Portrait of a Christmas

My dad sits opposite me, scratch-and-scrawling in his brand new sketchbook. Glasses on string balanced low on his nose, head shifting regimentally between the page and his subject.

He draws my sleeping brother – to my right, on the sofa. Loafing.

Family gathered and now not knowing what to do with themselves, baited breath…

… Shrugging shoulders, moving on the balls of our feet, shifting in our seats, offering constant sweets and treats. Thankful. Peaceful.

That’s what gets me, what lets it in, it’s the peace. Lets in the Thought. This unwarranted time off from the world outside, from everything, it lets it all in. Suddenly we’re weak, aching, clogged, hardly able to perform perfunctory functions. Useless blobs, heaving and sighing.

I watch my dad and think about things outside here, back in my reality. We each have our own, to which we will return at the end of the week.

I think about depression, and the long-term things one needs to think about if one is to accept life as a long-term Thing. If one is to join the game, become a member of mature, fulfilled, healthy adult life. Depression in me, and in my partner, and how we deal with those. How we are only just getting to know one another. How we have a whole stretch of wonderful honeymoon life together lying before us. Wonderful, delicious, making me hungry and satisfied all at once. Like standing in a warm wind.

It’s easy in this cosy house to grow nostalgic, romantic, and expect everything to always be alright. Things will be smooth, and we’ll always be together, and everything will be easy. In this cosy house with the wind outside. Untouchable.

“There must be something on the telly.” People make their assertions about what they’d like not to miss; I stay silent, although really, I am desperate to catch Doctor Who. Surely they know. Surely I shouldn’t have to say. Too embarrassing, and I could never find the words, despite having heard them just now from others’ mouths. Too silly and selfish. Better to wait, and catch up on my own later, in my own reality.

To my left, on the other sofa; ‘Aunt’ Vera and my grandma, both engrossed in reading, except of course when there is a chance of engagement with the whole family – a loud noise, a squeal of delight from my baby brother, the offer of cake…

… Everyone seems serene, I think, even me, despite my sudden restlessness with this peace. Inside we must be crawling with anxiety to be normal, or rather to be individual, and yet we all seem at ease.

One more day of full-fat eating and resting tomorrow, before we go back.

Each to our own reality.


Everything is awful
But here is a sheet of multiple choice questions
To tell us how awful it is
Because your words are not enough
And it is not awful enough either
You also need to be patronised first
Maybe then we can think about
Sending you home with
A printout from the internet
If you’re really sure you need it
Or could you print it at home?

‘The Gods Smile’

This is a an undeveloped short story containing strong language and domestic abuse.


MaRa was the problem. Ma was ok, and Ra was better, but MaRa wasn’t very nice. Big H was warm like sleep The Day. Ra put it like that. Ra liked it like that. Red came up when Ma came in. Ma came in and flung. Something changed in the still of Ra’s shoulders. Big H shrunk. Wasn’t warm anymore. Ma was the doing one. Ma did. Ra never did anything. Anything Bad. But Ma said he did. So he did. Ma put down orange crinkly things and she stared and she went and she flung. Ra shivered and put me away.


It doesn’t have to be like this. Like Tuesday. I’m just fucking hot in here. Did you ever think about that? Why don’t you put some more layers on or something? Selfish bastard. I come home to the muggy stuff you’ve created and all I want is some fresh fucking air.


“The house is freezing.”

“They’re my fucking windows, so I’ll open them if I want.”


Cupboard bang.


“Yes that’s mature isn’t it, your windows. I’ll just cut out all the door handles shall I and put them under my half of the bed in shoeboxes labelled Rob.”

“Oh fuck off Rob, they’d be our windows if you lifted a fucking finger and maybe, God forbid, ventured outdoors once a month. I’ve just been round Sainsbury’s three fucking times because I didn’t have anyone to help!”


Oven on.


“Mel if you even believed that was what you wanted you’d have made fucking sure I did it because you know that’s how it works.”

“I’m sorry, what the fuck? Of course it’s what I want, I want you to stop being a lazy fucking arse and get out of my fucking space.”


Face on.


Your space?”

“My fucking space.”


“Don’t swear around the baby.”


“Whatever, Rob. Whatever.”


Ma is very loud. This makes Ra sad. Ma gets loud and Ra gets quiet.


But I won’t give up on you because you see me. You really see me. You know everything about me from the inside out and you’ve done it, learnt it, elevated it higher than I ever believed in even myself and shown me just how well it all works, how much it’s worth, how much more it has an excuse to be here. It. Me. How much more I have an excuse to be here. And I know you know this because you do it again. Over and over, you’re always here, you keep reminding me in Our Way just how much we love each other, just how much we care. And you’re crying again. Again? Whoever else in the whole big wide fucking world gets to see a grown man cry more than once? This isn’t normal. This is as good as it gets. This is fucking enlightenment. And somehow it makes me feel like more of a woman.


