscientiously researched which plants might not mind a scattering of ash and bone, although to be honest it would have been entirely in keeping with my mother’s character if her mortal remains had killed off a plant or two – she had a mistrust of greenery and a toxic relationship with most, if not all,  houseplants) After having gone through the relentless cruelty of her illness- cancer of the pancreas with which she was diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2001, the year she retired from work- and the debilitating numbness of grief after she died, we weren’t very sociable and spent much of our time in each other’s company piecing together the fragments and fractures of our family history.
Much of it was hysterical (-her father was a getaway driver who disappeared mysteriously – rumour has it after grassing when a bank-job went wrong; our grandfather and his brother “Dock Magicians” – small-time East-End gangsters who could make anything appear on your doorstep for a price; my grandmother the daughter of a suffragette- who once took an axe to her errant husband only to drop it on her own foot, thus losing a toe, but never missing a beat in her berating of him) much of it dark (-my mother’s post-natal depression that made my sister my carer at the age of ten until she was seventeen and couldn’t take any more and so moved out; my father’s cruel, calculating abuse of my sister, degrading and demeaning -and what would now be termed “grooming”- her [and later me, to a lesser extent] as a power trip with sinister sexual overtones; my mother’s abject denial to intervene even when she was pleaded with to face my father; my mother’s many bouts with depression in later life, her anguished suicide attempts and the long hours my sister and I both spent at our respective universities, pleading with her to get help while we were self-medicating with drink and drugs and pretending that everything was fine…). All of it was necessary in order to heal.

So, two years later we are both in different jobs, in different places in our lives and, although we speak to each other on the phone, send emails, texts and still have that easy shorthand of communication that exists in families, we are almost different people. Almost, but not quite. I hope that this time when we meet up we can focus on the present and the good, put the pain of the past aside for a while and that we can actually be close, either again or for the first time, depending on how you see it – with no secrets, hidden half-truths and guilty embarrassments. I’ve missed my sister. I’ve missed having a sister for years really. I’d better re-check my case: it’s the only baggage I want to take with me.

Broken Morning

So, it’s morning now. Warm, like the smell of a brewery, and fuggy. I can taste the yellowness of the air and I want to screw my eyes up so tight that I block out all light, all thought. Birds are razor blades in my head. My sheets feel heavy and I can feel the sheen of sweat on my body. My skin feels loose, except for where you have touched me, and there I feel your fingerprints and the hot sharpness of a dormant bruise. I smell of yesterday. I feel like yesterday is still with me. I wish it was tomorrow or the next day. Yesterday and today have already blurred together too much to be of any use.

The sound of the outside world is muffled by a walls and windows. I can hear the ticking of a clock somewhere as it syncopates with my pulse. A car in the distance, spluttering as it starts up. An early morning whine of an aeroplane taking people away from -or back- home. There is a rustling noise somewhere, indistinct but clearly papery and thin. Footsteps drum above my head. The man in the flat above is pissing and I can hear the hard, percussive, foaming noise it makes as the warm torrent hits the water and echoes in the toilet pan. The footsteps bass drum back again. He didn’t flush, or wash his hands. No taps, no rushing roar. He must have gone back to bed. I wait. I breathe. Silence, apart from the birds and ticks and heartbeats. I open my eyes.

Before my eyes adjust to the light I see the world as an animated pointillist picture. Grey-blue dots dance on the wall and ceiling. The early light makes the curtains glow like a horror movie cliché. A breeze makes them billow and sharper thicker slices of citrussy light flash through the gaps and sting my eyes. I cannot return to sleep now. I wouldn’t want to, maybe. It’s not possible anyway. My mind is awake and wants fed.


I think I've followed stars before
tracking them with my eyes
blurred points of light
scratching across the night
faint traces of history

but none seem so far
so distant yet intense
fervent fixed & cool
as this one point
that follows & traces me

[Not a lot to blog at the moment: inner turmoil, blah blah blah...relationship conflicts, blah blah blah... lack of decent nose-studs in Edinburgh, blah blah blah...

So here's a poem instead.

Nods. Yep, that's about the size of it.

Saunters off into the encroaching darkness of a wet Edinburgh evening...]


Sometimes it takes being up high to get a sense of perspective.

For reasons uncertain, even to myself, I was feeling fairly grim on Sunday. Everything from my sense of self-worth to my self-image (still with the self, self, self...*sigh*) was feeling pinched and cramped. Nothing seemed to fit and to make matters worse, the weather was gloomily grey. I was uncomfortable in my skin and resenting being made to be sociable. (Sociopathic, would have been more pleasing to me, but not acceptable to the world at large, it would seem...) Sunday was not looking like being an optimistic day.

After wandering around the foot of Arthur's Seat and getting lost around Miralles' mad-genius concrete fishing-port of a parliament - and avoiding back-pack wielding tourists in noisesome gaggles -I wasn't feeling much better, although I was doing a far better job of hiding my lethargic, apathetic, just-plain-pathetic, self-pity and was feeling somewhat more aesthetically nourished. Mrs Gripes was keen to, "go for a good walk" and in the spirit of compromise (my first choice would have been to huddle in a darkened room until it -whatever "it" might be- was all over) I agreed. Having already decided between us that climbing Arthur's Seat was one of the recognised symptoms of sheer, certifiable, wrong-headed madness, we agreed to go to Blackford Hill: a far less challenging climb, considerably less populated and a little closer to home.

