I am a Xylophone

Sometimes I’m like a ruddy xylophone. Strike me right and I will emit the note you want. It’s annoying. I wish I was less predictable, not set to a spectrum of choosable tones. Clonk. 

I am aware of it in films, I am aware of it in music, I am aware of it in emotive speeches or compilations of ‘best moments’ of anything or edited clips of people winning awards or dairy cows dancing when they’ve been set free. Especially dairy cows dancing when they’ve been set free. No matter how much my brain is computing bad dialogue or emotional manipulation or schmaltz or somesuch and I feel I should be cerebrally more present to examine or dissect or counter, strike me right and you’ll get me. I am yours. I’ll feel it. I’ll let you have it. Especially if my hormones are at play. (They’re the real boss of us really, aren’t they?)

 

I went to a Burt Bacharach evening with my mum and step-dad the other night. I went with duel expectations. Half of me thought that a tribute night would make me a bit twitchy and want to throw maltesers at everyone’s eyes, seeing if I could stop an entire song with one well-aimed ping, and half of me was like “if they do that song from My Best Friend’s Wedding I’m a frickin goner.”

 

I went with love in my bones. Not just people love from seeing friends in the day and being out on a date night with my mum and new dad but that sort of naked tiredness that makes you feel stripped back like a twist of live wires. That feels like love. Because you’re open. Because I am a wise old bird now I drank wine, because that’s always the best way to whack a cork in the emotional orifices. Nice one, Hasler. I sat in the dark next to my Step-Dad and my Mum and settled in my seat for some good old songs.

 

The man who started the singing was very West End Theatre. He had one of those little half-smiles people do to the side like they’re allowing the sparkle out of one half of the mouth because they want you to have some razzmatazz fun, but keeping the other side straight because they also want you to know that actually life is very serious and a bit sad and here’s a lovely song about it all. Half-happy, half-wise, half-consoling. That’s a smile of three halves, it’s not even mathematically possible, but that’s what you get when you are trained in Musicals. Sense goes out of the window.

 

I liked it when the ladies sang best. They were curvy and loud and skilled and in sequins. They made me want to wear a dress and heels. I beamed at them owning their fulsome women’s bodies, wiggling and owning it, the soft meat of living, and wishing I felt similarly about mine. Maybe I’ve just not found the right dress.

 

While I kept chuckling at the showy showmanship of it, I realised halfway through that the seats were rocking back and forth, because we were tapping our feet. I was cast back to when I used to go to Rock n Roll nights with my Dad. Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Billy Fury. He’d tap his feet so vigorously the whole row would rock back and forth. Half of me was embarrassed and half of me was glad those old songs brought him to life. And here I was with my Mum, listening to songs we loved and tapping our feet. And I had tears streaming down my face because I’d had wine and felt love and they were singing What The World Needs Now and I’m a stupid xylophone and I’m sort of fine with that because maybe being a bit malleable means you have that something to give.

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Oh, Southend…

Good morning Southend,

Did you sleep well? I did. I woke up when you elbowed me in the head but it didn’t hurt. It’s fine. No, seriously, it’s fine.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day, my love. Let’s just lie here for a bit before the days gets all bonkers. Hang on, you’ve got a bit of sleep crud in your eye. Wait. Got it.

How long have we been together now? 31, 32 years? YOU GET LESS THAN THAT FOR MURDER. Seriously. You really do get less. Ah dear. We’ve had some right old times, haven’t we sausage? Do you remember when I got bored of everyone at the casino and went swimming in the sea fully clothed instead and lost my shoes? And you just rained on me the whole way home but it’s alright because I was drenched anyway. Never did find those shoes.

I just don’t think I’d feel at home anywhere else. I’m not saying there aren’t other places that would make me happy, I don’t believe in soul mates or that there’s just one town for everyone, we live in a big beautiful world, and I certainly wouldn’t kick Paris or New York out of bed, and, ok, if that filly Florence came calling I’d have to pinch myself hard to keep myself on the straight and narrow, but for now, and for a long time, you have been the one I choose to wake up with. I have chosen to stay with you. That must mean something, right? I know there was that time I got a bit mad at you and was going to move to Stoke Newington but I’m glad I didn’t. Likewise, Clapham. Lucky escape. I’ve known people who moved to Clapham and I’m not sure I feel the same way about them now.

I love your ways is what I’m saying, Southend. There’s no one I’d rather snuggle up to at night. You big bear. I even love your morning breath. Like wet sand blowing up from the beach. I don’t even mind you on bin day when you’re not at your best. I don’t mind all that. I love you for all that you are. Not just the sunsets and the seafood and the estuary skies and your ‘Let’s pretend we’re in Miami’ palm trees that I suspect might actually be dead. I love your gulls squawking and your sea mists and your changing light, but I also love your peeling walls and spilled chips and your fights. You’ve got spunk, Southend. I like it.

