Salvo

When I was a kid I used to collect clowns. It was one of those fascinations that was adopted from someone else. My cousin Emma, who I worshipped – a year and two days older than me, my hero and role model – had a big pierrot doll. Satin suit and a big painted on tear. Why on earth was this clown, this beautiful colourful man, as otherworldly as a fairy or an angel, so sad? Of course I didn’t know the history of clowns, or that Pierrot was a character from Commedia Dell’Arte, theatrical stock characters that encapsulated the trials and tribulations and aching messy comedy of being human. I just saw someone that lived for giving pleasure, who was tortured by a sadness he would not speak of. It seemed so unjust to my child’s mind.

Perhaps our regard for clowns is one of the earliest empathies we form as children – these strange creatures in make-up and costume – showmen for the world who want nothing but to raise a smile, while emitting to some degree, in many cases, their own deep inner sadness. Perhaps we pick up on some of the innate tendrils of loneliness, and though we have not experienced those things yet, somehow bookmark them as some of Life’s Big Things. Even the jolliest of clowns still carry around that potential for sadness. We know, at some point, alone, they take off their make-up, and are just the human underneath.

From that Pierrot onwards, I began collecting clowns. Porcelain ones from gift shops, dolls, stickers, whatever I could get my magpie hands on. I even had one that roller-skated along. I remember the smell of its plastic face, the brittleness of its bright curly hair, and the whirring of its mechanics as it stiffly crawled the floor.

Then I saw IT. A sucker for Stephen King books and all the horror films I could get sneak into sleepovers, I thrilled to be scared. But that film cured me of my hobby. The child-murdering paranormal freak who dwelled in drains was absolutely terrifying; a work of iconic genius from actor Tim Curry. So I no longer collected clowns. Perhaps I just grew out of them, or perhaps it’s because nothing sticks in your head quite like a homicidal children’s entertainer with fangs and drippy eyes, but from then on clowns were never the same.

This weekend I stumbled on a beautifully shot film about a clown and it reminded me of everything I used to feel about them as a kid. Most of us Southenders will know of Salvo – one of the regular characters about town, often seen in the high street, fashioning balloon shapes for passing children.

The film is by a Film student called Natalie Hazelden from Thundersley. She has known of Salvo for years and decided she wanted to make a film about him. The film she created lasts 7 minutes, had me crying for ten, watery eyed for another hour, and thoughtful for the rest of the day and beyond, and here I am now writing my column about it. What an art to capture someone’s life in seven minutes. It’s not my place to pass on the story. But it reminded me of the hidden pain of a clown. How too easily we choose not to see people while we’re in the bustle of our own lives, how seldom we consider the man behind the make-up.

It’s a valuable beautiful film. I hope you watch it. Next time I see Salvo I am going to go up to him and say hullo. I can’t believe I never have.

WATCH ‘SALVO’ – BY NATALIE HAZELDEN

 

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Keep the Momentum

So we’re still in a bit of a pickle, perhaps even more of a pickle than we feared for a bit, but hopefully it won’t be a pickle for long.

That seems to be the boiled down upshot of the election. The Tories tried to smear Corbyn with their hysterical “He’s mates with the IRA! Lock him up, he’ll bomb your Nan!” schtick mere days before the election and now, denied the terrifying landslide that was being hinted at and the majority they were hoping for, they are desperately dragging the DUP into bed for a lacklustre gang bang, where everyone gets stuck with the wet patch.

I can’t lie. I had to google them. The DUP. They sound like a lovely bunch don’t they. I’ve been keeping abreast of the articles pinging around about them and what it means for them to be a part of our government in however small a way. Insidious parliamentary polyfilla. The hypocrisy involved in their baffling hoik to co-power is galling, disgusting, and a bit hilarious (if you’re feeling more chipper). To have had past diplomatic dealings with the IRA is tantamount to witchcraft when it comes to a peace-loving Labour leader driven by working for the many not the few (how despotic of him), but when days later you need to be propped up by anti-abortion anti-same sex marriage parties with a shady past, it’s fine. Fine. Cue hysterical laughter and grab your Tena pads. It looks like we’re set for a period of needing our undies to be well-lined to deal with our array of reactions concerning our country and what the blazes is going to happen to it.