Yeah. Swish your hair. My spirit will seep down my face, like always, like Tuesday, and you’ll feel more of a woman.

I’m not comfortable with this. This is my boundary. Fair enough. So we know. Take each moment as it comes. So I get up and take it with me, into the bedroom. Bed room. Room for beds. I carry it. It lets me. I put it down. It’s all about the yellow today, Mel made sure of that. She absolutely takes the fucking cake sometimes. Yellow has to be the most clinically irritating colour of our time. Our time? All time. But I wasn’t there for all time. So our time. Yellow babygrow. Even the words are made of bile.

It looks at me and away and at me. It’s not tiny, like she’d say. It’s small, yeah, but it’s there. It’s there enough for you to see it. There enough to be. People exaggerate about babies.

I take the softest thing I can find. Soft but smooth, I won’t shove a toy in its face. Hairs in its mouth. That’s just unpleasant. Pillows are cliché but hey, so are we. I push softly. Softly and not for long. It lets me. It loves me, I think.


Ra is strong. Gods sit under the Cloudy Big, and smile, and do nothing, because Ra is doing Grace.


For a moment I think of that; whether it can hear in the same way we can, whether it can see any of what’s happening in front of it or whether it sees in black and white like a dog. But only for a moment. It’s ok. It has its bears and elephants and a nice big window to look out of.


I pull off and it’s ok. Quiet, but it’s ok. Quiet is graceful anyway.

I put it away with its first smile on its face.


Ra thinks quiet is best. Ra makes me quiet sometimes and then Ma is very quiet and then MaRa is loud, he says, when I’m too quiet to hear. I’m not supposed to hear.


He came back in to me after the usual seven minutes. Sat down, sad face, quiet hands. Same old foreplay.


All the stillness and subtlety available on some higher plane in our imagination. The romantic ideal world. It doesn’t deserve this stunted attempt at withholding everything from her but what she chooses to take that I play out in order to be a ‘good’ human being. God forbid we play the innocent and get it right. She’s whet from this look though. Something’s been done right. Chemistry is clumsy, it seems. But it’s good enough for us. We chase and hide and back and forth and come and cry. I pull off, and it’s all ok.


It’s funny how affirming it can be just to get on a bus and go somewhere new, on a week night, before going back to work a slightly different person, even before the weekend. Somehow, that’s a win, and a reminder that I am active, and interesting, and grown-up, and capable. Because before, I was just stagnating. Monday-Friday, doing “nothing that finishes too late”, taking no chances, gaining nothing, avoiding activity out of a needless commitment to routine safety. In getting on this bus, going somewhere I need the driver to tell me I have arrived at because I don’t already recognise it, I am growing. I am adding to my experience, my repertoire. I am changing, I am moving, I am living.


Secret Smoker

The following is the beginning of a short film screenplay I started writing a while ago. One of my half-baked ideas from the backlog.


‘Let’s Call It Off’ by Peter, Bjorn & John overlaid.
Girl sneaks outside for a cigarette. Secret smoker. Sits against a garden wall, hidden from view from the house. She lights the cigarette, and smokes it during the following. Sings intermittently, only knows chorus.


He said…

Timed so that ‘Let’s call the whole thing off’ follows the above line.

Well, he might as well have.

He should have.

Cut to headshot of beautiful man smiling, looking just past camera, at girl (unseen).

Cut back to girl against wall.

He said. I can’t stay. Not while you have that in your hand. That thing separates us. That thing of…

Looks at the cigarette.

Warmth. Thing of Jazz. Cool. Cool people don’t get lonely.

Notices a cat atop the garden wall beside her, as it mews at her.

If I got reincarnated I’d come back as you. You’d love that. A cat that smokes. Imagine.

Lying down all day. Not getting paid for it though. I’d get fed. But I wouldn’t lose any weight… I could just smoke, and pretend I was choicey with food. A cat that refuses inferior brands, and smokes. Yeah. Cat.

Cat, after coming down to be stroked, leaps back up onto the wall.

How cool are we?

Housemate pokes head round the corner of the wall. Girl makes ironic, futile attempt to hide cigarette. Beat. Housemate sits with her.


What would he say?


He did already.


What did he say?


Look, I would be a cat.


Spider Monkey.




Spider Monkey.


Do I look – don’t actually.

