101 Most Played Songs of 2017 (According to Spotify)

I know all the old folks that believe that young people have always lived in a world with the internet and iPhones will find it hard to believe, but just a decade ago my friends and I still made mix tapes. YES TAPES! We would record music off of the radio or copy it from CD’s (I even had a vinyl to tape recorder because I was THAT cool *poor*) and we would write little lists on paper and post it notes so that our friends knew what songs were on the tapes or CD’s.

I got my first iPod a decade ago and it was a crappy little 4GB deal that revolutionized how I listened to music but every now and then I meet someone that remembers mix tapes or mixes as I call them now as the media has changed and we bond in a way that is so bitterly nostalgic and pure that I fall in love with that person right then and there.

So, it’s 2017 and I still make mixes and so do many of my friends and though the times have changed, sharing music with other people is one of the deepest and rawest forms of intimacy and as no one I know in real life really reads this blog – raw is what y’all usually get from me.

Compiled below is a list of the 101 most played songs from my 2017 Spotify playlists. If you click on the song it will take you to YouTube where you can listen to it. It’s as close to the real deal as I can give you and I hope you find some treasure hidden among my delightful trash. Imagine that this list is written on the back page of a Stephen King book and we are smoking a joint by the river, and trust me, it will all make sense.

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That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed listening to some of these songs. Maybe you found something new or remembered something old and fabulous. As you can see, this year hasn’t been an easy one (mirrored perfectly in how utterly depressing some of these songs are) but it’s been one I will never forget.

This was the soundtrack to 2017.

See you in 2018 ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Year in Music – Spotify Breakdown 2017

I have a friend who makes a playlist on his iPod every year of his most played songs from the year just passed. It’s always been a practice I’ve admired but as I listen to my music on a wide range of untraceable media – CD’s, vinyl, rickety old iPod’s, tape decks, YouTube – it’s often difficult to trace. For example, this past week I’ve been listening to Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds new album at home on CD though how many times I’ve played it I couldn’t quite count accurately – suffice to say it’s been a lot.

I’ve had Spotify for around seven years now and it’s always served me well not only in the extensive collection of music in terms of artists, albums and genres it has, but also in its customization interface and it’s user friendly quick drop playlist options. I can get a hook or a line from a song stuck in my head and with a few flicks of the finger on Spotify – I’ve found the song, the artist, the album and have it at my disposal for a million and one smashes of the replay button.

One thing that I always noted with my friend when I was looking through his rerun playlists was that he always seemed a lot cooler than his most played list made him out to be and the truth is, I think in our heads we are all a lot edgier when we are trying to give an impression of who we are than we are when no one is watching.

This year saw a very raw and emotional me. There have been moments of unadulterated beauty and swathes of self discovery and laughter, but dripping from the walls of 2017 there is mostly pain, frustration and sadness. This is mirrored massively in my Spotify breakdown because even though I had happy days, many happy days, this year, they were only made happy by the company I kept in the small hours of the morning trying to sleep with my music playing next to me promising me that I wasn’t alone and that I could get through this and that, yes, every little ‘ting was gonna be alright.

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This breakdown means a lot to me, not only because it reads like a list of the awesome people I’ve hung out with this year, but also because it proves to me how important these incredible strangers that sing these strange, magnificent and sometimes absurd songs actually are. The top five artists are there because they make sense to me. Their words have lifted my head high, put tears in my eyes, rocked me to sleep, got me out of bed in the morning and kept me going every minute in between.

They’re not just songs to me – they’re my life and the people that sing them – my family. Some of them I’ve been with forever, some have come along this year just when I needed them the most and given me hope. Where does this hope come from? Not entirely just from the fact that the people that write and sing these songs know how I feel because let’s face it – I’m probably never going to befriend Brian Fallon or Butch Walker in real life, but in the back of my mind I know that somewhere, out there, laying in bed trying to sleep, there is someone who feels the same as me, listening to the same song as me and wondering, just like me, when we are going to meet and fall apart in love together.

To call them musicians or artists cheapens what these people are. They are saints, holier than though, gurus and shaman bringing together all the beaten broken nearly beloved bastards of the world and gathering them in small sweaty rooms together where they all stand in awe of the stranger that feels like home to them. It’s not the camaraderie of the artist and the fan, more so than the feeling of absolute belonging that the fans have among each other. And yeah, we’re always going to fight over which album was better or whether or not Dylan should have gone electric but what we will always agree on is that life would not be worth living without these people because our lives would be unimaginably awful without them.

So thank you, to all the artists that made it onto this list and for whoever thought to offer a breakdown like this to the people that use Spotify. I can remember a plethora of moments when the most played songs were blaring through my headphones and when the artists that made the list were the only voice I wanted in my head. It fills me with ripples of self awareness and, well, I think pride, really. Pride that I did it. I survived another year. And that my faith in music and the people I love, whether I know them or not, will never let me down.

Because there will always be a song that has the words when you don’t.

To tell you that you’re okay.

That’s you’re doing your best.

And that you have never, and will never, ever be alone.

 

 

#TheFutureIsVegan – Casper Pumpkin Soup

One thing that’s hard to do when you’re on a budget is buy locally grown organic produce. It helps if that produce doesn’t extend to meats and cheeses, the extortionate price of which tempted me more towards veganism than the ethical or health benefits ever did in the beginning, as vegetables, whether they are organic or radioactive mutants, tend to be much cheaper than animal products.

It does, however, help to know people who grow their own vegetables and I just so happen to be one of those people. My daughters step mother and her father have an allotment and in the summer they keep me in tomatoes and courgettes but come autumn, their house is literally COVERED in pumpkins and squashes, the size of which you wouldn’t believe if I told you. So look at this picture instead!

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The giant pumpkin Charlie Brown warned us about…

Pretty big, huh? Considering I took my daughter, niece and nephew to a pumpkin patch a few days after this photograph was taken and they were charging upwards of £35 for a pumpkin of this size, and they were just for carving, imagine how much cash this delicious 100% organic and most definitely locally grown pumpkin would have cost! It’s good to have connections and it certainly helps when you know that the people that grew this pumpkin are the cutest bloody farmers you’ll ever meet!

