Sunday, 2 December 2012

Looking back: Petrified

There was a gorgeous whole moon last week. I drove onto the Mancunian Way where the road is elevated and there, huge and beautifully orange, was the dusk moon, framed by Manchester high rises.

It reminded me La Ville Petrifiée by Max Ernst. 

I love this painting and stood in front of it for ages and ages when it was hanging in Manchester Art Gallery.

I'm going to post the poem it inspired me to write, just because I can. It's interesting looking back at past writing... I can see a real departure in my writing from these more dark/depressing poems. I feel inclined to write another response because I know my feelings about the painting and the city have shifted almost beyond recognition. 


When you say, lay down on this concrete block and look- really look - at the blocks of flats down there below this hill, all I can see is moon.
I know what you want me to see - the pattern of high-rise/low-rise, windows lit /unlit that shifts every time one person goes into their kitchen and switches the light on. You want me to know that this life is always changing. This city that we live in, with its cranes and building sites, its dispersal schemes, renovations, conversions, it will never be the same as how we see it in this second.
I try to focus on the buildings and find myself imagining a woman living alone, not knowing her neighbour even though the wall dividing them is brick-width. Her bed and his bed corner the same space. They never speak, a nod perhaps or a smile, but she doesn’t know his name, and when he passes out drunk one night and chokes on his own vomit, she doesn’t call an ambulance. She hears noises but doesn’t feel she can go next door to knock, or shout through the letterbox.
So, when I lie on this concrete block and stare down at our city - all its dustbins and graffiti, neighbours stealing from neighbours and nobody sharing the price of a meal - all I can see is a moon above all this, full moon in a dark sky, a polluted glow making this moon a peach. And I wish it was all I could see: moon over fields or flattened land or a different kind of place, not the emptiness of a city - because that’s how I see it - the loneliness of being surrounded by strangers who might let me choke on my own vomit and later say, it sounded like someone was dying but I never thought to find out.
A train rattles on the tracks below us. We lie on this concrete block and talk about how we are city and moon, how different city and moon are, how a city moon is different from any other.
You hold my hand as though this concrete block might subside and bury us both, before we get the chance to find out whether strangers will start listening to each other.


Saturday, 30 June 2012

work/life balance

I love working part-time. In fact it's almost perfect. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in work. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday are mine. And I've been making sure they are mine.

Digging at the allotment. Planting. Weeding. New little design projects involving baths, tyres and scaffold planks. It has been very freeing to spend so much time there. 

One night, I was there at dusk. I stayed until about half ten, when it was just too dark to stay any longer. The sounds of the birds was so immense, all chattering as the sun went down, and apart from the birds it was so quiet. Only me, filling up watering cans at the tap. Watering the greenhouse. The smell of tomato plants, coriander and basil as I opened the door. 

Some days, I've been at the allotment all day. Six hours of my own company, with dirt under my nails, a spade in my hands, nipping home in the middle of the day for lunch, and back again to pick loganberries, strawberries, redcurrants, rhubarb. My fruit is beautiful. My veg, not so great. We're all having a bad year with all this rain, and some days it has been wellies / waterproofs / and a few times, getting soaked to the skin, or running into the shed to hide until the rain eases, or hot tea in the hut with allotment friends. I always come home grubby and smiling, for a hot bath and hungrily prepared food.

Now, I have time for myself, time for everything I love. My god, when I was full-time I never stopped. I never spent time with myself. Everything had to fit around everything else. 

Now, I have space. Hours pass. I can't remember what I did. I read a book in bed. I wander. I potter about. I dream. I didn't even realise that I had become so stressed with full-time work that I lost my dreaming time. Now, I dream all the time.

And I have the space to make these dreams real.  

Like, heading back to Montenegro with a small suitcase to see how it might work out with the man I met in a restaurant only five weeks before. No guidebook. No plans. Just pulling my case on wheels down a dark bumpy road, hoping he would be there to meet me. 

