Running free

What do we need, where do we go
When we get where we don’t know.
Why should we doubt the virgin white of fallen snow,
When faith’s our shelter from the cold.

There was always a bit of him in every bloke I fancied. He set the precedent, created the mould. With his long blonde hair and his keen light eyes.

One day I was a child and the next I wasn’t. Turning the metaphoric (as well as the actual) corner to find him, sitting on the steps outside the off-licence in his ripped jeans and Megadeth jacket. He was new. 3 years older but still new. And from them on, so was I.

Of the gang of boys secreting from the estate, he stood out. Poisonous soulless fuckwits who revelled in hurting and humiliating wherever they could. I suspected a kindness in him that years later I would discover to be real.

So I became a collector of things connected to him. I immersed myself in things he liked, so by default perhaps I would become one of them. And it’s an embarrassing thing to admit that a lot of who I started to become was built around the interests of a bloke.

My crush on him forced me into a world of fiction. With pen kissing paper I crafted everything the way it should be and not the way it actually was. Lined A4 pads filled with romantic scenarios and how the two of us would one day come together. And I cringe now when I read them because it’s hard to take your first crush very seriously when you’ve been around the block so many times. If I was lucky enough for him to look at me or speak to me, I’d squirrel the encounter away ready for my wordy hibernation. Entire books based on scraps of something that could have been. And through him, I honed in on what I really liked and what I really wanted.

In later years I would discover that I could talk to him not just from within my head but in the real world too and finally came the time for me to put down the notepad (for a little while at least) and see how the real world compared. Although he never really had the same affect on me, there was always an appreciation, a softness I suppose you could call it, whenever I saw or heard of him. And those feelings, inexplicable at the time and now so very familiar, are still the basis for whether I really like someone or not.

I can conjure him at any given moment: walking with his hands in his pockets, wearing an oversized lumberjack shirt, flicking his hair out of his eyes. He smirked in a way that immediately made me think of sex, regardless how young I was or how little I knew about it. Him screaming ‘bacon’ at passing police cars, him putting my hat on his head on my 13th birthday and leaving behind the intimate scent of his hair, winking at me unashamedly while he pissed a heart shape on the floor of the underground car park and making my face burn with shyness when he asked why ‘I ♥ CB’ was scrawled all over my rucksack.

Hearing word of his death stunned me. Not high pitched and insane, not shaking and crying but somewhere still and adolescently sheepish within me. Not just because we were close in age but because despite never having been a part of my adult life, he somehow always seemed to feature. Characters fashioned from the essence of him made it into two of my finished novels and it occurs to me now that for him to have never faded in my mind, he must have burned so very brightly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The best jokes will make you cry

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Towards the end of my dad’s life, I remember feeling close to tears whenever we spoke on the phone. I was desperately trying to disguise the strangulated quality of the lump in my throat. Desperately trying to savour his voice. Because I knew there would be a time when I wouldn’t be able to hear it . That time is now.

Phil used to say that he could tell whenever I was talking to either my aunty or my dad on the phone, because I would cackle like a wild woman with laughter.

My dad’s humour was elaborate; hidden like a present in the depths of a long story. Lapsing absentmindedly from English to Greek. Across the warm gravel of his throat, his words came with the exhalation of smoke, like long semi-colon pauses. I smile-waited, throwing my legs up on the sofa.

I don’t remember if I’d spoken to him the day that he died. But I do remember speaking to him the day before. And whatever it was that he’d said to me, he’d made me feel more positive that he was going to be ok. Horrible trick of the light.

So three years ago today, around this time of day, I had lunch alone and texted a childhood friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I told her I loved her and missed her and hoped that my text would repair the hole of time since we’d last spoken. Later that night I would be calling her with very different news.

I went home from work and idled about waiting for my husband to come home. I made a list, asked the universe for a sign and then the burger phone rang; it was my mum…

I could detail the stilling sadness of the events that followed but they would just be words spoiling the whiteness of the page. You wouldn’t be able to feel them as I did. Instead I’m remembering how much he made me laugh. The wild whirl of his personality was like the swooping of birds, cutting through the sky in formation. Plunging bravely headfirst: magnificent in their fearlessness.

Thinking back now, I wonder how exactly I knew that the best comedy requires an equal measure of tragedy.

He received a card one Christmas, with nothing written inside. I commented it on it as I handed it to him, confused who the hell it was from. “Ah that’s from Costas” he replied without hesitation. Quizzing him on how he knew, his answer came straight off the cuff “because he’s not speaking to me”.

 

 

 

 

 

Is your father daft?

Being at Uni felt like a whole world away. A time when I boldly went where no Greek had gone before me: outside of palmers green. Way way beyond the north circ. To a land where there was no Yashir Halim, no deli’s whatsoever in fact. No streetlamps, no 24 hour shops, no nothing. ‘Cept the odd fish and chip shop and a pub.

Rolling hills as far as the eye could see. God’s country.

Fuck knows how I ended up there: with my poor attendance and my 2 lonely a-levels. But I did and at times it felt serendipitous, like all meaningful things.

So the people talked funny around me, stoned I smiled and smiled. So pleased with myself that I was finally there. Calculating my time like orange segments, divided between the places and people that made my heart feel alive. And yeah for a time, he was one of them, that hippy fish can’t be arsed man with the turtle green eyes. And I tried not think of my mum, back home crying over the baked beans and freaking out that she didn’t have a touch tone phone. She had my dad, and I had my freedom and that was all that mattered in the world to me.

Aside from the obvious differences in vowel pronunciation, the language was bejewelled with new and exciting treasures. Phrases and words assigned new meaning and a new context, intonations sweeping high up into the sky and I couldn’t fucking wait to rush back to London and share all I’d learnt. ‘Is ya father daft’, ‘it’s as near as damn it’ and despite how it may sound, ‘are we havin out for us tea’ doesn’t mean ‘are we going out for dinner’, it meant ‘make me some dinner bitch, I’m starving’, or there abouts.

Travelling between South and North England relentlessly on the Dad-express, we learnt every service station between here and there. We talked and my dad measured the road in spliff-miles. On average 8 between here and there. And I tried not to get stoned from the fumes but failed because the draft from the windows reeked havoc with my dads neck.

It was a time of freedom. Both geographical and emotional. Something about there being so much sky to see that’s restful. Something about the stretch of the green hills dominating the view that heals. It’s fair to say that I was an entirely different person then. I was afraid and death plagued me sure, but it was more a premonition of who I was going to be and not the actuality. Did I dream myself up and then become, or did I dream of the woman I knew I would be? It’s hard to say. All I know is the anticipation was far better than the actuality. When I think back, I love the girl I was. Deceitful and duplicitous and daft.

But now not-far-from-forty and how do I like the new view from the mountain? It feels less safe than when I was lower down that’s for sure, less certain. Being both wary of the bottom and the top is a really strange headspace to be in. Perhaps in the panning out of our existence we become invariably less distinct, less definite? Does the sea fear it’s own depth? And the sky it’s height?  Will I ever get used to how big my hair gets in the humidity? Will I ever be able to handle these curls?

Was my father daft as well?