Dalmation tune

Have you heard Tea for the Tillerman?

It always comes into my head unbidden at strange little moments, so that when I listen to it I feel like I’m in all those places at once. It’s only a minute long. Well, a minute and one second. A dalmatian tune. 1:01.

But I’m everywhere in it. I’m in open fields by some upwater stretch of thames. I’m in some london pub in autumn, and I’m in friends flats. I’m walking along the Seine in crisp winter sunshine, I’m in the back garden of a house party, I’m in your kitchen, I’m smoking your cigarettes, I’m laughing at you over the rim of a glass, my eyes flashing and your eyes flashing. Inside the song are all the hands held, and hugs given, and heads patted, and arms flung round eachother and there’s also all the moments of quiet solitude in which I’m just on my own in the world.

Have you ever jumped into the ponds up at hampstead heath? 

Watch your limbs turn green and feel the smart shock of cold as your hands then your head break the surface of the water. 

 

That’s what that song sounds like. 

 

Like the sun breaking through green leaves, dappled green and gold on damp skin, and cigarette edged chats about who’s talking to who and which person hasn’t texted the other one back, or what books we’ve read. Someone talks about the exhibition they saw at the Tate. Someone talks about something you don’t quite understand but its so warm, that you nod and turn your head sideways to squint through sun splinters and grin at them. 

I don’t know. This is a difficult post to write. It’s not the hot take on Mary Kate and Ashley that I’ve been trying to finish for a few weeks. But it’s real. It’s about how I’m really feeling. And I know that you’re reading this, if there are any of you reading this, going: “no one cares about how u really feel. Give us Mary Kate and Ashley” but I can’t give you Mary Kate and Ashley because I wanna talk about how I feel OKAY?!

 

So it’s 1:01 am. Dalmation time. 

And I’m listening to this Dalmation tune. 

 

And I’m thinking about what life’s really about. yeah , I know. But… do you know? Do you really Know?

The other day someone said I’d gotten to this point in my life and I was just doing nothing. Just here. It didn’t matter what I just was, but she said i was just something. just.

I don’t think anything anyone has ever said to me has cut quite so deep, and I think it’s secretly because I think it’s sort of true. I’m just here. I’m not really doing anything important, and I can’t boast a full LinkedIn profile, but I can’t be just something, can I? Can anyone?

 

I don’t know. 

 

I guess I’m standing at the Tiller of my own life, and I’m not sure where I’m steering. Do you steer boats? I don’t know. I’ve never driven one. I want one though. A little one I can take up the canals and write on and drift around in. 

I think I just want to drift about. I think that’s what I actually want. because it’s not what I should want, whatever that means, and just because the mothers of my childhood friends would tilt their heads sideways at me and tell me what i was doing was alright enough in its way but how was I eve going to buy a house… none of that, really, means anything. Does it? I don’t want to buy a house. I don’t want to sit behind a desk, and I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. 

I wish I’d been born in 1346 so someone could try to catch me and burn me at the stake for selling hedge potions. I’d evade them, of course, because this is my story and I’ll tell it how I want. I’d evade them by turning myself into a hawthorne. They ward off evil do hawthornes.

 

Anyway. 

 

Have you heard tea for the tillerman?

Put it on.

 

I’m so tired of feeling like I’m not good enough. And I’m so tired of feeling like I’m making the wrong choices all the bloody time. I want to feel, all the time, like the first outdoor swim of april. I want to feel, all the time, like the first sip of a pint after a long day. I want to feel, all the time, like the lights coming on at pont neuf when the sky has gotten dark enough, and the 800 eyes upon the bridge look upon me. Only I think they look upon me without judgement.

Find me, sometime later. Drifting like dandelion seeds in the wind. Drifting like smoketrails, or the first tufts of mayblossom, or swallows, or

                  A seagull singing hearts away 

                                                                       somewhere. 

 

I’m reminded of my dad, for some reason. I hope he’d be proud of me. I hope he’d like me. I hope he’d think I were doing the right thing. I hope I’m doing the right thing.

The Tillerman stands at the wheel of the ship and, 

       Crucially,

           takes his hands off to accept the tea. 

Notes towards a post-viral gothic

So I watched this contrapoints video the other week on Opulence. Section 7, on ruin, details instances of decayed opulence becoming gothic; 19th Century Vampiricism, the American gothic of decayed victorian mansions, and the notion of a “dead mall” – but what is it about the decaying parts of consumerist capitalism that inspires such gothic romanticism?

If, as Angela Carter states in her text “Note on the Gothic Mode’, “all excess tends toward abstraction”, then “the Gothic mode tends to make abstractions from romanticism.’ It takes the parts of romanticism, such as a belief that imagination triumphs over reason, a preoccupation with the inner world, rather than connection to the world at large, and a love or worship of the “natural world” and turns it on its head. Granted, you’ve probably all read and consumed a lot on the Gothic, there’s not much I can tell you that’s you don’t know already.

