It was my birthday last week and as I’ve already documented my thoughts on the whole thing, it’s time to share what I actually did! My birth “day” actually spanned about 5 days as I had gigs before and after the day itself, plus a big meal/pub night with all my pals at the weekend. Continue reading
Today’s my birthday! I feel like it’s almost customary to write a introspective post of reflection and wisdom when one turns another year older, or at the least compile a list of things one would like to achieve. I have to be honest – I’ve always had a strong sense of self, and whilst I’ve certainly grown and developed through my life (spoiler: that’s the point) I don’t feel a million miles away from the person I was a year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago.
Boy friends who are stuck at home ill in bed feeling rubbish, but give you a hug as soon as you open the door because you had good news. Boy friends who punch the air for you. Boy friends who buy you lunch and tease you about the little things. Boy friends who buy you water and boy friends who bring you wine.
Boy friends you shared a bed with because there was no room on the floor and it was the worst house party in history. Boy friends you shared a bed with because you were too upset to go home. Boy friends you shared a bed with because they came to hang out but sometimes you need to stay in bed all day and watch The Herbs and that’s ok too.
Boy friends just in time for Christmas. Boy friends who go to the pub with you because your date was late. Boy friends who hold up three Christmas jumpers each so you can try on a dress behind them in a busy market. Boy friends who tell you that you have to get the dress because any date would ask you out instantly if he saw you in it. Boy friends who buy you the dress because you’re broke and you can’t see what they see and there’s a hope that maybe one day you’ll get it; who knows if that will ever happen but it’s nice anyway. Boy friends who’ve known you forever and boy friends who’ve known you a month. Boyfriends.
The First Year Without You
You died a year ago today. I could feel my life splitting into two parts. Before and After. I hoped I might get back some of the things I left in Before, but I am not sure how it works. I saw your Dad this morning. He said, this last year has been a bit of a blur, mostly focused on surviving. He’s right. It has.
People say you know you’re getting old when your friends start dying. That means I got old last year. It was the year of death; I lost childhood friends, family friends, treasured mentors and worst of all, you. I’d been having a whale of a time being young, being happy, inching towards success when suddenly cancer, suicide, accidents, funerals, eulogies, graves and cremation threw themselves into my path unexpectedly. I think a lot of me is still mourning. My dreams are filled with all the people I’ve lost, even the ones still alive, the ones that got away. Sam told me, Will told me, my Dad told me: you need to get over this and move on.
But I can’t get past it. I don’t have the right coping mechanisms and I’m scared of going forward without you jumping through the same hoops with me, as you always have done. And besides, you’re everywhere; you’re in my lyrics, in my playlists, in my wardrobe, in my Favourite Contacts, in my stories and anecdotes, in my inbox, in my cat ears, in the colours of the leaves, in pumpkins, in the names of all our unborn children, in Will’s stupid jokes, in my harddrive, in unedited photos and hours of rehearsal footage I cannot watch.
People say that when somebody dies young it can remind you how precious life is, and how important it is to live every day to the fullest. This is a nice sentiment, except that is how I lived my life anyway. It turns out that there is a limit to carpe diem; if you push it too far it’s dangerous. It’s reckless, it’s breaking into where you shouldn’t be, it’s fooling around, losing things, insulting friends, drinking too much, staying out too late, worrying strangers, horrible, messy, not giving a shit about waking up tomorrow. It’s just easier.
You would hate this, you would hate me worrying about it, throwing so much away and taking the time to write this. What confuses me most is this: how far away are we going to get? You were 25, and I’ve caught up, as I normally do. Except next year I’ll be 26 and you’ll still be 25. That’s all wrong. What about when I’m 30? It’s so much time to miss you. What if I get all the way to 40?! What then?! We were all so young. What happens when we grow again? Will we think, oh, we were so young when we were 25..? What does that mean for you?
