Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mike Sowden Made Me Do It

Recently I started a new job. And a new life, well, a continuation of life in a new place at least. This new place is Oxford. Ancient Oxford that Philip Pullman so beautifully re-imagined in His Dark Materials trilogy, that I sold from the children’s section of Clifton Bookshop in Bristol, that, like the Green Leaf Bookshop after it, where Banksy once sold prints for £50, is no longer with us. I would listen to posh religious Cliftonites bemoan the atheist undertones of a book they hadn’t even read and be spurred on to recommend more people buy this wonderful new writing with God dust particles that were released every time the book was opened and then quickly shut again. But anyway, back to Oxford. I always imagined a world where I rubbed shoulders with the elite book-readers in the hidden tunnels and rooms behind bookcases (there are always, always rooms behind bookcases) where I was intellectually gifted enough to study Philosophy for no certain reason and talk about the impossibility of ever ‘seeing’ string theory with other academics as we sat around giant oak tables in ye olde pubs for gnomes. We would saunter up the steps to the Museum of the History of Science and gaze at the old globes with the ancient Latin constellations labelled around the equator on gold-coloured brass. And look at those medieval astrolabes I imagine were the inspiration for the alethiometer in Northern Lights. But alas, I wasn’t bright enough by academic standards for this to happen (go and take up this discussion with the wonderful Ken Robinson if you have the time) so I went to Bath Spa University to do their Creative Writing BA instead. I’m still holding out for the day that Oxford University allow me to break into their Creative Writing MA and hand over an honorary doctorate so I can feel special and loved by the illuminati, but until then I’ll be the kid in the sweet shop, propelling myself to a place where I am worthy of the sentiment. It was not long after starting this new job that my esteemed peer Facebook colleague writer Mike Sowden sent a little note my way. It said I was supposed to be writing. That other people were saying I was supposed to be writing too. Just incase his saying I was supposed to be writing wasn’t valid in itself. It wasn’t the first time it had been said since I’d moved. I’d been to Athens for an annual conference and my friend Candace, the sketch artist extraordinaire, had stared into my soul (eyes) in a tea shop I had found entirely by accident on my way back to the apartment a couple of friends and I were staying in, and she said,
 “Sophie, are you doing what you want to be doing?”
“I have a plan, I am going to build this company and have some money again and make enough to run away and write about all the things I want to write about.”
I don’t think there was enough conviction in my voice or something because she looked at me in that way. That way a non-believer-of-what-you-are-saying looks at you.
“well as long as you’re sure.”
“fuck you Candace,” is not what I said next. Perhaps what I should have said was “fuck you Sophie,” which is what I thought. Followed by, “are you doing the right thing? Is this what you want?”
The answer in that instance would probably have been yes and no. In fact, a couple of weekends later, after my school friends and I had walked three and a half hours up a Welsh mountain (hill) with the reward of a pint of Swansea scrumpy and a welshcake in a pub overlooking Rhossili Bay at the end of it, followed by tea and chips on Mumbles pier the next day, I asked my friend Roxanne to all intents and purposes the same question,
“if you could be doing anything you wanted, if money was no issue, what would you be doing?”
“Probably travelling and managing community projects as I did it,” she said.
Although just seconds before she’d decided she wanted to work on Lifeboats because we’d been into the RLNI centre and seen a really big lifeboat and spoken to the lovely volunteer about working on lifeboats, but anyway.
She isn’t currently travelling the world doing that but is not far off – she’s been working with a community theatre project and taken two short trips abroad with them.
I’m not writing full time. I went freelance for three and a half years and earned a very small amount of money and felt trapped by the copywriting I ended up doing instead of the writing I really wanted to be doing. When I moaned about it my friend Kash told me I just wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t pitching hard enough.
But I hate pitching. When someone says no to me and they don’t believe me because I don’t believe myself I run away and I hide. I don’t pitch again. I eye the world with suspicion from my bedroom window. Who do they think they are, these people outside? People with jobs and money and lives they wanted?
But wait, which of those people really want what they are doing. Which of those people are 100% doing what they want to be doing 100% of the time (well, the % of the time when they are not eating biscuits or watching films or sleeping).
So I thought about it a lot and I came to the conclusion that I do have a plan. I am going to write. I am supposed to be writing. But I am also one whole year younger than Candace, and um, I have a job. And I love the job that I have, it’s exciting and I am building something and I like building things and its nice to see other people and dress a bit more properly after three and a half years either hiding under a blanket that also functions as a jumper that another friend offered to (told me she was going to) throw in the bin. Or running away to India on a one way ticket to Delhi because I couldn’t face writing another hotel special offer however absolutely lovely the wonderful website editor was.
So what am I talking about? Oh yes – SO, I shall endeavor to schedule time for writing, in fact I shall endeavor to have a schedule at all, and tidy my room, clear my desk, ignore the fact the landlady put frosted glass on my window that looks out to the garden and the stream at the bottom of it and write. About anything and everything. So I can simultaneously figure out what it is that I’m ‘supposed’ to be writing. So that I can reconnect with my pre-London self. With the self that loves ale and cider and warm English pubs and people, and the cold black winter’s night air on my face at the end of a good sit in with friends. The self that went to Bath Spa University to study Creative Writing and has wanted to be a writer since the age of seven when she penned the stapled-together and illustrated ‘Blak Cat’ that I can only assume was about a black cat.

