Little Lorla Gets Inked

My little sister and I were naughty. We went to the tattoo parlour without telling Mum.

Out of almost nowhere, Laura decided to get inked. I’ve already got two tattoos because I am Well Hard, so naturally I high-fived her and told her to get one of Satan riding a Harley Davidson on her chin. Not really. I told her to seriously consider the permanence of her decision. Not really. I said I’d go with her to make sure she didn’t get shafted by a pirate with a biro and buy her a pint afterwards.

Three weeks later I watched a woman stick a buzzing needle into my sister’s ivory skin. For the smallest of moments I almost flew over and punched the bird through ten walls, but then I remembered that my sister had chosen to be there, and that since she pushed out two big babies without pain relief in less time than it takes me to choose a new shower gel, my protectiveness has been a little surplus to requirements.

Tattoo parlours can feel like the scariest places in the world at first.

The chair looks like it’s been customised for extra pain by a Nazi dentist. The steriliser seeps into your imagination and makes you envisage you’re about to have a major organ chosen for sacrifice by the rolling of a pagan twelve-sided die. The music sounds a bit eerie, like that scene in Silence of The Lambs where the guy sticks his winkie between his thighs to make a noonoo. And there are always at least two men with varying degrees of grumpiness sitting around with their ear lobes blown open like cartoon cigars lit by dynamite. (I always want to stick my finger in those strange cultivated orifices. But they wouldn’t like it. I know this because I once licked a woman on the tube and have been scorchingly aware of what’s socially acceptable ever since.)

Then you realise that, actually, they’re just ‘places’. Like the hairdressers, or Matalan. There’s an element of risk, yes, that you will come out with the inky equivalent of a blue rinse or velour jogging bottoms; a mistake that will leave you hacking tears into the mirror once you get home, but mostly it’s just someone doing a job for you. Just – know what you want, and make sure you ruddy come out with it.

Having said that, even if you’ve spent the whole time relaxed and chatting about the tattooist’s nan Eileen and her flatulent budgerigar Albert, you can’t help but feel a little dangerous once you come out. Like if the Russian mafia swept passed and asked you to hold a mysterious package for a bit you might just say yes for the heck of it. YOU HAVE A TATTOO – YOU ARE DOUBLE-HARD AND THE LAW CAN LICK YOUR TOILET.

Laura emerged with a beautiful butterfly on her back and I bought her a Magners down the road. I had a congratulatory pint of John Smiths on behalf of Dad even though I knew he’d spin under his rose bush if he knew either of us had opted to have our skin marked like common sailor’s tarts. We wondered how we’d tell Mum. Laura, in the spirit of the moment, merely posted a picture on Facebook saying “Mum, I’ve got something to tell you…” And we giggled like rebels, like Russian assassins, like sisters under a duvet, like adults who should know better but don’t want to just yet.

You can hear Sadie doing stupid voices on CBBC’s Walk On The Wild Side all this week and next, 4.30pm. If you want.

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Naked In A Hotel Room Window

There’s something liberating about standing at a window naked, knowing you can’t be seen.

I was glad of the optical safety of voile last week as I stood in a hotel room, reassured by the friendly obscuring science of early morning light pressed against the dimness behind me.

It was a typical London hotel, a huge Georgian townhouse that had seen better days. And worse no doubt. Staying over after a gig because of an early start in Soho, I had felt a little lonely in it at first. It was a big room for a girl on her own – it had made me feel small and wistful. I’d kicked about in it for a bit pretending I was preparing for a ball. I pottered with the generic supplementaries; the dubiously dateless UHT milk, the stationery that nobody has a use for anymore, the tiny square of squeaky soap. I touched the wallpaper, swirled my toes in the carpet, wondered if the fireplace had dislodged bricks concealing a tin of scandalous love letters from a mistress to her only love, a tall dark handsome lord. I wanted to peel back the layers to see what it had all been, once. Then I slept deeply in the drowse of heavy starch.

In the morning, water boiling indignantly in a one-cup capacity kettle, I dried off from a shower so savage it had almost sent my nipples skimming like marbles across the tiles. While my body was alert from its aqua pummelling, my brain was still lost in an indistinct fog before the day took shape as something more lucidly belonging to my life. I allowed my towel to slip to the floor, gazed out at the rooftops, watched the sun unfurl itself over the wet grey tiles. I heard the trundling of a street-cleaner’s cart, the clip-clop of hurried heeled feet, the cooing of a pigeon on the sill. It could have been London at any time in its history. People, industry, bird poo.