I would not normally write a political column. It’s not my place to do it here in a paper that should be unbiased and I doubt I could do it well, but in the confusion that abounds post election, were it not a big enough head-scratcher before, I feel I can’t write a column about cats or shoes. Not today.

I have differing views about the Frankenstein’s monsterfreakchild of the Tory-DUP bunk-up. Part of me thinks that the Conservatives allying with the DUP is tantamount to sanctioning their blinkered mediaeval creationist cruel and woeful approach to humans in a modern liberal world. To saying it’s ok. To saying they agree. And that it must be rallied against, now, because Fuck That Shit. And part of me thinks “let the cunts fucking hang themselves’. Shining a light on laughable, insidious, out-dated, self-serving cretins can only serve to start showing up their wrinkles and their pock-marks. Their bigotry, ineptitude, and lies. And there is no brighter light than power. We saw the power-lit panic-twitch behind the cold death stare of Theresa May in the days preceding the election and we all pictured the skids when she got home to take her cacky keks off.  Anyway. Perhaps – perhaps – the Tories aren’t likely to get away with half as much hell as before. Give the DUP their little taster of pseudo power for a bit. See what they do with it. And let’s see how far down they drag the Tories PR rating before we vote again. Being ultra optimistic, the election result might bear far more fruit for Labour supporters than an immediate win would have yielded. Thinking of the long game, if shit really hits the fan and the Tories, with the DUP acting as their sagging squirty-boil covered testicles, start bleeding colour until they are nothing more than Punch sketches of themselves, caricatures begging to be scrubbed out, then maybe the next General Election will really get interesting and Labour will get to instigate real lasting change. For the many, not the few.

I don’t know. But I know I don’t feel hopeless.

It’s massively inspiring that masses of people were rallied to vote when they ordinarily might not. It’s eye-wateringly brilliant that young people were whipped up enough by bold campaigns to think and to turn up and mark their cross. In a flawed first-past-the-post system, the voice of young people willing to be engaged had something of the sound of a cavalry charge to it. Labour supporters might have a temporary situation that does not reflect their hopes as they voted, but there is a feeling of higher engagement in the air, and the very real feeling that it might eventually bring change in its wake.

So, while there is activism to be kept up, while there are demos and dithering and about-turns from lots of quarters, (and of course goatskin parchment drying *eye roll*), while we still owe ourselves and others a responsibility of staying informed, staying conscious, of not just letting the flags flop while we get on with real life, we also have to be patient.

I am writing this in a town represented by two constantly re-elected Tories. Southend has remained a Tory stronghold, with votes for Conservatives going up a tad overall, but it’s certainly less safe a seat than before, with votes for Labour in Rochford and Southend East (following an impressive campaign from Ashley Dalton) going up significantly, presumably cleaning up the votes that have fallen away from UKIP (hoo-ruddy-ray) and Lib Dems. I’m greatly intrigued to see the next vote after – sorry to be callous – more old people have died and more young people have reached voting age and have had their sense and their social conscience appealed to.

I’m sure this leftie column will mostly be met with ire by the readership of the paper it is printed in. But it’s not a knock – it’s a camaraderie column, if you will. Labour supporters might not be feeling as savaged or as scared as we were before the election, but we are feeling a similar uncertainty as millions of others, both left and right leaning, who are waiting to see what happens next. And that’s why we have to stay focused, stay on it, and stay together. Don’t make Labour have to start from scratch again in their next campaign. Keep the momentum.

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The Good, The Bad, & The Poolside

It felt like the best time & the worst time to get away. Leaving for Spain a week before the election, with the Labour campaign stepping up, with people really starting to think that no matter what they thought of Corbyn they were still prepared to invest their vote in a strategic stand against the laughable leadership of May. I felt selfish and irresponsible, & grossly hypocritical flying away to switch my brain off while truly hoping others were switching theirs on. It felt as I left like the pro left campaign was gathering steam, clawing traction, as far as you can tell such things. But then I felt confident that we wouldn’t vote Leave & that Trump would not get even one cloven hoof anywhere near the White House. My political indicators are obviously flawed by natural and increasingly unhelpful naivety. “It’s all going to be ok.” 

No, Sadie. It really might not be.