Even down to things like decrying the notion of ‘Ruin-porn’ (that is to say, pictures of ruined streets in Detroit, or empty malls) as a mode of expression that divorces decay from its political roots. In that both Detroit and the mall have been vanquished, not by the people as a means of taking back the means of production, but by a higher form of capitalism that has deemed both the mall, and the industrial city, as unnecessary to the cause. You know this already.

In that contrapoints video I linked you to above, she says the decayed opulence of the “carcass of 20th century opportunity” is the new gothic aesthetic, and whilst I think that’s true – I just wonder if there’s more to be said about a post-corona aesthetic. A new viral gothic, perhaps.

I’ve been (as u KNOW) confined in Paris for the duration of the pandemic, and there was truly something about ‘Paris Deserted’ that instilled a kind of gothic awe in me. Parisian architecture, by nature, seems to evoke a kind of faded glamour in and of itself. There’s a uniformity to its central districts that, despite the fact that Paris is a modern city which is home to many beautiful pieces of contemporary architecture, seems stuck in a tourist’s wet dream of what Paris actually is and with its crumbling aesthetic it’s seems as though the whole thing is about to take a gothic slide into the Seine. Obviously, the prime examples of Parisian architecture are its monumental buildings (the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur, etc. etc.) and most of these (excepting the Notre Dame) are notably not gothic. But there IS something gothic about Paris’ abandonment during lock down.

The neon of the cinema turned off, the Champs Elysées empty, the Seine still.

What is it about desertion that makes us think: Gothic? Perhaps because desertion is linked to decay. Empty houses rot, empty malls fall down, where there is nothing something else can seep in. This idea is in itself can be found in Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie, in which the eerie occurs when ‘there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something’. On every street in every city hit by the pandemic, I imagine this feeling:

Something where there should be nothing.  Nothing where there should be something.

But this isn’t all the post-viral gothic conjures, and it’s not the crux of the point I’m trying to make. I’m getting off topic as usual. So – back to business.

Now, I love Eurovision. I think it’s an immensely emotive thing, that brings loads of countries together, that celebrates music, and is generally a night of all round fun. I think I’ve watched Eurovision every year since the first one I can remember in 1996 (it was Gina G in that Paco Rabanne dress. It was everything.) But watching the “Eurovision Shine a Light” programme last night was really something. Whilst I got emosh (as per) at the unity I saw there, I was struck by something new entirely.

I’m obsessed with Italy’s entry for Eurovision this year, ‘Fai Rumore’ by Diadato. It means “make noise”, and the chorus is kind of heart breaking, and true to form, I read grief in its words:

Che fai rumore qui

E non lo so se mi fa bene

Se il tuo rumore mi conviene    

Ma fai rumore, sì               

Ché non lo posso sopportare     

Questo silenzio innaturale      

Tra te e me

--

Make some noise here

I don't know if it's good for me

If your noise suits me

Make some noise, yes 

I can't stand it

This unnatural silence

Between you and me

Doesn’t this sound to you like the last person alive, just asking for one person to say something? It reminds me of that bit in I am Legend when Will Smith asks one of the mannequins he’s made into an imaginary friend to speak, to just say something.

I’ve a question about that first line, too, because Google translates it as “what are you doing here?” Which ads a kind of Orphic/mythic element; as though someone has appeared as a phantom or shade of themselves, and can’t speak to him. So there’s a kind of ghostliness added to it in any case: a here but not here element. Something where there should be nothing.  Nothing where there should be s o m e t h i n g.

The reason I bring this song up, though, isn’t really because of the song itself, even if it does feel something like a shout into the void, or calling out for someone lost.

It’s because of two videos I saw about it. One: Everyone sequestered in their apartments, unable to come out, and singing out of their windows in some Italian town “CHE FAIR RUMORE, QUI!” Like, “is there anyone alive out there” – this in itself isn’t gothic. Although, I guess, if you were to posit that all the voices you’re hearing are ghostly in that they’re coming to you from an unseen source – but that’s perhaps too much of a leap.

Anyway – the true post-viral gothic is this:

The sight of him singing this song to an empty arena, like he’s the last man alive – that’s gothic. The eerie silence, the lack of applause, of shouts, of people singing along. Nothing, just a man in what looks like some kind of funeral dress, standing isolated and alone within a huge stadium. The old gothic of crumbling cathedrals, in which the hint to a faded spiritual significance is palpable, is found here again. The 21st century stadium: a cathedral to celebrity. The spiritual significance of a stadium, I guess, is the reverence of music as a new kind of religion.

I wonder, too, if there’s something in the fact that he’s singing this plaintive cry for connection in a stadium in which there used to be gladiator fights, circuses. Like, here’s a centre for spectacle, and human interaction, and the heat and gore of the fight, and the magic of a circus – reduced to one man, and the ghost of his spectators. They even write fai rumore on the seats. So detatched. So horribly lonely.

What does it mean to see it empty? For the artist to finish their piece, not to rapturous applause, but to the final notes dying away, bouncing back to you from the empty seats. Even the opening of the video, Diadato walking up to the mic in silence. The sound of his footsteps hauntingly alone. Even the huge delay of his voice coming back to him “Fai rumore” but he’s the only one making sound.