I like those vague morning moments, when you haven’t quite walked into yourself yet. I looked out at London and tried to picture all its scenes, to conjure it all like an incantation of time; a carousel of Hogarthian sketches twirling before me.

Pretty girls pulling on dresses a size too small, serious men shaving and doing James Bond gun fingers, children smearing jam on freshly painted walls, secret lovers squeezing hands goodbye in parked cars, a professor with a wondrous discovery in his briefcase licking cappuccino froth from his moustache, the world’s greatest unknown songwriter shuffling unnoticed on the tube, homeless people leaving the grand steps of city churches to sit by ATMs, tired workers in debt who haven’t had a day off since the month before, a queen’s guard sneezing in his fluffy hat, a beefeater feeding his pet raven and missing his dead twin, students and their wrist-snapping books feeling they’ll inherit the world, a mouse at Mornington Crescent re-padding his nest with a scrap of Pucci scarf, a lost wedding ring rolling down a drain and plinking onto a sewage engineer’s helmet, a proud barista with an unexplained shaky hand, the headless window ducks of Chinatown, the first mutating cancer cell of a lady feeding the Hyde park squirrels, the echo of Nell Gwynn’s laugh caught in the crystal ringing of an antique glass in a Marylebone shop, a crumb of Samuel Pepys’ best cheese in the cement of a Southwark pub, a bus driver sitting with Tolstoy open in his lap just in case the traffic’s bad, tourists who feel their hearts swell in this great place and try to carve their initials in its bustling heritage by buying a sweatshirt saying “I Love London”, a Zimbabwean woman feeling cold for the first time walking up her first English garden path in Hackney with a broken suitcase, a man splashing wee on his shoes in a Charing Cross loo as a pigeon flaps in, a gust of wind through a broken window of the Palace Theatre blowing a wig to the floor, a rich exec having a wank behind his new desk in the gherkin and not caring if he gets caught, a bruised thief spotting a poster for La Boheme and remembering her nan singing, all the many stowaways that London harbours moving unseen behind the countless curtains – all the people, all the ghosts, all together.

The room somehow felt different that morning. I didn’t feel lonely; I felt free. Grown-up. Deserving of the space. I lay diagonally on the bed looking up at the ornate ceiling rose, and wondered how many other hundreds of women had looked up at it, less fortunate and less happy than myself. Lost women, paid-for women, women not free to love who they love, women who’d never had the luxury of being alone and knowing that that’s alright. I was here, in a room I’d paid for myself with a job I loved. I wasn’t vulnerable in this big room; I was independent, I had choices. I was about to thwack my key on a desk, smile at a man who’d been sitting sentinel over nothing in a suit all night, and march out into the cold Soho sun.

London boiled its kettles, scraped its knives across its breakfast plates, tossed its toast crusts into its bins. It had its cross words and its kisses. It kept me company.

I got dressed, put my make-up on. I shook off the blankness and became myself for the day.

But I left a small part of myself in the layers of the room; a shadow of myself standing at the window, naked and knowing I couldn’t be seen. One of London’s eternal stowaways.

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Burgled: Brad Horatio Virtue

I stood, fingers curled around a pair of stray knickers as Brad moved like a trapped leopard. His bulging form bristled, pulling his shirt tightly up his bicep to reveal a tattoo of a sword-pierced snake. Brad took out his pen. With his teeth…

Oh, hullo there. Sorry – but I defy any woman to relay a bedroom burglary without coming over a bit Mills & Boon. Brad had an ‘Actual Truncheon’ for god’s sake. It somehow made getting robbed in my own home a bit easier. The fact he was packing, (and lordy was he), made me somehow feel like my violation was being suitably dealt with. If PC Brad Virtue had arrived with only a near-empty canister of mace hanging limply from his belt I’d have been terribly disappointed.

So my flatmate and I got in one night last week to find our computers gone. It took some unnerved patrolling to piece together that the oiks had got in through the bathroom window, taken their swag, then hotfooted it out of the backdoor, down to the garden and away.

We sat in the hallway, shaken, swigging rum like pirates. The police came. They looked around. They did the spiel. They took it down. And it did not feel exciting at all, actually. Brad’s hard air of estuary justice did not have me flinging myself facedown on the bed, begging to be cuffed while confessing to the lipstick I stole from the chemists as a 13 year old high on push-pops and PMT. It had me biting my lip and wondering what I would have done if I’d been there when they’d broken in.