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Molly and her sister Ruth at the allotment!

It is, I believe, one of the most vital and enduring truths to teach our children – where the food actually comes from. When Molly is with me, the majority of what she eats is vegan though she is always given the option between either meat, veggie or vegan. The point is, whether or not my daughter eats animal products – she knows where they come from and is beginning to understand that the price we pay for meat and dairy goes far beyond pounds and pence. To see these two beautiful creatures with their hands in the dirt, interacting with the earth and to be able to eat something that these ladies grew makes my pumpkin taste damn near heavenly.

So – what’s a Casper pumpkin? They are sweet, firm squashes that get their name on account of the fact that they are white instead of orange (though the Casper pumpkins I’ve met are more an off yellow colour – Custard pumpkins, perhaps?) They seem to have emerged as carving pumpkins this year too though they are so subtle and hold flavours much more robustly than the sometimes overpowering conventional orange pumpkin that once you try them in cooking I doubt the regular pumpkins will ever do again.

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Casper in his various delightful forms…

This soup is sweet, spicy and perfect for cold winter days snuggled up with Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and a fleecy blanket! (Some people pair wines with food, I tend to pair movies with food…it’s a quirk, leave me be) The recipe is below and not only is it 100% vegan but it’s also cheap and bulky, freezes well and as I found out, makes a welcome gift at work!

Give it a go and see what you think as always, let me know if you try it out!

Kylets Demo

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Prep – 20-30 mins Cooking – 45 mins Serves – 6-8 people

Kylets Demo 

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Thyme from my neighbours garden!

 

  • 4 cups of diced Casper pumpkin
  • 2 peeled, cubed white potatoes
  • 1 peeled, cubed sweet potato
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like the stuff)
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 chopped red chilli
  • 1 vegetable stock cube, dissolved in 1 pint of boiling water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan add the olive oil, onion, garlic, chilli and spices. Cook on a low heat until the onions are clear. Deglaze pan by splashing a bit of vegetable stock into the mix. Cook off the stock until the onion mixture is sticky. Add butter and stir until it melts. Add potatoes and pumpkin into the mix and cook for fifteen minutes, not letting the potatoes and pumpkin brown. You may have to add a little more stock every now and then to keep it loose.

When the pumpkin and potatoes begin to break down, add the remaining stock and top the pot up with two pints of water. Cook on a high simmer for a further fifteen minutes then turn the heat down and cook on a low simmer for a further half an hour. You can stop here, or you can let the soup cook for longer. The longer you cook it the better it’s going to taste!

 

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Whole spices brought back from India by a friend!

 

When you’re ready, take the soup off the burner and blend with a hand blender. If using a jug blender allow the soup to cool slightly before decanting it with a ladle!

I topped my soup with maple chilli pumpkin crisps but croutons would work just as well! To make the crisps I cut and deseeded a small orange pumpkin and cut it into thin slithers. I tossed them in olive oil, chilli, maple syrup and salt before chucking it in the over for twenty minutes. I pat them dry and let them cool down before plopping them into the middle of my masterpiece!

I hope you all go forth and spread the word of the Casper pumpkin that certainly tastes as good as it looks.

Until next time,

R ❤

 

#TheFutureIsVegan – Chickpea Tarka Dhal

So after spending most of my lunch breaks explaining to people what the hell it is I am actually eating, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and climb on the “let’s take photos of our food and pretend that we’re not eating it straight out of the saucepan with a spoon in our pyjamas at three o’clock in the morning” wagon and post some of my successes in the kitchen (and tell you about some of the cock ups too!)

Today was a long day. And when I say long I mean – fourteen hours of non-stop barista badassery. I had to open the shop by myself as one of my colleagues had called in sick and though that might seem like an easy feat, with three hours sleep and a queue to the door, half past seven in the morning never seemed further away from half past seven in the evening in my life.

When I got home I was starving as at work I am mainly limited to eating toast or these random biscuits that came with the last campaign that are totally free from everything and as a result are dry and powdery and not all that pleasant but manna from the heavens when I’m tired and forgot to bring lunch with me.

I was torn between pasta, the staple of the poor vegan and rice, another versatile staple that I lean on like a sticky bar at closing time but sitting there, glinting at me in the corner of my kitchen was a jar of red lentils that I’ve only used a handful of times since it’s been refilled, opting instead this month for heavy carb based meals that take little to no effort. It’s been a month of sickness and tiredness and at many times a combination of the two. So I decided I would make dhal!

It took about twenty minutes start to finish though I will leave it overnight to become as sexy as possible before attacking it tomorrow lunch time with some garlic naan bread. So, for those of you interested, here is how you make quick, extraordinarily cheap and most important, bombastic dhal at home from scratch!

Enjoy!

Kylets Demo

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Prep time – 5-10 minutes

Cooking time – 20-30 minutes

Serves four people generously!

  • 2 cups of red lentils (soaked overnight if possible)
  • 1 large white onion
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like the stuff)
  • 1 tin of chickpeas (drained)
  • 1 chopped, deseeded (if you like) green chilli
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (however hot you like it)
  • 1 tsp garam masala (I didn’t add this as it usually contains nutmeg and I’m allergic to it but it would taste amazing in this dish so y’all go ahead and add that in!)
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Add the lentils to a big pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and stir in the turmeric. Continue to cook on a low heat until the water is absorbed and set aside.

In another pan add you dry spices and toast them lightly. You don’t want to burn them! The easiest way to know when they’re ready is when you can smell them and they start to release a little of their oil into the pan. Take them off the heat and set aside.

In the same pan you toasted the spices in chuck in a table spoon of butter and let it soak up all the lovely stuff before adding the onion, chilli and garlic, all finely chopped. Cook on a low heat until the onions turn clear then add the spices and the other tablespoon of butter in. Add in a can of drained chickpeas. Cook the mixture until most of the moisture is gone and the veggies are coated in delicious spicy goodness.

