Make it kind – Mental Health Awareness Week

I haven’t written about my father, his suicide, grief, or mental health for a while now.

I felt I should just ‘stop’. Let him rest, let it be, & stop picking the scab. But grief never really goes. It just changes.

In the last few months Dad has been present throughout my pregnancy thoughts, & now that my daughter is here my relationship with him has shifted again. During the last 15 years I have never thought ‘how could you do that to us, to me’. Tenderness battled anger and always won. Now I have a daughter, I can’t help but re-examine my feelings. How could he do that to us, his daughters? I couldn’t do it to her. I never want to leave her for a second, & the thought of being the source of her biggest sadness makes me want to be sick.

So how could he do it to me?

But of course, the answer is, mental health. It can make a man leave the loves in his life because he absolutely cannot face being alive anymore, because he cannot function, because life seems a long and unbearable journey, because it seems unfixable, because he even believes he is doing the best thing for people by leaving. Because the power of depression is sometimes so strong it even outweighs love, that beautiful thing that we are taught is stronger than anything. It’s terrifying when we discover it isn’t.

Grief changes all the time. I have struggled with losing Dad for years, the sadness very nearly made me give up myself at times, and just as grief got easier, I will now struggle with the thought that he would have had so much more love to give and receive if he could only have believed that there was help out there; in medication, in people, in good old fashioned kindness, in miraculously powerful time. I will struggle with the fact that Marcie will never meet my father, one of her granddads, but I will make sure she knows all the good things about him. And one day I will have to talk to her about mental health. I’m not sure what I’ll say yet, but I know it will be kind.

#mentalhealthawarenessweek

More things I’ve written on similar themes

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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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A Crossing Bell

I rang the bell. I had been about to pass it, having heard it rung, mostly by children, almost constantly for the past two days. Something called me back, to approach it. Maybe it’s because no one else was around and I saw my chance. I rang it. It sounded louder than when other people rang it. I felt naughty somehow. So I rang it again. It had a clarity, as though it had found exactly the right points around it to bounce from to make itself sound important; drew them in like coordinates of the perfect pitch then sent them pealing out to the clouds.

The bell is A Crossing Bell – an art installation at Tilbury Cruise Terminal by Professor of Sound & Landscape Angus Carlyle who has worked in residence at Metal, an arts organisation with a big heart in a big house in a pretty park where I am lucky to work. He is also a part of Estuary Festival. Passengers are invited to ring the bell while offering a prayer for a crossing – their crossing or someone else’s, a friend’s or a stranger’s; a prayer to ward off the bad or wish for the good. Angus’ hope is that the bell’s unamplified peals suggest other crossings, other times and other places. And they do.

I only remembered then as I rang it that right there, down to the deck to the waters between Tilbury and Gravesend, that my dad had been moored here in the 60s. I have the last diaries he wrote as a teen in the Merchant Navy. 1964. After months of sailing more exotic waters – Biscay, Suez, Arabian Sea, Muscat, Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi, Calcutta, Trincomalee, Colombo, his list goes on – they drifted… into Southend-on-Sea. My hometown. A strange town that Dad could not have known then would be the place he’d later move to in his fifties to be near his daughters, and then soon after where he would take his life. He stayed four days in 1964 then sailed on to Tilbury, and one night – “went ashore to dance in Gravesend with lads. Got really pissed.” The next morning, he got up at 8.15, and “just read papers all morning.” Then the diaries come to an end, and as far as I know he never wrote any others. Or certainly none that he kept and passed on. Perhaps these were the only ones that he wasn’t ashamed of. The ones that only chronicle small details of ship life – no truths of his character or feelings at all that might be of use in the puzzle of a dead bi-polar man.

I had just been thinking the week before, as I walked past the road where he lived and died, that I felt pretty cool about him being dead, now. I felt tough. Over it. Cool. I walked past – as I do most days, I live a few roads away now – and felt ‘nothing’.

