Thursday, 27 December 2012


The applause dies to a single clap, there's always one who applauds longer, and the velvet curtains slowly close as the first act is over. The orchestra puts their instruments down and the audience's whispers raise to an excited murmur. The stampede of feet begins to the loos, the bars, or to form an orderly queue for miniature pots of ice cream. Others remain glued in their seats worried that if they move they might miss something. These are the ones drawn to a flickering screen like moths to a flame. Advertisements are part of the entertainment. With nothing to focus on, they leaf through the programme guide or rifle through the contents of their handbags. They busy themselves with guilty looks and purposely avoid the gaze of mingling spectators. Fifteen minutes is a long time to appear to be thus occupied, even with occasional stoppages and furtive glances.
Meanwhile, at the front of house, people are huddled in couples or small groups. Glasses of wine delicately held, pints of beer gripped, and ice clinking in soft drinks with spirits. The hum of voices reaches fever pitch as each tinkling laugh or rich baritone tries to compete with each other. One level down, ladies stand in line for the toilets, crossing and uncrossing their legs as they shuffle forward. There's the constant click of cubicle doors as they're locked and unlocked. One woman out, the next one in, the sound of gushing water. Hands washed and dried, face powder and lipstick applied, flyaway hairs patted and smoothed. A final look in the mirror before walking out to rejoin the social fray.
Behind these scenes, in the dressing rooms, the actors remove their wigs and re-acquaint themselves with their next lines. They warble their vocal chords and stretch their supple limbs. Just before they're called, Wardrobe touches their make-up up and readjusts their costumes. Production places props in their correct spots and sets the scenery. Backstage and front of house is a flurry of activity.
The bell rings its five minute warning. Backstage, this message is passed on like a game of Chinese whispers, until it reaches the Director's ears, “Five minutes everybody!” He reiterates loudly. Front of house, the bell is accompanied by an announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, the second act will begin in five minutes.” The last mouthful of drink is swallowed, ice cream is scraped from its miniature pots, toilets are flushed and tights hastily pulled up as the audience scramble back to their seats. In the stalls, people sit and stand, sit and stand, stand and sit as they squeeze past one another. The musicians who have returned to their open pit play a whining tune to match the audience's disharmony. Out of sight, the actors are advised, “Places please!” The lights dim, the curtains rise and the orchestra strikes up tunefully.
On stage, the scene has moved to New Year's Eve. The first act: Merry Christmas, followed by the interlude, had mounted anticipation for the second: Happy New Year.

Thursday, 20 December 2012


Santa's little helper
Is it disheartening if you know exactly how Christmas will go or is it comforting? My mind has raced ahead in the usual build-up to the 25th. Images presented in my head like the reel of a movie. In this cosy cinema, I view each future scene set before me:
It's late morning on Christmas Eve and I'm gathering my stuff together, throwing clothes and cosmetics in a bag, food and presents in another. I observe my future self scanning the flat, what else? The pause as I think, will I need my hot water bottle? Probably not, but making a grab for it anyway. Have I got enough jumpers and vests? I'm thinking it won't hurt to fling a couple more in. I'm packing as if I'm planning a trek to the North Pole, whereas if I was to walk, Mum and Dad's is only 45 minutes away. This future me zips up the bags and skirts the flat turning appliances off and unplugging them. The present me laughs as the intercom buzzes and I watch myself jump suddenly. Its loud ring catching me out every time. The video screen flashes into life and shows my Dad standing there, the blue and silver two-seater Smart in the background.
Hi Dad! I'm just putting my shoes on.” Is that voice really mine? I wonder what it sounds like crackling out of the outside speaker.
Do you need any help?” Dad offers.
No, I'll manage thanks.”
This other me struggles into her coat and completes the final checks. She scoops the bags uneasily up and fumbling with keys pulls the front door to and locks it. She staggers under her load from the third floor to the ground. With everything piled into the car, myself included, the short drive home commences.
The image fades to another on Christmas Day...
The family is gathered ceremoniously in the lounge. Monty, or Taz as he's known when he's excited, is the first to open his presents. My parents and I watching on as he rips the wrapping off with his teeth. The uncovered toy lets out a volley of squeaks, but he's mesmerised by the crumpled up ball of paper. As we begin to open our gifts, he sniffs and paws at the three of us as if to say, “Give me that paper!” Bored of this, he tries another diversion: “Mum, Dad, look at me! Look at me! Don't I look cute with my boot?!” Cantering up and down the carpet, shaking the boot, its laces trailing. When this fails to work, he positions himself in front of Dad and grumbles, “Dad, play football with me!” The tip of his nose lightly kissing a paper ball, backside up in the air and tail wagging. He gives me a smirk as if to say, “Look how I do downward dog like you, except I'm better!” 
In the next scene, there's yelps and bouncing with the occasional nipping, “Feed me!” He doesn't let up until Mum gets up and obeys him. They disappear in the direction of the kitchen. From my seat, I observe Monty waddle back, belly swollen beneath him. With a self-satisfied look, he flops with a resounding thump on the carpet. Sated, the red devil snores in his sleep, and calmness descends once again in the household...
These scenes from Christmas play on a loop, except in each, I'm a year and eight days older.

