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”.

 

 

 

 

 

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The first stone

 

“Oh heaven, oh heaven, I wake with good intentions. But the day is always just too long”  Emeli Sande

If it weren’t for the fact that I am guilty of almost everything, I would be the most judgemental person on this earth. In this way I can be thankful (almost) for my mischievous nature. Because it gives, at least, some understanding and acceptance of the misdemeanours of others. If I wasn’t such a bitch, this quality would most likely make me a better friend to have.

And just like the song says, with each new dawn I’m at it again, new fuckeries to add to the long list of charges. There’s no solace in the knowledge that at least my sins are not crimes. No. This noteworthy distinction isn’t enough for me to let myself off the hook, and it isn’t for you either. Because I know I’m not alone in this denigration of self. This perpetual dispute over actions and covert intentions resulting in all manner of conclusions but leading invariably to one thing: guilt. When I really think about it, it’s no wonder I am so afraid of nuns.

A new year carries with it more weight than a new day and as such, we find ourselves seeking ways to clean the slate. Sprucing up the self is always the best place to start. I thought about it for too little time whilst in the bath and resolved that I would seek out this self-assurance that at the time seemed such an attractive quality to me. In the time it took to dry my toes, I had changed my mind. Seeing it as an annoying form of arrogance: too restrictive a territory for this turbulent traveller. And the research that it involves would certainly dilute my well-intentioned enthusiasm before I knew it.

Sniffing around the scene idly, surely there was something important I was getting at. A grotty skirting board somewhere that needed a clean. Self-assuredness is great en’all but when we really want to do something, we’ll always find a justification to make it possible…or else spend our days what-iffing. Bringing us back nicely to guilt and regret: the two most popular postcodes for people to reside.

But all things have their place and guilt surely helps us stick to the right track doesn’t it? Or is guilt a smothering straight jacket supressing the life and lust deep within? Either way, you’ll feel it regardless, even when you try not to. And I really envy those self-serving pieces of shit that don’t feel it at all. The ones who will always do what suits them best. They’ve got the right idea. Because as my new favourite Nan told me, “life is such a quick thing. Before you know it there’s no time left at all.This isn’t a revelation of any sort but coming from the nicest and most elderly person I know, it’s a rightful incitement to a little selfishness now and then.

So we move forward, past the wishes and expectations of others and into a new undiscovered realm. Fresh and untarnished by anyone else’s wants, this place is uniquely ours. We are the only dreamers of this particular dream. And it’s everything it should be and more…the sun stings bright happy eyes, playful blinking, lips lifted flirtatiously like the hems of skirts revealing some leg or gums. Frolic and flounce with all the fucking frivolity of a dance thoroughly needed. Exhaling. Muscles slumped, one on top of the other like a bum sits nicely on the heels of your feet. Looking around, like a baby blinking into existence, you see that you’ve achieved more than just the aesthetics of your dreams: in this place of unabashed insistence you realise that you’ve found yourself.

This is where we experience the flipside of guilt. The un-sulky and much more deeply rooted kind. On the verge of liberation from the combined misfortunes and self-inflicted sadness of the past, we notice a fire-exit like a giant green flashing angel. But we realise that by walking through it, we are condoning and accepting the hideous happenings that we have spent our years hating. Because on the verge of acceptance, comes that one last pang. “If I take this final step now, it means I have gained from the severance and loss of a child. It means I have benefitted from the loss of a soul that deserved his life certainly more than I do”. Or at least that’s my deepest fear. And when you see someone, whose womb has seen both life and death, smiling sincerely from the snag of their stubby toes to the flick of their bottom lip, you have to know it doesn’t come without repeated mental punches to the gut.

So we stay on the precipice, looking through the window at a feast we will never enjoy. Hungry, hurting and self-loathing but not entirely unhappy in our darkest of places. Arms folded smugly across my breasts, hair unmanageably long: I watch from the window as children swarm my street on their way to school. Like happy woollen kebabs, padding around blindly with just their noses poking out. Warm necks to the sky as the first of the year’s snow falls. And I can’t help but be softened like butter slip sliding into the pores of my toast.

Letting yourself off the hook isn’t as easy a thing to do as it sounds. But you must because hating hard on the unprejudiced unpredictable strike of lightening that once struck you and invariably despising the crispiness it has left you with is a rash that will prickle over the whole surface of skin. Slowly driving you insane with its itchy creeping demands. Till you’ve scratched and scratched and there’s nothing left but the dabby stickiness of blood and sinew. Boiled blistering skin, parched thin, scarred and weeping, no longer any use to anyone at all.

And maybe that’s what it means to burn in hell.


The self-indulgent stillbirth.

Discussions reveal that not keeping my story to myself is symptomatic of a sociopath. It transpires that sharing my thoughts and feelings on this matter comes across as ‘a bit too self-indulgent’. And that it was ok in the initial stages of my grief because, like a car-crash, my audience slowed at the scene to get a glimpse of the horror: intrigued. So now, this late on, apparently I’m milking it.