But I didn’t feel nothing when I rang the bell. It was like a brass hammer to the sky, cracking open the clouds to say hullo to my father, there on the very waters where he had written in his tiny blue scrawl. Maybe only meters away from where I stood, now, ringing it. Maybe if I could call to him back then – me on the deck, him rocking in his bunk – he could have heard me. Was his ship that close? If only time could allow me that experiment. Distance and time and death. Science. What huge impassable relentlessly factual things keep people apart.

Earlier that morning I had been up at 5am for a dawn performance by a vocal artist named Caroline Bergvall, who wove her mesmeric voice with that of a vocalist Peyee Chen and a backing track of collected sounds. Raga Dawn. My job was to capture it for other people, but towards the end I just lay down on the deck behind the audience, my spine falling between one of the broad gaps in the planks, the breeze surging up through the fibres of my jumper to my skin, and the sound of the heavy lapping water beneath my head. What do we think in these moments of reflection? Our thoughts trip on to one thing mostly. To how we feel, to people, to those we have lost. To love. To loss. To death. I often wonder if anyone can ever pass truly blithely through life without thoughts of death; whether it is a dialogue that can be completely avoided. Whether the ‘mentally ill’ can shut out awareness of it with a complete efficiency that we, the ‘more normal’, the ‘well’, cannot.

I suppose it comes as a not-too-great surprise that artists are drawn to water and to death. It tells not only stories, captures our thoughts, loves, and fears, but it also inspires a sort of peace that must be made before we ourselves go. A peace with ourselves. Estuary Festival is full of work by countless artists of dizzying various disciplines that observe a similar theme, but it is this piece – A Crossing Bell – that spoke to me, because it spoke for me.

I didn’t tell Angus during our multiple chats as he milled around in a nice blue jacket that I had rung his bell and been moved. I felt shy. I don’t know why. Maybe I just wanted to keep it for myself. Between me & Dad & the river.

The bell did its job. A hullo was said. And a small patch of the Thames that was new to me became familiar, like Dad was with me for a while, strong and tangible as bronze, invisible yet potent as sound waves saying “I was here.”

 

 

Estuary Festival runs until the 2nd October in various places in Tilbury, Gravesend, and Southend. For more – go here.

For more on Angus Carlyle, go here. And the bell – here.

For Caroline Bergvall & Raga Dawn, go here.

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Terribly New York

There’s something about travel that cannot help but make even the biggest moron think of all the science involved. How does the plane stay up? Where does all our wee go when we flush; do the birds get wet? Why is this bread so hard? And so on.

There’s also something about being a visitor to new places which lends you an observational eye more inquisitive that usual. It’s like being a foreign speck placed in the Petri dish of a new culture, waiting to see if something will grow.

I felt a similar distance in some of my New York experiences. In the streets and in the theatre I felt like I was home, but in the bars I felt stilted. Though I knew some part of me wanted to ‘be’ a part of it, in the way I always want to live a place as though it is my life, perhaps because I prefer to write about it later from a perspective of inclusion, I did not feel like I belonged there. The speck rejected the Petri dish.

One night in particular I was in a bar full of post-work thirsty natives, and my gorgeous and slightly mad host Charlotte was explaining the travails and glories of their dating system to me. For the first five minutes I was enraptured by tales of liberation. I felt like I’d walked into a pop-up book of Sex & The City (my enduring passion for which I will never understand as I don’t do style, I hate Kim Cattrall, and I think the last ‘episode’ in the form of Sex & The City 2 was an insult to women and all of life everywhere. Go figure, as some yanks would say.)