Like, learning to roller skate. Yes. At my age. And loving how free I feel when I skate, even when I fall over. Actually, especially when I fall over.

Like, having the time to think about what I want to write, without feeling the pressure to write even a single word.

Yes. Maybe having a good work/life balance is about having choice. I don't have the money to live this way for long. But for now, this is my time and I plan to do with it whatever I want.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Night of the Quicken Trees, Claire Keegan

So, Claire Keegan's second collection of short stories Walk the Blue Fields has been my companion for the past two weeks, during my holiday to Croatia and Montenegro, on the plane and on my return home.   

It's a second hand copy. I went into Oxfam books, thinking I might pick up a couple of books to read while I was away. I skimmed my eyes across the shelves, looking at titles and spines, and this very unassuming book drew me in. A slim, neat book in amongst all these fat and worn second-hand novels. Plain-looking from the spine. But the title grabbed me (and the faber ff quietly sitting at the bottom of the spine). So, I pulled it out and smiled to myself when I saw it was short fiction. Yes, it was mine.

It settled in my suitcase and I started reading it on a very rainy day in Perast in Montenegro. A quiet town, off season, and not quite used to so much rain. I could see the hills opposite through the terrace doors and mist over the bay. I opened the book and started reading the first story and it felt a little like holding my breath. I stared out of the window for a long time when I finished reading it, as all the details soaked in. I thought, I need to read these stories slowly, one at a time. That first story, in fact all of them, so absorbing, I wanted to fully immerse myself and make sure I felt every word.

So, I read more outside a restaurant on a terrace that jutted out over the bay on a windy morning where I needed a second cardigan, but I couldn't put the book down until I'd completed the next story. And I read more inside the same restaurant while I lingered over two cups of green tea and waited for the waiter (a man I spent four days with) to stop at my table and smile or share a few words. And I read more in the early hours one morning when I couldn't sleep and the rain lashed down and although my body felt drained, my mind felt so awake.

Most of the stories are set in Ireland and so I was staying in a strange country, reading about another unfamiliar country. But the characters and the geography began to seem very familiar in my mind, so much so that it was like living three different lives at once. The lives of my characters, my own brief life away from home for that short holiday, and my ongoing life, the one it was good to escape from for a while.

Yesterday, I finished the collection. I stayed in bed late into the morning and read the final story Night of the Quicken Trees. A 40-page story inspired by an Irish fairy tale called 'Feet Water' and containing some elements of a fairy tale, but so grounded and earthy and rich in detail, it felt as if I could be Margaret in this story.

The two main characters are so fiercely individual and strange. I am in awe at how real their characters have been developed by the writer. I could see them so vividly in my mind as I read, but I also felt as if I could step inside their shoes and feel everything they felt, even outside of the words written in the story. They are isolated through choice, loving the solitary confines of their lives in two adjoining cottages. Margaret is not yet forty, pisses outside because 'she wanted to pass water on every blade of grass around her house, she could not say why.' She lost a child from cot death, she can heal people, and she loves to lie on the cliff and look over the edge. Stack who lives next door is nearly fifty. He shares his bed with his goat, Josephine, cuts turf from the bogs, loves fried eel. They are peculiar people, stubborn in their own ways, affected by the past, and have been brought to where they are by circumstance.

I love the way we see each character through their own eyes and through each other's eyes. So Stack sees Margaret like this: 'And now a woman was living next door, setting fire to the priests good furniture, walking the roads with her hair all tangled same as she didn't own a comb.'

I loved every detail about how Margaret settles into her new house. It's as if she is exorcising the past by staying there. I won't say why. The story needs to be enjoyed to find this out.

I found myself connected to the story more and more as it progressed, knowing there was sadness written into every word,  not in a pitying way, but an everyday tragic way: how solitariness can become a habit and familiar, and the strangeness of other people is just comparative to our own strangeness, and how loss can slowly eat away at people without them even knowing it.

The connection formed between Stack and Margaret is beautifully found and explored in the story, without cliches or sentiment and how it progresses is not what I expected, and at the same time everything that I should have expected.