If you don’t want to come across as a sociopath who stands to gain more in the sympathy of others than she has lost in the death of her child, then you shouldn’t really share all your womb-woe’s with such a big and impersonal audience. Or so I am told is the general etiquette of ‘acceptable public grieving’.

And all through myself I want to laugh. Because I thought it was implicit all this time, that what I was trying to achieve was a little bit of clarity in the blur of my own feelings, using the only medium that feels right to express it in. In hindsight I now realise I should have baked a private pie and filled it with all my fears and phobias and feelings and eaten it secretly like a bulimic bug in the basement. ‘I shoulda known!’ I cry sarcastically in my own head for NO ONE TO HEAR BUT ME.

There was me thinking I was being brave and helpful and who knows, even hard-core with the momentous miserablising of my own memoir. Oh dear, what an error, what an oversight on my part. I should have kept it covert like the cunt-clippings and the arse-crack grease that everyone is guilty of cutting and smearing behind their own closed doors. God forgive that anyone should share the bizarre initiations of our insecurities in a bid to batter them into bearable submission.

After a little time has elapsed and I have filtered feelings from fury on the subject, I realise that these sensible stiff-upper-lipped snatch-saviours are just misplacing their guilt over something they have that you don’t. The same as the bulbous-bellied net-mums who cross the road to avoid you when your baggy bump sags down redundant like an old fleshy apron. They don’t know how to hear what you have to say…and who can blame them.

And I know that everyone has suffered and I know that everyone has their hurt. And I am just as bad as the next person when it comes to dealing with other people’s misery. I can forgive them for feeling frustrated and wishing I’d shut the fuck up about my failed-nearly-one-shot at being a mum. I can understand, I really can. But I won’t shut up, not now and not ever. Not because I’m ‘self-indulgent’. Not because I collect sympathy like old shavings in the hope that one day I can fashion a new foetus with it, no. But because I love to write, I love to express and yes I sometimes like to pick the scab: sometimes the sadness and the stories and the saying it over and over, are all I have left of the little soul I wanted so very much to keep.

 

I want this one

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

mevlana jelaluddin rumi – 13th century

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In the gentle swaying of the trees, somehow she eclipsed me. Like weather: the way we are going to feel is seldom certain.

I have spent too long moderating the way I feel, for fear of being hurt and of hurting others. But there has to be one true place that’s just yours in this world. Where you can boldly be with respect enough for the past and for the future. If only I could find it, I’d go there with her and we could flail around like a couple of happy pricks with complete abandon.

She makes believe that time began the second I walked through her door. Because willingly she wiped out the test-runs of the past. And I betray her in the sense that I don’t, or more aptly, that I wont. It has to be a form of self perseveration or perhaps the endeavour’s of pride: that I struggle under the weight of my bygones like a bag-lady. Bringing with me everything I ever had, everything I ever was and everything that has at one time or another touched me. It’s a wonder she has room enough in her soul for me and all my shit.

Five years ago today I left some words on a page, like a time capsule, for my future self. Although written with love and joy, the strokes of my pen slashed across my emotions like a rusty nail. Because life then was so different to now and I could not have anticipated the horrors yet to come.

But in the same way that the world is sometimes unkind, it is also nurturing. Perhaps if I were a nun I would say ‘when god closes a door, somewhere he opens a window’. I want this to stay forever true.

I think I now see the value of both the memory box as well as the hope chest and I treat the two the same, like a pair of incessantly squabbling brats, each selfishly demanding attention over the other. I acknowledge them, I thank them and through love, I tell them both to shut the fuck up. Because in this moment I want to give her something. Just for her. Something she can palm and keep close to her heart. I love her now.

And what I realise is that loving again and moving forward with your life is not an insult to everything that came before. The newest blossoms of an old tree pay a pretty homage to the pollens of the past. The tireless cycles of nature depend on them, so we do what we can to force out a flower from the ends of our lonely sticks. And who knows, maybe this year’s blossom will prove to be even more fruitful than the last.

September’s here again.

I wrote this story, when I was teenager, from the curls in my hair and the melancholy in my heart. I called it September and the main character was a woman, not totally unlike me. It was probably only around three pages long, but it contained within it a whole world of romance and pain: a life in a nutshell.

The hippy girl meets a suitably hippy guy, they fall in love, make love and sell seashells on the sea shore. She falls pregnant and the scene cuts to the burying of a tiny box filled with letters and a moon shaped necklace. Shortly after she finds herself at a train station waving goodbye to the suitably hippy guy, a little sadder than when she first found him. By the end she finds herself an old lady, sitting in her favourite chair, her hair still long and her curls still strong. Smoking a spliff with the slow flames lapping around her like the brown autumn leaves a friend had doodled around the edges of my notepad.

I had no idea what I was writing about, it came out of the mist like everything else does. But suffice to say, I’m now a lot more careful what I write about. Uncertain whether I fully believe I’m a jinx or a just prophetic or whether there are only a few unique plots in existence for all our stories to base themselves on.

