Monday, 22 February 2010

Music saves my mortal soul

No 1. Queen

My first Queen album was, as I suspect it was for many people, Greatest Hits I, which I listened to in my bedroom in the house where I grew up. My earliest memories of Queen take me back to that bedroom and that time so potently. I was in the grip of my Alice in Wonderland phase and was trying to draw Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (as I think you'll find it's actually called, fact fans) chess pieces on my wall. Sorry, mum and dad... That bedroom was where I learnt to love music. I remember the day XFM started broadcasting as a pirate station... Melody Maker, my Bible, had told me about it... I had to stand in the middle of the room holding the aerial in the air to hear it, and I think my leaps in the air with delight at hearing the music I loved on the radio probably resulted in interference, but it still sounded perfect to me.

I bought News of the World on cassette with my first ever wage, which I earned doing a paper round. I bought a copy of Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery, her of Anne of Green Gables fame, with that same payslip. Ten pounds went further in those days. (Yes, I know, that's a great story grandma.) I remember listening to Get Down, Make Love on my walkman in the damp and silent early mornings, Freddie's voice whispering into my ears the only thing I could hear. I went from house to house delivering papers, being appalled and embarrassed by the lyrics, and I was hooked. I remember getting Sheer Heart Attack on vinyl and feeling thrilled that Freddie and I wore the same nail varnish. I listened to The Lap of the Gods (part II, especially) again and again, feeling mesmerised by it and not being sure why.

And of course, as all Queen fans (at least the ones old enough) do, I remember the dreadful, dreadful that that Freddie came on the news and announced that he was dying. My brother and I cried in each others' arms, and two days later, on the morning of my 14th birthday, I was woken up by the news on my radio alarm that he was dead. My paper round took three times as long as it ever had that morning as I read every paper and cried all over it. Fortunately, no-one complained about the sogginess of the pages.

Queen are still my favourite band, and the one thing guaranteed to make me smile when I'm glum.

2. The Smiths

My brother got into the Smiths before I did, and I spent a couple of months thinking Morrissey was weird and hating them before the scales fell from my eyes and I became a life-long devotee. It was Sheila Take a Bow that did it. Throw your homework onto the fire - go out and find the one you love. Who can resist that? The label that the Smiths and Morrissey have as being maudlin and depressing is one I have never really understood. To me, they opened up a whole new world... a world that was romantic, witty, dramatic... a world that let me wallow in the overflowing river of my teenage angst, yes, but which also let me bite my thumb at my enemy and devote my heart to another and stand up for animal rights all in one go.

I was the classic Smiths obsessive. My friend and I spent months upon months playing a game of ever-increasing precision where we would take lines from Morrissey or Smiths songs and test the other on which song they came from. We started with whole lines from well known songs - "15 minutes with you, I wouldn't say no" (reel around the fountain, the Smiths eponymous first album) - and soon progressed onto a couple of words from a rare b-side - 'you don't agree' (Jack the Ripper, Morrissey b-side)... and always, we would get it right.

Morrissey was the first gig I went to. My brother was in the scrum to catch his shirt, and he let me have a piece of the bit he had managed to rip off for himself. It was red gauze. I pinned it to my wall and kissed it goodnight. Oh, Morrissey. Are you really sure you Will Never Marry? I think Meat is Murder too. We could Reel Around the Fountain together, and clap our hands at Margaret on the Guillotine. There is a Light (in my heart for you, Morrissey!) and it Never Goes Out.

3. Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails were only my favourite band for a little while, but it was a very intense love affair. I'm guessing I must have had my first actual kiss and my first actual disappointment, and I was ANGRY ANGRY ANGRY rather than romantic and fey and whimsical. I still listened to the Smiths on my up days, but mainly, it was all about Trent Reznor. I went to a Nine Inch Nails gig at Brixton Academy on my own and stood at the front screaming the words and believing that Trent could see inside my soul (which was black, obviously - while my head was like a hole).

I still listen to Nine Inch Nails now. I know I'm probably too old for that kind of nonsense, but nothing beats stomping around town listened to NIN and imagining my enemies crushed beneath my boots. Mwah ha ha ha.