To return to Angela Carter, that ‘all excess leads to abstraction’, then the only way to abstract the excess exhibited in these huge stadiums is to render them empty. Yet its romanticism is in its isolation, too. The individual is the only thing left. 

The post-viral gothic is the empty stadium, is the artist singing alone, is haunted, and mournful. There’s no sex in the post-viral gothic, in the same way that there is in the 19th Century vampire, or in the decayed victorian mansion of the american gothic, in which women are conquered and offered up to whatever beast resides within. No. The post-viral gothic is clinical, separate, desolate and alone. I guess we’ve seen these tropes pre-virus, but they’re almost always exhibited in a post-viral context. The zombie apocalypse, for example. The virus is the new nuclear bomb, so the ravaged cityscapes of the post viral aren’t ravaged by war, or by the blast. The cityscapes of the post-viral gothic are just empty. Everyone gone in the night, and dawn breaking silent and still.

Che fai rumore, si
Ché non lo posso sopportare
Questo silenzio innaturale
Tra me, e te

 

 

 

A friend wrote a poem

A friend wrote a poem so beautiful it made me want to stop writing altogether because, and I’ll quote myself, “how could I write anything with as much gravitas as these twenty lines?”

What is it about poetry that takes all the unspooling nature of human thought and emotion, that I write down in half non-sensical paragraphs and unending pages, and distills it into a metre, enjambes its thought over two lines, and delivers a gut punch with the last three stressed syllables?

I saw my friend read their poem in a pub. I was three beers deep, and anxious about another friend’s all too closeness, and the moroseness of the evening was met by the hammer tetrameter, and the power of the iambic throb in my limbic system; is this heartbeat or…?

Out into the November air, the street lamps curled like talons or gnomic fishing rods waiting to ensnare a passerby. I am ensnared in the net of my own anxiousness, and my friend is talking with our friends about somebody else’s trousers, and how’s about going back to someone else’s place for a night cap, and how’s about going back inside.

A friend wrote a poem so beautiful I felt like crying because, and I’ll quote myself, “what’s the point in dry eyes if they don’t see the world that way”

A friend wrote a poem so beautiful I felt like dying because, and I’ll quote myself, “what’s the point in wide eyes if they don’t see the world at all.”

Near Window 30 +1

and now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.

Well this has been one hell of a journey. I’ve been inside for 56 days, and I’ve written so many little things it’s a bit mental. Mostly, I’ve felt cut off or lost; the spring playing theatrics at the window: thunderstorm, sunshine, blackbird, fledgeling, flight, and a bee.

Through the window comes the image of the first day:

A square of gold on crumpled white linen. A warm left knee catching the first few days of March sunshine. A sky clean as kitchen walls, and air the colour of breakfast, if breakfast has a colour at all.

I wanted Near Window to be an experiment in writing every day. I didn’t quite manage it, there’ve been about 20 days where I didn’t write anything for the blog. I’ve written a lot of things in the meantime, I’m still working on a big Olsen Mythos post, and I’m still working on rewriting the book. In a way, I feel like writing this every day has brought out, and brought about, more things that I was expecting. I’ve made connections to people I had never expected to, I’ve built something out of it, in a way. I didn’t think I’d find connection, when connecting was forbidden.

You know how, when you show your favourite films to someone, and it feels like you’re sharing all these little fragments of who you are and why you see the world the way you do? Or, like when you’re at a party, and you’re talking about music and you start talking about songs that form up your romantic viewpoint?

That’s what I feel Near Window has been for me.

Reading them back yesterday, on the last day of actual Confinement (though we’re still ostensibly confined) I was struck by the yearning I found therein. Such a simple feeling, desire. If the unconscious mind is a kind of theatre, as Deleuze and Guattari say, and that desire is itself based on a factory model, then the desiring-machine unleashed by my involuntary incarceration in this Parisian garret, is for the simplicity of connection. To be recognised, and to be understood. Like when you reach the zenith of a night out, and you turn to your friend and scream “i love you” in their faces, and feel the music enter somehow inside your lungs.

I wrote most often about friendship, about it being the last vestige of the divine in secular life. I wrote about dreams of a life outside of these four walls, and I wrote about letters reaching each other across the gulf of separation. What I discovered, through this writing, is that I am simply a common or garden romantic. I want to be wooed by the theatre of clouds, and by the theatre of my own desire. Is this desire destructive, though, as it is in the case of Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring machines? Does it destroy social assemblages in its becoming-machine? I don’t think so, I think it’s a strange hybrid assemblage that only desires the social assemblage after the moment of exit from those structures.

I don’t know, I think the desire for connection is the way to exist from those structures. My daily life, in which I flitted from one establishment to another like a pigeon searching for scraps, left me with no room to acknowledge that deep seated desire for actual connection with others. Being in a country that wasn’t my home, in which my skills at language weren’t good enough, and in which I often felt like a fish out of water, the desire to connect was perhaps an acknowledgement of the fact that I didn’t fit. Perhaps not fitting is already having exited, perhaps D+G would suggest pursuing the line of exit to its conclusion. Not for me, though. I want to be connected, even if it’s by arbitrary and loosening tethers.

