This Christmas has been drinks with pals, Christmas parties, festive morning brunches, lots of mulled wine, the funnest gigs, five full christmas dinners, nights out in my favourite East London pubs, nights in with boxes of Celebrations and christmas movies, cheeseboards, four actually fun Christmas gigs, espresso martinis, rum hot chocolates, more fun brushing my teeth than I thought possible, limited edition chocolate baileys, one beautiful new dress, a lot of beautiful people, a different Christmas playlist for every permutation of travelling, unexpected festive cupcakes, ribbons in hair, one awkward bathroom encounter, kisses on the cheek, SANTA BEER, dancing dancing dancing, Brooklyn Lager and Camden Hells on tap, best friends, old friends, new friends, one upsettingly absent friend, a boot full of Santa hats and antlers, a new reason for high heels, far too many screenshots, the loveliest screening of Gremlins, horribly overpriced pints, two uncompleted advent calendars, so much Prosecco, three nut roasts, seventeen hours of driving, too many empty white wine bottles, a couple of slightly stale mornings, unquantifiable amounts of merriment and way, way, way too much tinsel.
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.
September marks the end of beds. The fall of rain. The switch to darkness when I wander home from work, the start of lights on for motorways. The end of laughter down the hall and protein shakes in the kitchen. The sunglasses are out of my bag, instead replaced with an ever-present umbrella. I remember a younger me who came to relish September, the promise of fresh starts, breakfast in coffee shops. New pencilcases, walnuts in salads, poetry readings, looking forward to winter coat weather and frosty hands on playgrounds. I do not relish those things anymore.
This September is different. Journeying halfway across the world to solve a dilemma I do not fully understand. Sifting through my belongings and photographing them in the hope that some stranger may want them in their hands instead. Confronting the cold in my heart, the grit that has not really lodged since last November. The long game of scheduling when I would rather just write songs all day, songs I can not write because nobody wishes to hear. The pain sure to be stirred by the arrival of orange on the trees. Committing my frenzied, troubled thoughts to tape and airing my hard-won work to a discerning and unwilling audience. Worrying about fronting poorly-attended gigs. I’m restless, and there seems to be little left to come. Maybe this is the danger of living constantly in the moment, or just a comedown from summer, or just spiralling thoughts on a rainy Tuesday night whilst the boys move out.
Lately I’ve been feeling grateful for my friends. Friends who know you inside out. Friends who pick up on the quirks and mannerisms you haven’t yet observed. Friends who see your patterns and sequences and lay out the formula for you. Friends who tell you when you’re being too much, and when you’re not being yourself, because they know you in more ways than you know yourself.
Friends who tell you when you should make a move, and when you’re just being you and this will pass in two weeks. Friends who can’t quite tell because they see you every day, and your perspectives start to overlap. Friends who pick up when this is a big thing, and when this is the real thing, and when you need help, and when you’re holding back.
Friends who listen to your one problem and patiently analyse your one situation, although you already did this last week and nothing has changed. Friends who let you stumble grumpily into the sofa where they wordlessly provide you with breakfast before going back upstairs to get ready for work.
Friends who pop up once a year and manage to fill in the last 12 months, sharing your heartaches and high points, even though you’ve only got an hour, and the traffic was bad, and they’re out of Pimms. Friends who won’t remember that stuff by the time we meet again.
Friends who play music for you. Friends you play music with. The kind of playing where you don’t need to stop and communicate why you’re crying, because they’re crying too, because you hit the same point and you’re sharing the same memory and you’re on the edge of the same sadness, and you had to say goodbye together then, and you’ve got to hold each other up now.
Friends who stay on the line until you fall asleep. Friends who call you up half-drunk and even though you were about to go to bed, you go and make a full curry for them, because you love them, and one day you may need a curry of your own. Friends who pass by for a few months, suffusing your life with newness and laughter. Friends who stay, no matter how difficult and antisocial you get. Friends who love you, more than family, because how could family have possibly observed all the tiny things friends see? We grow up with our families, but we live our lives with our friends. Friends who endure.
Last summer was the first one I was really working. Even on my holidays to Egypt and America I was working round the clock, grabbing wi-fi where I could. I came back and went straight back into work, going out where I could, on Fridays and the odd morning off. Summer stretched on until October, but in a vague, disconnected way. I was aware of summer happening but I wasn’t really partaking in the same way: I didn’t go to Glastonbury, I didn’t spend the month working in Edinburgh, I didn’t spend hours lazing around my parents house listening to music with a hangover.