4. Madonna

I know, that's a bit of a leap, right? I'm guessing not many people put Madonna and NIN next to each other, but there was a bit of a messy period at uni where I had a new favourite band every week, or so it seems (honourable mentions must go to Verve, as they were still much more poetically known back then, The Manic Street Preachers, who I loved so heartily for a while that I got a tattoo a bit like Richey's but a lot, lot worse (now covered up, thankfully), the Tindersticks, the Divine Comedy and Suede) and trying to catalogue them all is far too onerous a task. Madonna, on the other hand, has been something of a constant presence in my life ever since my ears started appreciating music. Of course, during my NIN days I probably would rather have died than admitted it, but I have always been entranced by Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone.

I remember some endless, rage-filled, stifling drive with my mum, dad and brother when I was a nipper and hearing Open Your Heart, my favourite early Madonna track, on the radio, and it seeming to make everything better. It's a very appropriately named song that, because it does open my heart. It makes me want to leap on top of things and scream with jubilation, the opening drumbeats and the 'look out!'. She was always in the news and everyone had an opinion about her, and she always held me in her thrall.

Skip forward probably 20 years and Confessions on a Dancefloor, which is the most perfect record ever made, was released. I bought it in Tescos at the weekly shop the day it came out and started listening to it in the car on the way home and knew my life would never be the same again now that this new piece of music had come into it. I don't think a week has gone by since without me listening to it at least once. It makes me laugh and cry and smile and feel triumphant and humble all at once. It's the best show I've ever seen in my life, and if anyone ever dares insult Madonna to my face, I will thump them.

5. Prince

Now, don't get me wrong. Prince has released A LOT of rubbish. I know this. But you could fill a day listening to amazing Prince tunes and never listen to the same song twice. Approx. I wrote a (dreadful, angsty) novel when I was 15 and couldn't decide whether to name it 'Late Night, Maudlin Street' after a Morrissey song or 'The Beautiful Ones' after a Prince song. I think Morrissey won in the end, but it was a close run battle.

(*NB - I read the oddest thing the ever day, which is weirdly appropriate given the above. Apparently Stephen Street (Smiths/Moz producer, for those who don't know) is a massive Prince fan, and the drums from Late Night, Maudlin Street are sampled from the bizarrely brilliant House Quake, one of Prince's sillier tunes (shut up, already... damn!). Can this be true? I long for it to be so!*)

Prince is a proper pop star. He's mad and weird and wrote songs with names like If I Was Your Girlfriend, which messed up my innocent little 14 year old brain. He thought he was god, and I think he might be right... think about it, it's the only thing that really makes sense. How else can one man write songs like that, sing like that, play all the instruments in the world like that, dance like that, look like that? Nothing else would be fair!

More to come another day, perhaps.

Friday, 19 February 2010


So... recently, I have taken to making lists in my diary of things I could write blogs about. Partially cos ideas occur to me now and then. Partially cos I want to stay away from prattling on about boys. And partially cos it's recently been suggested to me that I should be approaching this a bit more like proper writing, rather than just messing around, and trying to improve it. All of these things are good, but I realised this morning that they'd kinda made me freeze, and not think of this as being fun, but instead feel like a situation that has some pressure attached. Which I really don't want, as I like writing in here and I want it to remain fun.

Hence, this entry is not going to be some great work of art (or even a minor league one, lol), but will instead be a random collection of some of the thoughts I have had lately. I still have list of proper writing topics, and I will come back to them... and it's good to know that some people think this is worthy of constructive criticism (and seriously, thanks to the wonderful man who proffered it, it is greatly appreciated)... but for now I just want to keep things ticking over with some nonsense.

I am now about seven weeks into my year without a boyfriend. Again, I just want to stress... I'm genuinely not so arrogant as to think I could be clicking my fingers and a boyfriend would just appear... I'd still not have a boyfriend even if I hadn't made this new year's resolution... but still, the resolution is reframing things for me, and making me think about all this love stuff a bit differently. Here are some things that have happened and some thoughts I have had since last writing.

Firstly, I was walking to the osteopath on Wednesday morning, and my thoughts were running this way and that way, being influenced by the songs on my iPod and the shops I was walking past and by each other, not really following any specific path. Sooner or later, as they inevitably do, my thoughts turned to new year and what a catastrophy the most recent one had been. This, via a complex path I won't bore you all with, lead to a happy memory of when the most recent boyfriend and I hadn't been together long... which in turn lead to feeling an intense, painful pang of nostalgia and sadness. I wallowed in that for a moment, and then dragged my thoughts away by their hair by reminding myself of some of the reasons why it had to end... and then a postwoman walked past me, who was wearing a particularly cool pair of trainers.

