Time to live.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.”



“I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.”

Rutger, calm your tits mate. I’ve just been for a walk in Catford in November.


I’ve resisted temptations you can only imagine.


Stared at London Plane bark until it became nebulae.


I don’t think you understand, Rutty old feller.


I don’t think you grasp how amazing a little life is.

Time to live.

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He says: “Write! You must write and you aren’t writing. It’s because you’re worried it won’t be good enough…”
And “No,” I interrupt. “It isn’t that. It isn’t that.” I know I’m good.

There is no ear to whisper into.

This is the problem. I have always written. Since early childhood, every day, every hour, words, and the need to be heard, the powerful need to record, to make sense of this overwhelming planet. And it’s still there, that need at least to send out a little blip into the universe: “I am here! Where are you?” or I wouldn’t tweet, although I tweet personal stuff less and less, my tweets have less emotional content. I think of stopping daily, but I am aware that that, (seemingly a healthy move, or so all the sensible people with actual lives would tell you), would not free me up to knock out another book or a bunch of short stories or some poems. It would just represent total silence from me. On all fronts.

Since last June I’ve been very ill. I’ve hardly seen anyone (and I’m hermitty at the best of times); but that in itself isn’t a big issue.  Some people do well alone, I am one (as long as I know someone exists that I wouldn’t mind not being alone with). I’ve been too unwell to keep up with my allotment, which I must now give up. And that was my last thread to having regular (ish) contact with other humans. *snip* and it is over. And then what?

Writing has always been weirdly linked to love, for me. A petrol engine needs gas to run. I run on love, on being in love. Yet not only do I have a health condition that prevents me from meeting anyone, the last time I met a partner who actually treated me like a human being was in 2007. And that was the first since 2003. All the intervening ones were exactly as awful and damaging as these things ever CAN be. And now I feel so alienated from … (I’m going to say “humans” because I no longer feel I am one) humans, that I cannot fall in love with one. They want things I don’t want. They need things I can’t give. They don’t care about the things I care about. They take things I can’t live without. They don’t see the things I see. I become exhausted explaining myself to them or pretending to be something they can understand. They frighten and repel me and I can’t get past it. I am the stars and the space between the stars. I am a spring flower. I am too simple for this.

I have no memory of most of my life. I only remember and repeat the stories I have told people. I know where I said I was and what I said I did. I no longer remember being there. And that is part of why I wrote, part of why I took photographs, part of why I kept every message. To remember. So when I found you I could say: I don’t remember how I got here, but here, here is the story, here is the map. Here are the things I saw and felt. Add them up, and you can understand me.

But there is nothing TO remember, now. Even the seasons are barely ajar to me. I walk to Tesco and smell the coal smoke on the air at the corner, the house with the parrot. And so I know it is no longer summer, that the fire is on, that the air is still and falling.  I walk back. And there is no ear to whisper these things into. 

I let go of the stories, too tired to hold them any more, and now most of them are gone. I don’t have a map of myself any more, there is just this moment. I exist, persistently. I enjoy the small experiences I have, but I have nothing to say about them. They are the same as the ones I had last year and the year before, but smaller and smaller. The ones I wrote down at the time make better reading than anything I could write now, because when I wrote them I believed you would read them one day.

I thought that there would be someone here like me. But there is not, just an endless sea of modern humans thinking of baked beans, and remembering – with perfect facility – what happened five years ago, and recognising faces, and talking of who is having sex with whom, telephone bills, and never noticing that the air is still and falling, full of the invisible burnt black heart of the earth, nor what that means.

And I no longer believe you exist, or that I can find you if you do. I searched the world when I could, but I failed, and so what is there. Some days hurt, some don’t. I don’t remember the days so it doesn’t matter. My life, minute to minute, is content, is contentless.  I enjoy the moment. Fur, clean sheets, cold water, the tick and hum of the dryer, the rain, the unmown lawn battered down silver green, the glass that separates me from it, the days when I can walk, the days when I can’t. But there is no gap in the puzzle-earth for this jigsaw piece, there is nothing to say, no ear to whisper nothing into.

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Drawing Henrijk

How does it work, this ART thing? How does it pop into being?

For me, it starts with a little detail. I was staring at Henrijk the cat from above, and the X in the middle of the bridge of his nose struck me, as if often does. It’s formed purely by the fur changing direction.  So I drew the X. And the soft losenge shape that fills the bottom part of his nose. And then I drew his nose. And then I put his eyes in, just to see if I could figure out where they need to be on the X. And then I drew his muzzle, just to see if I could. You know: could I make it look like a cat, and more importantly, could I make it look like Henrijk the cat?


Yeah. Turns out I can. So then I was a bit pleased with this, so I drew in his markings.


And then I was even more pleased with it so I did some flood fill. And that looked ok so I sort of accidentally started working on his fur.


And I thought, well, I can’t leave him with eyes like that. So…


And then I filled the background in, worked rest of his fur in… and made his eyes look real.


And then I realised I’d given him a weirdly massive chin. And a strange left nostril. And the image needed a crop. So I fixed that.


And then I signed it.