I love all your familiar places. I’ve nestled into your nooks, your pubs and bookshops, shoved my head in the crook of your arm for comfort. I’ve lain on your beaches and rolled in your sand and swum in your waters and walked your streets. I’ve got beautiful friends scattered along you. Your skin is like a constantly changing tattoo. I like to scooch up to you and look at the new pictures, see how you’ve changed, see how you’re reflecting us and our lives. I love finding secret parts of you I’ve never seen. Just when I think you’re all about change, seeking sleekness and self-improvement, I look up and see a faded Lending Library sign from the last century fading into old bricks but holding fast. Your wrinkles are endearing. I wouldn’t wish you smooth. You’re a complicated creature Southend but I love you for it. You’re grand and humble and peculiar and a bit oversensitive and grumpy but you always remember your sense of humour just in the nick of time.

Oh Southend. You’ve still got a bit of crud in your eye but I love you.

Looks like it might be a nice day. Spring is coming. You look really pretty in the spring.

 

 

Metal are launching Love Letter to my Hometown – a chance to tell Southend what you love about her in her 125th year. The work will be displayed at Village Green Festival on 8th July. If you’d like to contribute, words or art, pick up a postcard from Chalkwell Hall or email chalkwell@metalculture.com 

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Food Bags & Full Hearts

I’m always galled by how much of life revolves around money. Acquiring it governs most of the hours of our waking life, and a great portion of our physical and mental wellbeing depends on its constant acquisition. It never lasts. It goes too quick. It is our master and we dance for it like dogs on our hind legs. When it dries up or we go through a bad patch the rest of our life falls into chasing more and it slips from our fingers too quickly yet again. And though we can be highly productive and resourceful when we don’t have it, the human nature to thrive on the basics kicking in like fierce creative survival, it is most commonly a thorny bind that leaves us feeling impotent, trapped, sad, and anxious to our bones.

It digs us in our swollen pride when we don’t have enough money. We feel like failures while we might actually be heroes, like we’re letting our families down – and it always feels like the wrong people have too much of it. We can’t help but compare ourselves to others and it chokes us.

When I was a kid and we’d just moved to Southend after my parent’s divorce, aside from dealing with desperate sadness, my mum really struggled for money. I remember counting pennies and old ten pence pieces out of an old bottle almost as big as my little sister, onto the kitchen floor in little piles. A little rush of excitement coursed through me if we came across a twenty or a fifty. I don’t remember many pounds. I learned to count better by using coins. I liked making the piles neat. I didn’t know that this was borderline poverty, I just thought that it’s what every family did before they went shopping.

A few years later Mum asked me to accompany her to the funeral of an old man named Charlie Jones. I remembered Charlie Jones only with a vague affection; I hadn’t seen him for years. While sitting in the hard pews of the church, Mum turned to me and told me that not only had Charlie Jones been a caring uncle type to her while she was a troubled teen though no real relation, but that when we moved to Southend in the snowy winter of 1985 he had occasionally turned up unannounced at our door with bags of meat from the butchers. He knew we were struggling and he made the journey from his own home a good few miles away in Billericay to make sure we didn’t go without. Accepting his help as a newly single parent must have been painful, and the gratitude immense. I just thought he was nice; I didn’t know he was keeping us from going hungry. I sat through the funeral service with my eyes brimming and my heart thundering for a man I barely knew. I’d never known what we owed to his kindness. The eulogies of Charlie Jones that day glowed like stained glass lit by a new light.

I was reminded of this period in my life when I went to a fundraiser for Southend Food bank at the brilliant Railway Hotel this weekend. No money was donated, but a minimum donation of three cans was asked of the audience. Bands played for free. The floor of the room next door to the gig filled up quickly until you could barely move for tripping over carrier bags filled to bursting with tins of soup and beans and tomatoes, jars of sauce, packs of rice and pasta. Staples that could be transferred to the Southend Food Bank for sharing amongst families who desperately need help.

Sam Duckworth and a gang of other musicians played in the next room. Sam is a prominent voice at the moment on how we might make changes to the things currently making us feel powerless in the world and he peppered his set with passionate patter. While he played, songs about anger and hope and our town, lyrics like old friends, I thought of the bags full of shopping. I thought of the people struggling, and I thought about how many people need the voices of others, and the kindness of strangers. My heart swelled at the small differences we can make even when we haven’t got much ourselves. My tummy’s been filled by kindness in the past; my heart is filled similarly now. I want to do more.

The Food Bank raised 221.8 kilos of food in one night at the Railway.

Click here for more information on how to donate to Southend Food Bank.

 

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Pic nicked from the lovely Ramjet Steve of cracking band T-Bitch.