Sitting by the side of a pool reading news of post Manchester strength and then of the London attacks – terror in my old London Bridge & Borough Market stomping ground, pubs & streets I drank & walked in every day in my early 20s, right next to the market-side Southwark Tavern where I still take a yearly pilgrimage to have a pint for my old friend Barry, lost too young – I felt trapped. 

The country didn’t need me, there was nothing useful I could do, but my heart was at home. A Brit abroad, proud of her country, despite its tendency to do dickish things and danger-dance on a sticky slope. I still felt pride in our togetherness despite the things that want to tear us apart; horrific acts by people who live amongst us with hatred in their hearts; the right-led social fractures that seemingly seek to reinstate old shameful class divisions based on money and lack. The bad and the good; the fury and the violence and the tolerance and the peace. The haves and have nots. The protected and strong very much apart from the unprotected and vulnerable. The crack-splitters & the cement.

Left with nothing to do but lie in the sun, listening to the music piped around the pool, contemporary trendy music by people I’ve never heard of that I would normally bat away as mundane and brainless, lyrics started drifting into my ears. Toes unconsciously tapping to the beat, but mind trying to fathom the psychology needed to burst amongst a crowd, relentlessly stabbing, close enough to see the whites of their terrified eyes, somehow a different evil than that needed for a more distant sacrificial-style suicide bombing. I resented the jaunty music playing while I caught up on the news. I felt cut off. Massive holiday guilt.

But I had Facebook waving defiant spirit like an ‘up yours’ flag to a savage world. I had friends doing good things. I had the news showing people saying we won’t be bowed by evil; the picture of one man running through London chaos still holding on to his pint, a perfect encapsulation of English steel and humour, whether he intended it or not. Then there was Ariana Grande being a class act. Liam Gallagher joining Chris Martin on stage in Mancunian unity. Music was using its strength and talking loudly. Music has always been one of the biggest strongest advocates we’ve got.

Sitting in Spain, heart on a long anchor chain leading back home, the music playing in the bars was by artists probably young enough to be my kids, genres that pass me by, lyrics I’d normally tut at. But some of the words came from the right place and stilled my twitch while I tapped my feet in the sun. 

Like “We’re in this together. Hear our hearts beat together. We stand strong together. We’re in this forever.” That was David Guetta. Very rousing. He sounds like a nice lad.

And “The world can be a nasty place. You know it, I know it, yeah. We don’t have to fall from grace; put down the weapons you fight with and kill ’em with kindness.” That was Selena Gomez. Go Selena. That’s prime UN-worthy shit right there.

“Life is a game & love is the name.” By Sophia…someone. Ok, it’s not Aristotle but it’s pithy and kind of true. Then there was lots of stuff about doing things in ‘the club’ which made me semi-retch. And lots of Adele which made me raise my arms to the sun like a burning crabstick diva.

It was the only music I had, and it wasn’t what I would choose, but it would do until I got home. So I raised a stiff drink or ten in the direction of Blighty. And drank it all down with hope and trepidation, thinking of the election the day after I arrive home. Willing home to stand up and do the best it can for the masses. For the many not the few. Cheers.

Amess on your Doorstep

Don’t you hate it when you don’t say any of the things you’d like to because someone catches you unprepared? 

When Sir David Amess MP knocked on my door last Friday I was caught utterly off-guard and ever since I’ve been forehead-slappingly cross at myself for not saying better things to him. I suppose that is the problem with being a dithery writer and not a politician. I am not good on my feet, talking on the hoof. I like to have a nice sit down and type when I have stuff to say. I haven’t got the ease of spiel that a politician has. I am not commando-trained in on-the-spot rhetoric and bluff.

I was expecting my boyfriend to arrive any minute so the last thing I was expecting was a floppy-haired politician for whom I wouldn’t vote if you paid me a million quid. I was expecting a human I actually liked and wanted to kiss, not an elected stranger who made me do a quickly-controlled double-take of horror. I’d just got out of the shower and was in a state of ‘getting ready’ disarray – nail varnish remover soaked ball of cotton wool in one hand, my excited dog tail-wagging in the other, and was generally not dressed for greeting anyone in any capacity, political or otherwise. I certainly wasn’t primed for Sir Dave. Suddenly I was very conscious of my post-shower vest-clad boobs, and you can seldom be verbally impressive with a Tory prick when  you’re willing your tits to behave.