So thank you Candace, and Kash and Mike and the other mystery people Mike said said I should write but who I still don’t actually really believe exist. You all have a special place in my heart. And I will allow you to drag me slowly down with you, to the pit of creative suffering that when it is over unleashes a sense of unimaginable joy and accomplishment (I don’t really believe that, I just said it to make you feel better). I expect copious amounts of tea to be brought to me on a silver platter, and a good recommendation for where I can buy a replacement blanket that is also a jumper. Don’t tell Becky. (The jumper-blanket-thrower outer). Over. And out.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Tales From My Crypt

I’d like to thank a man in his 60s who I’ve never spoken to for making me want to write on this blog again. When I had just graduated, I was unemployed and living at my mother’s house. I was going out of my mind with boredom and she was going out of her mind with my incessant talking and inability to tidy up after myself. She kept asking how long exactly it was going to be before I moved out. I told her I was going to finish my novel then get a job. I had a go at this for a while, reached 30,000 words after three months and gave up, tried to finish a non-fiction project instead, reached 30,000 words and gave up. But all the time I was starting projects and stopping them, I wrote this blog. Like a sort of column that nobody really read. Writing about the small observations I had from time to time about people and things kept me sane.

Yesterday, I was sitting with a friend in Soho at a stupidly early time to be sitting in a pub in Soho. As we talked about why we were both skiving off work, and about India, where my next adventure is going to take place and where she lived for a time, I saw a man get out of a taxi with two lime green suitcases with blue straps across them that were identical to each other. My friend and I talked some more. A man in his 60s had been sitting across from us drinking beer from an old-fashioned glass mug on his own. He’d finished his second glass and started shuffling his things about. Taking a piece of paper from a pocket, he placed it under his mug and started toward the top of the stairs that lead down to the toilets. I thought this strange and stood up to take a look at the paper... had a photo quality photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger on it and underneath was typed ‘i’ll be back.’ Nobody else noticed. It made my day. And then I thought back to a couple of things I had saved –

‘Week beginning 9th July:

As I exited an underground station, someone stood on the loose pavement slab I was standing on, causing it to lift a little and giving me a free ‘ride.’

On the Bakerloo line, an elderly man with a friar’s bald spot sat with his last two long white hairs raised by the breeze running through the carriage.

At Waterloo station, a Jamaican man in his 40s was wheeling a trolley around M&S. The trolley contained old framed portraits. There were colourful signs attached to the side of the trolley. Shop staff approached the man. He smiled and said ‘wagwan wagwan?!’ several times. Then, ‘I’m going to a party!’ Every single member of staff was smiling as I left.

A man standing in the gardens of a council estate block on a hill was wearing a kilt with traditional socks as he sheared the plants at the edge of the grass.