These trainers reminded me of a pair of Swear trainers I had had about 10 years ago. These trainers were brilliant. They were black, so could be worn with everything, but were really high, and all wonky looking, with a big black panel on the front pulled over to one side with an intricate pattern of elastic and hooks, and had a little water-filled panel on the toe. And they were SO comfortable, they were almost more comfortable than bare feet. AND because they were so tall, they meant I could see better at gigs and wear baggy trousers without them getting quite so soggy in the rain. I miss those trainers so much - I could never find a pair anything like their equal - and as I saw the postwoman's similar (but nowhere near as good) shoes, I was hit with an intense, painful pang of nostalgia and sadness.

The realisation that I miss having a boyfriend about as much as I miss a pair of old trainers was a good one. I don't mean to belittle boyfriends - those were awesome trainers, I miss them A LOT - but still. It did put things into perspective somewhat.

A second thought. Jealousy. It's a funny thing, isn't it? I always used to say I wasn't a jealous person, but I think I just don't want to be a jealous person... it's not the same thing, sadly. Generally, I don't mind if my boyfriends have close female friends, even if those friends are ex-girlfriends... I'm pretty good at handling that kind of thing as I'm generally not daft enough to go out with someone I don't trust. The only exception to this was one of the exes who often talked about the fact he wanted an open relationship... I HATED it when he got all snuggly with other girls. Hilariously, if you wanna see it that way, he never cheated on me, whereas the ex I trusted most and who is still my best friend cheated on me shitloads. Go figure. But I do, apparently, get jealous over other things.

Do you remember, a few blogs ago, I was talking about a holiday I had been invited on, but couldn't go to because of the preponderance of ex-boyfriends littering up the place? Well, that holiday happened, and now they're all back and writing about it on the internet. And the second most recent ex-boyfriend posted about the great fun and japes he had with the most recent ex-boyfriend, and Oh My God, how I don't like that AT ALL. What if they talked about me? What if they compared notes about what a terrible girlfriend I am and how glad they are to be shot of me? More importantly... what if they DIDN'T talk about me? Is it possible that they could be getting on with their lives just fine without me? Surely, surely not. Jesus, it's twisting my soul up thinking about it. I'm not sure why it's made me jealous, but it has... searing, red hot jealousy, raging up my throat into my face, and through my veins into my clenched fists.

There's no solution there except to rise above it, something I'm shockingly bad at, so instead I'll move on.

A third thing. There's a fella who has caught my eye recently. He's made me go a bit giggly and silly. I've been dreaming about him and exchanging the occasion bit of face book banter with him. The funny thing is I don't really know this guy at all... I've spoken to him maybe three times, and all of those were quite a few months ago. I think it's like when you're 13 and you're in love with Michael Jackson... hang on, that sounds all kinds of wrong, it's not very like that at all. ;-) It's just that Michael Jackson was the one I was in love with when I was 13. I seriously thought we were gonna get married... I had it all planned. I was going to win a Booker Prize for my first novel, and he'd be at the ceremony, and our eyes would meet while I was accepting the award, and the rest would be history. I wasn't to know, alright?? But anyway... the whole point of teenage girls fantastising over pop stars - insert your own here - (I could make some kind of smutty joke here, but I'll refrain) is that it's safe. Michael Jackson was never actually going to come out of the poster on my ceiling and turn my daydreams into a disappointing reality full of unreturned phonecalls and thoughtless birthday presents and going out partying while I was recovering from surgery. And I think that - the fact that this boy is safe, that I don't really know him, that I'm pretty unlikely to see him unless it's engineered - is what's going on here.

I consider that I have passed my first test... my friend knows this boy I'm blushing over better than I do and has been asking if she should put in a good word or arrange a night the two of us will accidentally be at and so on, and I've said no. Just as sleeping is so much better than being awake, daydreams are better than real life. And (not that I'm assuming I've got a chance, but still) my god, I'd look a fool if I broke my resolution seven weeks into the year after announcing it on here with such pomp and circumstance, eh?

*e2a* Heh... have just realised that if I put a link to this on FB, said boy might read it. Am I gonna still do so anyway? Dimella!!

In other news, I never finished putting the Christmas poems up here, did I? So here's a couple more...

My Favourite Place

Whenever I’m needing some comfort,
or some morsels to fill up my face,
if I want to feel warm and loved and safe,
I head for Millena and Michael’s place.

“Morning, Johanna,” barks Michael,
tatty pants, floppy hair, knowing grin.
Cooking breakfast to feed 5,000
and making me laugh til I spin.