We were with Charlotte’s yoga instructor Penny, a dazzling redhead in her 40s who introduced us to ‘some guys’. Somewhere in my story-head I imagined we were being introduced to New York society by a upper east side duchess who was weighing up our odds on the love market. Then a man proceeded to touch up my bum while going through the motions of small-talk, and I didn’t feel liberated or culturally curious. I wanted to punch him. Thinking he was a friend of Charlotte and Penny’s I politely kept shifting my derrière and spoke to someone nicer. I loathe myself now for not saying anything. I don’t know why I cared that it might ’cause a fuss’. (Practice run: “Hey, buddy, that’s my ass. Yours is the one behind you looking like an overfilled baloney sandwich.” How terribly New York of me that would have been. DAMMIT.)

Thus was my preconceived kaleidoscope of glamour shattered. I was not seeing women enjoying their freedom unjudged. I was seeing women who could date the same guy for a year caught in a constant round of small talk without ever getting anywhere, I was seeing women who could date four men at the same time without getting any satisfaction from it. I saw women playing cool, playing undercover detectives in their own cryptic games, playing phone tennis where the result is almost certainly never love-anything. I saw an awful lot of singles playing and it didn’t look a single bit like fun.

I’ve always wondered if I should have stayed single for longer after leaving my marriage, if I have fully explored the freedoms of the modern woman or have truly known independence for long enough, but seeing the dating scene in New York made me realise that freedom can be a sort of prison too, if you’re not exercising it in the right way.

I felt glad to come home to the fuzzy nook of my man. Where there’s no games, just truth.

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Love Sack, Baby

I’ve always been absolutely useless at saying goodbyes. Even the easy kind. Leaving friends at the pub will often be a fifteen minute hug-fest, then I’ll be halfway out the door when something in my heart will lurch. I’ll turn around with a false memory of having left a tissue strewn on the floor and go back, and instead of picking up my imaginary discarded snotrag, I will sneak another little squeeze in as I jostle through my friends. Or a loving punch. Just a bit more contact for the journey.

Although it sounds like I was left in my cot as a baby for hours without so much as a stale rusk lobbed at my head, I am actually very blessed love-wise; regularly serviced in the soul department by an extensive faculty of wonderful people. But I suppose even people with their emotional needs being tangibly met can still be needy. After all, not even the most adored people on the planet are likely to say one bright April morn “Do you know what? I think I’ve hit my cuddle limit. I’ll be gosh-darned if I haven’t got enough love in the sack til Michaelmas. I am replete. You just stop this shoulder massage right there and give it to Derek the curtain-twitching hermit over the road.” It’s never going to happen; it’s not how humans work.

Perhaps our lives grow to fit the love that comes our way. There is always enough room for more love for or from people, and, unless we’re trying to shake off an annoying ex or a mad stalker, it is always welcome. We don’t measure it out. “I’m sorry, Pleasing Acquaintance, I can’t go for lager-beer with you in case we hit it off and five months down the line, during an impassioned conversation about which Rocky film is the best (2. No discussion.) I get jousted in the heart by a bit of excess friend love and die.” The heart grows as big as we let it.

I came over all angst-ridden yesterday as I said a few goodbyes. I’m going on holiday for two weeks and in amongst all the excitement and faffing and packing (and staring at my passport expiry date trying to remember what year it is with that mania that the enforced bureaucracy of travel evokes), I felt a shadow edge into my heart. I would have to say some goodbyes.

Hot fudge, I suck at them.

Of course it’s probably some innate waily wah-wah stuff like fear of losing people, WAIL, or guilt, BOO, or a sense of leaving things ‘unready’ – “I’m going to crash into the Atlantic and you’re going to have to clear out my room. I have been scrap-booking everything since the age of 9 & you’re going to throw away my collection of funny German T-bags. You probably won’t even find them as hilarious as you should.” WAIL. Maybe it’s more textbook than that. Actual holiday anguish due to my cat, Monty ‘Mental’ Python, getting run over while I was getting quarter-engaged to a tonguey Turk named Erjan in 1996. WAIL. (But probably not, as I’ve only just remembered it.)

