Sunday, 30 June 2013

63. Flamingo-pink hip flask

It is 8.30am on Saturday. Amanda and I are sitting on a bench in the park, sharing vodka out of Amanda's flamingo-pink hip flask. We have not yet been to bed. We are admiring the floral clock.

"What are those little shaggy orange flowers?" asks Amanda. "They're pretty. They'd make a good cover-up." (Amanda has a anatomically correct tattoo of a vagina on the right side of her ribcage, just above her hip. It's so detailed that when the light hits it the right way it looks real. She got it when she was 20 and now regrets it.)

"I don't know," I say.

Amanda takes another swig of her vodka and looks sideways at me.

"How are you?" she asks. "I mean, after the whole weird thing with that guy."

"Okay," I say. I look down at my shoes. Scuffed grey satin, diamante buckles. I notice one of the stones has fallen out of the left buckle. I'll have to figure out where to get a replacement.

"You don't seem okay," Amanda remarks. "If I may say so."

There is a weed growing in the gravel by my left toe.

"In fact, you seem pretty unhappy."

I'm not sure what to tell her. I open my mouth to speak and realise I will listen with interest to whatever it is I have to say, because I'm not sure what it is.

"I'm never sure whether I'm doing well or losing my mind," I say. "I mean, at any giving point in my life. When I sleep with someone like Chris, is that progress because I'm getting over my issues, or is it a kind of self abuse? When I have flashbacks and nightmares, when I feel anxious all the time, is that necessary because I have to work through some feelings or is it a symptom of the ongoing degeneration of my personality? Am I getting worse, or better? How much of this is to do with Matthew, and how much of it would have happened anyway? Have I  got schizophrenia?"

"Probably not," says Amanda. "You don't have any of the symptoms, and it generally comes on in the late teens to early 20s. Which, my dear, we are both well past these days. In fact, we are heading towards vintage status."

She offers me the flask. I take it. The vodka burns the back of my throat for a moment and then settles. I like the taste of neat vodka. It feels clean, antiseptic, as if it is disinfecting me.

"If you look on a long enough time line," I say, "things are always getting worse. Entropy is the prevailing force and eventually everywhere in the universe will be dark and the temperature will be absolute zero and there will be no living things left."

Amanda groans. "Don't fucking say things like that. I'm on a come-down."

"It's okay," I say. "You'll be dead long before it happens."

Amanda stands up. Her black ostrich-feather boa falls off on to the gravel. 

"Right," she says. "It's freezing and you're freaking me out. We are going back to my place. Now. I have tea, central heating, sofas and duvets, weed, chocolate cake, and every series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

This does sound attractive.

"Can we watch some of series three?" I say. "I like the Mayor."

We start walking.

"Did I tell you I broke up with Alex?" Amanda says, casually, as we leave the park. She doesn't feel casual about it.

Amanda doesn't find it easy to talk about her feelings. I've been aware that something was bothering her tonight, but she clearly didn't want to tell me about it so I left her alone until she was ready to talk. She's ready now.

"No," I say. "What happened?"

"It's hard to make connections, you know," she says. "One meets people and hopes that it could work, but a lot of the time it doesn't. It isn't easy for people."

"It's hard for the freaky people to find love," I say. "Sure is."

"Yep. It's hard enough to try and get with someone you like anyway, without wondering what's the right time to say 'Hey! And guess what else is up with me?'."

I giggle. The problem of when and if to bring up Matthew is one I regularly wrestle with.

She drinks some vodka.

"Pisses me off," she says. "You hear all the time about how it's cool to be different and everyone wants to stand out. You and me, Alice, we've got "different" coming out of our asses here and all we get is grief. There are days when I think how easy, how sweet it could be if we could just be normal. Just be...I don't know. Never have to think about how you come over. Just walk into a pub without wondering whether this is the night you're going to get raped and stabbed up because you've challenged someone just by existing."

She pauses.

"It's been four years since I met anyone I liked that much," she says and the sadness in her voice makes me feel like crying myself. I reach out and take her hand. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

62. Lawns like green velvet

*I am on holiday for the next two Sundays, so there won't be another Contact update until June 30*

It is 1am. I am walking home from Sally's. My route takes me through one of the most expensive parts of town. The houses are set back from the road and screened by trees. In the daytime you can see glimpses of lawns like green velvet and gleaming cars parked carelessly on wide gravel drives. Now, in the dark, all you can see is the occasional lit window.

It's like a glimpse into another world, where everything is clean and there's always time and money for everything you want. Like the worlds you see on TV, the huge clean kitchens and gleaming wine-glasses, the vast bed with sheets that are always crisp and white.

After the London riots happened some sections of the public were vocal in criticising the rioters for their motives, which appeared to be mostly personal gain. New trainers, new televisions, new clothes. It did not surprise me. In our culture, which places such emphasis on possessions and consumer goods - where what you own defines who you are - it surprises me that it doesn't happen more often.

Switch on the TV and see a beautiful, clean, vital, spacious world. Switch it off, and look around at your tiny, grubby flat where nothing is ever clean. Where the kitchen is nothing more than a nook in the wall and the shower head is falling off. Switch on the TV and see the rich and successful showing off their cars, their homes, their under-floor heating and beautiful designer clothes. Switch it off and know that you will never, ever have enough money to live in that kind of luxury. Year after year after year. Show people something they want with one hand, and tell them they can't have it with the other. You do that often enough for long enough, eventually they'll just knock you down and take it.

I am interrupted from this train of thought when a tiny voice says "Hello?" from among the bushes. I stop, look round.

A Japanese girl is standing at the start of one of the gravel drives, looking at me. She is as small as a fairy, dressed all in white. A white padded jacket, a white denim skirt, white leggings, high white trainers. White furry earmuffs. Her long dark hair trails over the fur collar of the jacket.