We just stared at each other for a bit first. I’m not sure if he recognised who I was, but there was definitely an instant wall of awkwardness as I opened the door; both his smile & his pre-prepared patter faltered as our eyes locked. We’ve met a few times in less fraught political climates, and I wrote a column about him a while back which according to secret sources apparently provoked Sir Dave to ask at a meeting “Who is this Sadie Hasler?”, but I wasn’t sure if he knew my actual face. And now there’s this column too. (Hi Dave!)

The trouble is – when I meet people in person I seldom take a dislike to them. If I didn’t know who Sir Dave was; what he stood for, represented, what he had voted for and against over the years – against gay rights and marriage, against terminally ill people being given assistance at the end of their lives; voted for hunting, and for war (see exactly how Dave has voted) – what I believe his party is doing to the country, the terrifying systematic dogged and irrevocable social, cultural, political, fiscal & ethical damage I believe the Conservatives will continue to drive through should they win the election, I might even have liked him. This slightly nerdy fop-haired man in a nondescript suit being trad Brit affable on my doorstep. Simple manners kick in, don’t they. It’s easy to like most people. But instead of offering the wafty affability of a brief hostess I wish I had been better at razing his hair to trembling bristles with my left-leaning savagery instead of falling into default doorstep manners. Why couldn’t I have rankled him with exquisite eloquence like another of my friends did –  who had him rock up round her gaff a few days earlier when she was wine-strong and feisty. It sounds like he probably left wishing he’d given that street a miss. Why was I just…mute?

I wish I’d been fully dressed and in verbose mood and delivered him an uncomfortable ten minute rant about all the things he’s done and hasn’t done that make me angry. That make many of my friends angry, that portion of the minority vote round here that desperately want to see him defeated. I wish I had been one of those people that are so effective at talking that I may even have made him think or rethink or feel a bit guilty about his long-reigning self-serving bigoted idiocy. It’s a nice fantasy. But in reality none of my words would have swayed him, just as none of his would have swayed me. Polarity of beliefs; natural ideological loggerheads. 

So I just said “Oh. Hullo. Yes, you’re right, my dog is a cocker spaniel.” and took his clammy fliers even though I knew they’d get whacked straight into the bin in a passive-aggressive act of revolt. In short, I’m rubbish. Like, really shit. I’m properly vexed at myself. Dave, if you knocked again, I’d be much better and probably chomp your pamphlet in front of you and then spit it back out in soggy defiance.

 I might also say “Why the fuck did you park in my boyfriend’s space when you could have just walked?” Seeing a Tory MP stealing a sacred parking space in infamously rubbish-for-parking Leigh makes voting Labour worthwhile in itself. Get him out.

Men of the Sea

I’ve always been comfortable on boats. Mum told me at a young age that I was made on a boat in Nice. Dad, a lifetime sailor, had dragged her screaming across the English channel to the South of France, and there – presumably while he comforted her WHICH I CAN’T BEAR TO THINK ABOUT OBVIOUSLY – was I conceived. Apart of the all-out vom-inducing grossness of considering one’s parents frolicking about in the act of conjoining their essence, I’ve always found it a romantic tale. I like to imagine “Made in France” like an invisible label on me, like I’m a jaunty summer cardigan. Probably striped. That’s French isn’t it.

Dad joined the Merchant Navy when he was a lad; I suspect to escape boarding school. He sailed around many seas of the world having top larks with lads named Pancho, Ratty, and Edmeades. He loved boats ever after and took great care to instigate the same passion in his choiceless children. My childhood holidays would usually involve being pulled onto some sort of vessel on some sort of water. Yachts, dinghies, rowboats, pedaloes. Oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds. Paper plates on puddles if we really got stuck.

One of my favourite memories of Dad is when we nearly died. We were in Turkey, as good a place to die as any. In the sun, happy. I had just turned 16, he had just turned 50. We went out alone on a tiny two-man bit of scrap and lurched without life jackets out into the Aegean, bound for open seas and adventure. Twenty minutes later I thought my bum was going to fall clean off. Dad had taken us out too far, the feeble boat was only vaguely seaworthy in the shallows, and we were smacking hard against the deep waves, writhing like concrete serpents. I felt a strange mix of terror and elation as we kept on going, still blindly trusting that my Dad, Man of the Sea, would save us before it got really dangerous. Dad could control the waves, couldn’t he? (How magical is that time when you think adults are invincible).