Do humans get pre-travel jitters because we know in the heart of our hearts that all this travelling is unnatural? We’re not supposed to fly over seas or traverse huge expanses of land. We’re supposed to do stuff on our feet; stop when we get out of breath and have a nap. We’re not really supposed to go beyond our patch, our cave, the plot marked out by the features that serve our basest needs; food, water, shelter, somewhere a bit private to take a dump. Man’s reach in his physical realm isn’t supposed to exceed his grasp; that is why we dream of heaven and space and the mysterious lands we’ll never get to. We might design ways of closing the gap between us and our curiosities; we’ll always try to harness the stars, push the boundaries of latitude and longitude and other dimensions. We constantly defy nature; our own design. But we are biologically designed for (driven, compelled and nourished by) love.

Maybe that’s why, despite whatever fun we have on our adventures, there’s nothing quite like a cuddle when you come home.

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Valentine’s: Shooting A Rhino In The Face

Just when I thought I was all grown-up and had accepted that Valentine’s Day is a mass-market scam, I fell into the huge boggy bit of my heart that I thought had near-dried up with the desiccation of age. Like when Dawn French falls into that unfeasibly deep puddle in the Vicar of Dibley – there I was just ambling along in my terribly modern cynicism when SLOSH – waist-deep in forgotten goo.

It’s become terribly unfashionable to like Valentine’s Day. Confessing to enjoying the Hallmark hullabaloo, or even its older quainter conventions, is almost becoming un-PC – like saying you’d like to abolish disabled parking bays, or go on your summer hols to Tanzania and shoot the last of the black rhinos in the face.

I thought I was a fully paid-up member of the Puke Patrol. I thought I could stay steely before a proffered rose. I thought I was one of the great denouncers of accepted Romance; could snort derisively at Keats if quoted on the fourteenth day of the second month. That I was way above making doe-eyes over an overpriced meal in a restaurant flatulating at the seams with helium balloons; that I’d knee a man in the nuts if he waved anything bought at Clintons anywhere near me.

STEELY MY ARSE.

I should have suspected I wasn’t quite up to the current vogue of Non-Schmaltz standards when watching Sleepless In Seattle recently. The Empire State building flooded with red hearts just as dear Meg was sweetly dumping her fiancé for Tom Hanks AND I OUTWARDLY SNORTED THE CONTENTS OF MY CRANIUM SO HARD I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHERE IT ALL WENT. I think I might have blown open another portal to Narnia. Some poor fawn is probably wandering around with my snot as a jaunty hat.

What caused me to wobble off the Wagon of Well Hard? What reminded me of my roots de romarnce? (Chris De Burgh ref there, ballad-lovers; you’re welcome…)

I’ll tell you. Someone I know told me it was their first Valentine’s day, with an actual Valentine, with a lover.

I didn’t believe them. They are in their thirties, and cute as a button. But they were telling the truth, and for them it wasn’t a silly day. Granted, they didn’t want to run down the street slathered in chocolate body paint, rattling handcuffs that chimed the theme to Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet, but they wanted to mark it. They wanted their Valentine’s Day.

It reminded me of what Valentine’s Day used to mean to me, before I’d had a few extraordinarily bad boyfriends and a divorce under my belt. Making cards for hours, doodling boys names in biro hearts on my arm like love-charm tattoos, my first real card from a boy that wasn’t just my Dad doing bad handwriting, my first Valentine’s kiss, hotels, restaurants, post bunk-up bed-bouffants… Et sexera.

I wondered if the true magic of Valentine’s Day doesn’t lie in the day itself, but in the future that it paints. There’s mystery in all that love stuff. You’re not just excited about the date you’re on, but the dates that will come. What does love have in store for you? What is your future? Love – the confusing dance around the simple biological urge to procreate – is about what will come, as it were, and what will come after that. Love is how we ensure that our silly messy little race will continue. Love is our survival. Shouldn’t at least one day in 365 be a little bit about that?

