(From) Balls to the HMI

Well, OK. I’ll do something “up” (and “shut up” will fit the bill nicely…) -I’m just not feeling bloggy at the moment, and rather than save you the torture, I’ll keep it brief. But before I go and glower in a corner somewhere…

Saturday allowed me the pleasure of gracing the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard Gay Ball with my presence - this year the ball took the theme of a Highland Fling –with both a disco and ceilidh, but alas, no tea-dance- and much tartan tat wearing totty of all genders was beheld. Special mention must go to the howlingly drunk, pigeon-chested young chap in a stained vest and “home made” kilt (which to my eyes looked pretty much like a  netball skirt with a tartan tea-towel tacked onto it), the tartan bondage trousered lesbian who couldn’t find which pocket in which she had placed her cash  -something the queuing masses behind her at the bar took with gracious good humour and to the countless multitude who, on seeing  Craig Hill swirling his sporran on the dance floor mouthed silently to their friends, “...isn’t he tiny!

I am always touched by seeing people dancing with their partners at the ceilidh  - somehow there is something strangely moving about seeing people with their chosen partners, dancing the old dances and “owning “ their culture: the half-remembered dances, gleefully stumbled through; the joyous grins of lovers as they follow the steps of their ancestors; the wide-eyed innocence of it all, as people hold each other close and burl around to the fiddler’s tunes-  it shouldn’t be surprising, or even unusual, but it is.. Must be getting soft in my old age…

Oh yes. Down to earth with a bump.  Today the HMI arrive at the college. A rising sense of panic has gripped the staff  -  vast quantities of paper has been dumped and shredded, classrooms have had the “Changing Rooms” treatment, lesson plans and teaching schedules have been fabricated, students- and staff- “warned” to be on their best behaviour. This burying of bad practice and short-term approach to crisis management reminds me of a squirrel I saw in the Botanic Gardens , burying a discarded cheesy Wotsit – the poor bugger is going to be very disappointed when he comes to digging it up, I fear…

My major contribution to the inspection process has been to buy a new pair of boots…
I figure if the inspection goes badly, I’ll be “let go” and will therefore need new shoes for any interviews.

I think I’ll go back to glowering in my corner now…

Blah, blah, bloody blah.

I’ve just read my previous couple of posts and “blah blah blah” is all that I hear: I think I’ve just bored myself into a stupor, so heaven knows what I’m doing to you…

Yes, you.

So, my unknown and unknowable blogmates, tell me a little about yourselves. At risk of becoming a comment whore, unburden your souls and reveal your darkest secrets.

Failing that, just say hello and/ or tell me to buck my ideas up, pull my socks up and cheer up (or anything else that ends in “up”).

I’m waiting…

The inner critic's bigger, uglier sister

(Cue the Tom Jones music) It’s not unusual. (Actually, switch that bloody racket off and stop doing that pelvis thing and licking your lips, it irks, me. Thank you.) It’s not even uncommon. You see, I have more than a just a vocal inner critic- I also have a self-destructive streak. This is not the same as being suicidal, or physically hazardous, although I suppose they are related and occasionally they do overlap -but it is destructive.

In the past my self-destructive streak has been expressed in many and several stupid ways – the joys of competitive drinking and drug-taking (yes, I was that idiotic: “How quickly can you smoke a quarter of hash?” “ Err, hold on dude - I used to be able to remember. What did you ask me?…” “How quickly can you down a half bottle of scotch?” “You paying? Well, how quickly can you get me to A&E and I’ll show you?” etc., etc. ...) I shake my head, raise my eyebrows, pour another cup of camomile tea and then pour scorn on my ridiculous self-abasing past. Tut tut.

Of course, tales of the 3.a.m prowl around Stratford on Avon clutching a bottle of tequila, wearing nothing more than a vest, a pair of boxer shorts, a scarf, cowboy boots and a fedora, singing “Jerusalem”- then waking up slumped underneath the statue of Billy S himself by a couple of tourists taking my picture- does make for a picaresque anecdote. As does the midsummer dawn barbecue – where the contents of a flatmate’s room were emptied and lightly chargrilled (singed rather than destroyed, as if that makes a difference: if it had been done at the Whitechapel Gallery I dare say I’d have been up for the Turner Prize that year, of course…) until said flatmate admitted that yes, indeed, he had pissed on the sofa. Should it matter to you, the item that he couldn’t stand to be burned was neither his teddy bear, nor the picture of his mother, but his really not very special shoes…and no, neither he nor anyone else thought to stop me. Even the story of “taking a shortcut” through someone else’s house -scurrying through their garden, creeping through their back door, pausing behind their sofa (where I spied their still steaming cup of tea and was tempted by their plain chocolate rich tea biscuit) then charging full tilt out of their front door before stopping to tie my shoelace and nonchalantly continuing down the street- makes for a jolly tale. And these stories might even be amusing if they weren’t true. But they are, and I am both lazily impressed with the chutzpah I once showed and cringe with embarrassment at the mindless stupidity of it – I could have ended up dead, beaten up or arrested for pretty much any/all of them and where would I be now if that had happened?

