Living Unabridged

I think it’s safe to say I needed to cry. It’s the only explanation for the fact I sat there in the front row, face streaming by the time the first song had finished. It must have already been there, waiting to spring out at the slightest provocation. There was a time when I was permanently primed to sob at anything; Eastenders, a nice dinner lady dropping a ladle and looking dead embarrassed, dead bees. The embarrassing list is embarrassingly endless. But I cry less quickly now. Age, I think. Perhaps my hormones govern me differently, perhaps I’m just a bit more used to the world being a difficult beast to wrangle with, but though I cry less often, when I cry I really like to get it all out. And it all comes out of those tiny little orifices we call tear ducts. How strange that those tiny channels through which our pain rages, small as pin-pricks, can stretch wide as a river-mouth to purge our souls.

It’s unfortunate, though, when it happens at a friend’s gig, in the front row, with no tissue and only a sleeve to dispose of the mess. My friend Ross was doing a big gorgeous gig in an old church under his musical guise Blue Rose Code, up here in his native Edinburgh, or Edina as he calls it. He’s a superlatively lush singer-songwriter who’s got Ewan McGregor and Ian Rankin banging on about how they can’t stop listening to him, which is pretty cool.

I don’t suppose it helped that I had had a glass of white wine beforehand. It is the demon juice. I don’t know why I do it. It is tantamount to standing naked on a cliff, screaming at the gods to smite me. But in a glass. (Self-destruction tastes sweet sometimes, doesn’t it.)
I also don’t suppose it helped that I was teetering at the emotional end of the spectrum anyway. The Edinburgh Festival is a glorious privilege, but you fucking pay for it by being dragged to the city limits of your vulnerability, draped in the torn flag of neurosis, swigging 100% proof doubt from a hipflask. But it also didn’t help that Ross, that beautiful tyke, writes songs deliberately designed to make a mess of you.

So let’s blame him. As he played, singing songs about love – old love, new love, Edinburgh, London, running away, coming home, breaking things, being broken, mending, loving again, all accompanied by wondrous musicians – those tiny little pin-pricks in the corners of my eyes dawned open and it all came tumbling out. Everything. And I did it in silence, but for two loud humiliating honking sniffs. The moment Ross finished playing I legged it to the loos to sort my face out. I straightened myself up like a Picasso on the wonk. Then I went out to tell him he was wonderful and I hated him.

As I sat talking to the musicians who had played that night, I realised why I had been rendered such a mess. The songs had coaxed out old things. I think it was the first time I had cried for my marriage. That silly too-brief thing that should never have happened in the first place. I had walked away from it and barely looked back and I had certainly never mourned it or missed him. Isn’t that dreadful. I found instead that rather rude alternative; happiness. But of course those songs should have born a spike up here in Edinburgh. I had performed up here for years with my ex, and then once we broke up Edinburgh became a new place altogether, of my own work, my own fun, my own self. It occurred to me I had never looked back and been outwardly thankful or sad for the nice things we had had together briefly at the start, because I was so focused on looking forward and finding myself after having felt like I’d been in a pocket for years. Ross’s music, so exquisitely bare and open about love, made me see I rarely talk about love. I think I’m still figuring bits out. Perhaps I will write a big book about it in a couple of decades time when I’ve let my hair grow out grey and I walk in total candour. But Ross provoked a response in me that I was not expecting. I’m not sure if I was given a time machine whether I would erase my marriage altogether because you can’t ever really want to be rid of the things that teach you about yourself and life, but I do think I would erase certain things. Even though we are better apart, even though it feels like another life, a forgotten page in a book I’ve not read for years, it turns out that some part of me – perhaps the quietly toiling archivist in my heart – needed to honour the time we were together – just for an hour, with tears, before forgetting again. Because that was my life then, and by wiping things from our minds we shorten our lives. It takes courage to live unabridged.