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I’ll tell you one thing if you like
(What’s that?)
I’ll always be hott
If I’m thin, if I’m fat,
If I’m he or I’m she
Or I’m nonbinary,
If I’m young or I’m old
Or sick or healthy,
If I’m a toff or a nobody,
If I’m sane or I’m mad,
If I’m chained or free,
If I’m angry or loving,
If I’m sad or hap
I’ll always be hott
Coz I’ll always be me.

I’ll tell you another if you like
That’s true:
You’ll always be hott
If you keep being you.

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An audio version of this post is available here.

Somehow the shoes – not the clothes – were what did for me. Two crammed bin liners in, and I abruptly threw the second one down and walked out of the room. (It needs doing. It needs doing.) All the dresses I’d had made for me by my tailor in the 90s and noughties, those went some time ago. I didn’t feel much more than a fleeting sadness for them. I’m older now. I wear different clothes. I couldn’t get into them anyway. That is the order of things as one gets older.

But the shoes, those are different. I could get into all of them. But I couldn’t walk in any of them, not five steps. And what would I wear them to? I don’t leave the house.

Dozens of spike heels. These ones I bought for a bash at the Savoy. These, I got in Church’s at Chancery Lane, their neat black ankle strap always looked so elegant. These ones went perfectly with those brown trousers I had. These were my fuck me heels. They worked. Running shoes. That I ran in, in the cool black evenings, gloves on, headphones on. Here are summer wedges, gingham, high, I made him take them off me with his teeth. These came to New York. These to Frankfurt, there’s still blood in them. These boots went to Rome and Istanbul. These Mary Janes went to Venice. Paris, Paris, and Paris: these ones. Brussels: the first Eurostar out, always, in the blue grey London dawn, in a rattling black cab over the pink waking Thames, and nobody has breathed the air yet. It is all mine. Those went to Dallas. These went to Chicago. I bought these in Vermont while skiing (skiing!), these in New York, these in … where the hell did I buy these? Spain? Portugal?

Grey patent. Red patent. Red glitter. Red velvet. Red suede. Raspberry patent. Dark blue velvet, kitten heels, I climbed a mountain in Thailand in you. Incongruously. Emerald printed cotton. Yellow silk. Purple silk. Silver.

Here are the black strappy wedge boots I was wearing that night, about a week before I got signed off work. It was autumn. I’d been falling over a lot for a year, but this one was memorable. I went over for no reason whatsoever in that little lane that leads down to Catford Bridge, and I came down on that massive wooden sleeper thing. Hand, knee. And there was a woman there and I couldn’t get up and it was the first time I’d experienced that, the complete marionetting of my body, the cutting of all strings. The lack of connection between intent and action. I couldn’t move while she asked, down a tunnel, through a blanket, in a foreign language I slowly realised was English “Are you alright?” It was only seconds and when my body switched back on again I exploded upright – “Fuck!”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes,” as I stamped off. But I wasn’t. And suddenly there wasn’t any wiggle room to pretend I was, any more, in these boots, these pretty boots.

And here’s what happened next, going into the bin liners: the Uggs that I lived in solidly from January ’09 for a year or two. The only things I could stand up in. The only things that didn’t make me bleed when I walked. After I bought them I never wore any of my lovely shoes again. Not once.

It’s like going through the possessions of someone who has died. There is no bright side to it. Just loss. I am troubled by her ghost.

I am troubled by my ghost.

I remember being alive, and it is difficult to reconcile then and now, difficult to reconcile me and this. I struggle with it. I work hard not to.

So I take a break and write this.  It needs doing. The clearing, I mean. You can’t live with the dead tucked under your bed and in the bottom of your wardrobe. You can’t live with it and expect to be ok. It needs doing.

And writing about it needs doing too. I can jam all that stuff into black bags and junk it, but I also need to sit down with that grief and look it in the eye. Not indulge it or invite it to come and live with me. But admit that it’s there. I feel sad for the things that happened to her, that girl. She was odd, but good. Odd, but loyal. Odd, and all fire. Unstoppable, until she stopped, unbreakable until she broke.  Now she is gone, and nothing rushes in to fill the space she left. Nothing. Rushes. In.

I don’t know what the future holds. But there is a future. So it must hold something. It won’t be spike heels, running shoes, ski boots.

Something else.

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North Star

You can hear me reading this here.

Keep your star in the north,
remember love.
You can only be you but remember others.
Open your arms and let them be
filled and emptied and filled again by the tide,
shhh let it move you. Lose your footing, lose your footing.
Find it again, look up.
Stand still buffeted, do not resist
dismay. Do not resist joy.
You can only be you.
Remember, love.

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History books

An audio version of this post is available here.

Oh oh oh! I’m on Amazon with my finger poised over the big yellow “Buy” button, when it strikes me. The full history of me stands up and checks me, like a border guard. And I stop.

The smell of book, an old, foxed hardback in my hands. Ex library, from my mother, its board cover sliding beneath a poorly fitted transparent plastic coat, worn semi opaque with use. The edges of the book’s closed pages are a series of ridges running the height of the book, betraying its hidden binding. Stitched, glued. Inside, it is tattooed as if it is part of a herd or interned in a prison camp, to be used until death. But it is in my hands now. Freed. Retired. Not retired. You have one more job ahead of you, book. One more.