So, these days my self-destructive, risk-taking urges are far less dramatic –and thankfully far less frequent - and yet they are no less harmful. I could go into detail, but I won’t: to be honest, it doesn’t make a good anecdote (examples are available on request for the terminally curious). Needless to say, much like with the inner critic, I have a strong suspicion this self-destructive streak will not fully go away. Damn.

"I've been hearing voices..."

I am feeling most unsettled. I’ve been thinking too much about what I should be doing, rather than actually doing it ( -it’s the story of my life, really) and I have been out and out aggressive and unpleasant while trying very hard to suppress my inner critic.[Apologies to all that have encountered it: the urbanely cynical, mild me will return shortly. I hope.]

Unfortunately, I am possessed of a very loud, very vocal, inner critic, whose life’s work thus far has been to cause me to hesitate, to delay and to procrastinate. The positive side of this unquiet voice is that I question myself a lot: why am I doing this? -why do I think this? –what does this mean to me? –how did I come to this? The negative side is that I question myself a lot… (You can see the elliptical orbit that particular ellipsis suggests, can’t you?)

Anyhow, bludgeoning my inner critic into brief submission (the violence was alas entirely necessary: and me a lapsed pacifist, too. Tsk tsk.…) I did something recently that I haven’t done in a long while: I wrote a short story. I’m not entirely happy with it – both the inner and the conscious critic are stroking their chins and preparing a considered response- but I am happy with the fact that I managed to focus, concentrate and concertedly imagine for the first time in years.

A lot of “proper” writers talk about “finding a voice” for a character -something of which I used to be a little wary, seeing as it made writing sound like a mystical, mythical activity that relied on some external force acting on a writer rather than something which could be generated from inside one’s own mind: as someone who rarely finds what they are looking for, even on a practical level (I lost a book of poetry somewhere a few months ago, I couldn’t find it anywhere and it is still annoying the bejasus out of me…) it sounded too much like chance - now I think I am beginning to understand a little better what they mean. Curiously, I’ve been able to stifle my inner critic sufficiently to write occasional poems, but for them the persona doesn’t need to be sustained or as coherent for quite as long as in a short story and therefore for me it’s easier, in some ways, to write poetry, but that’s by the by…

My inner critic has been drowning out those “voices” for far too long -the phrasings, imaginings and personae that can be used to convey a range of feeling and thoughts – or rather, I’ve been telling myself “I can’t…” before I’ve even tried and I have been furious at myself for having so much crippling self doubt: in part this has been vented in my interactions with others ( or in other words, I’ve been a grumpy cow) or merely suppressed into a tight ball of angst. Now I’ve started writing again, I’m eager to experiment, to see how many other voices I can use to tell a story, how many other characters I can give life to. It could be many, it could be none: it could be that the inner critic was right all along and I really shouldn’t write, but sod it – I’m going to do it anyway.

Of course, stifling the bloody inner critic thus far has only applied to writing one short, short story: it’ll be another stand-up, bare-knuckle fight, I fear, to shut it up over snipes at my career, my ambitions, my choice of politics, shoes, friends, bread rolls… – or in other words everything else. Oh well. No-one ever said it should be easy, did they?


On the blank page of our kingsize bed
we lie together, waiting for words,
like open speech marks.

Alone, I am an apostrophe;
a sign of something missing,
something taken away.

A shyness that is criminally vulgar...


There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
and worse.

From Selected Poems (Oxford University Press)
copyright Fleur Adcock (New Zealand, Britain)

Well, quite.

On Saturday I went to the theatre (it sounds unremarkable enough, doesn’t it? Let me explain further). On Saturday, Mrs Gripes and I went to a studio theatre production of an adaptation of Jackie Kay’s Trumpet at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow. Mrs Gripes is not exactly a theatre person – we went just the once before, and left at the interval because she was huffing, puffing and wriggling so much – and me? I used to do theatre (dahling…) very badly indeed and I got fair scunnered wi’ it, I can tell you. For a few years now I have been giving almost everything containing actual live actors a wide berth and a deep scowl. I realise that this is probably anathema in a city that hosts the largest festival of arts and theatre pretty much anywhere in the world, but there you go... As you might guess, it would have to be something fairly special to get me to skip willingly towards the close, intimate, actorly space of a studio theatre dragging Mrs Gripes with me – and in Glasgow to boot.

