MI lost my bowl:
Ode to Bowl
You were shallow
But I poured into you and
you filled me up –
How could you leave me?
– I awoke one day and you just
Weren’t there any more. Missing from my morning. No sunset glint from your simple reflection.
Now I’ll never know but I can’t help but
Are you laying somewhere, empty like me:-
or are you laying in someone else’s lap, covered in their guilty gravy?!
Are you lusciously letting them lap it up, bowl? Letting their greasy delights slip into your tarnished crevices?
Or are you quite alone, bowl, crying out in the night:
“HUMAN! Why do you sup from me no more?!”
I made this when emerging from my hut in Thailand early one morning, inn one take. The star and anti-hero of the piece sadly met his demise very recently and is no longer with us…this is for you Harley, rest in peace x
I am flying with Etihad Airways to Bangkok.
I have checked in online, and opted not to choose my seat, but to leave it to the wings of fate. Preferring the notion of pre-allocated misfortune to self-blame when squashed next to a boss-eyed flatulent civil servant from Rotherham.
My seat? 17G. My compadre for the journey? An ample-thighed pretty thing on her way to Dhaka. There is a mild altercation as the air hostess, smile painted on, reasons with Dhaka to put her fake D & G bag under the seat in front of her. She grasps tightly onto it. I look down, there is already an oversized Iceland carrier bag crumpled next to her brick-lane market shoes.
She submits. To soften defeat I share my gum with her for take-off, and she recompenses by tucking our blankets neatly out of sight. For the rest of the journey.
Dhaka is the most favoured of my near-passengers. If I was taking hostages I’d choose ones with less baggage.
Open the box of your brain if you will, and imagine that the plane I am on is actually a clock. And I (of course) am at the centre of the dial:
At 10 o’Clock: good-looking Indian family, two small children. Screaming.
Midnight: fat bloke. Next to him,
One o’Clock: over-zealous, raucous, frumpy rump of flesh.
Three o’Clock: Dhaka.
I daren’t look behind me.
Midnight and One o’Clock are as oblivious to flight procedures as Dhaka and her D & G. As they board they squawk in exclamation: “Oo look, blankits! Telly! Ooo would you look a’ that! Blankits! They’ve got everyfink!” Midnight wastes no time in reeling his chair back and forth as if it were his Christmas X Box game, not realising the fundamental effect it has on my fuse. On my wick. Chiselling me down to the chilly bone, igniting a fury I was compressing to unleash when my luggage gets lost.
Suddenly One o’Clock lunges forward and voms at length into a paper bag. With horror I watch her back convulse as she silently retches, lurching spinally like an alleycat – one who scavenges from Friday-night kebab houses after closing time. All this as breakfast is being nuked behind the curtain that marks our class-divide. A division discovered by me when chancing to use their toilet and promptly being turned about-heel and sent back to cattle. Didn’t fancy theirs much anyway – before expulsion I caught a glimpse of what looked like weetabix caking the bowl.
Like a plane crash, I can’t help but continue to stare, mouth agog, as One o’Clock empties last night’s Bacardi Breezers neatly into a paper bag. And now Dhaka notices my upsettance. I have the shawl I brought with me for decency firmly clamped over my snout in tepid fear of the waft to come. Dhaka follows suit. Mohammed only knows what the smell must be like from close range, and he ain’t happy. As ain’t I, as a pâte-nappy makes its way through the air-con from Ten o’Clock.
Dhaka looks at me in silent confusion. She motions towards the Iceland carrier bag. I respond with a quizzical brow. She mouths,
“I fink it’s someone’s feet!”
We both look down. My jaded runners have certainly seen more fragrant days, and she has slipped-off her gemstone court shoes. Surely she’s not getting high on her own supply?
“NO…” I over-gesticulate: pointing like a flashing arrow at One o’Clock, contorting my face into an eek and following through by placing the first two fingers of my left hand into my dehydrated mouth.
Though I have the feeling I may have gone too far with the truth this time, I must alert my compadre. The stench could somehow not have reached Dhaka yet through the stagnant air. I must warn her!
She stares blankly ahead after my notification, as if this is fine; vacantly munching on the gum I have supplied to her. A neighbour chundering up last night’s Burger King a regular event for her.