"Can you help me?" she says. Her accent is very heavy. Maybe she's a foreign student, or perhaps on holiday.

"I'll try," I say. "What's wrong?"

She points up into the branches. I peer up. A white furry face peers back down at me from a high branch.

"I think..." she says, "he is stuck. I have been trying to call him, but he won't come. He is crying."

"Stupid cats," I mutter under my breath. I can't work out how on earth he even got up that high.

"Want down," the cat says, mournfully.

"Is he yours?" I say.

"No. I was just walking here."

We stare at the cat. I have no idea what to do. I understand that in simpler times one could call the fire brigade, but in these days of Government cuts do they still get cats out of trees? I'd be surprised if they still have the cash and resources to put out non life-threatening fires.

"Down. DOOOWN."

At that moment, a middle-aged man storms out of one of the houses opposite.

"What's going on here?" he shouts. "We have Neighbourhood Watch. You can't hang around here." He has the kind of upper-class accent which rides full-tilt over everything in its path.

The Japanese girl and I point upwards.

"Oh Christ, not bloody Minty again," says the man. "Minty, get out of the tree, you stupid animal."

Now he's realised we are not about to break into his home and steal his consumer durables, he becomes friendly, almost jovial, and as he weaves slightly and bangs into the tree I realise he's actually really very drunk. I imagine him holding forth at a dinner party, or perhaps to his wife.

"She does this every three or four weeks or so," he says. "She belongs to Clive."

"Oh," I say. "Clive."

"MINTY!" he suddenly shouts at the top of his voice, making the Japanese girl jump. "MINTY, GET OUT OF THERE!"

There is a six-foot pole of wood leaning against the tree. He picks it up and staggers around with it for a while, eventually managing to get it into the air. He beats it madly against the branches.

"This is why Clive leaves this bit of wood here," he says over his shoulder.

And the cat comes, sliding around the trunk of the tree, clinging on with its outstretched front paws like a squirrel.

"He can come down!" says the Japanese girl. She sounds insulted, and I wonder how long she has been standing there trying to coax Minty down. I feel quite insulted myself.

"Of course she can," the man says. "Stupid bloody animal."

Minty reaches the bottom and glares at us from under the rhododendrons.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

61. I fall into the last category

Some people go to clubs to drink, some to pick people up. Some of us go to dance. I fall into the last category, although obviously I like to drink as well.

If I was told I couldn't drink, I'd still go to clubs. If I wasn't allowed to dance, I'd stay at home. It's one of the reasons I hate high heels (the other one being that everyone expects me to love shoes because women love shoes. Try finding a birthday card to give a woman which does not have a picture of a stiletto on it).

To be fair, I do like nice shoes. But I like being able to walk and dance much more, so I restrict my purchases to flats and the occasional inch-high heel. I'm also a big fan of the stompy biker boot, or perhaps an eye-catching trainer.

Amanda, Sally, Jena and Gin all love high heels, but for very different reasons. Amanda, who is over six feet, wears them simply to make her height even more intimidating. Sally wears them because she lives her image so intensely that she has to; high heels are part of the look she has created for herself. I suspect Gin and Jena love them because women love shoes.

It's so loud in here that I feel immersed, as if I'm swimming in music. The bass vibrates up through the soles of my feet and through my body. Once I was at a CSS gig which was so loud I saw a soundwave come out of the speaker. I saw the rest of the people around me vibrate for a moment in time to the music and I felt it pass through me, making my heart beat out of rhythm for a second and jangling my bones. I'm not sure if this is even possible. My right ear echoed with a high thin whine, like a mosquito, for the next three days.

That was a little too loud.

It's both comforting and exhilarating to feel submerged in sound like this. This is one of my favourite songs, Radio Activity by Kraftwerk. The reason I love this particular club night is because it specialises in 70s and 80s alternative - punk, post-punk, new wave - which is one of my pet genres. It only happens once every three months or so, but it's the only chance I ever get to dance to bands like Bauhaus, Gary Numan and the Psychedelic Furs and I look forward to it for days when I know it's coming up. Tonight, especially, I needed it. It's been a week and a half of fear and depression, but the pills are finally kicking in and the river of sound surrounding me sweeps everything away. 

Tonight Amanda could make it (she's not all that into the music, but she likes the general Gothy atmosphere and the abundance of heavily-pierced metal boys dancing without shirts) but I have been known to come here on my own if no-one else is free. Just to dance, just for a couple of hours.

However, it's astonishing how upset people get by the concept of a woman going to a club on her own, so I don't usually tell them I do this. Most men are not worried, probably because men are used to the idea of being able to go to places on their own if the fancy takes them. But other women get genuinely distressed and upset. They visualise rapists, abductions, murder. The truth is that if you take routine safety precautions and don't get drunk you're going to be fine. 

But I don't like to upset them. There's a lot of things I don't talk to most other women about because I'm afraid I'll upset them; my taste for porn, my intense desire to shave my head and have my skull tattooed with butterflies, my views on high heeled shoes. I lie to them about going to the taxi rank so I can walk home on my own without getting a hysterical phone call the next morning because I forgot to text them to say I was back.

The great thing about my friends (my really close friends, I mean; Amanda, Gin and Sally) is that I can talk to them about all of these things and more. I'm lucky to have them.

I look over at Amanda. She is by the bar, towering over the people around her. She's wearing white shoes decorated with a delicate sketch of an skull at the heart of a rose, and a white corset over a froth of white lace skirts ending at the knee. A pearl choker is clasped round her neck and there are white ribbons threaded through her blonde curls. Just about everyone else in the room is wearing black. This means that Amanda has managed to make all the other women in the room look like her backing singers, simply by making a clever colour choice. It makes me smile every time I look at her from a distance.