It was the most alive I had ever seen him. I can still see him turning round to me with his hair whipping around his neck, eyes wild and happy, his mouth broad and laughing. I laughed too. Even though I probably already suspected I wouldn’t be able to sit down for quite a while. If we didn’t die.

We didn’t die.

Years later, in an attempt to create quality time while I was at Uni he bought a small four man dinghy called the Sammy Jod. It was four leaf clover green with caramel wood inside. I loved it. But it came too late; I was at Uni in London and didn’t have time for the sea jaunts he thought we’d have. Dad sold the Sammy Jod about a year later admitting it had been bad timing. I always felt like I’d let him down by growing up.

This weekend I went to a boat race held yearly for the last twenty or so years in the honour of the father of one of my best friends, Jack. ‘Welcome Back, You Didn’t Die’ drinks were being held on the big boat HQ of the Essex Yacht Club in Leigh, just a few meters from where the Sammy Jod was moored for its brief year in our family. I wanted to be there for Jack, who lost his father when he was a baby, knowing what that race means to him, and I wanted to go with all my love of boats and dads and water and Jack that I hold in my heart as though that is somehow a transferrable thing that can be of some use. Hearts are sometimes at their stupidest when they’re at their fullest.

But the wind was hard that day and the estuary waters churned around in choppy fashion and the race was called off.

So we had a beer instead and raised glasses of ale to Jack’s father while the wind carried on its amiable tyranny outside. Even though the fleet of pretty boats were not put to full use, it was as though the elements that make them move, the power of the wind and waves were talking and saying hello, like two fathers shaking hands.

 

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Lads on a boat, being lads. That’s Dad at the back with the ears. He got those pinned in the 70s. Lad.

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Mum & Dad by some boat or other, maybe in Nice. Ugh. Maybe I’m in there.

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After we’d come back, just about alive. Turkey 1996.

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Jack teaching me to play ukulele that one time when I thought being able to play Somewhere Over The Rainbow might make me a better person. I’m sorry, Jack.

 

Lucky Shampoo

Finding the right shampoo is like finding the right man. You hope its scent will make you stop cross-eyed and swoon, you want it to bring out the best in you like some kind of magical transformation, and occasionally you get it in the eye and wish you hadn’t.

I’m not a superstitious person, usually, I don’t think, (though I do still say hullo to lone magpies and never tread on three drains; the learnt behaviour of childhood) – but whenever I find a nice new shampoo I sometimes attribute any good luck I have to its sudsy powers until the bottle is finished. I know this is ridiculous, like some kind of new age dickhead witch seeking magic in potions, but the possibility still pops into my head nonetheless. The things we allow to course through our noggins while we’re trying to find sense and reason and patterns in life are quite often completely uninvited, unfounded, or just plain bonkers. Our imagination pitches itself against the science of the world we have been taught and think we know.

I remember my first feeling of wondering if shampoo had some kind of glutinous destiny when I was about fourteen. My first love, a boy named Joel whom I had loved from afar for months, with whom I then went on to have a steamy on-off smoochy love affair that peppered my teens like summer christmases. He liked the smell of Revlon Flex, and by golly if I wasn’t using Flex I thought our union would crumble like a cake with no butter. Then for a brief while I started doing well in science at school and put it down to the discount brand I was using at the time that made my hair softer than ice-cream and smell like blueberries. I never found the shampoo again; we only went to Kwiksave that once. Good science & I were clearly not meant to be. (This could in fact explain my formulating hotchpotch ideas about shampoo. No hard facts; just lunacy.) Perhaps this strange linking is purely down to the evocative power of scent; the nose blindsides your other senses with that power that can call to you toddler memories unbidden at the age of 36 when you smell milk formula or the perfect trinity of twiglets and orange squash and the warm plastic of a wendy house.