Feet – NO WAY.
I’m choosing my own seat next time.
Sunday with Ma Familia…..
Dad pulls up in a small car. I attempt to hoik Mum out of the front seat so I can contort myself into the restricted back space. She doesn’t budge. It is a four-door, she tells me.
Ridiculous. This miniature-mobil posing as a practical person-carrier. A stunted clubfoot of a car.
I get in the small of the back.
Foiled but resigned, we off. My parents forge a worrying duo; fretting and obsessing their confused way to the A27. I am not a driver, but I’m pretty sure it’s hard to end up anywhere other than the A27 from here….
We hit it without intent, and it’s a momentary exhale as we swoop down the highway; as we plummet back in time, towards Bexhill-on-Sea and the supercilient Grandma who awaits.
Grandma is also known as ‘G-ma’ – an unaffectionate, accidental nickname acquired through inappropriate text-talk by mother last Christmas.
I haven’t seen G-ma since that fateful day when she irritated the hind legs off several donkeys by dropping her handbag outside the church – “you can’t blame the poor for stealing”, making Dad cancel all her credit cards ON CHRISTMAS DAY, only for us to receive a phonecall from the police saying they’d found it at the entrance to the church.
The most difficult thing to come to terms with is that there is a bit of G-ma in all of us; both literally and poetically. Though her spirit has been careering off course constantly since around 1924, she’s done it with gravitational aplomb. Never boring, her personality is curiously alluring – if only due to the wonder it implores in all of us.
G-ma was manufactured in a small seaside town where they didn’t have foreigners, or much else for that matter. They did have a set menu for each day of the week, which never changed, involving animal offcuts, and my mum wasn’t allowed out at night. If she went, the door was locked.
On arrival at G-ma’s hovel we thrust plants into her hand, gulp down a quick Café Hag and drag her out to the pub for lunch. It is called The Bull Inn. The landlord is Pakistani, but speaks with a bolder-than-brasso cockney accent. I make the likely presumption that this is necessary for him to ‘fit in’ – though the heart-attack battalion that swig gaseous ale before him adopt an unappealing farmer’s drawl. Far from the inconceivable lights of London.
Mum says there’s a meat raffle.
I had wanted to visit a Warhol exhibition…
Still, here we are at The Bull Inn. Dad orders a steak and kidney pudding to offset the Benecol. Mum sets the precedent for generational conversation by trying to explain facebook to G-ma. I opt out, and instead reduce the risk of Dad’s heart failure by helping him with his chips. Kind daughter am I. I dip them in his gravy. His steak-and-kidney-pud gravy….I swallow.
I grab another, dip it in the dark-red gravy. I gulp. I swallow. I pause.
Something in the aftertaste is wrong. I splutter. I smack my tongue repeatedly against the roof of my mouth, which protests violently.
Not happy. Something in the gravy is wrong. I make the strategic decision to announce this to the rest of the table. A status update for techno G-ma:
“Something in this gravy is disgusting”.
The landlord looks over, his “any old iron” tattle interrupted by my turgid bombast.
“Offal”, says Mum, simply.
Then I remember: Kidney.
Moules? Process the shit of the ocean. I like em.
Kidneys? Urine infection. I can’t go for that.
Already faintly green around the jowls, I turn a yellower shade of female when internalising the concept that I have been chip-dipping in what looks and tastes like thick brown piss.
“It’s alright!” cheerily attempts mother to appease. “Offal’s fine!”
“Not fine”, I curtly snarl. “Tastes of piss”.
My dad, thankfully, is miles away, patting his stomach in congratulation of conquering the greased suet crust.
Mum continues, as overhelpful mothers do:
“We used to have a friend who ate kidneys on toast.” Then, matter-of-factly:
“We used to call it shit on a raft!” She exposes her gums at me. I growl and look away.
G-ma, meanwhile, half-deaf, is battling with a nub of dry chicken bone.
The plates are cleared by a curt permed woman who snorts when I tell her it’s the best home-cooking I’ve had in ages. She brings us the dessert menu. Dad decides wisely against it, whilst Mum and G-ma opt for lattes.