And maybe there are elements of the story that reflect my own life, or mean a lot to me right now, because I've been thinking a lot about isolation and connection, about getting older and being alone and relationships, and this story explores all these things. And I feel there is a lot about me that is fiercely strange and this story gives no apologies for the strangeness of these characters, in fact it celebrates it.

It is a story filled with dreams and superstitions. It is poetic and dirty and beautiful and filled with tenderness and sadness. I don't think I will ever forget it.

I will leave you with these lines.

Margaret came home, pulled the priest's bed out of the room, took it down to the field, and doused it with paraffin. It was slow to burn at first, then blazed and turned into a bed of ash. She went inside and began to knock a hole in the wall between the two houses. Stack stood in this own house at the dividing wall and felt afraid. When that wall came down nothing would ever be the same. He could feel the grief of Margaret Flusk. Her grief was beyond comparison. And her strength; Margaret has the strength of two men. Weren't her legs and arms the same as in his dream? He stood there and hear the plaster loosen, then the stones.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Clearing Out

Things I found when clearing out old diaries and notebooks:

1. A note from my mum (no date) 'Annie/ The gardener, Morris, is working outside so you will hear him coming in and out of the kitchen. Have a good day, Mum. Let me know if you are back for tea.

2. A naked photograph of me, not looking at the camera

3. A list:

    gas works
    running track
    sports ground, Thompson park
    bowling green
    Scrogg's wood

4. Some notes from a writing workshop. 'How long has it taken to paint this picture? / Whistler: 'Five minutes and all my life'

5. A business card for a literary agent, I can't ever remember meeting.

6. A letter to a friend, which I never posted.

7. A piece of ribbon tucked inside a notebook. It has these words printed on it 'peace... tranquillity... calm... love... reflection... harmony... peace...'

8. This.
    What I learned on my snowboarding holiday

    that hair freezes at -10 degrees
    that snowball fights usually end in tears
    that falling backwards into a drift of snow is more painful than it would seem
    that salapettes should always be hung up to dry
    that there are few occasions when one should deep fry cheese

9. A list of opening times for Bolton library

10. A screenplay I started writing called 'Chlorine Dreams'. It's dreadful, but I think I want to write a short story about it.

11. My notes on meeting Nina Cassian: 'I talked to her at the end to tell her how beautiful her reading was. She stroked my hand. '

12. Some notes for a poem.

    It made me laugh
    the way gulls perched on the castle walls
    trying to keep their feet
    while we almost blew along the sea front
    wind and rain both having a go.
    We could hardly open our eyes
    to the sting, the push of winter
    and I took your photo
    with your eyes screwed up
    all the lines on your face laughing wide
    soaked through we were
    but alive.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Creative Collaborations

I ran a workshop last week alongside artist Gemma Lacey.

We've worked together for a number of years now. I've forgotten how many. We started working together when we were individually invited to take part in an exhibition, and I wrote a poem in response to one of Gemma's beautiful prints (on the top left in the photograph).

From there, I'm not sure how we ended up engaging in a series of collaborations that seem to evolve slowly over time, with no end goal only a wish to have a creative dialogue between us, and wanting to play with words and visual art.

This photograph is a collection of some of our work. We laid these photographs, prints, drawings, poems, books, objects out on a table so that the workshop participants could see if they wanted and because we wanted to encourage other people to explore their own collaborations.

I think it's the first time I've seen all this work in the same place. Some of it lives with me and some of it lives with Gemma. Most of our work has been postal projects - sending each other responses through the post, sometimes with huge gaps in time and not knowing what is going to arrive through our letterboxes. We have days together, where we go out and talk and get inspiration. We have joint play days. I call them Gemma days, and she calls them Annie days. And we eat food and sometimes walk. We draw and print and collage, and photograph and make, and write and type on old typewriters and use old printing sets, and I always feel as if Gemma's work is inspiring and beautiful and feel very lucky to work with her.