I was still wide awake at 2:07, 3:19, and 4:38am, scanning the night-sky’s silhouettes for swag-bagged rooftop-creepers with those eye-patch things that the hamburglar wears to nick everyone’s nuggets. Awake at 5:21 and 6:57. My chest was tight, the window a chasm, the wind outside a portent, the slightest creak a malevolent footstep, and I wanted to cry a bit but was trying to be a big girl. I felt like the side of the house had been ripped off and anyone could get at me. I felt small and alone and scared. And it annoyed the shiz out of me because normally I am Well Hard.

It’s a strange feeling. I understand how my mum felt now, when we moved from Hackney to Leicester in the early 80s after a Christmas Eve burglary. The reprobate made off with the presents and let loose the birds and rabbits in our garden to be supper for foxes. Mum felt like London had changed. We moved shortly after. I’ve never really thought about the fact that our lives actually physically changed because of a burglary.

But of course, you can get burgled anywhere. You can’t escape the actions of others. There is no safe place, unless you barricade yourself up in a B&Q crafted Fort Knox.

The thing that really gets taken I suppose is not your stuff, but your ease in your own space.

I stayed awake. The sky grew slowly lighter as some total vermin wiped my machine – my writing, my photos, my music, my thoughts – ready to sell cheap in the morning for smack.

I consoled myself with a picture of Brad bursting into the den of inequity, smacking the perp’s head down on a dirty coffee-table and calling him ‘sucker’, his shirt ripping open a bit as he…

Ok. PC Brad Virtue wasn’t his actual name. I made that up. It was probably Ian Smith. Or Gareth Gubbins. But he’s Brad Horatio Virtue in my head, and he has a sword he uses to toast marshmallows on. No thief can take my imagination.

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Getting Stuff Wrong: Soap & Roy Orbison

Don’t you hate it when you discover you’ve been doing something wrong all along?

I’ve been using my ruddy washing machine for well over a year now, merrily going about my laundry business thinking I was some kind of goddess of meadow-fresh, and today I walked into the kitchen to find my flatmate Drew pouring soap powder into the tray on The Left Hand Side.

I froze to the spot in horror. I confessed I had been using The Middle Tray all this time; tried to laugh casually as I said “Crumbs, have my clothes not been clean since moving in here, like, ever?”, but I was not really laughing, people – IT WAS FAKE LAUGHING – I FAKED IT.

We did that polite British dance of “Oh, you’re probably right, I’m definitely probably wrong”, “No, no – I’m the one who’s wrong. I’m wrong about most things. I could just punch myself right now with how wrong I am. I HATE ME.”, but I knew he was just doing it to be nice. It’s clearly me who’s wrong, isn’t it? Drew can take apart a hard-drive with tiny screwdrivers in less time than it takes me to open a ring-pull tin of beans and I can’t even switch my computer off without singing it a lullaby first – of course he’s the one that’s right; I’m an idiot. I was horrified to find that I have been wafting Ylang-Ylang and Jasmine softener (AKA LIES) around like a total pretender – that my clothes are sweet-smelling but essentially dirty, like a busy prostitute who squirts herself with Givenchy as she cuts through the fragrance counter at Boots.

Where’s all the powder been going? It’s baffling.

What else have I been getting wrong?

What about the fact that until recently I’ve been calling people ‘funny fruits’? Who knew that ‘fruit’ meant gay? Everyone but me, it would seem. I have been calling my nephew gay. He’s five! He’s in no way ready for such a big life decision, even if he does love that pink kimono. (Not that I would mind if he was gay. You can never have too many people to watch Hairspray with.)

What about the fact that three individual professional breast-measurers have told me that I have been wearing the wrong size bra all these years and should have been trussing myself up in a crippling 32DD and forgoing breathing for the sake of not tucking my mammaries in my socks in ten years time? Hey, Boob-Wibblers of Debenhams! I prefer breathing; I SUPPOSE THAT’S WRONG TOO??

And what about the fact that Roy Orbison wasn’t really blind? My whole life, I thought that’s why he wore those big dark glasses even when he was inside. I saw The Roy Orbison Story three times before I figured out his sight was absolutely fine. And by figured out, I mean someone had to tell me, repeatedly over the course of an evening, with Google factoid back-up. It was a terrible shock for me. When Roy hits the high notes in ‘Crying’, I used to well up thinking of his cornea’s demise, and marvel at his ability to find his way onto stage without the help of a labrador. Now I think he must have been trying to hide the world’s longest hangover and it’s just not the same.

Why is finding out we’ve been wrong so painful?

I have got to start paying more attention and getting more general stuff right. In fact, I’m going to make that my resolution for 2011. If that is in fact the real year…

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