Thursday, 13 December 2012


Little h 1988, Big H 2008
On the 17th at exactly 11:45am, I'll be another year older. Another digit will be added to my age. People are always surprised by the number of years I own up to. At 16, I seemed to stop visibly ageing, perhaps I hit pause before then. In primary school portraits, it's still undeniably clear that it's me. That little girl hasn't finished growing up yet. A girl with freckles and a brown ponytail dressed in the regulation school uniform with the green and grey striped tie and green cardigan. A smile, a solemn look or scowling. I might have lost the puppy fat as my frame became more sculpted, but beyond that I've stayed much the same. People from those days, even the teachers and office staff, still recognise me instantaneously. Adulthood has not changed me enough to hide me. Do we all feel that looking back at early pictures of ourselves? Can we all identify unaltered features?
The family jokes I'm a 'Dorian Gray'. Somewhere there's a painting stashed away that ages. The paint peels and cracks with every new crease and wrinkle, so that my appearance remains untarnished. People still ask me for I.D or if I've written my list to Santa. They say I'm blessed with youth, blessed with genes or a non-belief in visible ageing, but I don't feel that way. I have an older head on not-so-young shoulders. In attitude, youth slipped away, perhaps it was never there to begin with. I was always the responsible one. The sensible one. The practical one. The one who joined in with adult conversation. The one who would rather play at being a grown up. Now it's the reverse: I'm a grown adult child that teenagers race ahead of. I do not understand the youth of today even if they're only half my age. The clothes, the current trends, the lingo and the use of social media.
Where has a civilised society gone? What has happened to social etiquette? Gone, gone, gone. Somewhere it evolved into something different and I missed it. Or perhaps I chose to ignore it. The ghetto twang in London accents. Life interrupted by tweets and texts. The overspill of text speech into every faucet. The misspelling of words and the misuse of apostrophes. Your used instead of you're: you are. Math's instead of maths. I underline, circle and correct these grammatical errors because the 'dumbing down' that is accepted by others irritates me. It's petty, but I can't hide my compulsion to do it.
The speed at which children want to grow up alarms me: to wear hot pants, padded bras and stilettos; to experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol; to leave school uneducated, distracted by the latest technology; and the need to conform to an image by having cosmetic surgery. I hate to use the line 'when I was young', but when I was, the social pressures that were there were different. They weren't unavoidable, but with the advent of social media they're now inescapable.
An ageing mind and body cannot be wilfully prevented. One day you will turn into a version of your parents, in looks or in your behaviour. Suddenly you'll become interested in property, politics and the architect of churches. You'll find yourself unintentionally using the same phrases and mannerisms, like a nervous tic you can't control. As you realise this, you'll utter, “Oh my god, I'm turning into my mother!” At some point I expect to wake and find my appearance has caught up to match my demeanour, and I won't object to these lines etched, to this new picture.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


Bleary-eyed, I awoke to a shaded room and the sound of thudding. Thud, thud, thud... There were no noises coming from outside or from the flat above. I raised my head, ouch! Throb, THROB! I laid back down to rest and brought my palms up to my temples. The right side was pulsating. Pulse, pulse against my fingertips. I was now locked into an uncomfortable position in the belief I would obtain relief; one hand pressed to my forehead, the other held on top of my head. I lay like that for what seemed like ages until the pain subsided. Slackened to dull thuds and throbs.
Last night, I had felt the beginning pounds, but prayed sleep would eradicate it. Poof, like magic! I was wrong. I attempted to move again, gingerly raising myself up and swinging my legs out of the bed. I was now sitting on the mattress edge. Ow! Ow! Ow! A stabbing pain sliced through my head like a sworded assassin was severing my blood vessels. I managed to stand and walk wobbly to the lounge-cum-kitchen. My vision was disturbed so that even the meagre light flooding in was too dazzling. I pulled the curtains across thinking perhaps it will ease if I do some stretching. Yoga might help me to release this tension, but in the middle of a simple stretch, a groan erupted from my lips, “Oh god, I feel sick...” Movement causing waves of nausea and my head to swim. Crest after crest building, then falling. I realised it was part of whatever I'd been afflicted with: an excruciating head, light and noise sensitive, and stomach churning.
For four days, this migraine occupied my head, like armed troops setting up camp, then ordered to move territory. Inside, the army was on the march, outside, I was immobilised. Stuck in bed with my hands clamped to my head or sitting quietly in darkened chambers. On days when my head was pounding less ferociously, I attempted some light reading. The letters on the page blurred and danced in front of me and my comprehension was absent without leave. Now this was torture!
By the end of the week, this constriction had faded. My vision was sharp, my head was clear, my stomach was like a calm sea, and movement was unrestricted. The army had finally deserted me! But I was not content to let this go; I wanted to know if these ill effects had an agent, and I think I may have traced it: Quorn. As a fledgling veggie, I had became sensitive to this fungus, but had recently thought why not give it another go, so I did. On that fateful night, I allowed myself a small portion: a handful of Quorn chunks in a stir fry. The brutal consequences as described above followed shortly after.
Most people will not experience 'the Quorn effect', but like any intolerance, it builds up. Don't make the same mistake I initially did and rely on it as the main substitute. I may have said this before, but I'll reiterate it: One person's choice of alternative meat is another person's poison.