I want to eat better; eat five-a-day and more raw and drink more water. I want to drink eight cups of water a day and some more at night. I want to cook delicious things and I want to eat only delicious things and not mind when I only really want a horrible cheap pizza because sometimes that’s fine too. I want to walk more. I want to cycle more. I’ve a beautiful bike and it’s a shame not to use it: I want to cycle to the park. We’ve a beautiful park and it’s a shame not to use it. I want to find the way to cycle to college. I want to cycle to college and to the station and to Sainsbury’s. I want to be outside more.I want to be inside less. I want inside to be more like outside.
I want to put herbs on my windowsill and grow tomatoes and chilli. I want to always have flowers in the house. I want the flat to be beautiful. I want to be more organised with the laundry and the washing-up and I want to paint the bedroom and change the kitchen lights and paper the back wall of the sitting-room with maps.
I want to clear the desk and make it mine; I want a space to write in. I want to write more. I want to be more disciplined with what I write and how I write and how I learn to write. I want to learn to write better poems and I want to learn to write better stories and I want to learn how to write better essays. I want to be able to write properly again. I want to work hard. I want to work at things for college and things for me and things for other places, too. I want to show other people things. I want to learn. I want to be able to learn. I want to be able to know. I want to never be tired of looking for new things and new ideas and new ways. I want not to be tired without cause; I want only the good kind of good-work-done tired. I want to be able to look for new things and new thoughts. I want to be well again. I want to do all these things so I can be well again.
I want to be well again and I want be happy. I want to be happy. I want to take stock of my good things. I want to number my fortunes and hold them up to the new kitchen lights to see them shine. I want to take those shining fortunes, shining people and tell them you made this better; I want to love them better and be kinder and wiser.
I want to do more good things for people I love and I want to do more good things for people I don’t love and I want to do good things for strangers; I want to help, because I am helped; I want to love, because I am loved.
I want to love lots. I want to love more. I want to be better at loving and better at giving and better at taking. I want to take help and not mind that I’m taking it. I want to take love and not question it. I want to take time and think I’m worthy of both my own and other people’s. I want love and help and time and I want adventures.
I want small adventures in the kitchen and big adventures on planes and strange adventures in graveyards. I want beautiful adventures with my typewriter and my favourite people and finding out good new things and doing good walking and good eating and good exploring and I want to look up, somewhere in those adventures, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point
if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
I want to notice when I am happy and I want that to be often. I want to be happy in my body and in my mind and both at once, and even more than that I want it to be okay also when, sometimes, I am not. I want to be able to recognise that sometimes people are sad and sometimes people are tired and sometimes people are ill and in that also recognise that sometimes, also, people are brilliant.
I want to try all these things and not mind if I fail. I want to learn to lose gracefully. I want to learn how to know when I am beaten. I want to know when to lose a battle to win the war, and I want to learn not minding losing the war so long as I have the people I love and the words that I write and the little things I love so much. I want to remember that laundry in a heap by the washing machine and the whooshing sound of deadlines don’t mean that everything is over; I want to learn proportion. I want to find a balance.
I want to find balance.
And also, I want to be the sort of person who can eat a croissant without getting crumbs in her scarf.
Are those possible? I think those are possible. They might not be, but I can bloody well try.
Here are the things for which I am most grateful:
-First the light, in three parts (and the parts are these:
the gold light in our bedroom in the morning,
next, the clear grey light over Topps Tiles and the tenements and the tree,
and last, headlights coming through the Mile End fog.)
-Second, the silver tea-pot. All shiny upside-down we are within it, and good strong Earl Grey.
-The garden on the window-sill. My parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but rosemary would want more space, and parsley is bitter. Four for use, and one for love: basil for scent, and chilli for spice, and a rose for my birthday. I am not green-thumbed: my sunflower never grew so tall as the others’ did, but we do alright, my plants and I. Sainsbury’s sold them off cheap (I am grateful for that, too.)
-Monday morning cut flowers, in all sun-colours.
-Next, the way the chimney stacks stand out against the storm, and the way the wisteria is creeping red round the bricks.
-The chimney stacks belong to the haunted house: I am grateful for that. For their dachshunds and dragons and tall gates. For their paintings that move. For their lamps in the dark.
-The paint has peeled away from a sign at the side of that house: it says PLAY BALL, BY ORDER. We will play ball.
-Next, scarves and my blackberry gloves, and my sage green coat.
-Lipstick in Deep Pink.
-The red peg-bag. I am pleased with the peg-bag.
-The purple quilt.
- My floral knickers, and my floral frock.
-Stories. (The old ones, and the older ones, and the new ones, and the way walking makes them all tumble together at a footfall)
-Light at the end of the tunnel: as you come into Whitechapel, you come out of the dark. You will come out of the dark; I will come out of the dark; we will all come smiling out of the dark together.
(And this is home, this small flat opposite a haunted house, with its tiny window garden and its flowers on the table, and the light dancing shadows on the ceilings. And this is home. And this is home, for home is where the heart is, and I am grateful to have my heart where I am. I am grateful to be home:
I am grateful for my boy; I am grateful for that love and this light and Monday breakfast
with flowers, and tea from our silver tea-pot.)
He came home with a bag of parsnips, and he stood at the door with his bag of parsnips and announced he was making me parsnip soup. I’m going off-piste, he said. Abandoning the recipe and making soup from scratch.