So, it felt exciting to bring some of this together at a workshop, and share our experience with a small group of other artists, writers and interested people. We invited them to explore the gallery space and the current exhibition Inside. They responded with words and images and shared them with each other, and everything was about working together, as a group and in pairs to create new work - not individual but shared work.

It was interesting to see the work that came out of these exercises. And we had some fascinating conversations about collaborations. We were asked questions about our work together, and I realised that mostly it has been unspoken, our work together, it has evolved quietly, without us setting goals, without us making decisions about 'where it will go' and even without us agreeing on a direction. No rules. And this is why it works so well, no expectations, no end point, no agenda, no pressure on each other or time constraints.

I love it.

And I loved seeing all our work together.

Of course, we are still evolving and working on a new project and I'm not sure how long this one will continue or exactly what work we will have in the end. I know that without planning to we have started to  explore similar themes and issues and a body of work is developing that we know is heading towards a limited edition box called keepsafes that will contain words and art objects.

And I'm really hoping that maybe we can do more workshops together to encourage other people to find collaborators, creative mates, partners to explore and inspire and make and play and share creativity with, because it's great fun, and find things that might never be discovered inside us individually....

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Rain in Montenegro

I've just returned from a week in Croatia and Montenegro. Of course, I was hoping for a little sun, a little warmth. It rained for almost seven days solid. My bikini, flipflops and lovely summer dresses stayed in my suitcase and I was forced into a waterproof, wet trainers and various umbrellas. My feet were damp for most of the week. I wore the same warm clothes over and over. There were more indoor days than I imagined, and dripping soggy walks that were not too unlike my rainy Manchester days. Did it spoil the holiday? Nope. Did I moan sometimes about the rain? A little. 

But I'm not adverse to rain. And there was something so exciting about creeping onto the balcony one dawn to see how the mist had descended over the water and clung damply to everything, and then dozing with a huge smile on my face. And there was something fateful about walking into a restaurant one afternoon, dripping with rain, shaking myself off like a wet dog, and asking if we could have coffee, not realising I would spend four days with the man who answered my question. And there was something entirely beautiful about lying in bed in the early hours one morning, while rain lashed the roof and thunder cracked the sky open. I lay awake for hours listening to it, not wanting to sleep in case I missed something. And walking through the village under an umbrella, seeing the different dramatic skies, with nobody else around. And breathing in that delicious after-rain smell. And visiting towns that were empty enough for me to wander round and feel as if the town was mine. And the dripping of water into a drain that sounded like a tiny bell. And all the conversations with people about the rain where we laughed and shrugged because really it doesn't matter, and maybe it brought me close to people that otherwise I might never have known.

I'm struggling to know how to write about my time in Montenegro, because there was so much happened, so many shifts and changes in me, such a beautiful sense of connection and feeling 'at home' and so very free.  

So, I'm doing what we do when we're not sure what else to say. I talk about the weather, hoping that I get across somehow a sense of how I felt and slowly maybe I'll be able to unravel all my experiences there and find a way to describe them. 

Friday, 13 April 2012

My Current Occupations

I was in Oxfam books today. The two volunteers running the shop were talking for their lives, like, non-stop hardly pausing for breath and I wanted to turn round and rudely ask them to be quiet. Their noise was incessant. But a) the world does not revolve around me and b) they were obviously volunteering their time and how rewarding and nice for them that they found so much to talk about while doing good for an amazing charity. However, I realised I like a quiet book shop, one where I can browse and enjoy the creases in the spines, the smell of the books, pick them up, read the back covers, flick pages in peace. So I grabbed two books and didn't linger.

My holiday reading. The Accidental by Ali Smith. Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

Oh, also Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. It's been on my bookshelf for a few years and I dusted it off the other day and had a dip into the first two chapters/essays. I am so in awe of her writing. It pushes the poetry in prose beyond anything I can imagine being able to write. It's insightful, beautiful, well-researched, moving and I can't wait to read on.

I went to BlankSpace in Manchester yesterday. There's an exhibition called Inside.