I need to eradicate my urine-breath:
“Red wine”, I order.
It arrives. G-ma thinks it’s port. She’s not far off. Whatever it is, it’s thin and sour. I down it as welcome relief from the urea coating my palate and tormenting my tonsils.
Next up, an elongated stop at Morrisons. Mum has been dreading this, it always goes the same way: G-ma manically cavorts around the aisles in an illogical fashion, frowning as she tosses things in the trolley then puts them all back again. Mum follows dejectedly. For hours.
Dad and I escape for coffee, and on the way find a pet shop that sells pig’s ears.
We receive a relieved yet desperate text from Mum, mission finally accomplished, and it’s back in the shitty Citroen to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.
To the Andy Warhol exhibition. At last! Maybe this will finally eradicate that murmuring bitter taste still lurking near my papillae.
G-ma has not heard of Andy Warhol.
Never in all her years heard of Andy Warhol.
We enter. Anticipating another graceless performance from ma familia, I set the tone by announcing loudly on arrival, “funny looking fella!” As a self-portrait stares back at us.
I look down at her (she is a micro-G-ma) with suspicion. She grins. She is not talking art criticism.
I see a music painting that looks like my initials
It is actually ‘sprite faces’.
Dad settles near the Campbell’s chicken soup pictures and Mum is perversely near the nudies. G-ma stays by the portraits.
And I start to sense a disconcerting similarity. For G-ma, standing next to Warhol, bears a resemblance… through cataracts it would almost be like looking in a mirror.
G-ma, or War-ma as she is now known, narcissistically falling in love again, with her own reflection.
This week, I have mostly been moving.
A horrible, stressful experience. Dragging out the backlog of my life, then playing God with whether to let it enter the next kingdom, or whether to hurl it onto the trash pile far beneath.
Those four walls held a lot of memories for me. The invasion and massacre of the squirrels. Love, heartbreak, intoxication and creativity. Dancing, writing, a safe haven, a psychological prison.
I am, by nature, a nomad. I love to move on. I prefer the concept of ‘running towards’ rather than ‘running away’, but it is something I have done all my life.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” D. H. Lawrence
Getting rid of ‘stuff’ is a vital step towards this freedom of which I aspire. Beating time, or going with time, just not grating against it permanently.
Though the clocks in my new house tick incessantly…..
“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.” John Steinbeck
I have been moving because I reached a point earlier this year of absolute discontent. I couldn’t shake it. I rode it, but I couldn’t ride it out. Then, in a middle-of-the-night moment, I had my eureka – things were not going to ‘change’; ‘get better’, by themselves. I was going to have to get behind the wheel and harvest some combine.
It’s been a tooth-pullingly long, painful experience. But I’m on the road now.
Things I found:
I also found a tape of jazz music my dead uncle made, a self-recorded French GCSE revision tape (an attempt to thinly veil laziness with hypnotic techniques of revision). And those radio shows you used to do with your friends on a Saturday afternoon before fishfingers.
Essays from university, including this gem:
‘Within a language pervasively masculinist, a phallogocentric language, women constitute the unrepresentable’ (Judith Butler). Consider how at least two texts, one of which has not been studied on this course, have sought to expose this construction of women and/or to resist it.
So now I am essentially homeless, jobless and cashless, but have bought a slice of space and time: To focus on my writing, on my true path, on doing what matters most, and doing it well. On soothing my perturbed soul and throwing away the cheese-grater of the British economy altogether.
What could be more satisfying then pensioner’s pie for one?
And my amazing parents (both pensioners but far too spritely for all that) understand that taking the discounts but enjoying the richness of life is important. They wish me luck with the dole, and Mum tries to slip me a twenty when Dad isn’t looking.
I used to wish that they’d pushed me more, but in what direction? They taught me what they knew; not to become a gambling alcoholic, not to bother going to the doctors and how to make a poor-man’s-pudding out of raisins and gone-off flour. And right now, those pearls of wisdom are getting me along just fine.
So this is a homage: to squirrel heights, to my new home, to my parents who brought me up to follow my intuition and to all those out there who know that the right path is your path – wherever you’re going.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” J. R. R. Tolkien