Alright, I said. I lay on the sofa and did a Sherlock Holmes quiz from a book of quizzes I found on the shelf. I put the orange blanket over my feet.
Where did Conan Doyle go to school?
Edinburgh, I think.
How are the parsnips?
I’m putting more wine in.
I looked at the wine bottle. White wine, and we were drinking red, and the white was half-empty. How much did you put in already?
A bit, he said, and shrugged.
Who narrated the Giant Rat of Sumatra?
Nobody, I think.
Correct, I said. Ten points to Gryffindor. How’s the soup?
He shrugged again.
It’s. Well. It’s sort of soup. It’s sort of…thick. Thick soup. We can dip bread in it.
Cool, I said.
I got up and went to have a look at the parsnips.
Ah, I said.
I know, he said.
That is thick, I said.
More like mashed parsnips, really.
Mashed parsnips with wine. And spice. And chillies.
We looked at the parsnips together. I reached for his hand.
Have we got any more stock?
No more stock.
No more stock?
We looked at each other.
More wine? he said
For me or the parsnips?
I sniffed it.
Mulled wine, I said. It’s bloody mulled wine.
It’s parsnips, he said.
Is that a thing?
I had grapefruit wine once, I said.
I think Dad made parsnip wine once. He said it was delicious.
Is this delicious?
Is this parsnip wine?
We looked at each other again.
Taste it, he said. I recoiled.
He took a teaspoon from the draining rack and prodded the parsnips experimentally. A bubble rose where he had poked it, and fell again, a primeval, gelatinous, gloop of a bubble.
I feel like Frankenstein, I said.
You feel like Frankenstein?
Well, no. You’re Frankenstein. You’re Frankenstein and it’s- it’s- alive! I pretended to fall back in horror, hands to my mouth. He lifted the spoon to his.
Delicious, he said.
Are you lying?
I thought so.
I opened my mouth like a baby bird and put out my tongue like a cat.
Tiny bit, I said, through my stuck-out tongue.
Tiny bit like medicine, he promised.
He stuck the spoon into the pan again, and I heard it gurgle.
I’ve changed my mind, I said.
Don’t be a wimp, he said. I dare you.
And so I took the spoon from him, and took a heaped teaspoon from the pan, and ate it.
That’s revolting, I said.
That’s parsnip soup, he said.
Perhaps it will be better if we let it stand a while. Absorb the wine. Cook it off.
We left the parsnip soup on the hob and sat on the sofa. Sherlock’s arch enemy? Conan Doyle’s mentor? Conan Doyle’s driving passion? Place of death?
We finished the quiz.
Do you think we should taste the soup again?
We tasted the soup.
What about sausages for supper instead, he said.
Sounds good, I said.
He did the sausages and I scraped the soup into the bin.
What are you thinking about, I said to him, later, in bed. He was lying across from me with his eyes shut, but I knew he wasn’t asleep. The light from the cars and the lamps came through the curtains.
I’m thinking about soup, he said. Soup’s tricky.
I will miss the Marais, and the blue Creperie and the green bar with the fairy lights. I will miss the art shop. I will miss the bookshop and the upstairs of the bookshop. I will miss the river. I will miss the banks of the river. I will miss the banks of the canal. I will miss the way you can watch the canal turn into a point like an exercise in perspective. I will miss the way that so much of Paris looks like an exercise in perspective; the way the angles of the roofs don’t line up and the way the roads taper into alleys and the alleys bend upwards into heavy iron gates and I will miss looking through the broken bit of the gates to see what’s behind. I will miss the Yiddish bakery and its pickelfleisch and the way they fold it like blankets into bagels. I will miss smoking, everywhere; I will miss people smoking on station platforms and hanging out of trains and even (I saw yesterday) on the Metro. I will miss the way that nobody ever pays for a train ticket. I will miss the man who jumps the barriers at Raincy-Villemomble every single day; the man who made magic tricks for me the day I was crying on the platform. Once I saw him buying Spicy Chicken Wings and Hot Lover Condoms in Monoprix. I will miss Monoprix.
I will not miss our Alarmingly Camp Neighbour, Monoprix till-boy, and his tiny pink pants and his loud Lady Gaga at all hours of night and day. I will not miss being hassled in the street. I will not miss the man in his flat cap and his perpetual smile. That is the man who grabbed Cornelia for a cigarette and who, last week, backed me into a corner crying “just one little kiss”. I will not miss him. I will not miss the Brasserie and its inhabitants. I will not miss the dog shit and the people peeing in the road. I will not miss the three AM walk home through this grimy strange suburb.
Though I will miss this grimy strange Suburb. I will miss the Fancy Dress Shop and its solitary slutty mannequin, in her slutty Santa frock for winter and her slutty policewoman shorts for spring. I will miss the little red Soviet house and the strange square mansions. I will miss the tabac and the Chinese man who runs it and barely speaks any French at all. I will miss the boulangeries, red (best), blue (second best) and white (emergencies only)- it has only just struck me that these are the Tricolore of bakeries- and I will miss crêpes and croissants and baguette most of all. I will miss Lait Cru and Chapon, the chocolaterie. And I will miss the sign that says VOUS ALLEZ AIMER MON HARD DISCOUNT outside a shop I have never once been in, but walk past every day. I will miss the way I know exactly where I am going here; I will miss the way everything is familiar. It is suddenly strange that this is familiar and strange all at once, because, of course it is strange.