A very physical exhibition, with each installation in its own room. It's interesting being able to physically be within an art space and be 'inside' each piece of work. There was one piece of work called Womb by the Drop Collective. I am hesitant to describe it, as I feel that if you are in Manchester you should go along and take a look yourself. It's one of the most disturbing and affecting art installations I've seen. Even the physical act of opening the door and walking into the space was disturbing, as if discovering the most intimate, dirty, painful secret. I felt like a voyeur and witness. It was visually brilliantly done. The whole room was transformed into a scene with video, sound, strange light, and I felt myself shudder as I went in. I've not been able to stop thinking about it.

Inside Collaborations is a free workshop at BlankSpace, run by me (poet) and Gemma Lacey (visual artist). It's on Thursday 26 April from 2-5pm. We will be spending a lovely afternoon, exploring and responding the exhibition, writing and making, lots of creative play with a focus on collaboration. I've been working with Gemma for a number of years, we've collaborated in all kinds of interesting playful ways mixing visual arts with word through making books, photographs and our current project-in-progress keepsafes, which will result in a very limited edition box of words and art pieces. We hope to be able to share some of our own experiences of creatively working together to maybe create some new collaborations. It's for beginners or more experienced writers and artists. And it will be fun, I hope. If you want to book a free place, email Nathalie at

I've been less confident as a writer in recent months. I think I've been taking it too seriously, being too ambitious. I was hung up on the idea of having a short story collection published, as if this would be the only measure of success. I'm trying to reclaim my independence and open up possibilities. I've always written for me, to play, be creative, to explore. I've been involved in all kinds of very tiny creative projects that have grown through love and imagination and I've always felt very much myself as a writer. I lost that path a little, being caught up in wanting to be more successful than this. But, I've realised this is silly. I'm not trying to be a career writer or make money from it. I don't care about prestige or reviews. But I do want to be work with other writers, have some kind of readership however small, and find a way to get my writing out there. And I want to enjoy writing and feel confident about myself.

On that note. I was really pleased to be approached by Back&Beyond to see if they could publish one of my prose poems in a little chapbook. Fast&Loose 2 is a set of chapbooks with work from Ian Seed, me, Jo Gillot and David Hartley, and includes one piece from each of us, prose poetry, flash fiction and lyric. My copies arrived in the post this week, and they are really beautifully designed pamphlets, neatly folded and bound together with a belly band. They are funky little things and I feel so proud to be part of it.

I've been very anxious about everything and anything recently. I'm not quite sure what's been happening. Life sometimes is like this for me. It's been a struggle of a year so far and I'm grateful for friends and small everyday things really. Some days, I want to hide under the duvet. Some days are good. Most days are hard in some ways and it's been months since I truly felt like me. There seem to have been a lot of stresses and barriers and challenges, and to be honest it's hard to rise to them. I know many people struggle with depression and anxieties, and there are tons of people who have much harder lives than me. We all get troubles from time to time. But, it can still be very isolating and lonely to be in the thick of it.

All the more reason to read and play and write, don't you think?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Solo Living

It's useless trying to write when I'm ill, even a shopping list is too difficult. I've been holed up at home for days and not able to write because my mind is like cotton wool and I don't have the energy it takes to work at a piece of writing.

I've watched DVDs, slept, felt sorry for myself, attempted a jigsaw and got cross with myself trying to put the sky together because it was just 100 pieces of blue and frankly I don't have the patience for that. I've groaned and sniffed and gargled and nearly fallen asleep in the bath. I've been very poor company for the brilliant friend that came round and spent a whole day with me, patiently shouting out crossword clues as I lay half dozing in bed, making my tea and waiting for about an hour while I painfully tried to swallow it, and listening to me moan. I don't do suffering quietly or well, and my tonsils have I'm sure been the most infected tonsils ever to grace the back of anyone's throat.

I've been stuck in the house since Wednesday and contrary to the Guardian's article on living solo  last week, living alone certainly is not a privilege when you're  ill for a week and not sure who might come round (if anyone) to bring well-needed provisions, medicines and make you a cup of tea..