You would not be at all happy with me this year. I’ve done all the things you told me not to, and I’m far quicker to get angry about things: boys, money, not being white. I’m either tired and lethargic, or restless and wild. I’m evasive and avoiding us. I mention you a lot – subconsciously, I catch myself after and feel stupid. I’m scared of our stories continuing without you. My Dad’s brother died when he was 27. I didn’t even know my Dad had a brother until I was about 12. I asked my Dad, why don’t you talk about your brother more? He looked at me kind of blankly and said, well, it was a very long time ago.
You and me won’t be like that. I’m so grateful, I’m so happy you were here – and you were here, you were here, YOU WERE HERE. You were here with me, you chose to spend your time with me, you chose to support me, you chose my projects, my gig, my shout, my birthday, this, us. I am so lucky I got that. If you were here you would probably choose all those things again. I have to think that. And sometimes, for a moment, the sun shines and makes everything golden, and the leaves are orange, orange everywhere, and I turn the volume up, and I remember that YOU WERE HERE and you chose this, and it makes me so so happy. And it is just for a moment, but it is a moment more than I had a year ago.
Whilst in Mauritius I spent a lot of time with one of my cousins and his adorable kids (pictured, do you see a likeness?). He’s the eldest cousin and I’m the youngest. Despite the differences in age and circumstance there is a lot the two of us share beside our grandparents; a sympathetic disposition, a tendency to laugh off serious statements, a keen interest in how our families have shaped us.
My eldest cousin spoke touchingly of his dream; to have the four of us cousins, our four collective children and our one remaining parent (mine) all together in a room. To just be together like that. He spoke so wistfully it made my heart ache. I have many friends who see their entire families every Christmas, every wedding, every funeral. I’ve met my cousins only a handful of times through my life, divided as we are by continents and expensive flight routes. I wish I were of more use to them, lame as I am with my poor grasp of language; my alien career choice; my bizarre hometown; my youth and naivety; my sincere unknowing of life.
My eldest cousin noted the similarities between all of us cousins. We are all independent, almost to the point of being loners. We are all sensitive listeners who try and help everyone out, but none of us are any good at asking for or accepting help of our own. We are actually terrible at accepting help: quick to retreat, happy to analyse our problems in solitude. We don’t like letting people in. We are all pretty laid-back about the trials of day to day life, saving ourselves for the bigger dramas. The kind of dramas that brew up over a lifetime because nobody knew what to do. The kind of crisis that can cause the rest of the family to dash across the globe and throw their best of intentions at; well-meaning but rashly executed.
I don’t really know what the role of family is. People to teach you, to support you, people who know you best, people who cared about you unconditionally? These aren’t really things I associate with my family. My local family is just me and my parents; three people with a backlog of misunderstandings and confusing geography. With the rest of my family, I know we are all similar people but we’re just too far away – and there’s not enough to go on, not enough to be getting on with.
The attributes of family are instead are the things I associate with my friends. It’s my friends who lift me up, it’s my friends who enlighten me, it’s my friends who support me. Why is that? Is it the age I am and the society I live in? Is it because I see my family so little? Is it because my family and I share the same flaws and therefore cannot look after each other properly? The same cracks in alternate mirrors, the same blots on our differing landscapes. It’s difficult to say.
The Summers that Shaped Me
Today I thought I’d tell you about some of my summer holidays in years gone by, complete with a lot of dodgy pictures. Let’s time travel! This post is part of a collaboration called #WeBlogSummer, set up by lovely Sophia – read more here – and the theme this week is summer holidays, but as I’ve actually already posted about my thoughts on summer holidays and my “goals” for this particular summer I’ve decided to cast the gaze back into years gone by.
Summer 2005 is the last summer prior to this one I spent entirely in the UK. I was underage back in 2005 and my friends and I were at that awkward level of teenager life where you’re too old to go for dinner round somebody else’s house, but not quite old enough to go clubbing or to the pub. I mean what are teenagers meant to do? No wonder they just congregate in parks and shopping malls. It’s tough. My friends and I spend the summer alternating round each others houses. We went to my house every Thursday, which we titled “the gatherings” and… I don’t know what we did? Played Playstation, had water fights, climbed trees, had sleepovers and barbecues I guess.I started learning the guitar on one borrowed from a friend (still in my bedroom ten years later). I think at one point we were writing a film and shooting bits of footage? Or maybe we started a band? That’s the kind of thing you can do as teens.