I wanted simply to hold your hands. I wanted simply to have my hand held.

Near Window has been about putting my arm out of the glass to catch raindrops, or passing conversation, or blown kisses.

…and that’s all from me.

Keep your peepers peeled for the inaugural edition of Near Window 1: Confinement which should be coming out some time in the next week-ish.

Near Window 30

Mississippi Rain

It is raining so hard, and smells like iron. You know that petrichore smell you get in cities whilst it’s raining? It doesn’t smell the same when it rains on grass. I feel like crying. Have you ever looked at rain and just wanted to be it? Able to go anywhere, constantly cycling around the states of yourself: ocean, cloud, rain river and back again.

There’s thunder hammering somewhere and the light in my apartment has dimmed so that I can hardly see. I’m listening to Haim, and I’m supposed to be editing a section of the book in which I imagine that I found my dad in a park once on a summer morning, and cried at the imagining. It’s a funny thing to be tapped into how you’re always feeling at the moment. I feel a bit numb to myself, otherwise I’d be locked in my own cycle of existence without escape. I could stand in this rain for hours, I wonder if it would wash off all that sedentary feeling of being inside, I wonder if a little bit of me might travel with it: Rain, to river, to ocean, to cloud.

The face in the mirror isn’t my own. 

The hands I write with don’t belong to me. 

I’m a shadow, a shade, a passing cloud. 

How did I make it here after all this time?

I imagine I was carried up the gulf stream by a storm, sent eastward by high pressure, and landed here like a forgotten train ticket left inbetween the pages of a book. Marks, MS – New Orleans, LA in between two pages of Light in August.

Is it spring or summer now? What is this storm? Have we crossed the boundary of the coming of the spring, and have i missed its passing through, like a freighter rather than a passenger service? 

Last summer I went to Oxford, Mississippi to see a friend and she took me to Faulkner’s house. All day, it had been raining that hot, fat, Mississippi rain:  big droplets falling on my face like finger tips tracing the outline of my cheek, rolling along the edge of my jaw. I’ve never seen rain like it. Not even this rain that’s falling now. 

Faulkner’s house emerged from a green/grey mist, embedded in strong smelling pine or fir like a dream. It was quiet, soft, like foot steps through undergrowth. Hushed. The rain that hadn’t yet met the ground pattered over roof tiles, dripped resolutely from braches, whisered itself through the gutters. 

In As I Lay Dying  he describes rain like this: 

 They are big as buckshot, warm as though fired from a gun; they sweep across the lantern in a vicious hissing.

I didn’t think rain could be like that, but here I was seeing it. A real thing, big rain, mississippi rain. I think it changes the way you feel about it, if rain is always big, rather than the tiny little needles that try to burrow their way into your skin and freeze you to the bones. 

Faulkner has another quote, too:

“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home?’

I wish I were home. I keep thinking of the open expanse of my English Oxfordshire, resplendent in the May, the blossom coming in through the green, leaves newly minted shivering against the cold weight of English rain. In Paris the rain falls grey, like it would in any city. In Oxford Mississippi, and in the shire fields of my home, the rain falls green-silver into the landscape, mercurial in its affections.

I have nothing more to say today.

Just think of rain, coming at you like kisses, or like bullets, or like tiny little fragments of a world that exists without you, and away from you, and extended from you, and how lucky we are to be allowed to exist within it. 

Near Window 29: Far Window

Ramadan Light

By Rezia Wahid
Oh Ramadan
Ramadan
Your light is the food of empty bellies
Your light illuminates dark houses
Your light adds magic to the hands of cooks
Your light waters the withered
Your light heals the sick

Your light is the mercy of the divine
Your light is joy to the unsmiling

Oh Ramadan 
Ramadan
Must you leave?

Oh Ramadan 
Ramadan
I shall keep your fragrance

Rezia Wahid is a textile artist who specialises in hand weaving. She is currently writing a PHD proposal which looks at engaging audiences and bringing people together with her weaving. Rezia is influenced by a wide range of subjects which includes Literature and Nature. She often writes words which come into her mind when praying, thinking, whilst looking at nature or alongside her drawings and designs- Rezia doesn’t call herself a writer or a poet but her woven pieces are just like poetry. She lives in London and balances work life with four young children as well as a husband who is a writer! 

Rezia’s work can be seen on Instagram @reziawahid1 She tweets @ReziaWahidWeave

Near window 27

I really don’t know clouds at all

In my mind, this year was gonna be a white table cloth spread with breakfast for one. Eggs and avo on toast and freshly brewed coffee steaming, sunlight streaming through open windows juiliette balconetted with views of a small place. The trees outside would hush themselves in gentle breezes and the rooftops of the city would range away from me to a river and to hills and beyond.

It looked like a cross between an Instagram post and a Monet. Soft strokes and warm light, like waking up well rested, like seeing the world through a glass of rosé: tinted and tilted.

In a way it has been that. It’s been a dream I’ve felt like I was living through. I felt like my life was running through my fingers like water, like I kept trying to pull one out of an ocean of lives around me and coming out with nothing. I think, in a way, I’d felt that for so long that I became content to be taken with the tide. Paris has not been about floating with the tide.