I think the main difficulty about living alone is that most other people have their own support at home, partner or family or whoever, and so when it comes to being ill, needing help, things breaking down, being responsible in whatever way for home/self/job/life, there is nobody naturally there. I am nobody's number one priority, nobody's most important person.

This is what the Guardian article really didn't quite get around to discussing about solo living, is that no matter how much freedom, space, quiet, or selfishness it allows, it is really a very solitary, lonely state of being.

So, this is what four days of enforced stay at home does for me.

Tomorrow I am going to venture out of the house. I might even grab a cup of tea in a cafe, and possibly visit a friend. It feels a little like being let out of a caged place and I'm not quite sure whether I'll still be able to communicate!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

At night

At night I dream that you and I are two plants
that grew together, roots entwined,
and that you know the earth and the rain like my mouth
since we are made of earth and rain.

- Pablo Neruda

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Light Nights, Full Belly

So, I finish work early. I've had a full, rewarding day full of people and learning and hard truths. I ate lunch outside on the grass, sitting with the lovely women from my workplace, and the sun was warm on my skin. It was a conference day all about Women and Asylum. It was sometimes hard to listen, upsetting, bringing me feelings of anger and frustration and sadness, hearing what I already know is happening in the world and our country, but somehow it never gets any easier to hear.

I head to the allotment afterwards, planning to water the seedlings I've lined up in trays in the greenhouse, as it's been unusually warm here in Manchester for March, almost like summer. I open the gate and walk up the path, and before I know it I've kicked off my shoes and my jeans are rolled up, feet in some old holey wellies. I'm stripped to my vest with a fork in my hand, digging over a raised bed. It's just too tempting to do a little work, and maybe just maybe, soon I might start to feel better with these light nights. It's been a tough winter. But maybe I can leave work early more often and get stuck in for an hour or two, digging, or tidying up the strawberry patch, or planting some seeds.

I meet a new friend today. Derek is holding onto the allotment gates and my neighbour Jill hollers me over. He's struggling for breath a little, leaning against his stick. He's maybe 80, I'm no good at guessing people's age, but of course I'll give him a lift. I hold open the car door while he struggles into the passenger seat, lifting each leg in, and taking his time, wheezing a little. He tells me he had cardiovascular surgery and he has an illness I don't recognise the name of, so it's not so easy for him to walk. He couldn't quite make it home from the shops, and a neighbour carries his shopping bag, while I lean over to fasten his seatbelt because it's awkward to reach, and I let him try but he can't quite get it fastened. He asks which is my allotment, and he is smiling as I show him. He says that was his allotment, and his dad's allotment before that. Me and Derek drive the 200 yards round the corner to his house and he struggles out again. I invite him to come to his old plot any time, and tell him I've always got spare veg.  

I dig again, and another hour passes, and I don't realise it's getting late until my belly grumbles for food. These lighter nights are just heaven. I grab some stalks of rhubarb to stew for my pudding and smile all the time I drive home.

There are many things to be grateful for, but I don't always see them. Some days are darker than others and it's more difficult to see what it's all for. Depression can be very pervasive and since November it's been different kinds of hard.

But today, everything is good. I have a full belly, a holiday to look forward to, part-time hours after this week, lots of plans with friends, and a whole summer of light nights where I can head to the allotment and dig and watch everything grow.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Venturing Out as a Poet

I rarely do readings these days. I shy away from the, as reading does make me a little nervous, but recently had two lovely invitations to read and decided to say yes. So very soon, I will be reading at two events in Chorlton.

The first is this Friday at Chorlton Library. Manky Poets has been running for many years, and I was really pleased to be asked by copland smith to be one of two featured poets. The other is a new poet called Katherine Horrex. I'm going to read a strange mix of very old poems and very new ones. It's a long time since I've read so I want to revisit some poems I haven't read for a long time. And also test out some new prose poems I've been writing with artist Gemma Lacey as part of our new project called keepsafes. Manky Poets is a meagre £2 or £1 and it starts at 730pm I think, side door of Chorlton Library. I hope we might get a warm, friendly crowd of people, and there are chances to read your own poems too, as there are openings for poems from the floor. Please come and say hello.