I suppose I still occasionally do this baffling fusing of shampoo and luck in my head, but last week I found myself thinking of it even more. I’d just cracked open a bottle of caramel and cocoa-smelling goodness that left my hair feeling like fresh combed straw, too stripped clean to be soft, and then in a succession of an intense 3 days I had heart-stopping sad news, got burgled, and then had some possibly life-changing good news that left me dizzy. Given the fact the new shampoo had brought with it two bad days and one day of giddy smilebursts, in my head I had to label the bottle ‘intense experiences’ rather than ‘good luck’. And now I’m halfway through the bottle and wondering if the bit of possible good luck will die once it’s empty. What will happen next?

Maybe thinking small things like shampoo affects anything is easier than believing in god or some other greater steering power or giving yourself up to the utter randomness of life. It comes in a bottle, contained and potent and fresh and clean, and pushes you out into your day with a lingering scent, the feel of your hair on your head, the air than moves between the strands, a constant tangible feeling.

Do you go out and buy exactly the same shampoo in the hope that it will be similarly charged with serendipitous particles, or do you seek a different better luck in a new bottle, a different smell or brand promise? Or do you accept that you’re mental and shampoo has got bog all to do with anything and you make your own luck? I know the truth in my head, but my imagination is boss. And my hair smells really dreamy.

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The Trouble with being Burgled

The trouble with being burgled is that it makes you question how good your stuff is when they decide not to take any of it. That, and the safety of your abode. But mostly your stuff. I got called home from work last Thursday saying there had been a break in. My neighbour had disturbed them and they’d been into both flats. I legged it home assuming that the only thing I own of any value – my mac – would definitely have gone. And surely the reprobates would have had the good sense to spot that the 1980s brown glass perfume bottle in the shape of a bassett hound was a fine collectable that might not fetch much on the Cash Converter circuit, but would provide hours of whimsical inner mirth. Neither were touched. And when they’ve flung your clothes out of the drawers onto the floor of course you’re going to judge yourself. As you fold it back up and place it back in the drawer, you’re thinking “fine, ok, so these sequins weren’t the best decision I’ve ever made, but I’d had some darn good times holding my stomach in in this skirt and if you can’t see that then it’s your loss”. Burglary makes you take things very personally.

Turns out they hadn’t taken anything except for some Royal Horticultural Society vouchers my neighbour had got for his birthday. That’s quite niche isn’t it. I imagined the robbers stalking around the walled gardens of a stately home, guiltily opining the peonies. I comforted myself that they had only blatantly disregarded everything I own because they had been rumbled by my neighbour before they could bag up the loot. Of course they would ordinarily have taken the knot of sterling silver necklaces I have amassed since my teens that would take seventeen hours of picking apart with patient fingers and possibly a pin to make any of them wearable again. If only they hadn’t been cut short by the vigilance of Stephen downstairs they would have been right in the money.

When the attending cop came round he introduced himself as Christian and I thought it was a bit inappropriate, changing established police protocol in such a friendly manner. If I was going to be questioned, I wanted to feel sufficiently ill at ease to call him Officer. My burglary, my rules. Officer Christian was satisfyingly big and burly. I found myself wondering if he could lift me with one hand while batting back hardened crims with the other. I decided I bet he could if he wasn’t feeling tired and I had only had a light breakfast.

I felt bad that Officer Christian had to come round to mine for a rather lacklustre tale of a basic bungled burglary where nothing was taken. I wanted to pep it up for him so he had better stuff to jot down in his neat tilted handwriting. Then he mentioned he’d just come from a double-stabbing and of course I felt inferior. I couldn’t compete with murder. My knives couldn’t hack the seeds out of a tomato anymore let alone disembowel someone.

It’s a funny feeling knowing someone’s been in your home without asking. I’ve been burgled before and the last time left me feeling vulnerable for months; it felt like the windows and doors were permanently left open for all and sundry to come bursting through, and in the darkness at night I was jumpy at every sound. It’s not about the stuff. I don’t have much and what I do have is not going to support anyone with a £200 a day heroin habit, not even long enough for a five minute high. It’s about feeling safe. So while I stared around at the mess and the broken glass and the worthless things I own and felt that familiar unsettled feeling of my private space having been violated, I mostly felt relieved that I have never had to feel the desperation that one day turns ordinary people into thieves. That can’t be fun. Especially if Officer Christian catches you and pins you by the balls to the wall, which I’d kind of like to see if I’m honest. That’d teach the tykes for thinking my stuff is shit.

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