The little old man and his daughter/granddaughter with the round pink glasses who goes to the same nursery as Three; the baby-Goth mother with the black Labrador; Zeen and her hippy skirts; the Medea-woman, who wears only pastel pink, and bedroom slippers, and looks always as if she has committed untold tragedies unto herself and is keeping it tight-lipped, always on the verge of a breakdown; the Tsarist at the market; the Pirate and Leather Gloves- they are all familiar, and they are all bloody strange. Everybody in this suburb feels sometimes as if they have been cut out of other books, and other plays, and glued into place. I will miss that feeling. I will miss, too, feeling like I belong in a place so utterly mish-mash. I will miss knowing the train times from Est and Nord and when you need to run in order to get the last fast one. I will not miss the way the trains smell always of bodily fluid and booze. I will miss in the day the yellow sign that says DEMENAGEMENTS CHELLES, and in the night the purple neon that says FRUITS DE MER, and the way both of them say HOME when I am coming in on the train. I will miss home. I will miss this family. I will miss the children.
I will not miss their bickering; I will not miss being responsible for three small beings and a cat; I will not miss the cat, and the way it gnaws my belongings and then pees on everything it hasn’t tried to eat. I will not miss the way this toolshed has an indestructible, permanent hint of damp and the way everything that spends any time at all in here, including me, feels damp and grimy too. I will not miss the way my books live in heaps on the floor. I will not miss the way the internet flickers in and out of connection in my bedroom. I will not miss the way I have needed the internet so desperately. I will not miss Skype.
I will not miss loneliness. I will not miss being this desperate for human contact. I will not miss, interestingly, speaking French. I am finding myself more and more stumbling over French, these last few days. I think I’m switching into England-mode, and my French is second in my head to plans, and thoughts, and people I have to speak to and things I have to do. I will miss hearing French, I think, eventually. I will not miss being the foreigner, the tourist. I will not miss having an accent. I will not miss being the odd one out. I will not miss the sometimes-feeling of being an interloper in a place that is the closest thing I have to home.
I will not miss my bed. I will not miss the way the pillow-cases don’t quite fit the pillows. I will not miss the permanent pawprints on my sheets. I will not miss being alone in my bed. I will not miss being alone, always.
Though I suppose I might miss it sometimes. I will miss that feeling I had yesterday of total freedom; that nobody anywhere knew where I was, with my red wine and my notebook in a grimy little Tabac by a train station in an odd bit of town, that I could go anywhere or do anything or disappear. I will miss Beaubourg, the Centre Pompidou. I will miss the things there I have loved: there is a Peter Doig there I love, and a Cy Twombly, and a painting of a map painted over a woman, and all the things I have sat by for hours, on my own and with Nelia. I already miss Nelia, but I’ll get her back soon. I will get all sorts of things back soon; I will get all sorts of new things. New flat. New uni. New city.
And I am so, so completely excited.
Still, there are things I will miss, and there they are, and there they were.
I wrote this in the comments on this blog, but apparently it’s too long. Bloody Blogger. So, this is a story about a picture @BellJarred drew.
Once upon a time there was a woman who was- not unhappy, not exactly. Once upon a time there was a woman. She lived in a cottage by the sea with her husband and her six grown sons, and they were fishermen, and she was a fisherman’s wife, and a fisherman’s mother, and all day she mended their nets, and stewed their fish stews, and sewed up all the holes in their spare sou’westers. All day her husband and her sons sailed out on the wild wide sea, and all day she waited in her cottage on the shore for them to return, watching the edge of the sea for the seven red masts of their seven ships, and every sunrise she woke before them in order to set their porridge on the fire to warm, and every sunset as their ships came in she set their suppers on the fire to warm. Her days were long, and her days were lonely, and her nights were dark and lonely too, for her husband all damp and tired with the sea never so much as hugged her close. They had been married a long time, the woman and her husband.
Enough time for the six sons to grow up. Sometimes the woman thought that perhaps the six sons should find wives and lives of their own, but the cottage was far away from the town, and besides (reasoned the sons) they had a very comfortable life. Their nets were mended, their suppers stewed and their sou’westers always perfectly patched. But it was a lonely, lonely life for the woman, and she was- if not unhappy- she was not happy. She was not a happy woman, and the worst of it was that she could not swim. That she lived by the sea, where she had lived from her youth, when she was first married, and that she could not swim. Her husband thought it would bring her ill-luck, and that to swim in the ocean was to tempt the sea-gods to drag you down, and when they were both young he had whispered to her in bed at night all the things that hid in the deep grey of the sea, and she had been scared. But she was older now, and wiser, and she was not so scared, but she had never learned to swim, and now (she thought) she never would. The ocean was forbidden to her, even to paddle, for her husband told her it was no place to go, no place at all.
And she stood on the harbour wall, looking out across the waves for the seven red ships of her husband and sons, and she was saddened by the thought that she would never swim in the sea; never know the world that lay stretched out before her like sheets taut on a bed, that shimmered like the firelight on a million copper pans, that murmured like the wind through sealskins on the line. That night she tossed and turned in her bed, next to her husband, who never moved, or stirred, only snored. That night she saw in the darkness the four walls of her cottage, and that night she heard, as she had heard a thousand nights before, the low murmur of the sea. But that night, unlike the other thousand nights, she stole from her bed, treading only on the boards that creaked not, lifting the door so carefully so that the hinges might not wail: she stole from her bed and barefooted nightgowned down she went to the edge of the sea.