The second reading is in a few weeks, Tuesday 10th April. Lead Poets + Prose is upstairs at the Lead Station on Beech Road in Chorlton. I've read here a couple of times before, and it's always a lovely intimate reading. There is always an interesting mix of poets, and I think they added prose for my benefit, as I asked whether I can read a very short story. It's a very poetic story, so I felt it might fit in with the night and I'm dying to have the chance to read it so I can gauge how it works. I'm a little nervous as only one other person has read this story, so it's my chance to get a little feedback as well. So, if you are there, please come and let me know what you think. I give permission for people to be honest... There are a wonderful selection of poets, and I think (but am not entirely sure) that the event is free... It starts at 7.30pm and poets for the nights are

Annie Clarkson
Sarah L Dixon
Edmund Prestwich
Gary Parkinson
Melanie Rees
Rachel Sills
Stevie Turner

I usually wander along to these events all on my lonesome, so any friendly faces will be most welcome...

Saturday, 25 February 2012


When I leave the office, I walk out onto a small industrial car park surrounded by an eight foot high metal fence, and outside the fence there are red brick mills all around, with gigantic chimneys, and fire escapes that run down ten or more floors, and hundreds of mill windows that are no longer lit because the mills are empty mostly, and the shells of these mills stand as silhouettes in the Manchester dusk sky. Always, when I leave work there is a sense of quiet (perhaps in me). There are shadows everywhere. The waste ground on the other side of the fence runs along the side of the canal. Beyond the waste ground is the Manchester cityscape, and often the dusk sky is breathtaking, a dramatic sky of indigo and azure with backlit clouds hanging over the buildings in a kind of menacing way. I'm the last person to leave the office, so I switch off the lights and lock the doors, and turn round to find the most dramatic sky. I think, that's a S**** ******* sky (insert ex-lover's name). I laugh at myself for even thinking this. I drive over the Mancunian Way towards home and the light is stunning. It reflects in all the windows of the office buildings at the side of the flyover, this stunning sky with its dramatic shadows and varying shades of blue, and I have to smile, because there's no doubt in my mind this is a S**** ******* sky, even though the sky belongs to no person. It's the only way I can think to describe it, and as I drive my car down the slip road (obviously focusing on the road, but) getting lost in this sunset, I know that he is on a similar road in a landscape with mills in shadow taking a photograph of this very same sky.

I sit in my car in the Northern Quarter in the dark past midnight and listen to a new friend tell me that I'm weird, how I weird people out sometimes. There are three people he names, all people who have met me through one or several literature events. I sit in the driver's seat and without realising it I am hunched over, almost hugging the steering wheel as if in brace position. I am listening, to him tell me about my weirdness, while a man further down the street drunk out of his head shouts I love you I love you and bottles are dropped in an industrial size bin. The car windows are misted with condensation and it's February so it's cold. He says, I don't mind it, I like you for being weird. But, it's hard to listen. I feel as if I don't want to go to these places where I sit on the edges of peoples conversations, feeling awkward and not fitting in and being told afterwards that people have mentioned how weird I am. I realise I'm almost hugging the steering wheel and adjust myself. I make a joke about it and wonder if this is weird. We talk about other things and laugh, but it's late now. I want to go home. The door thuds as he leaves the car.