When I was about 21, my uncle’s wife asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life. What a question to ask of someone so young.

At the time I said something like this:

I’m going to live my life by taking all its pieces and putting them on a table cloth. Then, every time I need to make a decision I’ll just flick the tablecloth and see where everything lands, and I’ll just do whatever feels right once the chips have landed.

That’s what Paris has been: putting the bits of my life onto a table cloth and flicking them into the air. This weird weird situation we’re all in has left me feeling like the chips still have yet to land. They’re caught in the air like clouds.

It’s clouds illusions I recall/ I really don’t know clouds at all.

I am feeling very at the brim today. It would have my been my parents’ 33rd wedding anniversary. I feel like it would have been a day they’d have spent together in confinement doing nothing much of note, like the day we’ve all had.

It rained all day. It’s a public holiday in France so I was thinking about how pissed off i would have been if I’d been working and had a bank holiday ruined by tempests.

Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” came on the radio. It’s conversational tones, and the sound of her voice as it sounds like it might break.

I told someone I didn’t love them anymore once beside a canal in London. It was about this time of year, and the sun was so bright it hurt to keep my eyes open. It hurt them to look at his face when I said the words I just don’t love you. Not anymore. I sometimes think of him when I hear this piece of music. It sounds to me like the earth turning under me, like water breaking against the canal walls, and like endings:

It’s love’s illusions I recall/ I really don’t know love at all.

This isn’t really a blog post, today. I’m sorry. It’s just me saying that I’m feeling alone in a way that I can’t express and in a way that isn’t assuaged by friendship, or by anyone really. Life is sometimes just lonely, and lonelier still when you wilfully upturn it’s contents because you’re tired of living it.

I wonder if the habit I have of picking up my life and rearranging its pieces is as a result of having had it rearranged for me when my dad died. I wonder if the process of flicking that table cloth feels safe to me because it’s a rehashing of what I’ve already done.

I keep thinking about all the lives half begun which have amounted to nothing. I keep thinking of the one life I’ve carved out for myself. life is rich and fast and then suddenly slow. At the moments of deceleration you’ve an opportunity to turn the viewfinder back on yourself. I’ve lived a life that was never the life I imagined for myself. I will continue to live a life that surprises me. I hope so anyway.

It’s life’s illusions I recall/ I really don’t know life at all

Near window 26

Chicken Goujons

I watched blue crush last Monday because I was hungover as a dog and I didn’t want to do anything but watch a film I’d seen a thousand times before. It got me thinking: my favourite kind of hangover movie is the « girl is good at a sport and becomes pro » movie. Right now there’s blue crush and chalet girl in my mind, but also Ice Princess and Bring it On. I know you hate ice princess, even though I think it’s a stone cold banger. It 100% passes the Bechdel test, it offers multiple characterisations if what it is to be a strong woman, it combats anti-feminist ideas of femininity (that you can either be smart OR beautiful and not both, whereas the premise of this is that you can do both, which is true because you are both and I am both and so are all of the women I know).

Ngl another big seller of these movies is that there’s always a snog (prime hangover vibe) there’s something to root for (a big competition) and almost always the character has got no money to compete (REL8ABLE). It’s like they tackle huge themes of classed oppression, gendered oppression in masculine fields (snow boarding/surfing – not nec. Ice skating) whilst mixing it with a slice of romance. Even tho you sometimes r like « I do not want to watch chalet girl AGAIN Lucy! » I know that secretly u do, because secretly you love watching that girl from the worst witch and chuck bass from gossip girl fall in love in the snow, and also that you secretly love watching someone learn to b a great snowboarder. (Although ngl, this trope of the poor girl becoming a bad ass sports person could also lose the « rich boy » aspect bc I don’t feel like she needs a rich man in the end of any of these scenarios. Like the class barrier that keeps the two apart is only crossed by achieving a meritocratic status of success – becoming a pro – and really if it is T R U E L U V they should like idk have a relationship based on mutual respect for their origins but YOUKNOW)

I wonder if part of the comfort of these films on a hangover is that they’re interconnected with all other hangovers. They come with the associated memory of going to M&S to by the 2 for £10 ready meal deal and drinking a bottle of wine and having a fancy pre-cooked one. Or they’re tinged with the promise of an entire platter of chicken goujons, or they just feel like the taste of Diet Coke the morning after.

Every hangover I have has you in it, because almost every good night I’ve had, has had you in it. I mean not all of them, but when I go out with you I never wake up with the fear. So, when I go out without you, and am hungover without you, I put in a film we’ve watched and I feel like I am not hanging in my bed a l o n e.