She was not a happy woman, yes. But this night she was positively unhappy: it seemed to her that her whole life stretched out like the sea she could not swim in, full of caring only for her sons and her husband and fish stews and sou’westers. It seemed to her that it was not much of a life, not really. She pressed one small bare foot into the sand at the water’s edge and she stepped forward once, and again, and again, and once more, and she was up to her knees in the forbidden sea.
Another step, and another, and her nightgown was heavy with salt water, up to her thighs.
She could not swim, remember.
She was not happy; she was unhappy.
“What now?” she whispered, to the sea, and the sea whispered back, but she could not understand.
She could not understand, so she took another step, and the sea whispered, more insistently, something different.
Another step and the water was up over her waist.
Stop, whispered the sea. Stop there. Stop now.
The woman listened to the sea, and the sea whispered to her.
Go back, go back, whispered the sea, and the woman took one step backwards. The wind whipped at her wet nightgown, and she was cold.
Good girl, whispered the sea, and something sharp brushed her leg. She reached for it. It was a shell, spiked through with coral. She picked it up.
Go back, go back, whispered the sea, and the woman took one step, two steps backwards.
Good girl, whispered the sea, and something soft brushed her leg. She reached for it. It was a feather, unlike any bird the woman had ever seen. Neither gull nor gannet, neither sparrow nor starling. She picked it up.
Go back, go back, whispered the sea, and the woman took one step, two steps, three steps backwards.
Good girl, whispered the sea, and something sweet and strange brushed her leg. She reached for it. It was a skein of silk, a silk unlike any she had ever seen, the kind of silk a princess might spin gold from, the kind of silk gods might spin the flaxen hair of princesses from. She picked it up.
Go back, go back, whispered the sea, and she took one step back, and she was on the shore.
Good girl, murmured the sea, good girl, good girl, good girl, and to her feet the waves brought a shell, a perfect shell unlike any she had seen before. She picked it up and held it to her ear, but she could not tell the difference between the sea in her head and the real sea.
And then she held it to her eye, and in the light of the moon, she saw.
She went back to her bed, and her footprints faded from the path, and the sea went on whispering, whispering, and she slept.
She was up, as usual, at sunrise. She waved goodbye to her sons, and she kissed her husband on the cheek, and he looked at her in surprise, and brushed it off. She watched their seven sails disappear over the horizon. But she did not set immediately to mending their nets, or stewing their fish stews, or even darning their sou’westers: no, she took from beneath her pillow the coral-skewered shell, and the strange feathers, and the skein of silk, and the perfect shell, and went down to the sea.
The sun was out, and it was all quite beautiful.
On the sea edge she took off her dress, and her apron, her socks and her shoes and her bonnet, and her underthings, and she stood stark naked on the edge of the sea, and she spun the silk round her until she shone, like firelight on a hundred copper pans; she spun the silk round her feet and calves and knees and thighs and hips, belly breasts arms shoulders hands back collarbones throat and jaw, and she shone, she shone.
She pulled her hair down from its sensible bun, and it shone, too, in the sunlight.
She wove the feathers into it, and the coral shells, and she saw herself in a sudden stillness of the sea, and she saw that she was beautiful.
She was beautiful, and she shone, and she held the shell to her eye and she saw for the first time how beautiful the sea was, and how beautiful the world was, beneath the waves, in the deep grey.
She pressed one small bare foot into the sand at the water’s edge and she stepped forward once, and again, and again, and once more, and she was up to her knees in the forbidden sea, only it wasn’t forbidden any more.
Come in, come in, whispered the sea, and she came, step by step, her knees, her thighs, her belly and breasts and shoulders. Her throat, her jaw. Her lips and her eyes and then she swam, for the first time, and the sea held her and caught her and she swam, and it was something better than she had ever dared imagine.
And she swam, this beautiful shining woman, with the shell held to her eye that she might see everything, and the ocean whispering in her ear that she might understand everything, and she was happy.
And as far as I know, she is swimming still, and she is happy.
I’ve spoken before, I think, about anxiety, and panic attacks. A long time ago, on another blog. It’s been a long time, really, since I let my nerves get the better of me the way they did, for almost no discernible reason, tonight.
I think it was probably the day after Boxing Day, the last proper panic attack I had. I have had them since I was 15, diagnosedly, and probably younger. They used to be worse, and I am a million times better now.
They are like little storms, and they pass, and I forget.
It’s a physical thing; I never thought, before it was me, that it would be a physical thing. It’s a heart-too-fast ribcage-ache inability to breathe which comes first, and a bit after that the total uncontrollable panicked realisation that something, somewhere, is very, very wrong.
It rarely is. I know, in my sensible mind, that it rarely is and that I’m being a self-indulgent tit. But it just doesn’t matter, then. Nothing can possibly be louder than the worry. The certainty of worry that drowns out every rational thought and every logical argument I could ever muster and makes me forget that I am ever not worried.