2005 was also the summer 6 of us went on a trip up north; we spent 1 day at Alton Towers and 2 days chilling out at home, watching the Saw films, “cooking”, learning to tango, god knows what else but the time passed. I tried to find some non-awful pictures to show you, but 2005 is the year I attempted to grow my fringe out. Although shout out to that brown skirt – it was made from this weird stretchy fabric that was exclusively sold in Camden during 2003-2007 and I adored it. It was the summer I enjoyed the lazing around and the joys of just bedding yourself in with people; as a teen my life tended towards fast-paced and busy but that summer was my most chilled out time on record. I just spent about half an hour going through old photos and now feel very nostalgic for that mundane time. We didn’t even have facebook to distract us!
The early part of Summer 2007 was magnificent. Although tragically this was my second attempt to grow out a fringe (why didn’t I learn), study leave seemed to start in about March and I lose count of how many breakfasts, shopping trips and garden parties happened up until June. It was somebody else’s birthday every weekend and house parties became our default social scenario. I suffered a huge blow in my life quite early on that summer and that ended up being quite traumatic. It’s actually one of the very few incidents in my life that even today I can’t laugh off or joke about. I went from the best period of my life to one of the very worst and I just really unravelled; I was way too young to even begin processing what had happened to me and although I had a lot of friends, I didn’t really have the capacity to properly talk to anybody.
The reason I’m including this in my summer round-up is because I stayed in a lot and started just writing song after song after song. I filled notepads with songs and most importantly they started to improve. One of the songs from this time is still in my setlist now. I feel like summer 2007 is when I just sort of ceased developing and my gears stopped changing. Growing up is a gradual process and it sounds ridiculous but I feel like most aspects of myself and the way I operate can be easily and directly traced back to that event and that summer, especially when examining the way I deal with things and create things today.
Summer 2011 was such a big summer for me it kind of split into two parts. It was the year I left university and I had absolutely zero plans for the summer and zero plans for the year after. The first part of summer was spent completely surrounded by all my friends; I saw a lot of my friends from back home, I saw a lot of my theatre friends and I even got to reconnect with my old school friends at a party which was wonderful. I spent a lot of time with all the friends I’d made over the last 3 years, a long and drawn out goodbye to my degree and the corner or South London that had become my home, as well as all the years that had come before that. I leapt at every opportunity and ended up with plans that would take me far across the country for the second half of the summer. The first part of the holidays culminated in one of the best and most emotional nights of my life; flanked by my best friends Danilo and Pete it was the night I left London.
After I left London my summer was spent surrounded by completely new people who had no link to school, university or anything I’d done before. I had leapt at every opportunity that turned up in the last few weeks and ended up spending the second 2 months of summer running around between two different music courses and a month-long run with a show at Edinburgh Fringe. I didn’t know anybody on any of those projects but ended up making lifelong friends with a lot of people I still work alongside today (such as the company I just toured with, half of Quizcats and as you can see from the pictures, James). I’ve written about how it was the summer Amy died and I started singing; finally finding an outlet. That first time I got onto the stage and stood in front of a microphone, as myself, it was literally like the world had shifted in front of me. It was in some crappy venue with about 12 people but I just thought “I knew this is what I wanted”. If I hadn’t met James and we hadn’t been in Edinburgh that may have never happened. So the whole summer was an amazing way to learn that even with no plans and no idea of what to do, life works out for the best. That even if the worst happens, friends are to be found everywhere.
So there we go! I hope you enjoyed this nostalgic look back. There are lots of other awesome bloggers taking part in #WeBlogSummer – if you head to Sophia’s blog you can read everybody else’s posts, and if you enjoyed this delve into my early years I’ve written a couple of other “growing up” posts here and here.