Check that your lentils are soft and add the spiced veggie mix to the lentils, stirring gently to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Salt and pepper to taste and you’re done! I topped mine with dried coriander but y’all can add what you like.

I love this stuff. It’s so cheap and versatile. I add it to wraps, stir some into a loose soup to thicken it up and give it some flavour, it freezes really well and is perfect just on it’s own with some pitta for dipping!

If you try it let me know how it goes 🙂

Much love,

R ❤

Patching Up the Past #2

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And yes, that is how you spell it. How do I know? Jack’s been around for a while now in my life and of all the things that my daughter could have fallen in love with in my image, I’m overwhelmed with joy that it was Jack. And love him, she does. Now as she did then and probably always will.

So in a lot of ways this patch is for my daughter who at the age of three used to sleep in a skeleton onesie clutching a Jack doll as the soundtrack of my own childhood played on a loop in her bedroom and she slept, a perfect creature in an utterly imperfect world. Jack does remind me of my daughter, of course he does, but he also serves as a reminder of who I was and what I consider to be the most important part of my future happiness – Jack symbolises bravery in a way that I feel few ever really give him credit for.

For those of you who don’t know the story of the pumpkin king – here’s a breakdown. Jack is the Pumpkin King and rules over a fictional town inhabited by all the creatures representative of Halloween. The towns name? Halloween Town! (obviously…) So every year the town made up of vampires, clowns, werewolves, men with axes in their face, swamp monsters, witches and ghosts prepare for Halloween. That’s all these people do. And the second that Halloween ends, they start from the beginning and start planning the next Halloween completely oblivious of anything outside of Halloween Town.

Now Jack is the figure head of these motely bunch of monsters and he leads them in their repetitive preparations year in and year out. He is the epitome of Halloween Town, their king and in many respects their god. But Jack is tired of doing the same thing all the time. The first song that Jack sings in the movie, Jacks Lament, he sings (or Danny Elfman sings) “But who here would ever understand that the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin, would tire of his crown, if they only understood – he’d give it all up if he only could.” So Jack does what we all do when we feel like no one understands us – he runs off into the woods with his ghost dog Zero!

In this forest he finds a ring of trees that have different doors carved into them representing the major western holidays – an easter egg, a clover, a turkey and more importantly, Jack finds a Christmas tree. To cut the long story short Jack goes through the door, discovers Christmas and realises that he could be something different, that he doesn’t have to be what he’s always been and instead he can be Santa! Because why the fuck not, right?! So he goes back to Halloween Town and tells them about Christmas Town (yes, it’s called Christmas Town) and no one really gets it. He’s standing there on a stage in front of people that worship him and he’s finally excited about something that’s important to him and they all just completely miss the point of what he’s trying to communicate.

So Jack, knowing his audience, breaks the fourth wall and tells the camera that he should just give them what they want. So he stops talking about how amazing and bright and cheerful Christmas Town is and tells the crowd that Santa Claus is a monster just like them. Jack eventually becomes Santa, well a skeletal version of Santa with some bony reindeer and a sack full of snakes and dead rats wrapped in orange and black paper. They even kidnap Santa so that he doesn’t get in the way of Jack delivering presents and hijacking his holiday.

Long story short – it doesn’t go right and Jack ends up getting shot out of the sky and winds up in a cemetery in the tattered remains of his Santa suit. It is at this point that Jack sings one of my all time favourite songs (I’m listening to it right now) and it is in this song, after watching the rest of the movie, that I found my inspiration in an animated skeleton dressed as Santa. The song is called Poor Jack and again Danny Elfman slays in his delivery as he sings the words – “And no one really understood, well how could they? That all I ever wanted was to bring them something great, why does nothing ever turn out like it should? Well, what the heck, I went and did my best and by God I really tasted something swell, and for moment, why, I even touched the sky and at least I left some stories they can tell.”

And then…

“And for the first time since I don’t remember when, I felt just like my old bony self again.”

*insert triumphant crying face here*

Imagine having that kind of resilience. I read a quote from Jim Carey this week from a documentary I watched last week on Netflix by the name of Andy and Jim (or Jim and Andy, I can’t quite recall) detailing the actors descent into madness after playing comedian Andy Kaufman in the movie Man on the Moon. It was something to the tune of you can fail at something you don’t love so you may as well take a chance on doing something that you love. And, I’m not going to lie, when I read that highly inspirational quote all I could think about was that skeleton dressed in the rags of a Santa costume larking about in a cemetery effectively singing “oh well, that didn’t work, but at least I tried!”

We’ve all been told who we should be and we’ve all had expectations placed on us that make us feel like we woke up in the wrong skin. We’ve all been told we’re too fat or too skinny or too loud or too quiet or too lazy or too busy. We’ve all felt like there is something more we could be and we’ve all felt the weight of other peoples opinions on our shoulders as we stagger round blinded by how they think we feel and how we actually feel. And we’ve all wanted to run away into the woods with our ghost dog and leave it all behind, to go out and discover who we could be if we weren’t constantly being told how we should be.

So, lessons I learned from this patch? It’s okay to not be okay and if the people whose opinions you hold in such high esteem cared about you as much as you think they do, they will not care whether or not you want to be the Pumpkin King or Santa Claus, because the people worth holding in high esteem are going to love you regardless of what the label reads on the box you’ve been stuffed in your entire life. Another lesson? You’re going to fail. You’re going to fuck shit up, sometimes, magnificently but the entire point of it all is that you get up and you sing a song in a cemetery that sets the world to rights. And that you forgive yourself before you even contemplating forgiving someone else. That you dust off your Santa suit and go and do the right thing.

Because it’s never too late to be the person you might have been.

And that there is nothing in this world than cannot be cured by music.

And ghost dogs.

 

 

Patching Up the Past #1

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He once told me that our relationship didn’t have to play by any rules, that we were free to make up our own rules, our own milestones and our own tropes of true love. There was an age gap of almost thirty years and though we had more in common with each other than we’d ever had with anyone before, there was a gulf of difference between everything else – the way we were raised, the way we saw the world, the values we held and the plans we had.