It’s a worry, a panic, born of inadequacy, mostly. Of feeling inadequate. Of feeling that I have so much and I cannot possibly be the one it was meant for; that it will be taken from me. And if it will be taken from me it will happen in a way that will pay me back for being happy in the first place. It’s a totally irrational panic. That’s not how the world works. But it is the way my mind works, and for half an hour, or two hours, or (as it used to be) three days I live with the knowledge that I am going to lose everything I have. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy- given that if you stay in bed, and if you inflict your own irrational terror on those you love they perhaps will love you less than they did- and as such a vicious cycle. I know this. This makes it worse.
It usually comes with horrible, vivid pictures, too, because I’ve a good imagination.
My mind is full of horrible pictures, and my throat tightens and my lip quivers, and I am a visible picture of some kind of despair. Lady of Shallott-ish despair; Scream-ish terror. I get the dizziness, and the nausea, and the heart that feels like it might quite easily leap out of my chest from overwork. And afterwards, the headaches. I’m writing this in the gap between the attack itself and the headache, which I can feel building at the front of my skull, behind my eyes.
My body is better at knowing than my mind is; my body gives me plenty of warning signs and, apparently, I choose to ignore them. Today my chest hurt and my heart beat too fast and I told myself I was ill, coming down with something, although when I was googling symptoms and convincing myself almost to the point of tears that I was dying I should have realised. In my defence, it’s May, now, and December 27th was a long time ago.
But it’s been brewing for a few days, this particular storm of mine. Three countries in a week is a lot to think about, and there are a fair few people who could testify to my being emotionally wobbly in all of those cities, from sleeplessness in Dubai and white-lipped anger in London and, this evening, floods of tears in Paris.
I am much, much better than I used to be. I used to have them, a year ago, twice a week, sometimes more. I used to have them and have to go to bed for days just to be able to handle it. I am better than I used to be. I don’t, for instance, need Valium any more. I don’t spend days in bed to get over it any more. I am much better.
Which is why, I suppose, it came as such a shock tonight to find myself in the grip of that panic again.
I owe people apologies, for putting up with me tonight. I owe people apologies for irrationality and melodrama and hysterics. I am lucky- like I said earlier- to have sensible friends, both the kind who shrug off my sobbing and offer me yoghurt, and the kind who listen, and then, politely, tell me I’m talking rubbish. I am lucky, and I know I am, and I am not worried, now, that being lucky means that I will soon and swiftly be unlucky. The storm is clearing, apart from the headache and the need-to-be-said-apologies it’s leaving in its wake, and by the weekend I will have forgotten, probably, the way all this feels.
Which is sort of why I’m writing this down, as a reminder. That when my chest hurts and my throat hurts and oh-fuck-I-can’t-breathe happens, I’m probably not at my most rational.
It helps to think of it as a physical thing first. A thing that can be cured by physical means. To remember that it will pass, given time, because it is alright, really. It is.
To have some water. To walk, even if it’s dark. To sleep. To listen to the people who say I’m talking bollocks. To try (yeah, right) to not inflict the worst bits of myself on the people who love me. To breathe in and out and in and out in the dark without looking at my screen. To breathe in and out. To breathe in and out. To breathe in and out and in and out and in and out and in and out and in and out, one by one, until the storm passes, and it’s done and gone, and I can put the panic in a box marked “Self Indulgent Tittery” and it will all be alright again.
I have never seen a superhero film. I think we ought to make that clear from the outset. I have never seen a superhero film. I have never read a superhero comic. I once got a spoon with the Incredible Hulk on out of a packet of Frosties, but that’s as far as it goes.
It was not even a very good spoon. It was green see-through plastic with a Hulk-y sort of handle, and I think it broke within about a week and I had to go back to eating with the nice silverware like everybody else.
It’s fair to say, then, that not only was my only association with the genre a long-held, spoon-related bitterness, but that if, say, you had been looking for me on Thursday at 10.20 AM, and you had wondered to yourself where might Ella be this morning, your first thought would perhaps have not have been <em>why, in the Xtreme* screen of a cinema in Islington</em>, and thus you would not perhaps have been able to find me ’til I returned to my more usual habitats. By which I mean the pub.
*We can talk about why they leave the “e” off “Xtreme”, but I don’t have any answers.**
**Oh, my god. I have just googled it and noticed that it is, in fact, the VueXtreme, and that the “e” from “Vue” is meant to do the job for both and now I am SO IRRATIONALLY ANGRY.
But that, in fact, was exactly (Xactly?) where I was. Watching The Avengers, and being, largely, baffled. My companion (henceforth known as Z) says it was brilliant. And I trust his opinion absolutely, and his five-star review is here. I am reading that review now, and I do, I DO remember all of those things happening. I remember the bit with the punch-bags and Captain America (hindered by the fact that I didn’t know he was Captain America). I remember the bit where Tony Stark/ Iron Man was in a tower with a lady in denim hot pants. I even remember bits that AREN’T IN HIS REVIEW, like that Russian chick (maybe Scarlett Johansson? maybe not?) beating people up with a chair in loud three dimensions.
“I have a dress almost EXACTLY like that, but with better sleeves,” I whispered to Z, as Russian Chick swung her chair over her head and into the eyes of someone unsuspecting. He looked at me. I looked at him. We both looked at the Russian Chick.
I like to think it was at that point that he began to see what he was in for. Which is to say, two and a half hours of “Who’s that one? What’s he doing now? Why is he in an ice-box? Why is he green? I like her haircut, do you think it would suit me? WHY ARE THEY DOING THAT? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? WHO AM I?”.