Trump – the Human

I wonder what the first week of being the new President is like. I can’t stop imagining the private moments of Trump now he’s settling in at the White House. Because the big stuff is almost too unbearable to think about I find myself thinking of the little things. All the little ordinary things humans do, that he too must be doing, right now, in the Obama’s house.

I wonder if he wandered in from the podium after the inauguration to shake a few hands – probably just the pale ones closest to him – before going to christen Obama’s toilet, ceremonially masking the DNA of a good man with his own absurdly boy-child Diet Coke piss-stink; marking his territory. Maybe he looked down at his member while taking a messy slash and drew his effluence in big powerful circles around the bowl while clenching his saggy butt cheeks and rocking back and forth – heel toe, piss jet, heel toe, piss jet, heel toe, pause, piss drop, piss drop, pi-i-iss drop, pause. Little shake. I hate myself for thinking of it. I bet he fucking spoke to his penis. I bet he’s renamed it Mr Mini President or something. I bet he sang to it in a mock Marilyn Monroe rasp. “Happy Inauguration Day, Mister…Mini…Pres-i-dent.” Ugh. I can’t bear it. I bet even Bush had the decency to pee neatly for the first few weeks with some sort of deference to where he was. I bet Bush was so fucking confused he grew on-the-spot kidney stones.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe Trump just congratulated himself with a little wink in the mirror before going back to act all Presidential with a bunch of people either trying not to weep or trying not to wank. What does Trump see when he looks at himself? Does he see a good man with good intentions? Or does he see a bullish man of business who got all the way to the top position by expounding meaningless rhetoric and spurting shit and telling outright lies and calling in old family favours and slamming down anyone that got in his way however he could, and that’s alright with him? Which version of the truth does Trump really see? Not many people are insightful enough to see their own true colours are they?

I wonder how he slept on his first night. I bet he took an annoying amount of time getting undressed. I bet he’s very particular with his clothes. Which is surprising seeing as he looks like he’s shat himself at someone else’s house and panic-stolen a suit. I’m not big into tailoring, but come on mate. (Also, I don’t think I’d like his feet. I bet Obama has pretty feet. Slender and brown and clean and smooth with baby pink soles. Oh Barack.)

I wonder what he’s like in the presidential bedroom, when he’s at his most private. I wonder if he takes the time to look over at his wife undressing, hanging her imitation Jackie O dress on a sturdy hanger. I wonder if looking at her makes him smile. If he notices the little things about her, like a mole on the back of her neck or the way she unconsciously pats her stomach in the mirror. I wonder if he’s tender with her, if he strokes her hair as she falls asleep, or if she slides all the way to the other side of the continentine bed to stare at the shadows, batting her lashes against a satin eye mask and feeling trapped trapped trapped by her foolish assent to being money’s bitch. Or…maybe there is love between them. Maybe they have that and we just don’t see it because we’re mad and doubtful of it all. I wonder if his voice sounds nice when she rests her face on his chest, if he says nice things and makes her smile. He must do mustn’t he?  There must be some semblance of a loving creature in there somewhere. It’s just nature to want a cuddle, even if you’re a creature more pre-disposed to sticking your fingers in random dry holes and wondering why they’re not instantly wet for you when you’ve made all that fucking grade A man money. A cuddle. Something in Trump needs to be held. The long-forgotten boy, the one that existed before the spoiling. Think of that. But it’s just too dreadful to think about him being human somehow when everything feels so awful, when the future seems so fucking dark.

I wonder what his first morning was like. I can imagine him eating half a grapefruit for breakfast, pushing the juicy segments through his curiously taut beak, followed by a soft boiled egg with a really expensive spoon that’s breakfasted dozens of Presidents before him.  I can see him pretending to read the papers, shuffling them about manfully while Melania sits there blinking, unsure of what it is she’s supposed to do. Maybe new spoons is at the top of her list. I bet Michelle left her a nice note on her First Lady pillow saying “Don’t worry. You’ll find your feet. Remember to smile and you’re halfway there. You can change the spoons if you like, I don’t mind.” Michelle would want Melania to feel nice. Because she’s Michelle.

I wonder if Michelle will ever run for president. I wonder if the Obamas will get to return to the White House in reversed roles. I wonder if the White House staff will all get the sack and be replaced by Trump sycophants. I wonder if the cleaners cried when they changed the sheets. I wonder if black White House staff feel the echoes of an old shame to their servitude now that their boss isn’t a beacon of equanimous equality and friendliness, now that their new boss sees through them, back through the decades to bowing slaves. I wonder about all these ‘little things’.

Fuck I hate that he’s in there. I hate that he’s human and gets to do little things as well as big things like breaking the world. And fuck I’d love to hollow him out with a fucking spoon. A stainless steel one from fucking Sheffield.

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