Love should not of course be vouched by homogenised overpriced tat. Of course I know the best stuff is free – poems on a napkin, holding hands in the rain. A ruddy good snog-up in a doorway.

But surely the people who have been lucky enough to have all this typical Valentine ‘stuff’, cards and flowers and chocolates and stupidly huge teddies delivered to work, don’t really have the right to denigrate it? If you’ve had it all and don’t want it anymore out of some consumerist stand, then don’t have it, but stop telling people that’s what you’ve decided, every fricking year. Grumpy repetition merely creates an alternative-tradition, a parallel non-celebration, a contra-dedication of your time and energy, and certainly one with a less uplifting message at its heart. If you don’t believe in something – the hype of Valentine’s Day, the existence of God, whatever – you have already asserted something strongly enough to yourself. Humans should be content with knowing or supposing what they think they know or suppose, and live their own lives accordingly as they wish. They don’t need to make big outward proclamations; they’re pretty pointless outside of the environs of an invited debate. Having a non-belief in something is not something to be proud of, is not something which defines you as interesting or intelligent; it is just a fact about yourself, like having blue eyes or an outie belly-button. In decrying something essentially harmless we have nothing to offer but a bad energy and there’s enough of that floating about.

Next year I will honour the romantics’ right to an unsullied day and keep my cynical mouth shut. Maybe even while humming Let’s Get It On through a pink fluffy gag…

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Love & Christmas: The Cath Kidston Trap

I’ve spent weeks laughing at people churning themselves into a frenzy over Christmas shopping. “Calm down dears, it’s only November”, I scoffed internally at the harried mums jabbing me in the bum with rolls of wrapping paper that have been cynically bolstering the tills like coiled harbingers of January’s pennilessness. There I’ve been – smugly tutting for weeks like I’d somehow escaped The System – until I realised with a gulp that it’s now…actually…well, pretty close. Like, a week away. And I’ve done next to nothing.

I should have learned by now to plan ahead and do it in manageable chunks, but to be honest this last minute panic is as much a Christmas tradition for me as doubling my podge and weeping in the street at the Salvation Army band. “You’re old and wearing a really big coat and playing the tuba – HAVE SOME SNOT!”

It’s an amazing pressure that swirls around us as this time of enforced happiness. Aside from the emotional obligation you feel to the nostalgia of Christmasses past, to being the same festive person you’ve always been when actually you’re mostly stressed and distracted, you also have to think about other people; family, humanity, maybe even – dare I venture – Jesus. Christmas is demanding – you have to buy stuff, wrap stuff, plan stuff, eat stuff, juggle stuff, do stuff, eat stuff, think of stuff, be stuff, eat stuff, sing stuff, wear stuff, stuff stuff, eat more stuff, and stuff. It’s like work, (if work encouraged you to always have a fortifying mulled wine in hand).

One of the hardest bits is buying stuff for people that doesn’t leave their faces looking like you just handed them a kipper on a frisbee. No one wants to see that face. You want to see the face like you just gave them a winning lottery ticket wrapped in Michael Buble’s best pants. You want the good face. You want to make those tinkers feel loved. (And, secretly, a silly little part of you wants to make them love you the most.)

But the pressure’s on, and you’re squeezing through a throng of people who are seemingly buying the best presents ever, and they’re smiling smugly at you as you dither with a battery-operated meerkat, and your brain, panicking, turns to anything else but the logic that tells you: “Your family love you, they want you to save your money so you can fix your car and not be stressing in the new year – they want to just spend time with you.”
No. The spending of Time isn’t pretty enough. You can’t put Time in a box and make people cry with it.

So naturally, I fell into the Cath Kidston trap. I wanted to spoil my sister rotten and so I found myself in a squished boutique, stylish women cooing in my ear that Cath Kidston is the best thing to happen to Britain since Hitler killed himself, and frantically thrusting my debit card into a cashier’s hand because…I want my sister to know I love her. I want her to know I am always here, that my heart is still charged by all the power in my blood which rushed me like a pre-pubescent warrior towards her doomed bullies in the playground, that I think she has the prettiest face I have ever seen on a real live woman, that I think her vegetable lasagne is the best.