One thing we always had in common was music. I know a lot of people say that music is their life and I believe them, but with him music meant so much more than life. It was more than life and one of the bands that brought us together was Stiff Little Fingers and barring an impulsive Paul Heaton gig in the winter we got together, SLF were the first band we saw live together.

It was December and we’d just bought our first Christmas tree together. He bought tickets to see them down in Brighton and I think it was the first time that year that I’d been excited for something that was purely for my enjoyment. I packed my bag into the boot of his car and we drove down to the seaside. The cold was brutal and the walk from where we were staying to the club was hellish, but there, standing next to me for the first time in my life was a boy who was excited to see a band I liked.

He used to do this thing when we went to gigs and that night was the first night I noticed it. He’d stand behind me, all six feet and something of him, and he’d put one arm around my waist and pull me into him. He didn’t really dance, neither of us were those kinds of people, but he sang loud and out of key and he screamed along with Tin Soldiers in the sweat soaked club on the sea front and I felt how I was supposed to feel all those times before – I felt like I was in love.

After the gig we sat drunken and laughing eating kebabs soaked in chilli sauce in a hotel room with a broken thermostat that was trying to mirror the heat of our food. The Fratellis had released an album that year that would become the sound track to our first year and we put it on my Bluetooth speaker and we got into bed. I still can’t listen to a few of those tracks, even now but I hope one day when Slow ticks on or Desperate Guy shuffles onto my speaker, I’ll be able to listen to them and look back on that night when he was young and I was happy.

There is one song, I will link it below, called My Dark Places and for the longest of times it became our song. The first (but not the last) mix tape he ever made me opened with the original version of the song and closed with the acoustic version and there was a time when I was in his car, torn to pieces from one of many battles I waged during our relationship, and he quietly put the mix on his iPod and just looked at me knowing that when he didn’t have the words to help, SLF always would. He never knew, and I guess I’m telling him now, but the night of our first real date, after I somewhat assaulted him a few nights before and made my feelings known – I almost bailed.

I was sat in the dilapidated house that came with my job looking out the window of the living room at the pub where we met and the pub where we were going to meet and it felt like my heart was going to crawl out of my mouth. I still remember what I was wearing, the date, what I’d done earlier in the day and the way my hands were cold and sweaty. I’d spoken to my friend on the phone moments before and I stood with the phone still in my hand contemplating what this sick horrible feeling in my gut was.

I know now, for future reference, that it was butterflies. The first butterflies to have hatched in my gut for almost a decade. As an adult, so sure of myself and my identity, to have this ethereal man sweep in and save me from myself was the antithesis of what I believed I wanted. And I was scared. Scared that he wouldn’t find me interesting enough or smart enough or pretty enough, that every woman he’d ever had before me made me pale and unworthy. I put him on a pedestal then, and to a great extent, I still hold him there and probably always will. It was like I had closed my eyes and wished real hard for “that guy” and then, as if by magic – that guy was sitting across the road waiting for me.

I picked up my iPod and hit shuffle, not knowing then that the song would unite us the way it did. My Dark Places by Stiff Little Fingers ripped into my ears and Jake Burns started to shout about ashes and sadness and refusing to give up. I didn’t wait until the song had finished. I grabbed my keys and closed the door behind me, the cold October air hitting my face like an open hand. I walked up to the door of the pub and yanked my headphones out as the song finished and the warmth replaced the cold.

Then I saw him, all green eyes and smiles. And he was wearing a Stiff Little Fingers t-shirt. It was the cover of Inflammable Material, the first SLF album I ever owned. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me that night, like there was no one else in the room or the way we talked all night like we’d never had a real conversation with anyone else before that moment. Or the way he walked, all be it hammered, on the right side of the road so that I was tucked safely into the pavement. Or the way he tried to hold my hand.

The rest, as they say is history. And though there are other moments when this band made sense to us (we saw them four times in total together, I believe) I will end this post with the last time Stiff Little Fingers played a hand in our lives together. It was the afternoon when he came from work and our bedroom was covered in candles. He sat down on the bed and I got down on one knee and I pretended to propose to him with Star Wars rings I’d bought online to make a mockery of marriage, and institution that both of us had had painful experiences with. Listen, by the band in question was playing, and though it seemed unplanned, I chose that song on purpose though I never told him.

Long story short – it was the beginning of the end. The reaction he had was overwhelmingly negative and though now I feel like it was born out of a misunderstanding of what I was actually trying to do, at the time it just hurt like hell. Well, fuck, people it probably broke my heart if I’m being honest which I am indeed trying to be. In an attempt to comfort him, to prove to him that I didn’t need a white picket fence or a diamond or a wedding dress to be with him forever and be happy to be his regardless of what my last name was, I sent him into a spiral of panic that lasted for nearly three hours and exhausted the both of us.

And I don’t think either of us, or our relationship, ever fully recovered from that day.

The lessons I’ve learned from this patch? Don’t fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you, because if it does go wrong, which it most certainly will, he will take those songs away from you forever. My Dark Places gave me the courage to go into the pub that night and now when I hear it I want to scream. Something that used to make me feel bullet proof now riddles me with them by the time the first riff is a few seconds in. The other lesson I learned from this patch? Fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you because they will always know where to find the words to make you understand how they’re feeling or how you make them feel. Also, you will have an absolutely incredible soundtrack to your lives together.

Bonus lesson – nothing lasts forever (though this isn’t an Echo and the Bunnymen patch, the sentiment is true) but everything has the ability to grow into something new – pleasure from pain, healing from hurt, relationship to friendship – but enduring through it all, unwavering and refusing to ever bow down to change is what this patch taught me clearest, though it may have been the hardest lesson to learn – love always remains.

And I love this patch and the person it represents and as he is the person that told me to work on a project to get me through the rougher (pardon the pun) patches of my life, this project wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t have kicked it off with his very own patch. And yeah, there are other bands that will always remind me of him and yes there are still albums I can’t listen to without feeling like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest, but Stiff Little Fingers will always be “our band” and My Dark Places will always remind me that there are people out there that know how I feel and that I have never and will never be alone in my own dark places.

