Monday, May 7, 2007

The genie told me to call for him, whenever I needed some help. Whatever, whenever, wherever. He gave me a rough-hewn paper aeroplane. It had some damage at the tip, presumably from another’s eager use, and a slightly bent wing. I was to throw this to make him appear.

I had a number of chores as a child, always slightly beyond my level of competence. As I developed the ability to fulfil my chore with ease, another chore would be added. At aged 8, one of my chores was to set the table for the family meal. It was called ‘tea’, in my little working class corner of the world, and we ate it at 5pm.

I was setting the table for tea. Knives on the right, forks on the left. No spoons. Pudding was a Sunday treat only. Mugs for everybody for the obligatory cup of tea, which accompanied every meal like a religious ritual. We measured out our lives in cups of tea. Warm the pot. Loose leaf tea, counted out with a proper loose leaf tea spoon: a deep, ridged, silver-plated tea spoon that lived in the tea caddy and had a rough metallic smell. I could count from a very young age. Measuring, metering, controlling my environment. I still loved to count, even though it was now so passé at eight. One, two, three, four, five, six mugs. And a plastic cup for the baby. Even the baby had tea. Cooled with lots of milk, and just the one sugar.

My older sister was cooking. Full of resentment and rage, her presence made my heart pound in my chest and as my heart began to pound, the genie appeared. He was furious with me. I was supposed to call him. Throw my little aeroplane and help would appear. Why was I so proud, that I wouldn’t ask for help? I couldn’t answer, and yet I knew I wasn’t too proud. I was scared. So scared. He looked like God in my Children’s Bible, bearded and smiling yet stern. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of asking for him. I was afraid of asking for help. I was afraid of admitting my weakness, and not getting what I asked for. He disappeared with a warning: ‘ask for help when you need it.’

And so I did throw my aeroplane. Not because I wanted to exercise my dependency, not even on a magical genie, but because I was too scared not to. Too scared to get it wrong again. Oh shit, shit shit because the genie didn’t appear. The aeroplane must be faulty. It must be the slightly damaged tip. Maybe I threw it wrong? Maybe the genie now belongs to someone else? Maybe he doesn’t know I am calling him. Maybe he just doesn’t give a shit. Maybe I fucked up again.

I wake up in a sweat, stiff with fear. It’s ok, it’s just a dream. Just a bad dream. Just the same bad dream again.

I had this recurring nightmare for years and years. I can’t remember when it stopped for good, but I do remembering having it as a young undergraduate at university.

I still find it hard to ask for help. Even harder is to take the help that is offered for free and with love.

Monday, April 30, 2007

More rules of engagement

You may have found this blog via my secret portal. Welcome. You were meant to find it if you have done so. I only ask that you share my secret with me alone. Shhhhh, this is a quiet hiding place.

When I was little I used to hide under my bed. I would take with me a book and a torch and read for hours. Sometimes my mother would shout me out, and I would hurry downstairs to be 'sociable', as she called it. What she wanted was for us all to pretend we were a happy family. We weren't. My second best hiding place, after she had flushed me out with her terrier temper, was behind the sofa. Here I would also read, or do my homework. I always got A's for my work. I suspect the teachers didn't realise that I was doing it tucked behind a sofa whilst crappy 70s sitcoms blasted out of the TV. Sometimes she would make me sit with the rest of the family. I would gently rock myself, disappearing off into my world of dreams.

"Stop rocking!" she would bellow. "You look like an abused child!"

Really? Did I really look like an abused child? Then why didn't she know?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Introduction to Blue

I had no idea how important blogging would become to me. I had no idea that I had such a compulsion to write. I had no idea that I would need to write, regardless of whether anyone has a desire to read the outcome.

As a child I used to narrate to myself the story that was my world. I now know that this was a coping strategy. A child’s way of coping with her fear; with feeling not just that she didn’t belong in her family, but that maybe she didn’t really belong in the world. Maybe she had arrived in the world at the wrong time for everyone? My mother’s violence was unpredictable and disproportionate. If she had fallen out with my father eventually one of us would be beaten for something small and childlike: laughing too loudly, teasing a sibling, an accidental breakage because we were playing too boisterously. The beatings were fast and furious, involving whatever implement she could grab at arm’s length. She would stop as quickly as she started, perhaps realising that she was taking it out on the wrong child or that the punishment barely fitted the crime. But she never apologised. She never showed remorse. She would tell us that we deserved such brutality, because we made her life so difficult. Looking back through an adult’s eyes I can see that her life was harsh. My father was distant and ineffective and the pain of her disillusionment was palpable. She had wanted a strong man and a garden full of flowers and children. What she had was a husband whose silence she had mistaken for strength, and a tiny house crammed with lively children who didn’t see fit to make her feel like the mother she had imagined herself to be. She had no garden. She worked 60 hours a week in the family business and had no quiet place at all. Deeply unhappy, the only way to manage this was to inflict it harshly upon those who couldn’t fight back. We bore the brunt of her anger and the weight of her disappointment.

I would escape from the house as soon as I was old enough. Perhaps seven or eight, I would wander the local streets alone narrating to myself the story of my journey. I was always the hero of my stories: a poor, misunderstood young thing who had so much to offer a world that didn’t care to listen. One day, someone would hear my story and weep. One day, someone would hear my story and see how much I could shine. I would speak my story out loud to myself, creating and re-creating meaning for myself with every new telling. Although it was more common in the 70s to see young children out alone on the streets, I imagine I brought attention to myself by talking aloud as I scuffed my way along the cobbles. Ten years older and I would have been mistaken for someone with a schizophrenic disorder. And yet this world was my saviour. In this world I was understood, loved, recognised.

When I was 11 my parents – although I really ought to say my mother, as my father played little more than a walk-on part in any aspect of our lives – gave me a bike for my birthday. I adored my bike. I loved it like I would a person. He was called Blue and he accompanied me on my daily wanderings around the neighbourhood. I called myself Scout, after the young tomboy character in To Kill A Mockingbird. (I was a precocious reader, and borrowed my older sister’s book when she studied it for ‘o’ level. I was ten, and it touched me beyond words. From then on I was called Scout, in all of my imaginary wanderings.)

Perhaps this blog is the logical extension of this private world of mine. Here I can continue to narrate my world to myself, to make sense of the insensible and find knowing out of unknowing.