It’s to his total credit that he didn’t simply strangle me and have done with it. I would have done. Probably everyone else in the movies would have done.
So, the plot of the film as I understood it:
The one with black hair (Z’s review reliably informs me that he is Loki, and played by Tom Hiddleston) did a Bad Thing. I don’t know exactly what the Bad Thing was, because I missed the first two minutes. I think it was probably something to do with the little blue box (TESSERACT) that they (some people?) were (possibly?) going to use for Clean Energy (this film is TOPICAL, also). Let us assume that the Black Haired Dude was stealing the Tesseract, and assume that he was doing it for to take over the world. They usually are, these bad boys. Everyone else (ish?) was trying to stop him.
Everyone else being Thor (Chris Hemsworth, lots of gold, looks quite Scandinavian) and That Russian Chick (Scarlett Johansson, token female, tits) and Captain America (Big shiny star. Can’t remember who he was played by.) and The Incredible Hulk (I swallowed down my spoon-related sorrows to admit that actually, I quite liked him. I quite like Mark Ruffalo. Is that allowed? Anyway, he is the doctor one who turns green.) and some other people who I have forgotten and also maybe the really pretty one (the one who is Sherlock Holmes in the Dreadful Film of Sherlock Holmes? and he is quite Sherlocky in this?) and they are all under the command of Samuel L Jackson. Who is not called Samuel L Jackson in this and is instead called Nick Fury. I think. He has an eyepatch.
“Those ones are the Avengers,” Z said, one critical eye on the Important Explosions happening on-screen.
I looked at the Avengers.
“But what are they avenging?”
Z looked at me.
When I was about 14 I had a Physics teacher called Dr Carr who believed that I was the Devil incarnate, and who told my mum at Parents’ Evening that I should learn to accept the laws of the universe as a given*. And although Dr Carr was little and unpleasant (Z’s polar opposite, naturally), the way Z looked at me then was exactly the look of Dr Carr when I would derail an entire GCSE Physics class by asking but why is gravity?
* This is not a thing I am planning to do ever, by the way.
I apologised. Z went back to watching the film. I went back to being quietly baffled.
Anyway, yes. They were all very angry. There was lots of shouting, and hitting things. There were also Some Aliens, who turned up at a party thing and were all in gold and made everybody kneel. I missed the bit that happened after this because I fell asleep. In my defence, I had probably only slept about five hours out of the last 36. Hooray, international travel.
According to Z’s review there was also a subplot, which I missed entirely. Apparently, it was something to do with a man with a bow (?). I thought maybe it also had to do with some Captain America trading cards, which were (significantly) not in some other chap’s locker or his pocket or his locket or something, but this is almost certainly wrong, since when I mentioned this to Z he did the same deeply-baffled expression I imagine I had been making for the whole of the film. But it did happen. It totally happened. There were some cards or something that were important. Go and see the film and you will totally see that I am right.
Also in the subplot maybe: the chap (possibly the same one with the bow, possibly not) had TESSERACT blue eyes. Which I think (read: was told by Z, because all to any major plot points such as these totally eluded me) means that he was also being hypnotised by the Black Haired Dude and I don’t know if that is a spoiler. But you could guess that if you looked at his eyes because they were TESSERACT BLUE. TESSERACT BLUE is, pretty much, shiny shiny chipped-ice blue. Which on Boyce from Green Wing is super attractive, but I suspect on That Guy With The Bow is not meant to be. Or maybe it is. I forget. He is, after all, a Good Man Turned Bad*.
*Sneaky Smiths reference. I don’t think this film would have been better with the Smiths in. ALTHOUGH, That Black Haired Dude was definitely rocking the hair of somebody who might conceivably sometimes lock himself in his bedroom and play Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, over and over and over again until his mum told him to turn it down. AND, and That Black Haired Dude was adopted and he didn’t find out for ages and HE IS TROUBLED! THIS IS AN ACTUAL BIT OF FILM THAT HAPPENED (thanks Z for handy back story) and THEREFORE Loki (Black Haired Dude) definitely, definitely plays the Smiths when he is having a break from all the communing with the Gold Aliens.
“I’m going to write a review of Avengers Assemble,” I tell Z, later.
He gives me that look again.
“I know I don’t know what happened,” I say, superhurriedly, because I don’t want Z to think I am pretending that I didn’t sleep through most of the film. “but I think I have some Valid Points to make.”
In writing this review, mornings later, I have discovered that I have no Valid Points to make. I have only some lingering spoon-related bitterness (if I told you that I hadn’t actually thought about that Hulk spoon in ten years, would you believe me?)and a very weak grasp of the plot, the characters, and the laws of the superhero universe.
I did, however, have a very nice time, and the film had some very good explosions. And Scarlett Johansson has nice tits. And I quite fancy Mark Ruffalo and that chap from Sherlock. And I still don’t know what the aliens were doing.
This film, then.
Z says it’s a good’un. I say it’s baffling, but I still quite enjoyed it. I am now returning to my more usual habitat of the pub.
Postscript: “It’s quite a funny review,” says Z, begrudgingly. “Wouldn’t publish it in a million fucking years, mind. And you got that bit with the aliens completely wrong.”