So I bought her a floral bag.

And even though I know she will love it because it’s bloody gorgeous (she’d better not fucking read this or the surprise is ruined), a small part of me was disappointed in myself. Because Cath Kidston bothers me a bit. Not because she’s now astoundingly rich or is turning pretty designs and nice craft ideas into generic badges of proscribed femininity, not because she’s cynically seized upon that quiet, comfy, increasingly shameful part of most women that wants to be baking and feathering and making everything ‘nice’, not because she would probably not be seen dead out in something as common as her own designs (the ones that make it into the shops anyway), but because she is going against the whole ethos behind her floral/birdy/polka-dotty loveliness. She’s the queen of twee; the figurehead for the renaissance of vintage thrift, and the Cath Kidston empire which lures us with its shabby-chic ‘I’ve just macraméd the hair I pulled out of the plughole into a charming brooch’ is a facade. It’s not hand-woven in an English country cottage by Cath herself – no, it’s made in China. It’s about as English as Chairman Mao slurping noodles with a panda. It’s made in massive quantities to be shipped out to shops which make people feel like they’re buying into an authentic experience, or expressing some aspirational or creative part of themselves not being otherwise satisfied. Cath Kidston, and all her pricey ilk, is the opposite of tepid tea and stale jam tarts at jumble sales in honour of post-war ‘make do and mend’. Cath Kidston is sort of the new Burberry; ethos turncoat and brand flake. The symbols of qualities we admire and covet – domestic contentedness, resourceful canniness, attractive living – are made available to everyone not out of good spirit, but out of the voracity of business. Cath Kidston is not likely (nor would ever have been advised by anyone with a brain) to have limited her wares to the country stores of farmers’ wives in moneyed rural England because they were more honest showrooms for her designs. You’d have to be a fool to wilfully limit your own success.

There is a certain democratisation, I suppose, present in the dispersal of such products in the way a brand can go from exclusive to inclusive, elitist to commonplace (like when the poor could suddenly get their hands on bottom-rung qualities of coffee, spices, chocolate, and the BMW after the rich had grown ambivalent about it all) – but democratisation and class unification is not the mission nor the driving force; boundless cold hard cash is.

Perhaps Cath doesn’t like what it’s become. Perhaps Cath herself is sick of the whole look and is reclining in a minimalist Bauhaus pad somewhere sickeningly urban. Maybe she doesn’t poo in pastel colours after all. Maybe she’d surprise us all by being a messy eater and saying ‘cunt’ a lot. But her ego must be somewhat sated by the knowledge she is an image-maker of her generation, as were Coco Chanel, Mary Quant, and the dude who painted that black woman a bit greeny-blue in the 70s. Cath Kidston’s designs will one day evoke a whole era. Perhaps it will have earned it, perhaps the history of a brand is the history of a people, perhaps what is coursing through its lines and colours is the disparateness of Britain – the haves, the have-nots, the spirit, the laziness, the pride, the nonchalance, the reserve, the gaucheness, the snobbish aspiration, the humble salt of the earth; Britain in all its chequered (gingham) past.

A part of our culture all woven up in a bag for Christmas.

But.

When we were little, and one of us was sick, my sister and I used to take a plate of malt biscuits and a glass of milk to whoever was languishing in bed. I could have reminded her of the infinitesimally huge things I felt for her by spending 59p on a packet of biscuits and arranging them in a heart shape; I could have given her a bit of our time in a box – a tiny malt cow grazing on a golden brown biscuit – and she would have loved it. But I fell into the Christmas buying trap of needing to somehow quantify the immeasurable, and I bought something pretty that I know would make her walk down the street all jaunty. And that jaunt will have a lifetime of my love trailing clumsily behind it. My love is in her fibres.

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