He’s got his own project now and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

For both of us.

So, number one with a bullet (a reference I hope he would get should he ever read this) Stiff Little Fingers.

Patching Up the Past

This time of year is hard for most people, financially and emotionally, this I know. I am not unique in the dull ache I carry in the centre of my chest during the festive season, nor am I alone in the strangled insomnia that always creeps into my sleepless nightmares when I try to get comfortable and drift off at night convinced that I will not be able to pay this bill or that and still make sure that there are at least a few token festive trinkets underneath the tree when that hallowed day rolls around.

So, as I sat at my coffee table this afternoon when I got home from work wrapping up pound shop presents for the small people that own the biggest piece of my heart, it occurred to me that I could fashion things from nothing and with the best intentions they would in turn come to mean everything.

A car playlist for my sister so she doesn’t have to share my brothers rancid concoction of ska, reggae, hip hop and heavy metal when she’s driving my niece and nephew to school. A compilation album for the people who hold music closer to their heart than they do any messiah tailor made for their individual idiosyncrasies. A blanket for my daughter hand stitched from her old pyjamas. A letter to my niece and nephew to let them know that I’m always there even when I’m not. A thank you note to a friend or two for giving me a hard place to lean and a soft place to fall when my world fell apart.

I don’t have money, I never have, and though it is the superpower of most parents this time of year, the one thing I have always had and hope to always keep – are my memories. A friend referred to the other night as an “eidetic memory” in as much as I will recall the smallest and most frivolous of details about the most arbitrary events in my life. I never really knew how powerful this trait was until I was made aware of it. Now I value it as a part of me as much as value my thoughtfulness or my sense of humour. It’s just a part of me, and a very under utilised part of my healing process.

My mental health has always been a stone in my throat, choking back my potential and pigeon holing me into a life of mendacious misery. I’ve often hid behind my inability to become more than I am, blaming depression, anxiety, drug abuse, my childhood, my parents, my financial disarray, the injustice of circumstance and the ever growing realisation that I may never find someone who will fight for my love.

And I’ve come to tie the two together this year – my memory and my mental health. It’s almost impossible to move on or formulate a new life independent of heart break or things that cause you pain when you remember every moment, every word, every tear and every touch. These things fade, for most people, and one day they wake up in the morning and it just stops hurting. For me, the healing process is slightly different.

I remember it all. Heartbreak has never been a moment for me. My heart breaks every morning when I wake up and it aches with the weight of the day when I close my eyes at night because I remember everything. I fall in love with all the little things that people never notice they do. The way they pick the skin around their finger nails or let out a whimper as they drift off to sleep, to the way they hold their pen or straighten their glasses or snort when they laugh. All these little things that you never even notice burrow into my brain and sit there, weeping in the dark and infecting my dreams.

So, no, heartbreak has never been an event rather than a perpetual state of being that I am forced to live in everyday. Sometimes it’s obvious – a song, a movie, a book, an old t-shirt, a love note, a gig ticket – and sometimes my memory is more subversive. It’s the way someone walks past me and the wind catches the smell of their wet hair and the scent of their shampoo on the frigid breeze makes my skin break out in gooseflesh because their hair smells like yours, but it doesn’t. It just smells like a memory and all of my memories are tied to people and places and perceptions that never quite leave my mind so at any given time I am forced to relive a thousand moments of hurt because everything reminds me of something.

Poisoned with nostalgia and thinking of the constructive rather than destructive nature of my memory, I have decided to end the year in honesty rather than denial. I am in pain. My heart is tired. I am scared of the future. I yearn for the past. I miss more people than I have phone numbers to call. I am trying to be a better person. I am sad. Constantly. I don’t feel good enough. Sometimes I want to quit. Sometimes I wonder whether or not it’s worth waking up at all. I don’t like the company I keep when I’m alone. I’m terrified that this is it. That this will never get better.  That no one will ever understand me. That no one will ever really love me. That no one really needs me.

I’ve often said that I don’t need to see a shrink because I already know what’s wrong with me. This is true and in truth writing has always made me feel better. It’s why I sit here and talk to myself in my head, my hands floating over the keys marking the page. I don’t write this blog for it to be read rather than for me to read it a year, two years or ten years from now and remember the person I was and it gives me hope to read the words I’ve written and prove myself wrong.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to use my memories to move on. I am going to take my oldest item of clothing – a denim jacket that I’ve had for eight years that looks as battered as I feel – and I’m going to patch it together with memories. Then, walking into 2018, I will be literally wearing my heart on my sleeve (and my back, and my shoulders, and my hips, and my chest). I’m going to pick a patch that reminds me of every broken heart and every glimmer of hope and I’m going to stitch them to my jean jacket and wear them like armour for the rest of my life.

Because I’m never going to forget the promises that were made then unmade or the way your mouth tasted on mine, nor will I forget what it was like to push you on a swing when you were eye high to my thigh or how you held me when I was scared and shaking and told me that it was going to be alright even though you knew it wasn’t. You, the plural you, the humans that haunt my memory like a curse and a cure – you are the only people that can protect me from myself.

So I have selected a number of patches for my jacket. Some are band logos, some cartoonish, some political and others as random as the series of thoughts that led me here to this day and this conclusion.

I will also use this project (a suggestion made to me by a friend who is in the inspiration for the first patch I pressed onto my jean jacket this evening) as a writing prompt and I will blog every time I sew a patch on, the process of the two things combined – the patch and the prose – will help me to scrape that heart off of my sleeve and move on in the direction of constructive creativity rather than it’s antithesis.

So thank you, for the three people that read this blog and for the hundreds of people who make my day everyday on the smallest and grandest of scales. Thank you for holding the train door for me and for letting me cut the queue when I’ve only got to pay for one thing. Thank you for being patient, kind, generous and for seeing the funny side to everything. Thank you for giving me a chance, for being honest with me and for allowing me to live my life the only way I know how. Thank you for telling me that I complete you, for buying me flowers and for picking up the cheque. Thank you for humming baselines in my mouth, for making me a mother and for letting me know that no matter what I do or who I become, I will always be your little sister and you will always love me. Thank you for letting me be a part of your dream and for letting me make you a part of mine.