I open the gate to the allotments, it's a big metal seven foot gate with a padlock as big as my hand, and a big metal chain. I survey my allotment. It's not flooded as it has been for the past four weeks. It's earth and decay and rows of leeks and cabbages under nets and bare fruit bushes waiting for Spring. I haul over a filled to the brim caddy of waste vegetable peels and lift off the compost bin lid so I can struggle to lift the weight of the caddy high enough to drop in. It unleashes a stink or rotten food. I shove my feet into wellies and walk the length of the plot to carry an armful of eight foot long stalks from my Jerusalem artichokes. They are dried out enough to be able to crush and splinter and break into pieces and drop into the bin to rot down with the food. I breathe. I breathe properly for the first time in a week, really fill my lungs and feel my belly expand as I realise I'm starting to relax. I fetch a spade and a fork. They're still dirty from last time. The wooden handle of the spade is smooth from all the unknown hands that have worked with it. I bought it second hand and the edge of the spade is worn and thin, but I like working with an old spade, somehow it feels right. I cut an edge along the side of the path, cutting through the tangle of couch grass roots. I start to turn over the soil with the fork, it's compacted and heavy and each time I lift the fork I can feel a strain in the muscles in my shoulders and arms. I'd almost forgotten what it feels like to dig, even though it's only been six weeks. I dig for two hours. Steady, stopping for breath, and to unwind my scarf from my neck as it's hot work. I tie back my hair. I keep digging. I stop for water and to talk to Michael the preacher who brings me a block of soil think with comfrey roots. I stop to speak to Dublin Ann about potatoes. I keep digging.

I get in my car outside the sports centre. I've been skating, although the boots were heavy and dug into my feet so I mostly watched people skate past. People with tattoos and coloured hair and sparkly tights and short skirts. I watch people skate backwards and weave in and out of each other and laugh. I sti on a bench with a friend and chatter. Outside the sports centre, my phone makes a noise. It's a text message from a friend. We sent a few texts today. I asked her if she thinks I'm weird. She tells me she doesn't think of me like that. I sit in the car outside the sports centre and I read the text. It says I'm special. I drive home and get caught in the football traffic, but I don't mind. I cut through the back roads, through a housing estate, an industrial estate, past the same mills near my office. It's dark now, and everywhere there are windows, hundreds of them, their lights casting shadows on the street, and everywhere is quiet, no people about, just square windows of light that hide people who are weird. Or special. Or special and weird.

Maybe I'm weird because I notice things, because I ask questions, because I'm not good at trivial talk, because my job is intense so I carry some of that, because I'm passionate about things other people aren't passionate about, because I live alone, and have lived alone for a long time, because I get anxious sometimes, because I feel uncomfortable in certain situations and sit on the edges of conversations that other people seem to find easy, because I want to write about four things that are unconnected and yet feel as if they belong together in this blog post, because I want to understand things other people don't even notice, because I spend time with people who are my kind of weird, if I am weird, people who don't think of me as weird, who like me just the way I am.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Getting it wrong...

Today, I was very hurtful to another person, not deliberately, but all the same, I was thoughtless and the way I behaved was incredibly hurtful.

This person is someone I value so much, who has always given me kindness and support and opportunity, so I feel ashamed of myself and lost as to why I would be like this. I can't think of an adequate reason. It was just hurtful. I did it. And there really isn't an excuse.

I'm not sure what the right thing to do following something like this, because I'm not often a shit bag.

Of course, I can be moody and difficult and not the best company. Like most people, I can have little huffs, or  upset people accidentally when I don't realise and I no doubt get on peoples nerves because I'm a certain kind of person with my own particular set of difficulties and flaws.

But today, I was downright hurtful and horrible, and all day I've struggled with the thought of how awful this person must have felt because of me.

I've tried to apologise, but saying sorry is so inadequate. My behaviour can't be undone and the hurt has already set out on its journey. I can't take that back.

And now I'm wondering what a person like me needs to do /should do / can do in order to try and make things right?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

V Day poem...

Last year, I was just falling in love and wrote this poem for my friend Vanessa who was a little heart broken. The love I found last year ended and I've been recovering for past months, And V has fallen in love again with a proper decent bloke, which she so deserves.

I thought I might post this video of me reading our poem, because there is a little crack of sadness today, but also a smile because for me Valentine's Day is not just about being in love it's about the love we don't have yet, the love we left behind and the love we imagine for ourselves...