But September was always significant, because for some reason I decided I wanted it to be. It was the month I met him, the month we got married, the month we broke up in, the month Dylan was supposed to be born and the month that we organised our divorce. Amicable throughout, never raising voices or acting like total pricks. This irreparably tangled ambivalence is a soupy broth that does nothing for a well defined pallet.

So we’re saying goodbye, by signing bits of paper and drinking tea: the way everyone who has ever loved anyone should do it. Otherwise you run the risk of completely breaking your cool, and once you’ve done that there’s no going back. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed you didn’t stay on that wild horse right to the finish line, squinting as you watch it far off in the distance instead. Put pen to paper and let the ink do the talking for you. Sign on all the dotted lines and be thankful that not everything in life is War of the Roses catastrophic or Kramer vs Kramer depressing.

Love and marriage goes together like a horse and carriage. Loss and divorce like a river of remorse. And now, when I think of it, that horse was never as docile or as subservient as everyone assumed. It was only a matter of time before it buckled, throwing both the carriage and the people within into complete disarray. I can still hear, if I try really hard, the crackling warm voice of my dad, singing about the two horses: one white like a youthful dream of a life to come and one black like an ill-fated destiny fully lived. It’s no wonder I see serendipity in every event, no wonder I was drawn to the lover of horses and to the sadness behind every old eye.

In the aftermath of narrowly missing everything that everyone ever wants by a fateful whisker, I realise I won’t forget about all the coldplay & clips days, all the lights guiding us home, the losing of things we can’t replace and how I’ll always do my bit to fix them, no matter how far removed I may be.

Why? Because I’m an inexcusable cunt in all other facets of life and I need to do something to restore the balance.

How? By drinking copious amounts of tea and foolishly wishing for the best.

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?

The spark that saves

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It wasn’t just that she nearly killed a grasshopper on her windscreen, it was that I was hellishly miserable. Casual murder everywhere I look. And it’s no wonder I dreamt I was working in the library again. I told my boss that I’d come full circle. A complete back-track to the past. She smiled and showed me a courtyard that hadn’t been there before, a jungle of abandoned bed frames. It’s not just the meat, that I too have started eating, but the newspapers too. The radio interrupting my peaceful cooking time with a forced injection of panic. And why doesn’t the news come with a forewarning. Nudity and extreme language in films aren’t going to affect you as much as the random massacre on a beach full of sunbathers. It affects you deeply. This darkness, like a tumour, spreads until it’s stage-threed every last shred of your happiness, shattering the illusion of safety.

And now I’m blindfolded with the image of a man pointing a gun at a tourist, the image of the grasshopper getting almost crushed to death by the windscreen wiper. All this horror and I can’t bare it.

For all those of you ready to pounce on me that terrorism isn’t quite the same thing as bug death, I’d like to say yes I know. I appreciate that. I’m not comparing the deaths of many to one insect. I’m speaking from the perspective of my own feelings. And now I’m pissed off at all this self editing, too much awareness of my audience and who I could possibly offend with my words.

As with everything, it makes me think of Dylan. How much more I would have feared the world he would have inherited. I’d like to say he’s safe now. But who knows if that’s true. When I buried him my mother in law at the time said something to me which was barely audible. I think it was this: he’s beautiful now. It saddened and angered me all once. Provoked something in me that rebelled against the acceptance and peace she was trying to share with me. But it’s stayed with me, why? Because I think I want the sentiment to be true.

It’s an argument I have constantly with myself but I wonder why people breed when the world is so frighteningly dangerous? But then I see something a friend wrote about his son on social media: ‘what do you want to be when you grow up? A little tiny woman’ and I know why people do it. I suddenly know why they all would given the chance. Why I would if I wasn’t so riddled with indecision and fear. As simple as that. A new life. A little growing person who takes the world outside of itself and reinvents everything. It’s not Disney sentimental, its the spark of something brilliant in a haze of heavy shit.

Why do people hate so much. What is the impetus to kill when our days are numbered anyway. And why is it always the people who have nothing to do with the quarrel that end up losing their lives. Why must we sit in fear of our flesh being penetrated by the bullets of emotion sprayed like tears from dulling eyes? I don’t understand the horror that most have suffered, but I guarantee it’s enough to have ruined them. To have made it seem right to pick up a gun or a bomb or a sword and to lash out at the world, as it has done to them. And who am I to judge when I have never seen war from the wrong side of a TV screen. I feel for them too. I really do. And at the risk of sounding like a fucking idiot, I want the killing to stop. I want the aggrieved to heal, as we are all trying to do. I want armies of compassion to run bravely onto the path of war and disarm and diffuse till everyone realises what a prick they have been. Till every war monger looks themselves in the face and decides there has been enough killing. To see they have made their point loud and clear. On both sides of the fence. From all religions and governments and walks of life. Lets stop fucking killing each and take on the much harder task of doing a little good.