Thank you for loving me.

Thank you for leaving me.

And thank you for reading this blog.

 

When I Dream of Alison

I’m here again in this honeycomb of cul-de-sacs and it’s hot, like it always is. The white heat of the day evaporates the outlines of the houses and blurs them into a repetitive reel of blocky windows, flat lawns and tired looking fences. I’m walking. There are blisters on my feel and I feel them rubbing painfully against the damp insides of my boots as I make my way through the immaculately cartoonish suburban nightmare.

I’ve been here before and it always end with heart ache.

My feet stop outside a house distinguishable from it’s kin only by the Christmas decorations in the windows. It can’t be Christmas – it’s too hot to be Christmas. I walk up the path way to the front door where a wreath hangs sprayed in fake snow. There are flakes of it all over the door mat that someone has etched a ghoulish outline of Santa’s laughing face on. I reach into my pocket and draw out two keys attached to a solid silver snowflake charm. I hold them for a moment in my sweating palm and feel all the saliva in my mouth dissipate.

I’ve held these keys before but these keys used to open the doors to a small apartment in a wooden building by a man made lake. I think of how cold it was there and how the tree swallowed the view of the lake from the front room and I feel my heart stammer in my chest. I don’t need the second key for this house because there is no second door. Just the one before me, white as snow with the hanging wreath on it.

I open the door and step inside. It smells like cigarettes and clean washing. I push open a window to try and let some air in but there is no air. There is never any air in this place. It’s like it’s stopped moving and when I look up and see the vast empty room before me, my blood stops moving too.

Crammed into the corner of this empty room is an extravagant Christmas tree that reaches from the floor to the ceiling. I take a few steps closer and see that it is tied with small navy blue velvet bows and expensive looking glass baubles that catch the sickening off yellow lights of the pulsing bulbs that smother the tree. Beneath this monolithic creature are a handful of small wrapped presents with oversized tags.

I make my way closer to the tree, my sweat smeared face flashing in time with the bulbs. I kneel down and feel my knees click. I want a cigarette. That’s my first thought. And there just so happens to be a packet of Chesterfield red tucked to the side of the tree with a clean ashtray that has a Greek island painted on it and a packet of matches. I light a cigarette and inhale three times before I feel anything at all.

Then I turn my attention to a present in front of me. It is small and square and neatly wrapped in white paper with silver trees stamped into it. I hold it in my hands and flick the tag back with the tip of my finger, spilling a dot of ash onto the carpet. There in the looping handwriting that adorned many of my own gifts, another persons name is written.

Alison.

I feel my eyes start to itch as hot tears force themselves to be heard but I fear my head hasn’t caught up with my heart and as the tears begin to fall and my stomach hardens, I march through the other presents.

Alison.

Alison.

Alison.

There’s a stocking right at the back. It’s red and has glittering gold reindeers embossed into it’s expensive fabric. Along the white cuff of the stocking is the same name.

Alison.

The stocking is empty.

I put my cigarette out dead in the centre of the one of the gifts and I stand to leave, my eyes now raw with hot, angry tears that match the way the rest of the room feels. I turn to leave when out of the corner of one bloodshot eye I see another gift, wrapped in brown paper and tied with dark green string. It’s by itself, underneath the window. The curtains are drawn, to keep this bastard heat out I think to myself, but it’s low enough that it’s got a view of the garden.

I wonder, then, if there’s a lake.

I make my way over to the parcel, my body suddenly tired, my muscles sore, my bones splintering. I’m running out of time here. When it starts to hurt too much I am pulled from this house that I’ve been to so many times before, but I can’t go yet. Not just yet.

I lay down flat on my stomach and my hair falls into my face. Beneath the blind I can see the garden, so I lay my face flat on the floor and turn my head so that the tiny brown package now looks as big as the tree behind me. The lights twinkle in the glass of the window.

The garden is covered with snow.

I let out a breath and melt into the carpet with my tears.

There are shapes out there that I know – a bench, a barbeque that’s been covered over, a bird bath, flower beds, a little sagging shed – and the sky is white and frozen and everything is calm. I turn over ever so slightly and look at the window behind me a few feet away from the tree and it’s the same as it ever was – harsh beating light, scorched grass, lazy birds flapping slowly through the bright blue sky.

I turn my head back to the winter window and take the parcel off the floor. There is no tag on this one and its small and flat and square. I pull on the green twine that holds it together and it unfurls like a flower. I feel fresh tears spike as a piece of card falls out onto my face. There is a name on the card written in the same looping handwriting.

Ronnie.

There’s a CD case inside the brown paper. It’s cheap and flimsy and green like the twine. I open the case and written on the opal coloured front of the hand burnt disc is one word – sorry.

I close my eyes and let my chest judder out a sob as I clutch the case white knuckle on the floor as through the winter window it starts to snow again.

 

 

 

Sincerity

When I was fifteen I was sat outside my maths classroom on a windowsill reading a copy of Stephen King’s Misery, headphones firmly on my ears, huddled up against the cold rain streaked window. It was late morning and my maths teacher, Mr Williams, who had given up attempting to teach me roughly three weeks before this day, had asked me to sit outside the classroom where I could see him but where I could, and I quote – “keep my antics separate from those who intended to learn.”

We had an understanding. I would sit somewhere in view, his beady little eyes darting out at me from behind the small pane of glass in the door leading to his classroom and he would leave me to my own devices on the window sill until the bell chimed and I meandered through the halls clutching whatever life line it was I happened to be reading at the time and listening to the same mix tape over and over again until I was allowed to go home and do it all in the privacy of my own bedroom with a tasty joint and the music on my speakers.

This day, and I remember it well, as I remember all days when someone marks me with a label I enjoy rather than endure, I was sitting with my face in the book aware only of the slight numbness forming in my feet and the cool, gushing wind against the window that seemed to seep through and infiltrate the jacket I wore over my school shirt. I was at the bit in the book when Annie throws Paul down into the cellar and goes away and leaves him in the dark, alone and in pain. The doors at the end of the corridor opened as the door at the top of the Annie’s stairs closed and my eyes flicked up for a moment.