Week beginning 16th July:

An orange rubber duck found on the pavement on a gray day…

And so, I don’t know how regularly I’ll write, and it’s true that I’m only writing now because the internet is broken in my house and the only thing to do is write. But we’ll see. I hope I will.

Monday, 25 July 2011

White Weak

I'm standing in the crush of people on the central line tube train toward Bond Street. Someone is holding a newspaper in front of them. The headline reads, 'Better to kill too many than not enough.' It relates to the horrific massacre in Norway in which a far-right extremist shot almost 100 people he accused of being 'multiculturalist traitors.' They were teenagers on a Labour Party summer camp.
I turn my head away from the direction of the paper and look through the glass I'm pressed against. A man is sitting on a seat with his little son. The man has gelled blonde hair and wears a yellow checked shirt. He's covered in tattoos, some of which look hand-drawn, which makes me think perhaps he did them in prison. All the tattoos are black outlines, faded to green. On his kneecap is written, 'SEX + DRUGS' with a wonky star underneath it and beneath that is written, 'BEER.' There is a nasty scar on the side of his knee that looks like the result of an accident which has taken some of the muscle there away. I move my eyes to look at his arms, which also have deep, long scars on them. They create spaces between tattoos of skulls and the name 'Maria.' I move my eyes to his neck and spot an England flag. 'Here we go,' I think. There is a large N next to the flag and just as I'm thinking perhaps it stands for 'Nazi,' I spot some writing on his wrist with a symbol which looks as if derived from the Christian fish symbol. 'White power,' it says. I look as his beautiful son, whose skin is untainted and hope that the tattoos on his father are from a past he cannot erase, but has forgotten.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Rain in June Mood

It rains. What could have been the wind through trees is not. There's no movement and leaves droop with the weight of water. An oversized mac and impractical shoes, leaking onto semi-socks trudge. Trudge, trudge, trudge. Underground with wet knees and toes, umbrellas folded pass. Drips fall from lips and noses. Sit. Each person after falls heavily into empty space and sighs. Rain in June again. Wet through again.

Saturday, 7 May 2011


I'm a bubble. Held in the air in a place with no atmosphere, spinning on an axis, tripping on the stars, occasionally I fall, and rest on rivers, borrowing more than a cliche. I'm an instrument. I feel like a projector. An aged projector which pulls up the wrong images in a presentation which has taken many hours to put together. I'm a flutter. I'm the wings of a moth beating and beating and beating. Coated in camomile, hair done up and I'm bent around my words. I'm a thesaurus not alphabetised. I'm a forcefield. Shattering metaphorical glasses with my fingertips. I'm a pianist with a keyboard instead of a piano. Making letters not notes. Building with them. Putting letters into words, tap, tap, tap. Sliding words into sentences, tap, tap tap. I float on paragraphs on seas of pages, a solid hull to safe-glide through the emptiness. An oil lamp in my hand. A blanket of belief around my shoulders, soft.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Top Deck N31

The bus stop crowd sighs as an empty 31 rattles past on the Camden High Road. When the next arrives, the people-mass is twice as large as it would've otherwise been. I wait for everyone to board before eying up the top deck and taking my own chances. At the last minute upstairs a seat up-front becomes available. I sit down. How privileged I am to get this view of the throng of red car lights illuminated against the black night. To see the the people outside the clubs having a good time from this height.
Then the guy across from me pipes up. A big, bald Jamaican guy with a leather jacket and fingerless biker gloves.
"Artificial intelligence. All of you young people with your internet and your mobile phones. You're not human, you're artificial intelligence," he repeats over and over again to the window in front of him.
The man beside him widens his eyes and shrinks against the window.
The bus slowly progresses to the end of the High Road, at which point our biker says, "come out, come out, wherever you are. Who stole my youth? Who stole my youth? Be it on tube, bus, plane or train, come out, come out." He repeats this line over and over before a few more choruses about artificial intelligence.
The shrunken man catches my eye in the window reflection. He looks a bit scared. I shoot him a sympathetic glance.
At last we pull into a bus stop and with the entire top deck now watching, the biker stands up and, as he turns to leave, mutters, "Fucking two-legged wankers."