Amost as soon as I got there, I could feel my mood lift. In part this may have been due to the vastly improved weather - the greyness had lifted and the sun was almost painfully strong - but mainly it was down to seeing Edinburgh afresh.

From up here the city looks likes a box of toy bricks thrown in a vast pile. Black church spires occasionally scratch the sky, the foamy, spongy green of the trees seem to froth and spill everywhere you look. The castle still draws one's eye, but is offset by the massive presence of Arthur's Seat. Even from the distance of Blackford Hill, Arthur's Seat dominates. It squats and scowls and looks untamed, like a sleeping lion.

The quietness, broken only by the sound of seed pods popping in the heat and the distant sound of football chants drifting from Tynecastle, was calming and invigorating at the same time. Edinburgh gets so cluttered and frantic with humanity this time of year, it can overwhelm: from Blackford Hill it is always solid, firm and fixed. I felt small, properly unimportant and awed.

Next time I'm feeling jaded and tired of the city and myself, you'll know where to find me...

Sometimes I almost see the point...

like love, maybe

Almost happy.
Almost smiling.
Almost got it.
Almost there.
Almost happened.
Almost didn't.
Almost worried.
Almost care.
Almost lovers.
Almost friendly.
Almost angry.
Almost cried.
Almost honest.
Almost painful.
Almost told you.
Almost lied.

("Ceci n'est pas une poeme," as Magritte would put it. It's almost one, though...)

I apologise for this post: my head is in a very strange place at the moment. Either I'm getting some static interference from the fillings in my teeth and need to get a thicker tin-foil hat, or I need to get more sleep. I've been fairly wrecked with insomnia for about a week or so (since the big row, really...) and I am starting to feel the effects.

Yesterday, while doing my "outreach work" teaching, I observed random blue blobs floating around the room (and they weren't the students dressed as Smurfs either, although I wouldn't put it past them...) Today, I have random words and images zipping through my head: flower-filled gardens; tall trees; my childhood bedroom; allotments; walls covered in spaghetti; the sea in a storm; the sky and stars on a clear winter's night... If I start hearing voices I'll let you know. Actually, if I start hearing voices I'll panic and get to a doctor as soon as I can manage.

When I do sleep I am having dreams and nightmares about my childhood home (What's this with the home stuff again? What's going on?). Recently, I've been thinking a little too much about who and what and why I am: unlike Popeye, I'm not quite at the, " I yams what I yams" point of self-acceptance (if you'll excuse the psycho-babbley-wank terminology) - I'm just not drawn that way.... Naturally, reflecting upon my childhood has formed a significant part of my reflections and because it was perhaps not the most happy or functional of upbringings, it stirs up a muddy mess of long dormant emotions which threatens to cover everyone with whom I come into contact in a slimy coat of my anxiety slurry.

Although occasional introspection is healthy, I think I've been indulging myself in it somewhat morbidly. I know I've been difficult to be around, difficult to communicate with (although I have been listening, honest!) and unpredictable in my reaction to things. I am trying to change this wretched, anguished self-obsessed pisspoor excuse for a psyche, but it takes time, dammit! I also have a fantastic ability for self-delusion and can avoid facing obvious problems, so I manage to sabotage myself very easily indeed... This really could take some time.

I'll let you know how I get on (and normal service will be resumed-as soon as the psychologists redefine "normal" in a way that accurately incorporates all my neuroses!).

Hiroshima Day

BBC News In pictures

Sombre, I know.

Saturday (August 6) is Hiroshima Day - 60 years since the first nuclear weapon - the original weapon of mass destruction - was used to devastating effect as an act of war.

Some modern historians now view the event as being the first action of the Cold War: the US used its most powerful weapon not simply as a means of ending the war in Japan, but as a threat and show of force to the Soviet Union - and the first step in the endless arms race. Japan's surrender was only part of the reasoning behind the dropping of the first nuclear bomb. Hundreds of thousands of people died, either immediately or as an effect of being exposed to extreme doses of radiation - as well as being the last victims of one war, they were the first of another. It is more luck than judgement that nuclear weapons haven't been deployed since the last bomb fell on Nagasaki (August 9, 1945).

Today Japan is a nuclear free zone (unsurprisingly). More surprisingly, for a country that was so damaged by nuclear weapons, Japan is facing grave difficulties in finding ways to remember those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Memorials and peace gardens are losing their significance to the younger generation and Japan has a growing nuclear lobby.

For a long time I was a member of CND. I protested, I shook my fundraising tin, I furtively painted "shadows" on Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day (whitewash outlines of fallen bodies on the pavement to represent those killed where they stood, leaving nothing but a shadow of where their corpses burned in the nuclear explosion) I badgered and hectored friends, family and passers-by. I wasearnest, naive and fervent. I saw things in simple, clear-cut, political terms and didn't really think about the personal and human aspect of war: it wasn't that I was posturing, more that I was trying ideas on until they felt right. Somewhere along the line, I drifted away from the peace movement - not that I became warlike, rather I threw my attention to other things - and settled into a more personally peaceable life with less challenging of ideas and concepts.

I don't believe that we truly are any closer to a peaceful world - and that is a sorry memorial for those who died as a consequence of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It seems as though we are shifting further and further from the ideal of peace every day. Maybe it is time I started to think more seriously about the peace movement and of learning lessons from the past - and maybe I should think more seriously too about drifting back.