And so it was. Trumpet is one of my favourite novels and I was intrigued to see how it could be adapted to the stage: multi-layered, sensitive, delicately written and filled with clearly distinct voices and big ideas about identity, gender, grief, I was not going to let my anti-theatre prejudice get the better of me. As for Mrs Gripes, well, she’d just have to sit still… Which she did (bless). Luckily, the production was good - and let’s face it, studio theatre is extraordinarily intimate: it would be difficult not to feel involved when you can feel the breath of the actors on your skin.

For me though, the real drama came once the production had finished, for there, standing next to Mrs Gripes and me at the bar is Jackie Kay… (I may have omitted to mention that Jackie Kay is a favourite writer of mine. I may also have omitted to mention that she is beautiful: small, uncontrovertibly womanly, stylish and with a confident, open, expressive face and lively eyes - and that for a long time I have lusted after her from the depths of my soul. Oh, I also may have omitted to mention this to Mrs Gripes: well, one does if one is to survive, I find …)

Generally speaking, when faced with strangers I can just about manage polite small talk (I’m shy, you see…No. Honestly!) When faced with someone attractive, talented and famous- and about whom I have entertained all manner of unmannerly thoughts- I can just about manage to breathe. Turning round and smiling (smiling!) Jackie Kay looks enquiringly to the oblivious Mrs Gripes, who makes some kind of comment about having travelled from Edinburgh to come here, as though that were in itself impressive (which for us it is, admittedly, but to the rest of the world? Probably not…) Slightly less smilingly, she looks at me - who by now is somewhat flushed, inwardly panicking and trying to formulate a sentence of some kind that doesn’t sound sycophantic and yet wittily conveys a deep love and respect for her work, maybe with a top-spin of flirtatiousness that is dripping with conversation possibilities – and I manage to squeak a bumbling, “’ello” with appropriately blank, glaikit expression. Cue Jackie Kay edging carefully away from the dull nutter to a place of safety, the far side of the bar (where she is joined by other writerly heroine Liz Lochhead.) Oh fuck.

Mrs Gripes by now is looking at me quizzically, wondering if perhaps I have choked on a cocktail cherry, or have been temporarily abducted by aliens. Only when we have reached the safety of the car, and the soggy Glasgow night air has managed to restore my blazing face to a slightly more healthy hue, can I tell her with whom she was passing the time of day and thus why I temporarily lost my tongue. Mrs Gripes sniffs dismissively, “Well, you could have said…”

If only, I thought. If only…

For this relief, much thanks...

Not a tumour! Not a tumour!(Although not a mere lipoma either, so I was right to check it out. Probably a cyst, maybe scar tissue. Keep an eye on it. Should be fine.*sigh*)
My relief is utter.
My bladder is happy.
Even Mrs Miggins’ didn’t threaten to stab me with a knitting needle for wasting the Doc’s time…

So what will I fret about next?

Internet Fuels Anxiety Shock!

Anxiety is a strange thing. Mine keeps me awake and keeps me constant company.  Sometimes it manifests itself in a myriad of displacement activities, other times I sit zombie-like and brood. Currently my anxiety is managing to do all of these at the same time. (Brooding zombie-like displacement is a fine trick to pull off, I can assure you…)

Earlier this week I found a small but strange lump in front of my bladder. Logical me considers that it is most likely some kind of subcutaneous infection and will disappear as mysteriously as it arrived. Anxious me is screaming, “Tumour! Tumour!” and trying very hard make me run screaming around the flat…

The internet is a dangerous thing: type in a few symptoms and you can get an encyclopaedia of ills that match how you feel. Tweak your search terms and you can be dead in a week. Ever since finding this previously uncharted flesh, I have discovered fresh symptoms: tiredness, non-cystitis urinatory urge, non-specific pelvic pain – all of which are making me insomniac with anxiety (and thus increasing the tiredness, of course…)

So, tomorrow I’m going to get prodded by the doctor. Doubtless I will be told it is nothing to worry about and I will get the sense that I have been wasting precious medical time that could have been spent on Mrs Miggins’ near fatal bunions. And then I will have something else to feel anxious about…

Just Larkin About...

Poetry Of Departures

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It's specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I'd go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo'c'sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren't so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

[Philip Larkin]

I think I’m starting to become Philip Larkin (only without the misogyny, casual racism or talent…) Oh god…