I just got back from a 6 week tour around the south of England with Rhum & Clay, touring a show we first made back in 2012. I thought last time we said goodbye that would be it (as I said at the time) – so you can imagine my surprise when I was contacted about a 2015 tour. A Strange Wild Song was the first show I wrote for professionally (I was still in university at the time) and the subsequent touring accompanied my weird, final year in education when I was also very unhappily living at home.
It was kind of amazing to revisit the show, to redevelop and tour something we’d created so long ago. In the world of independent, original theatre, it’s very rare to be given the opportunity to redevelop a piece and I was so grateful to have the experience. I cringed at my earlier choices in music; who uses 7 different instruments in the same show? The old music was incohesive; I was more than happy to go back and change that (…although it still uses 7 instruments). I had lots of fun getting back to the unique “ramshackle” Rhum & Clay dynamic the guys have, both on and off stage. It was great fun becoming part of the fabric of a show; long rehearsals and a lengthy run where everybody starts to mesh together – I’ve not been part of a cast in a while. And as I said, it was a relief to visit the sea. In a weird way I realised how unhappy I was during previous tours, leaving to return to my difficult Masters and taxing home life. This time I had no worries or doubts from the rest of my life to creep in: when the time came, I was happy to head home and touch base with the rest of my world.
Nelson Mandela said there’s nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. For me, that place that remains the same is apparently not a set place at all, but a rented van crowded with set and costumes; a small stage in a new theatre by the coast; a cold pint in a new pub with old, inside-out friends; a stranger’s spare room and home-cooked breakfast; the stool behind a whole host of pianos that rarely get played.
Thank you everybody involved in the tour and for allowing me this experience to come back to the project.
On Getting Old
When I was a teenager I didn’t really have any expectations for the future. I had a big list of places I wanted to go and I knew what my interests were and I really, really wanted to meet some like-minded people. But there was no ideal, dream reality that my adult self would occupy. I just desperately yearned for certain situations.
I wanted a group of girlfriends who would meet me for lunch in nice bars, like on TV, except I wanted girlfriends who were interested in pop culture and vintage clothes and markets rather than hair and make-up and high fashion. I wanted people I could share music tastes with, and cook curries for, and my God, I wanted somebody to talk about Sailor Moon with. I wanted a best friend I could stay up all night with and have a million stupid jokes and call up any weekday evening and hang out with. And I wanted somebody who would come round and cuddle me just because, and kiss me at gigs, and tell me I was special.
I wanted to live in London, and go for coffee in cute indie cafes, and meet my friends in pubs where the bar staff knew my orders already. I wanted to try new restaurants in the evening and go shopping on the weekends. I wanted to have a kick-ass collection of fairy queen crowns, vintage sequins and old books. I wanted to take my songs more seriously. I wanted to write and paint more. I wanted to be free of the shackles of school and schedule my own weeks with things I loved and people I adored and pastimes that fulfilled me. I wanted to be trusted, and witty, and hold my own in conservations with my imaginary future friends.
I realised the other day that I now take all of those things for granted. All of those fleeting ideas I so wished for and dreamt of have become my everyday life. I’m becoming the person I always wanted to be, but I am also already there. I wake up in the arms of somebody beautiful, thrilling and smart who makes me feel happy. I get home from work and I chat my day over with my cherished housemates; talking through the ups and downs of the day. I stagger home from our local down the road arm in arm with my pals, and I get into our room and I look out the window at the whole of London, feeling part of this vibrant, sprawling city.
I no longer feel like a teenager – but I don’t mind. It’s better here. I make things and build things and with age comes gravitas and reputation. I’m less likely to fuck it up because I’ve done it 10 times already – and even if I do, people don’t mind as much because they know sometimes I get it right. I see my students now and I remember the feeling of there being this huge world out there and wondering how to get into the thick of it, how to find your place in the busiest city, how to carve a path in the toughest industry. It sounds corny, but when I stop and look around I realise in trying to get there, I’m already there.