I remembered yesterday that we used to call you Bid. I have forgotten most of that in-between time, when we weren’t, and you weren’t really, but I remembered yesterday quite vividly a drawing in a notebook (it had a blue flower on the front, the notebook) of you and Mum. MUMMY + BIDDY, in my five-year-old handwriting, and a picture of you back when you had round glasses like an owl and curly hair. It was quite a good drawing, for a five year old, I think, and I was proud of it. I think I tore it out of the notebook and gave it to you, in the way I presented you with hundreds and hundreds of pictures and stories and poems over the years, in the way, sort of, I am presenting this to you now. You can cut it out- or print it out, more likely- and put it on your desk at work. Daddy’s Desk At Work, where all the best pictures go to die. I don’t remember when, exactly, “Bid” became “Dad”. Before you and Mum were married, I think, but, like I say, that in-between time is hazy.
I don’t remember meeting you- the picture in my head I always have for meeting you is, I find now, a picture of a much later time, a much later snow-day from school, when you were already married and already drilling us on times tables and spellings, already listening to stories, already cooking Sunday lunch and already lighting the Rayburn so Mum didn’t have to. But I did meet you on a snow-day, and by accident. That much I know from family stories. That we were supposed to be at school (me) and playgroup (Cee). That you were coming to pick Mum up to take her to the station to work. That the phones didn’t work (or something?) and she couldn’t tell you to cancel and so, you came anyway. That I answered the door, aged four. That you came in- I imagine you sort of shy- and had a cup of tea, with me and Mum and Cee. That I invited you on a picnic.
And you came on our picnic. A snow-day picnic, and you skipped work, and told them that your sister had been killed in a car-crash (she hadn’t. Auntie Janet would have found this equal parts offensive and hilarious, had she known.), and came on a picnic with the woman you were seeing (Mum) and her two daughters (me, four, Cee, two). And that somehow, you won us over. Even me, fiercely loyal to the dad I’d had before, whose loyalty to us was wavering at best, and imaginary at worst, sufficiently enamoured to whisper, in that four-year-old stage-whisper, “Mummy, I think I love David”, and, to you, “Are you going to marry Mummy? because you can.”
And you did. God knows what you made of us, but you must have liked what you saw, because you stuck around. You’re sticking around, with your four daughters, fifteen years later, and two of us barely remember before you were Dad. I don’t think we called you Bid for very long; I don’t think that in-between time was very long, and you were too good a dad to not deserve the title. You are too good a dad to not deserve the title.
It’s fifteen years later, and there are two more girls, my sisters, and you have always done everything you could for all of us. You have moved countries for us. You would move mountains for us, if we needed it. You have paid for our food and our clothes and our lessons, teased us relentlessly for any sign of vanity or taking ourselves too seriously, been teased equally relentlessly for your affection for flowery shirts and detailed recipes, slipped us twenty-pound-notes to go shopping with at the end of the month. You have persuaded Mum that the plans the four of us made were good ones- my moving to Paris, Bee’s netball tour of Hong Kong- even when as a parent, they must have been scary decisions to accept. You have told us off and been to parent-teacher evenings and talked me through the endless pain of student finance. You sent me flowers when I got my GCSE results, the first flowers anyone ever sent me. Bravest, you have talked to my Other Dad, the biological dad, made him come to see me and Cee, tried to make him understand what he was missing out on. It didn’t work, not really, but you tried, because you thought it was important to us. You have put our drawings on your desk at work, and, my favourite, the photo of all four of us, ages roughly eighteen months to eight, in a wheelbarrow, in pride of place.
Do you remember, once, someone at work saw my curly hair in that picture, and said, “gosh, doesn’t your eldest look like you?”.
It’s a genetic impossibility that I could look like you; it’s a genetic impossibility that Cee could remind Auntie Janet of you in her every gesture. But those things are both true, all the same. Just like it is absolutely true that you are my dad, our dad. We don’t thank you for it often. We don’t think of it often. It’s not a thing we have to think about often, because you are always there.
Only when I remember the time when nobody was there, for Mum, and me, and Cee, do I remember how bloody lucky we are to have you as our dad, and how absolutely grateful we are for it.
Writing thank-you letters is important. “Start with a thank-you, tell them a nice thing you did with the present, ask them how they are, write ‘love from Ella’ and you’re done. If you want to be a writer, you’ll have to write things that are more difficult than a thank-you letter, Ella!”
It was-is!- Mum who insists on thank-you letters, and you always back her up. So.
Thankyou very much for the lovely childhood, I had a nice time.
Thankyou very much for the lovely flowers and the lovely food and the lovely clothes and the lovely education. Thankyou for the lovely houses and the lovely countries and the lovely pets and the lovely treats and the lovely trips. Thankyou for loving us.
I apologise for the saccharine, but sometimes, it needs to be said, and told to everyone. Thankyou for loving us. Thankyou for being our dad.
How are you? I am well.
Love from Ella xxx
I woke up this morning thinking about a funeral I went to a long time ago; a long time, in my time, that is. It feels like another lifetime, and it was, sort of. It was when I lived in England, and in a little village, and I knew everyone and everyone knew me.
It was the man who lived across the fields from us- our house was here, like three sides of a square, fattened out and made of stone and full of children and kittens and a lamb called Layla- and where the fourth side of the square should have been a lawn, and behind the lawn a rose-garden with no roses and the greenhouse with the tomatoes and the little walled garden full of strange gargoyles and stone rollers for the grass, and behind the rose-garden, over the wall the orchard and then, finally the fields we rented from the Althorp estate. We rented four of the fields, for the sheep, and ours were long and wild and full of places to hide and trees to be king of the castle in, and Fred rented the fifth.