And then

I take it with me everywhere. It is heavy, and I am small, but from the moment I discovered it, it became my bible. A book that doesn’t have a story in it. That doesn’t explain a topic. A book, a brick four inches thick, that exists solely to contain all the words, abstractly, in alphabetical order. A dictionary. 
I treat it carefully.  I carry it carefully.  Everywhere. It quickly becomes inconvenient for my family, me lugging the book about. Instead of looking on the shelf to find the dictionary, they first have to find the child who will be attached to it. It is as if the book has grown legs, or I have become a hermit crab whose home is somehow outside this solid object. And the edges of its pages betray its bindings. And when you open it, that smell.

And then

It only happens, or only seems to happen a couple of times a year. But time is a slippery thing, a wriggling thing, and who can say? The catalogue comes from the school and is full of books for children. Being one myself (technically), and with it being the 1970s, this is a thrilling event. Companies in the UK haven’t explored the option of marketing to children yet. Products other than toys – which one must deliberately go to a toy shop to seek out – aren’t aimed at us. The library has a corner for children, but the books there are colourful, shiny, illustrated, jam-tacky, and of little interest to me, other than Dr Seuss, but everyone loves Dr Seuss, not least because he is American and therefore inherently more exciting than anything which is not American. Consequently, Dr Seuss is always out on loan.  My other books are almost all adult books – very old ones at that, my grandfather’s copy of Defoe or Kipling (yes, reader, I have Kippled), or Swift; or children’s books inherited from my father, and therefore without exception, aimed squarely at boys or men. The most modern themes in these books are from the 1940s. The oldest are very old indeed. So this book catalogue is a very exotic bird. I spend days going through it. I have been given an allowance to spend and immediately discount any book that is illustrated or thin, however beautiful or popular, because I will read it in minutes, and I want a book to last me a few hours.  I make a list and cross it out and remake it and refine it.  The books are delivered to the school and on Wednesday, library day, when we go in, the desks are covered in boxes. Boxes of new books. They smell different to old books. Of ink, of solvents. There is no foxing, no ridging on the edges of the closed pages: there is no stitching, just glue. The bindings are tight, not floppy. The colours are bright, the covers, slick.  They sound different. Not the soft, flumpy sound of steam powered books, but an electric wick-wick!  You can cut yourself on them, I discover.


Forward, to Fleet Street, and my new fat wages which allow me, each month, to spend a hundred pounds on books. And a husband who strongly disapproves of this, who would, I suspect, rather spend the money on weekends in the country. But frankly I find weekends in the country exhausting and they would do nothing to quell my appetite for worlds and facts and the next page. I tear through books like a circular saw, next, next, next. One a day. A hundred  pounds is probably about a third of what I need to spend, to keep my head fed. There’s me, my body, which people meet and which they think is me, which requires almost nothing except a comfortable place to sit and a cat: and there’s my hungry head, my pacing lion head, my circular saw head that sucks in all the worlds, that must be fed read meat.


I can’t read. I am ill. It is 2006. The page, the words on it crawl away from my eyes, flinching, ducking. They shrink. Trying to read a word is like trying to thread a very tiny needle with cotton whose end is frayed. It just won’t. I push the sentence into my head, but it is dead, floppy, it contains no sustenance. It falls straight back out of me again. I pick it up, I am a monkey with its dead baby, trying to make it move, oh come back to me, move: but it will not move.

I do not remember when I put books down. I threw or gave away hundreds, keeping only those that I considered magical: Fraser’s Horse Book. My collection of dictionaries, which are my holy books. Rupert Thompson’s … all of Rupert Thomson’s. All of Jeanette Winterson. All of Patrick Hamilton. All of Wyndham. Golding’s perfect journeys through time, over sea. Van der Post’s blinding sentences. I could no longer access these countries.  But I could not forget them either.

Now books were strange objects of resentment. I tried re-reading easy, familiar books. No. I was in exile from the only country I had ever loved.

What changed, I do not know. My finger paused over that yellow button. “Buy for Kindle”, but however big the type was on my screen it made no difference to my ability to read and comprehend it. Suddenly what I wanted was a book. I wanted it the way you sometimes suddenly want another human body to touch yours, if you are alone. I wanted an old book, in my hands, foxed and crack backed, the quiet of much turned pages, the minute fur on the edges of its paper (have you ever put your lips against this? So soft). The smell of it. 

I bought it, second hand on eBay instead. Beautiful bashed up old Penguin Classics binding, the best-looking books in the world.  Pulp nonsense. Tiny print.  It should be impossible, doubly so, trebly so as I’m particularly ill at the moment. But this illness is strange. Facilities come and go. I can’t raise my arms to brush my hair at the moment. But it turns out I can once again step across the border between this world and the others. I read it in a day. And then I read another.

I started reading on the 28th of April, 2015. Four days ago. I have read four novels since then.

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