Len and I put Friends on the telly
into a bottle of wine we descend.
Soft hair, warm skin, warm soul, soft heart –
my best and most beautiful friend.

For Kaye and Olly

A target-loving techie – tidy and (you could say) tall.
A chaotic whirl of laughing colour, who always has a ball.
How come you two work so gorgeously
when you shouldn’t work at all?

Thumping German techno versus dirty, broken beats.
Computer games, dated takeaways versus acrobatic feats.
How come, when you’re so different,
the glow between you is complete?

Generous, intelligent, cool and full of flair,
Beautiful and funny, original beyond compare.
Of course, you share so much, and that is why
you are the perfect pair.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

An old poem

I'm "working" from home today. Which means I'm not getting a lot done, mainly since some of the things I need are still at uni. I was just trying to log onto the mindmap program I use, but of course I can't remember what username and password I put it as the computer at uni just remembers them. I searched my inbox to see if I had an email telling me what they were, and I didn't, but instead I found this poem. And I quite like it, so I thought I'd put it up on here.

Don't touch me

There's a garden that I used to play inside.
It's filled with waterfalls and apple trees,
the fruit is always ripe, the blossoms sing with bees.
We could linger through the silver night and hide
in soft hollows; we rolled around and giggled in the rain.

But now I'm locked outside the gates instead.
I can't remember where I hid the key.
I know I buried it, but for the life of me
I can't think where. I'm filled with dread
(tinged with relief) to think I won't find it again.

I stand on tippy-toes and try to get a glimpse
of what the grown-ups are all playing at in there.
I try to imitate, but all I do is stare
at them, at their magic tricks and acrobatics
that I once performed with ease in flower beds.

Have I been faking all along?
Was I ever really in there, or was it all a dream?
Did I ever truly mean my smiles and my screams?
But I remember every touch; I belonged –
or so I thought. But maybe it was only in my head.

Don't touch me. Don't touch me.
I don't know why.
I just know it makes me scared inside.

Maybe if I can relax, I can find my way back there.
So I whisper – scream: relax, relax, RELAX!
But it doesn't work. An ugly thought hijacks
my brain. Madonna, Christina; I just don't compare.
My lips are dry. My face is scratched.

But I know that's not the reason
(it's too easy to just blame the magazines,
because I know it's something deeper, more obsence)
for why I can't get back inside the summer season,
for why I can't (another lie) get too attached.

When will this be over? When will it end?
I AM in love; we talk and laugh for hours
even now we're locked away from all the flowers.
But maybe he is right and we are only friends.
But when I fall, he is the only one I trust to catch

me. But don't touch me. Please don't touch me.
I don't know why.
I only know I'm scared I'm dead inside.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Twelve Months Off

So, as I mentioned in the last blog, I think, or the one before, I've sworn off boys for a bit. In the hope, to continue with a theme, that less boys will = less whining. It is my actual new year's resolution... no boyfriends in 2010.

This is a slightly odd new year's resolution as it implies a certain amount of arrogance (which I do possess at times, I must confess) in assuming I shall have opportunities for boyfriends that I shall have to decline. This may, of course, not be the case. But I do seem to have a habit of picking boyfriends up without really trying, not unlike the way one can sometimes pick up a bit of toilet paper on the bottom of one's shoe as one exits a public bathroom, ruining both one's dignity and one's night (reason number one for new year's resolution, or NYR: excess bitterness).

Let me do a quick recap... my first true love began when I was 19, in my first year of uni. It was full-on, fireworks across the sky, scratch your name on my arm with a fountain pen type love. We stayed up all night scrambling our brains, writing stories together, and rolling around in kittenish glee. I don't think I've ever really got over how good that was. True, I broke up with him, but because he didn't really seem so interested in spending time with me any more. Or at least, that's how it looked then. Now that he's pretty much married to another girl from my year at uni, and they've got two kids and are all shiny Sunday supplement happy, while I'm alone with overgrown roots and no job, I wonder if maybe I couldn't have put up with it a bit more than I thought I could. I was young... I didn't realise that things don't stay perfect forever. I probably had pretty silly expectations. But who can tell from this far back?

So I stayed single for probably about 8 or 9 months after that, and then had a total rebound relationship which staggered on for two years, mainly because (I now perhaps unfairly think) that boy lived in Kent so we didn't see each other very often. I thought I was in love. We said we were in love. But looking back, I'm not so very sure. Certainly, as soon as he moved to London, we split up pretty quick sharpish.