Every single one goes something like this: eyes slit open at some ungodly hour (it’s actually 11am). I mumble something about wanting to die (I think I’m dead. How did we get HOME?) you are usually either a) already awake or b) groaning that I need to shut up and sleep a bit more. Then, when we r both ready we lurch unsteadily to the kitchen. I make a coffee which you decline because (quite frankly) you’re weird and don’t like coffee. Then we turn on the oven and put chicken goujons from the freezer onto the tray. Sometimes there are chips. Most times there aren’t. I get the ketchup, the coffee, and a Diet Coke and put it on the coffee table. You are pulling up Netflix on the telly. You tell me we have choices. We usually entertain the idea of watching something new or good before having the following convo: (There’s a dead dad in this one. I don’t want a dead dad movie – can we watch ice princess?. Absolutely not, Lucy. I hate ice princess. Chalet Girl? Fine) I think this is how it goes because one time we watched Love Rosie and you forgot the dad died half way through and I was absolutely traumatised by it.

Now normally I would not admit that these r my fave hangover movies because I think people will think that I’m lame. But ngl, they r lame movies but they are also very very good, and they serve a real purpose to remind me of something: not all women in film only talk about boys. Women in film can often be poor and do good stuff. Women in film can be bad ass, they can be good at stuff, they can look after a family and do a job and still achieve a dream. What’s more is that the women in these films are made specifically to talk to women. If you think about a lot of rom coms they’re made for women, but not necessarily by women, and continue to perpetuate the notion that we’re nothing without a man (BORING). The women in these films remind me of my sisters and they also remind me of you.

You are one of the smartest people I have ever known. You look at a situation and you just know what to do. You never fail to have a plan. You’re also 100% up for anything as much as I am. I think there hasn’t been a single time when either one of us has come up with a plan where the other one said « no ». It’s just kind of a prerequisite; if you’re going I’m going and there’s no two ways about it. You do ur job, you work hard, you work on ur dreams, you let no one take u for a ride, you get fucked on the weekend, and I am in awe of u.

To me, you’re like the women in Blue Crush, or Chalet Girl, except that the job you do is really cool. In those films those women are dedicated, a little bit distracted by boys (comme tout le monde), and completely and utterly driven by a passion of theirs. They’re unapologetic about being women in their chosen field, they’re unapologetic about who they are and where they come from, and they’re really fucking cool. You are all these things and when I hang out with you I feel like a little bit of that badass magic rubs off on me, too.

In a way both of these films: Blue Crush and Chalet Girl subvert the « romantic Comedy » trope by placing the protagonists’ wish fulfilment in a personal achievement as opposed to a man. Now yeah, I know, both movies have got a gorgeous dude as a love interest, and yeah he still functions as a kind of Richard-Gere-esque saviour (they’re poor, he’s rich, he offers them a way out) but the crucial thing is that both women, Anne-Marie in Blue Crush and Kim in Chalet Girl achieve success without them.

I think the reason people dismiss these films so readily is because they’re squarely in the category of « women’s film » (because they’re about women 🙄🙄🙄🙄) but they’re sports movies… (a genre typically geared towards men). But here’s a kicker: women generally are less choosy about the kinds of film they like to watch, and society as a whole is way more accepting of a woman who likes to watch gangster films or action flicks, than a man who really enjoys Ten Things I Hate About You, or hes just not that into you. In Feminism at the Movies: Understanding Gender in Contemporary Popular Cinema, there’s a general understanding that « women watch a wide variety of films, and if fans of the « woman’s film » rarely confine themselves to that genre »

It is important to note, though, that despite the alteration in outcome for the « love arc » in these movies, they still adhere to classic tropes of consumerist capitalism. Being poor is bad and success is only realised if you achieve success and become the very best. A mediocre life with mediocre dreams isn’t really the point of a romcom tho tbh – they’re classic escapism. Even so, the consumerism of the films settings directly influence our reading of the characters: Anne Marie as a maid in a Hawaiian hotel; and Kim as a chalet girl. In the latter though, Kim is still classed out. Where Anne Marie has comradeship in her colleagues, Kim’s class still marks her as an outsider in a role usually reserved for « posh girls »

Either way I recognise us in these two protagonists (which is definitely the point). I see our desire for achieving something, the ache for finding someone to love us. But what I see answered in these films is that love is not the be all and end all. In fact, despite the eye-roll worthy Herero romances, the films are full of love found in truly admirable platonic and familial relationships.

In Blue Crush, Anne Marie relies on her friends far more than the rich and pretty two dimensional football hero love interest. They’re the ones on their boards on the waves encouraging her to try again, they’re the ones who pull her out of the surf after nearly drowning (the surf, it could be said, might stand as a neat metaphor for the tides of life, pulling Anne Marie hither and thither and threatening to pull her under, riding the wave a metaphor, perhaps, for overcoming the struggle of a troubled home life, a lack of money, and needing to keep herself, her friends, and her little sister’s heads above water, the fact that her friends support her in the water and on shore a metaphor for their steadiness in her life) The women in Blue Crush love and support each other to be better friends, better sisters and better surfers. To have confidence in themselves, and trust in each other.