Sad work times

Last night I recorded my first ever video blog. I tried to upload it, but it had turned into a sixteen-minute rant and wouldn’t FIT ON THE INTERNET. I took the hint and decided to hone it into a concise, articulate and (hopefully) constructive prose version. This face and voice are obviously not destined for international familiarity. So here we go.

I am having sad work times. Really sad. And it’s not just me. Everyone is sad. Last night my friend said the words, “My soul is dying,” without a hint of irony. I work in a busy public sector building where there are a large group of staff constantly flowing around each other, talking, sharing life troubles, socialising; the full-timers pretty much live in each other’s pockets. And at the moment, that is a dangerous thing. Such bad vibes are going round the place, and what with the traits of our daily ebb and flow, they are constantly getting exaggerated, recycled and passed on. Chinese whispers doesn’t cover it. Even a customer came up to the bar last night having heard a rumour that some of our equipment was broken. BAD VIBES.

Anyway… I am getting worried. For most people there, the job is just food and clothes and a roof over our heads. I haven’t actually heard a word from anyone on what they love, or even like about the job, at least for several months. At some post-shift drinks the other night revolution was discussed, and mutiny is present in everyone’s fluttering hearts. We are subdued, anxious, downtrodden and depressed, and nothing seems to be changing for the better yet. People are bullied and bitched about on a daily basis. A recent staff meeting descended into a destructive subtextual outburst of petty grudges and personal tensions, managers and staff included, and as yet no apologies or disclaimers have been issued as reassurance. Those who were involved are just dealing with the fact that their opposition are ignoring them a bit more, and those who weren’t speaking out on either side are just feeding off the passive aggression that’s flying in all directions. I have worked at jobs that feel more like playgrounds/sleepovers than work before, but we are an older group of people here and should be past that. It shocks me that (especially since this has apparently happened before and reached an extent that required external help) this place is running so loosely, hairy balls and warts hanging out. No one seems to care how they come across. The managerial team are failing miserably to keep up staff morale; indeed things that have been said in a ‘private’ meeting (which I’m sure they know always reaches us before their official ‘news’ or memos) indicate that they barely know their staff at all. No one is keeping it together. I feel itchy on my feet, and dread going into work. Having experienced some tension first-hand for the first time recently, I even feel watched and untrusted on shift. It is very uncomfortable.

I don’t know what to do or who to talk to. I am reluctant to do anything because action seems to be met by disdain or some other kind of reaction that makes your work futile. Not least, my attempt to resolve the problem that was the excuse for a catfight at the meeting has been humbled by a new plan that COMPLETELY IGNORES the reasons behind the problem that made it an issue in the first place. The managers are making out they are giving us something special, while taking away the resolution we had found ourselves. Which, I might add, was with their permission and by their suggestion. So it does rather seem like people are throwing their weight around in a vain attempt to reclaim their thrones.

If anyone has any helpful advice on situations like this it would really be appreciated, because things appear to be in a stale state of “check”. I feel like speaking out will be met with aggression and disrespect only. It is hopeless and out of control, and it’s following me home at night.

Oh, and I kind of resent the fact that this job has become such an issue as to drive me to write my first ever blog about it. Work is boring, let me talk about something else.

I have to paint on my smile each day. Picture courtesy of http://dayincatasauqua.blogspot.com, bizarrely enough on another post about sad work times.

Swimming the channel

Thinking about the relevance of my current task of learning to channel emotions. As someone who has acted in some way since she was little; put on puppet shows in my grandparents’ house at Christmas, told stories with my new friends on holiday in the Canaries while our parents watched, smirking, I have always been vaguely conscious of the ‘switch’ that we can turn on and off. That chameleon switch that every mentally healthy human being has that lets you adapt to your environment. Whatever company I was in, from childhood, I would learn it and mimic it. I would sit in front of the TV for hours at a time and then wander round the house singing inane bars of advert music that I had remembered, bonding with my little brother when he recognised it and joined in. Our little in-jokes that were accessible to the world, just not our mum.

It goes without saying that acting requires this ability to learn and repeat; to have a large arsenal of developed, detailed emotional memories sitting behind an open door. Sounds kind of dangerous. Of course, the other part of that essential quality is being able to turn it on and off. To ‘channel’, lead those emotions through your body to help it do its job on the outside for a capped amount of time, afterwards letting it go back to its cupboard under the stairs and sitting back down on an uncreased seat of mental stability, unaffected by the power you have invited in.

So, are good actors the healthiest minds the world has? To achieve a state of confidence in my own emotional independence, do I need rave reviews for a Rory-Bremner-style impressionist one-woman show? Do I just waitress, perfecting the fourteen tables’ worth of adapted persona-per-customer? I could just get a dog, of course.