Mr Trigwell, a man who also taught maths and had never been flippant with my idiosyncrasies, though he was not often a man I could describe as kind, entered the hall way. He was from Leeds, I think. Everyone thought he looked like a Womble. He wore a brass band around his wrist for medicinal purposes I thought, though I may have been wrong and he had taught at the school I attended for long enough that my form tutor and IT teacher, Mr Claringbull, had been taught maths by the Womble too. He taught Design Tech, or woodwork, later on in my school career, but at that moment he was just Trigwell, a man of few words but many discerning facial gestures.

He was also the head of the maths department and wasn’t easily impressed by my bravado. I think that’s why I never walked out of his lessons or told him to fuck off, a luxury that Mr Williams was never afforded. There was something there, between the two of us, that at the time I thought was a tired kind of apathy towards me, an attitude of not being bothered by my refusing to placate the notion that anyone in that building had any considerable power over me. Looking back now, ten years later, I can see that it was slightly more than that. It was the knowledge of a man who had taught worse than me, and indeed, better than me but had never taught anyone quite like me.

I buried my nose in the book and hoped that if I didn’t make eye contact I would be free and clear. After all, Trigwell was in charge on that block and if he told me to go back in the classroom, I would have to go. He wasn’t a pushover like Mr Williams and he didn’t puff his chest out. He would ask me quietly and I would go because at that point, on that day, I too was exhausted and drowning in my own apathy. There would be no fight. Just a resigned sigh as I kicked my boots off of the window sill and walked back to my desk, instantly feeling tired and closed in the moment the central heating hit my throat and slicked it with heat. I leant my face against the cold, wet window and closed my eyes.

One of my headphones was popped off of my ear and I opened my eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“What are you reading?”

“Misery.”

He paused. His eyes levelled and for a second I thought he was going to smile.

“Doesn’t have much to do with maths does it?”

“Pretty much sums it up to me, sir.”

Silence.

Then he did smile.

“Did Mr. Williams send you out of the classroom?”

I nodded.

“Because you were disturbing the class?”

“I think I was disturbing him more than anything. The class didn’t seem to mind.”

“Mind what?”

“My reading.”

“He sent you out of the class for reading?”

“Yes sir.”

He took off his glasses and rubbed them clean on the inside of his grey and blue checked shirt. When his mouth moved his grey beard seemed to come to life like a Jim Henson puppet, moving with strings and pullies. You couldn’t really see his mouth but his voice was textured and rough. I imagined he would know how to hang a shelf straight or unblock a toilet, traits that may not seem all that appealing to a fifteen-year-old but to a twenty-seven-year-old who would probably knock a wall down trying to mount anything on it – they were respectable character traits indeed.

That’s the problem with being young, I suppose. You revere all the superfluous bullshit and rage against the literal machine. He’s wearing a tie, he’s the enemy. It’s as simple and as stupid as that. I’m happy now, content would be a more accurate word I suppose, that I never told Mr Trigwell to fuck off. Retrospectively, that seems like quite a noble thing for the fifteen-year-old me to accomplish.

“Are there any lessons you attend?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’ve seen you – sitting on the bench,” he pointed out the window to the square of grass known as the quad. There was a bench in each section of the grass, split by paths to look like a window.

“I don’t do P.E. I’ve got a note,” I said, yawning, “or Science.”

“Do you have a note for science?”

“I don’t think my leg would get me out of science.”

“What’s wrong with your leg?”

“Do you want to see my note?”

I handed him a piece of crumpled paper with my mother’s juvenile handwriting draped crookedly across. As he read his eye brows, as grey and animated as his beard, moved up and down. The note wasn’t that long, it didn’t have to be. He handed it back to me.

“How did you do that?”

“Fell.”

“Sounds painful.”

“It is.”

“You used to talk more.”

I just stared at him.

“When you first started here, you were impossible to shut up.”

“What can I say,” I shrugged, “I’ve matured.”

He shook his head.

I now recognise the incredulous look on his face for what it was.

“So the painkillers are strong?”

“Pretty strong.”

One hundred milligrams of tramadol.

My record was eight in a day.

“Does it make it hard to concentrate?”

“On certain things.”

“Not on that, though.”

He looked at the book still in my hands.

“No,” I smiled, “not on that.”

“Will you do me a favour Veronika?”

I stared back at him awaiting the proposition, a vague numbness in my throat.

“Will you look after yourself?”

I didn’t really know what to say.

And that was the first time, I really remember being speechless.

The bell rang a few moments later and I dragged my dead legs off of the unforgiving window sill and tucked my paperback in the inside pocket of my jacket. A few months later I would be expelled from school for pushing someone down a flight of stairs and I would be brought back, with a police officer on one side of me and my mother on the other, before my head teacher and my head of year, on the provision that I attended school for two hours each day after three o’clock when the other students had gone home.

“Will you do that for me Veronika?”

“Yes sir.”

I put my headphones in and limped up the stairs through the doors that Mr Trigwell had walked through minutes before. I stood outside my art classroom waiting for the queue to form and my teacher to appear and let me in. Her name was Mrs Rydell. Judy. She would ask the same favour of me a few weeks later and I would let her down, as I did Mr Trigwell and as I did most anyone who asked anything of me then.

I stood listening to Cat Stevens sing about the world being wild and looked out of the window at the unrelenting rain and wondered when it would stop. When everything would stop, because although I dragged myself from place to place, shedding weight, losing hair, drifting further away from anyone really definable as a whole human being, the world seemed too fast for me then. The pills slowed it down to a crawl and I still found myself trying to play catch up with everyone and everything around me. I was out of my depth and I couldn’t see or feel anything around me. Like I was floating.

There are great patches of my adolescence that I can’t remember. A few years ago a friend asked me if I remembered the time that I headbutted someone in the car park or the time that that one teacher rolled a joint for me because I’d broken my thumb and it was in a cast and I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember these highly memorable moments that made me the person that people still remember when I walk into a room a decade later. “You’re the girl that…” is how all those conversations start.