This is where I see us. In a way it’s where I see all of my female friends, in that we each support uplift and encourage each other . To be better at our work, to be better supporters, and to believe in ourselves. I realise, as I get older, how important my female friends are to me, and how they offer a wholly different kind of support to my male friends. I think, when you’re 16, you end up battling a whole bucket load of internalised misogyny. You don’t recognise yourself in the women in media, and so you wrongly assume that you are one of a very select group of women who think differently to this. « I’m not like the other girls » is a thing for a reason, and men similarly perpetuate this myth by saying the same thing back to you. But it’s just false, the more women I know the more I realise that the women in film simply don’t exist. No one spends a life only talking about boys, and what they are doing. Yeah we go to the pub to bitch about this weeks love interest turned fuck-boy, but we mostly talk about each other and about stuff we’ve seen. We all believed we weren’t like other girls, until we started talking to women who weren’t our blood sisters and realised that throughout adolescence were all performing this parody of masculinity in order to be accepted. It’s bollocks and it’s bullshit and I am eternally grateful to my female friends for their constant affirmation of the fact that « not liking pink or girl movies » isn’t a goddamned personality trait.

I think I learned this kind of comradeship from you first. I learned sorority in pub toilets; on walks home down dark alleys and badly lit streets; in seminars where we were spoken over despite the female majority. It is a wonderful thing to find more sisters in the world. I would pull you out of the ocean and into my jet ski any time.

Now get the chicken goujons out the oven before they burn.

Near Window 25

To all of you, wherever you are,

Sometimes I think life was immeasurably easier when we all lived together in that grotty house in South London. When I remember that house I forget how foetid it was, and how the mould encroached upon our personal space, and how we were all a huge house of depressives going to therapy on alternate days. When I remember it I remember it like this tiny haven hewn out of south London suburbia. The basement fog-hazed by cigarette smoke, the garden grey/blue/gold with beer haze, over cast days and trampoline, our rooms all interjecting from each others like small doors, all of us happily co-existing except we were unhappily existing together happily. Symbiotic. I felt I didn’t need any other friends because I had you.

Life has separated us, now. It’s been seven years since we lived in that house together. We’re still close, I love you all like the brothers I never had; but there’s a sense we’re aging out of eating takeaway pizzas and putting our cigarettes out in old beer cans watching Brazil or the Orphanage or every single Bond film in order of preference. Perhaps we did a long time ago. Or maybe not. Whatever it is, I hold the rest of my friendships up to yours for comparison, because you were the first friends I had who never asked me to be anything but myself. You have all been open windows onto the world, you’ve all brought new things to the fore. Despite the trials of that year, of turning twenty, of being young and foolish and sad and happy and crazy; it was a divine moment, held in amber like a charm for times in which I feel friendless. 

There’s this poem called the friend by Matt Hart that I read once, and have been thinking of recently because I am sad to be isolated from my friends, now, and I am especially sad to be absent from oath edged cigarette tinged chats in someone’s kitchen, or around pub tables, or in the middle of the night walking from in house to another, or on drab beige sofas in the dark. So this poem, “the friend”:

The friend is indefinite. You are both

So tired, no one ever notices the sleeping bags

Inside you and under your eyes when you’re talking

Together about the glue of this life and the sticky

Saturation of bodies into darkness

It’s a conversation or a series of conversations between friends many or singular about the difficulties of being alive and the ease of sharing that difficulty with each other or the difficulty of sharing it or the ease of understanding. It sounds to me like the conversations had in the early hours when you’re finding things hard. There are things inside us that are talking to each other, like we’re not communicating but the things inside us, that recognised each other as kin before we built friendships, are. I wonder if that’s the bit that misses, and not our conscious selves so much. 

Bataille says, in the inner experience that life has no meaning if you only give it a meaning you understand alone. “Each being” he says, is “incapable on his own, of going to the end of being”. Because by going there alone, you can never share the experience with anyone else. If you went to the end of being alone it may as well mean that you never went at all. For me, I think this means that to have lived a life without friends is hardly to have lived at all.

You are all at the touch of a button but the yous of then aren’t somehow. I don’t know. I think I prefer the now to the then, but I miss doing nothing but being your friends. Even though I spend my days now doing as much nothing as I did then. 

I normally write these letters about art but I haven’t been to see any art because all the museums are shut and even if they weren’t I’m not allowed outside and even if I was it’s really hard to see art in Paris if you’ve reached the haggard old age of 26. In a way I wonder if the picture I’ve painted in my mind, patched over by Wetherspoons carpet tiles, labels peeled off beer bottles, and the open handed leaves of London Plane trees is the real work of art.

You are all there like a really shit Renoir impression that I’ve further bastardised by sticking their teenage memories to it like a suburban bedroom wall. What a tall story this is, really. How young we were. How young we are. How different things will be. I’m getting morose in my isolation. You’d probably all tell me to stop being stupid, and one of you would come with me to red star wine to get a red good for just drinking or another of us would go to dominics pizza and another one would eat his left over crusts, and I would smoke through an entire 10g pocket of 2.99 Pall Mall red, and one of you would have my lighter and swear on your life you hadn’t seen it before pulling it out of the left breast of your pale blue shirt to light the cigarette you’d just finished rolling. 

I wonder what group are sitting in our basement now, cackling some diatribe of artspeak, or watching terminator 2 half way through a joint. Maybe there is no community of slackers sitting in that basement now. Perhaps it is empty and the ghosts of our conversations chase each other around the room and come to rest on the ghosts of those gross leather sofas one of us found on the side of the road and brought home. I wonder if other ghosts of other groups keep us company. I wonder. 