Add some Blue Rose Code to your life:


Pramkicker: It Started In A Café…

Back in the distant yorey days of 2014 my friend Sarah and I were in a café. I was ploughing on with a triple shot Americano even though I’m a bit allergic, & Sarah was staring at me wondering why I didn’t just order tea. While we smalltalked a stream of mothers filled the cafe with their exuberant offspring and their high-tech perambulators. We smiled & nodded hullo. I crossed my eyes and did fish-face at a toddler who stood staring at me with a swollen nappy bum. As the hubbub in the cafe grew louder Sarah and I spoke a little louder to try & continue our Very Important Power Business Meeting (or VIPBM if you like anagrams that sound like virus software), which no doubt involved our dreams and aspirations for the next ten years, our relentless charity work for worthwhile causes, or what to have for lunch that very day.

Then Sarah got elbowed in the head by a mother who didn’t even turn round let alone apologise. Then I picked up a toy that was hurled at my feet – a little fleecy lamb, tired at the eyes from too much washing – to be met with a glare as though I was the leader of an international paedophile ring out and about scouting for talent. My cheeks flushed. Because I am not the leader of an international paedophile ring, people. I can just about manage my own menstrual cycle (it tends to work best when left to its own devices; you can’t lasso the moon) let alone operate on a highly criminal, covert, and morally reprehensible basis. We eventually felt so uncomfortable, so invisible and surplus to requirements that we left to find another cafe somewhere else, maybe in a neighbourhood known for more knife crime and fewer mother and baby groups, even though we knew more coffee would probably make my cheeks go pink and my throat go all constricty like I was being strangled in a cartoon where the tongue bursts out of the mouth like a party blower. JUST ORDER TEA, HASLER, YOU NITWIT.

In the street we began a conversation about motherhood and kids, dodging prams as we went. Sarah has often said she feels belittled by people who think she’s selfish for choosing to remain child free. She maintains that it’s selfish to have children if you aren’t sure you want them. I reissued my regular mantra that I haven’t a ruddy clue about anything; whether I want kids or not; that I sometimes have a pang, but not much. Not enough of one. Yet. I have received no bugle call and thus am at leisure to continue my wafty existence.

But. But I am 35, and aware that inside my tiniest parts – deep inside the intricate folds of my reproductive system, a work of genius I can take no credit for – is a clock, at some point at my prime wound tight and ready to burst its cogs, that will – at a time never to be properly administrated by myself, the me up here in my cerebral offices – start slowing down, slowing down, slowing down, until eventually it stops. Tick tock, tiiiiick toooock, til the rest is silence. My baby-making days over.

It’s not often that an ordinary morning spurs you to go home and write about it, but that day, in that cafe, a chord was struck that echoed. Very shortly afterwards I began writing my new play, Pramkicker, which became something of a melting pot for all the thoughts I had about All That Stuff, and a lot of thoughts I’d heard voiced by other women I know. It felt like a mess of conflicting concerns in my head that I needed to untangle – time and love and the human body and prospects and career and fulfilment and cherishing life and the possibilities and difficulties of all that – and writing is the only way I know how to go about trying to untangle anything. Writing is the way I process life, it’s how I understand, and more often now how I participate. Writing is what I do while and after I think and before I act. If I act.

I don’t normally talk about things I’m writing because I’m not very eloquent at saying what it is. I get all flustered and say ridiculous things like “It’s about a kind of story but I don’t know what yet.” And then people just stare at me as though they think I should probably take up watching telly instead. Most of the time I completely agree with them.

But what has been lovely with Pramkicker is that I’ve been talking about it lots. With lots of people. Men and women. Because I’ve wanted to know what other people think and feel about it all. And lots of people have been starting conversations with me about it too, and as always I have been reminded how lovely it is to share things with people. I’ve received so many messages from people who have things to say about motherhood; confessions or open comment about having kids, or not having them. About quandaries, about regrets. About sad things the human body throws at us, about the ticking of the biological clock. About knowing and not knowing. About how different humans go about filling their lives with different kinds of love in that strange vainglorious beautiful doomed pursuit of finding permanent happiness in an impermanent life, that cruel instinct that humans have that bumps alongside the behemoth business of merest survival. And while thinking, talking, or even writing about ‘all this baby stuff’ hasn’t made me any clearer on the matter, it makes me realise that whatever happens, with kids or without, I won’t be alone. None of us ever are if we choose to talk to each other.
Let’s just not try to do it all together in the same café, eh.