And I just stand there and stare at them and smile when it seems appropriate and show remorse when the situation calls for it, completely oblivious to whether or not they are stating fact or fiction. I don’t remember headbutting that boy in the car park and I don’t remember a teacher rolling me a joint, though I do remember my thumb being broken. I do however, have such a clear and brilliant recollection of the way that corridor smelled and how my body felt, how my eyes felt swollen and itchy and how the cold ran through the window and down my arm as it sat against it.

And I remember the softness in his voice when he asked me to do him a favour.

More so than even that, I remember the sincerity of it.

So for all the lovers I’ve had that had pledged their lives to never leaving and for all the family members that proclaimed we would rise above the pettiness of our parents and our peers only to fade away and to all the friends that promised we would always be so and now are shadows on a canvas so scarred with these unintentional lies and half truths – I remember the words of a teacher who was never particularly kind to me, never really favoured me above anyone else and who would be as quick to tell me to tuck in my shirt as the next sack of hormones waiting in line.

I remember those words now, and probably always will.

Because he asked nothing of me.

But hoped for everything.

All he asked for was a favour.

A favour I intend to keep.

All these years later.

A Good Man Died Today

A good man died today, and like it always does, death has a tendency to make us think about life. So here I am, thinking about life. My life in particular. We’re all selfish when it comes to these things. He was a good man, this man who died today, and he raised good people and loved a good woman.

He died happy with almost a century of his own life’s memories to keep him company in those moments, and that good woman I just mentioned, well, she was right there by his side when he got called up. That’s the kind of death that you can sleep with at night. It’s a just death, a righteous death and, in a solemn way, it’s comforting. That with all the blood and pain and confusion, someone good died a good death in a sleepy little hospital comfortable and calm with the woman who gave him the majority of the life of he had and who was there, like she’d always been, when a muggy grey Wednesday in August became the last day they ever heard each others voice.

So I’m sitting here in a t-shirt that that man’s son gave to me once upon a time, listening to a band that neither of those men would like, with a candle burning like my grandmother taught me and a pit in my stomach. What that pit is, I don’t know, but somewhere in between going to sleep last night and sitting down at my desk right now, something has lodged itself there and refuses to leave. It feels nervous, watery and bitter but most of all, it just feels sad.

I may never have known this man and I may never have found myself sitting on the floor with a cold cup of coffee in one hand and a hand rolled cigarette shaking in the other, crying amongst the broken glass on the floor listening to Nothing Lasts Forever by Echo and the Bunnymen without a hint of irony. The man that introduced me to the man would have found the irony in it. He finds the irony in everything, that man.

I may never have known the woman that the man has left behind or felt the softness of her hands on mine or enjoyed her sharp, sometimes shocking, sense of humour. And to the rest of them, these people who today mourn the loss of a good man who died a good death and relish the memories of his idiosyncratic life, I feel my heart bend and bow for them too. He always hated my hair. He had that in common with his son. That and his laugh. I miss them both. Horribly.

And even more so today because like we said – death has a way of making us think about life and what it is and what it means to us and what we are going to make of it.

There are two ways that this train of thought can go I think.

One train of thought is to sit here and be thankful for the people I have, for the health I have, for the day I was given today that was taken from someone else. To be thankful that I have a job and that I have a home and that when I come home I am safe and warm and fed. To be thankful that at various times in my life I have laid in bed beside people who at various times in my life loved me, irrevocably and absolutely. To be thankful that I live in a country where I can do and say what I wish regardless of my age or gender or sexual orientation. To be thankful that I have a voice. To be thankful that I have a future, however tenuous and transient it may be. To be thankful that the people I hurt moved on and that some of them, I hope, forgave me my disgraces. To be thankful that I am sitting here now with the literacy and intent to write these words and publish them to strangers who may take comfort or reflection in some of the absurdities I ponder.

To be thankful to be alive and here and ready for tomorrow whatever it may bring.

Another train of thought is to be filled with remorse for the people I lost, for the health I destroy, for the day I wasted when someone else had it ripped from them. To complain about how tired I am and how much I hate my job and about how small my home is and how when I come home I am alone because the people I love aren’t here because I’m difficult to love and even harder to live with. To feel my chest cave in when I think about the people that at various times in my life I laid beside in bed that used to love me, irrevocably and absolutely that eventually got over those feelings the way someone gets over a flu that leaves you delirious. To shake my fist at a government that has given everything I’ve always wanted to someone else at every turn and torn my family apart and taken my best friend away from me because I refused to kneel. To loathe myself for the things I did a million years ago and to mourn the hearts I broke, some unintentionally and some more forcefully. To hope that they never forgive me because that would mean forgiving myself. To think of all the potential these hands and this mind had and the tools that they were given that I destroyed and where I could have been had I chosen to be a different person. To wonder whether all of this, these words, this endeavour is pointless and fruitless because who the fuck would ever read this shit?

To feel like it’s not worth waking up in the morning.

Because all of those things are true – two sides of the same treacherous coin that betrays us all.

And now sitting here the sun has broken through the clouds and it feels like summer is whispering into autumns ear. This is the first sunset he will never see and the first sunset that his son has ever seen without him. And it’s beautiful. Looking at that sunset, levelling that coin before it, there is only one side I can see. It’s beautiful. It’s not sad or hateful or intrusive. It’s beautiful.

And that’s how I know that that man was a good man.

Because he raised a son that taught me how to love myself and how to keep going. Even when I don’t want to and even when he’s not here, I hear him. You can do it and even if you can’t, well, honey you’re going to have to figure out a way to do it.

And he instilled in me a desire to make him proud.

And I still want to.

A good man died today and I lit a candle for him like my grandmother taught me to do.

A good man died today and left behind a good man that changed my life.

And for that, I’ll keep him in my heart and savour this sadness while the flame still burns.

Because I never got to thank him for the man he made.

So I’m thanking him now.

The only way I know how.