I wonder if this is a letter to you all at all, or if it’s a love letter to rose tinted glasses. I just know I’d probably walk back to London if there was the promise of a pint in a pub with all of you, as we were, as we are. 

I think, maybe, that none of you will read this anyway, and it will be an unmailed letter, like those that old man posted in his local dogshit bin instead of the letterbox, despite the fact I’ve posted it to the world. 

In his book Friendship, Blanchot also says that friendship is something “into which all the simplicity of life enters”. It’s nothing more than brief moments of beauty, snatched conversations, and that we can’t talk of our friends, only to them. It’s why I’ve written this letter to you and not about you. We greet each other through our estrangement, we are always separate and we are always together until the ultimate fissure unties the bonds that we built between us. Friendship is the simplicity of life. Bataille says the same thing. That you can’t live your life without sharing it with friends. I can’t imagine my life without you. And this, in the end, is the grief of having friends, that friendship inevitably ends. But I will be your friends until I enter the void myself. I will be your friends until I am myself a ghost, chasing the tails of old conversations in a room that has no windows.

Near window 24

Ghost flies

I am standing on the stairs to the attic with my left foot above my right foot and my left fingers touching the raised pattern of the wallpaper in the dark. I am waiting for my eyes to adjust to the gloom and it smells like mothballs and misery and misheard arguments in here. I am frightened of the attic. It is dark and dusty and filled with the ghosts of a hundred dead flies who’ve met their ends in its many spiders webs. or met it batting their heads against uncomprehending glass trying to reach the outside. Or perhaps they met it somehow else. Don’t come up here, whisper the ghost flies, it’s a trap.

But I go up anyway. Step by unsteady step like I am 5 and 105 alternately with each one. The flies are nervous they hover about my ears with a tinny something. Like a telegraph pole in a field, humming discontent.

I can smell the inside binding of bleak house curling down the stairs like I’ve fallen asleep with it over my face in the garden on a summer evening. I can smell burning.

The door at the top of the stairs has a face and he looks distraught that I might dare to grasp his handle. He is worried. He twists his wooden mouth as if to say “this isn’t wise” and I whisper into the dust that “I am not wise” and twist the handle. The flies hold their breath, the door is unhappy, the dust sips loudly on his cinema Diet Coke and i can hear the rustle of his hand in the popcorn. Here comes the jump scare. My heart has run a marathon in three steps and is safely situated 26 miles down the road in Helmsley and then

And then

Nothing much, really. The door swings inward to the hallway and a shaft of morning sunlight breaks into the stairwell revealing the dust for what he is. A moth makes a break for downstairs. On one side by two windows the dessicated carcasses of my companions shift in the draft. Behind me the door inches closer to its frame, his face set in consternation and worry. On the other side of the attic a shadow shifts it’s weight taking over a little extra space than usual. A photo album twitches it’s memory on the shelf. The flies are still worried but I don’t think they mean anything by it. You would be worried too if you found yourself at the site of your own demise.

The door closes. The shadow shifts. The pages flutter. The flies hum. The sun: dims.

The flies r silent. Hush listen here it comes.

You r hovering behind my shoulder to get the best shot of it as it swells. The music has taken on that pastiche of Hitchcock, all tight strings and tension. The light dims a little and we hard cut to my face backlit by the sunshine, and you wonder at the directorial choice of setting this movie in the day time and then it dawns on you that things that come out at night can be explained away by low light and superstition. In the day time things are harder to chalk down to an overactive imagination. I am walking down the corridor and you are hiding your face behind a cushion. Then suddenly the music stops with a bang. There’s the jump scare come late.

“Its only the door slamming” I say to the flies, but the flies whisper amongst them self that the door closed quietly earlier. You’re sitting there saying the same thing. I can’t hear you though, so I just keep walking towards the other side of the attic, the other room. It gets dimmer and dimmer. The music is gone now, we’ve got no score but the sound of socked feet on carpet creaking intermittently with the age of the boards. Please don’t, whisper the ghost flies. Shhh, says I.

The mirror on the wall of the hallway glints in response to my shh. I thought I heard it sigh. I thought I heard it whisper that I’d come up here to die. But perhaps I’d only heard another whisper of the flies. I put my hand on the frame of the attic bedroom door and poke my head over the threshold. It is like making the sign of the cross. I announce my presence. One bed is already made but another has been slept in. The wall paper peels revealing dreams papered over through the years. As My feet cross the boundary of the room it is like someone’s out their hands over my ears. The flies have stopped their pleading. I can hear only the breaking waves of my own blood flow against the flood barriers of the self.

My shadow shifts its weight in the corner and I pick up a picture from the bedside table.

You’re on the edge of your seat.

My shadow shifts again as I move around the room and I sit on the made up bed and look uncritically at the crumpled linen of the other. It’s just been slept in — just left.

On the floor is a photograph face down and I pick it up. The ghost flies clamour at the doorway, light dims.