Then a few months after that, there was the beautiful dreadlocked boy who promised much but said so little... then, after that, there was the second love of my life, who, to my eternal shame, I wrecked another relationship over and lived with for a while, and yet, despite our perfect meeting of the minds, still it didn't work (although he is my best friend, or one of them, now)... and then, before the second one was even really done, there was the third love of my life who was half completely perfect and half baffling terrible and who also hurt me so badly I think I'm gonna be limping from it forever. Then there was the most recent boy, who started out so promisingly and then turned out to be more interested in what I could give him (when he was awake enough to notice me, bless him) than in giving me anything back.

It's that phrase, you see... 'started out so promisingly...' They ALL started out so promisingly, I'm not a complete idiot, I wouldn't start going out with someone if I didn't, at some point, think it was a grand idea, a plan without flaws... this could be the one, this could be the one as Sean Hughes once said. But I've come to realise (staggeringly slowly, given that I'm meant to be a smart girl) that clearly, I cannot trust my instincts when it comes to men. I am a moron magnet! I'm not sure how I do it, but I do.

Hence... NYR. Reason number two: spend time alone, and try to hone my instincts so I can trust them better when or if I ever decide to use them again.

Reason number three: I really do quite like being single. There is a paradox that exists within my life, as I'm pretty damn lonely a lot of the time, but I'm almost always happy to be alone. I like reading my books and watching my telly and doing my exercise routine and listening to my radio in the mornings... and I like doing all those things without any interruptions. I like not having to meet other people's friends. I like deciding what I'm gonna cook for dinner and cooking it. I like all my clothes being in my house, rather than half of them here and half in some boy's stinky room on the other side of London. I like deciding what I am and am not gonna do at the weekend. Does it sound like I'm protesting too much? It probably does, and I'm not gonna deny that I like being in relationships too... but I've done that for a long time now. It's time for a change.

Reason number four: I'm really tired of crying and having my heart kicked around like a football. I'm just bored of it! And if I'm bored of crying over boys, christ alone knows how my poor friends must feel about me crying over boys. I think, for the first time in my life, I'm getting a bit scared of the whole thing, and I've never felt like that before. I've always been proud of my idiotic, blind trust in people, which carries on going despite the number of times I've been let down. But I think my simpleton's faith has taken too much of a beating, and is retreatin'. (Oooo, internal rhyme, see, that creative writing degree wasn't a TOTAL WASTE OF TIME after all) ;-)

A case in point: I recently had the chance to do a bit of part-time work as an online counsellor. I wanted to get that job so, so much, even though it meant working a weekend day every week. I am generally a person who guards her weekends against work very jealously. Sadly, said chance has been snatched away from me. I'm really gutted. So gutted that I cried A LOT over my supervisor this morning, which took me aback somewhat. And I realised, on the walk home just now, that part of the reason I wanted the job so much was that I felt like it was gonna keep me safe. Three months of working at weekends... I'd have no life. Which feels just about perfect right now.

I was talking to a friend about NYR the other day and he said that, like other kinds of detoxing, you can detox from the opposite sex for a little while, and feel a little benefit, but if you want to feel a big benefit, you've gotta do it for a long time. I see the logic in that. And I hope that he is right.

I'm not really feeling any benefits so far (one month in), despite putting my money where my mouth is. I have said no to stuff. I expected to feel a rush of pride and elation that I was sticking to my principles and all of that. Instead, I just feel a bit lonely and hollow, and a bit worried that once a year is up, I shall be old news, mutton dressed as lamb, on the shelf etc etc and no-one will be interested (question: would this really be the worst thing ever?). But maybe the rewards of celibacy take a while to kick in. I shall get Morrissey on the phone and ask him.

I'm thinking I probably shouldn't even kiss anyone, not really. I'm such a hopeless romantic, all it generally takes is a couple of snogs for me to think I'm in love. Again, who knows if I'll even be offered a kiss in the near future... but still... it's good to plan.

Of course, I shall probably make exactly the same mistake I always make in about (if past results are anything to go by) four or five months and be latched on to some new moron who isn't being very nice to me, and then I'll look QUITE the idiot, won't I? If I suddenly disappear from my blog again, you'll know what's happened. And then I can re-emerge, some months later, tear-stained and heart-battered, writing mournful poetry and swearing that I'll never do it again.