This year summer has sprung out of nowhere; it was 2015, I was working, I went on tour and then BAM. I’ve come home and it’s summer. This is the first summer since I was about 14 where I don’t have any real plans and everything feels a bit aimless. I’m a bit nonplussed about this summer – I’ve been ill for about a week, I don’t have any real plans (for work or holiday) and things always feel a bit sketchy when I’ve not confirmed a proper income over the summer, traditionally a rubbish time for private teachers like myself. I’ve also been thinking a lot about leaving London, so I’m going to treat this summer like it’s my last one in London. I have no big bold plans, I’ll just try and make the most out of each week and see what happens. And work hard. And say yes. And get involved. Those three always serve me well.
P.S. Does anybody watch Orange Is The New Black? Let’s discuss Series 3!!
7 years ago today I went to the beach with Pete, one of many trips to the beach; uncomplicated and innocent, sand in shoes, a time of wide-eyed adolescence that you can’t really comprehend until it’s over. This particular day was the first time I met all of his friends, the teenage version of “meeting the parents”. His treasured friends who became my treasured friends: the beach became ours.
7 months and 7 days ago, Pete died. I could never have predicted I would be recounting those hazy, unburdened trips to the beach just a few short years later to a roomful of strangers at his funeral, grieving with those same friends. I thought I’d never visit a beach again.
I just got home from a tour that took me by the sea. New places, new beaches, new friends, the same 7 seas. Every single one takes me back to that earlier place in my life, a place which I couldn’t return to even if we were all still here. I still wake up knowing I have to make sense of something that will never make sense, no matter how long my life turns out to be. But I’m finally starting to understand what people mean when they talk about cherishing the past. My memories are not as scary as I thought, nor do they really fade; they vary, but they’re there. It’s always ourselves we find by the sea, all of our selves, past and present. They’ll always be there at the sea. I wish I’d learned that sooner in these seven months, but in a way, I will have always learned it too soon. Happy World Ocean Day.
“It’s always ourselves we find by the sea” – e e cummings and further discussed in this post.
Pete further discussed in these posts – 1, 2, 3.
People often describe being fearless in the same breath as being foolish, or being reckless, or being young and ill-fated. I don’t think being fearless is the same as any of these.
It’s not the same as being brave. Baring your soul in front of a stranger is brave, like asking somebody to listen to your song. Accepting that they will not listen is braver still. But going into the woods is not brave. It is fearless. I like the flash of mortality that accompanies fear; the sudden look down when you reach the top of the tree, the moment of adrenaline when you hit 100mph. The intake of breath and the smile to yourself; this is where the fear lives, except I do not fear it. If you move fast enough fear cannot take root.
Delving deep into the darkest corners of your soul. Or wilfully acting on every whim, on every fleeting desire, with no caution of consequence. That is the kind of fearless that I know. Undertaking things I know nothing about. Creating plans out of thin air. Will this risk pay off? Will he kiss me back? Going into the woods, unsure if you will return. Seeking the place where the wild things are. Poking the wolves with a stick.
I have often been described of fearless. Fearless, and confident, and reckless, and impulsive. I don’t really know if I think I am any of these things, because I don’t really care; I just am the way I am. When I was younger I was probably ignorant of the things I should have been fearful off; a lifetime of being off with fairies has served me well. I suppose my fearlessness manifests itself in a childish way – a nothing-can-scare-me competitive type of fearless. Trying to outrun the world. Trying to prove that I am the fastest, or the bravest, or the strongest.
But I think now I am mostly fearless because I have so little to fear. I curated an entire concert exploring the psychology of fear, the survival instinct behind it, the methods of dealing with it. People talk about overcoming their fears only when they are laden with them; clowns, new places, public speaking, spiders, leaving home, death, nuclear war, finding out everybody hates you. There is no “face your fears and do it anyway” when you are ignorant to disaster. You don’t need to question what you would do if you weren’t afraid, if you are already fearless. The questions and the longing and the hope for more; it’s all obsolete, you are untouchable. I’ve never felt the dread of the unknown. I cannot imagine a thing that scares me to do one of every day. Because what really can go wrong? Fear cannot reach me here – these woods are mine. Why should I live a life in fear? Why would I settle for that?