His field was neat and rolled and there was a well in it, which I coveted.
He was very old, when I knew him. He liked us. He liked children, and we were four, and his grand-children were far away, I think, or perhaps they didn’t visit very often, or perhaps he just liked us. He had a wife, called Betty, who dug in the garden in a big hat, and a three-legged dog called Flute. I used to sit on the fence-post and watch Flute running about on his three legs. Hobbledy hobbledy hoy, and fast as any dog, although not as fast as my dog, who was enormous and black and called Nog, and, surprisingly, not at all imaginary.
I never had to have an imaginary menagerie- the four fields had sheep and chickens and ducks and we kept a host of little fluffy things in cages in the feed barn and some in cages in the dairy. I was quite old when I realised that not everybody had a dairy, but I always knew that not everybody had a menagerie of animals. We weren’t allowed to touch the wild rabbits because of mixomatosis, but there were dormice in the corners of the fields. I could never even see them.
Once Fred, from across the field, showed me a nest of dormice. Because they were in our field he did not have them killed. They were pink and small. Fred had been in the army and he talked a lot about his tank. After he died I found that he had been quite important in the war and he had been quite important in tanks in general. He was quite an important man. He was quite important to me, too, this old man across the field who ran the Strawberry Fair every summer. The money from the Strawberry Fair went to the cancer hospice that his wife died in. I was sad when his wife died, because she had always been so kind to me, and sadder when I saw that his name was already on her tombstone. How sad, I thought, how sad, how lonely.
The year after his wife died we met him in the street with a lady with blonde hair. This is Juliet, he said. Aren’t I lucky to be getting it at my age? And my mother raised her eyebrows as high as they would go and inclined her head in a way that agreed and disapproved all at once and sent me and my sisters running after the dog, down a ditch and through a hedgerow.
Later I heard her repeating the conversation to her friend Debbie and I wrote it down in a shiny silver notebook so that I could tell my friend Bethany at school.
Fred knew everybody in the village and everybody knew Fred because Fred was in charge of the Strawberry Fair. The Strawberry Fair was on Fred’s neat field and there was a marquee and a tombola and a bouncy castle.
One year there was a beautiful china doll in the tombola, number 255, and I bought twenty two tickets to try and win it. I won a Pokémon and a box of soaps. Juliet said, what is it you want, little girl? I said, the doll, of course. She looked at me and she whispered something to the other lady running the stall. Why don’t you have one more go?, she said. I had one more go. The number of the doll was 255. The number of my ticket was 375. Shut your eyes, said Juliet. When I opened my eyes the number of the doll was 375. Well what a surprise, said Juliet, and she reached down the doll for me. I was too small to reach it all by myself. I called the doll Imogen, and I loved her so hard that she broke, and went to live in the wardrobe with the other bad dolls, but I remember most about Imogen-doll the little kindness the tombola ladies gave a little girl they didn’t really know, Blanche-like.
Another year there was a lightening storm, and Fred got hit by lightening. He was not very badly hurt, in my memory, but I was only small, and perhaps they didn’t tell me these things. I remember jumping on the trampoline and the rain coming down, and the sky bright white over the valley and the houses and the trees and the rain and the farm, and the way the apple trees were all black in summer against the white of the sky. Inside they were unplugging the computers and the telephones, and at the bottom of the hill the roads were flooding.
I remember all the Strawberry Fairs as one long summer, and strawberries and thick cream in polystyrene bowls that you could bite into and see the exact perfect shape of all your teeth. Bethany was missing one tooth. I was missing two.
I got bigger and went to school in town and didn’t really see Fred so much any more. Sometimes I met him in the street and sometimes I went to knock on his door to deliver a charity leaflet or a newsletter and he seemed to be getting odder, stranger. He said that he liked to look through the windows of our house to see us all around the fire. He said that he remembered how we had been when we were young and wore white. I think he thought perhaps we were someone else.
And then, one day, the summer before I left England, he died. He died in Devon and was buried in the church across the street from my house, my church. Our church. He was a Roman Catholic, schooled by monks, I think, and he had special dispensation to be buried in the church he was married and christened in, and the nuns came, and the Archbishop of the Diocese. I wore a borrowed black wool coat that was too big for me and looked like little orphan Annie. The family took up the first four rows of pews and none of them spoke to Juliet. I had never been to a Catholic funeral before, and there was incense, and long robes, and chanting. And it was sad, and sweet, and they said that his name was not Fred, at all; his name was Archibald, and he had changed it, in the army, to avoid Ragging from the Fellows. And I thought about a very young Fred, going by Archibald, who had had, somewhere, a childhood, and it seemed an awful shame that I had never asked about it, or wrote it down and there was chanting in Latin, and it was sweet, and sad, and then I moved away and didn’t think about it till I woke up this morning with the memory of a funeral of an old man a long time ago shuffled foremost in my head. And thinking about Fred’s funeral made me think of Fred as he was, and the Strawberry Fair, and the Imogen-doll (whose story is already written), and Flute and Betty and Juliet, and the way it felt to listen on the stairs for gossip, and the way the dormice in their nest writhed and how we left them, so they would be safe in the corner-field.