taking up space

In the past few months, I’ve binned donated 10 bags of clothes and shoes, sold an iPad on eBay, and de-cluttered my bookshelf by passing any book that isn’t nailed down on to friends who might need or want them. I’m trying to make space for the next decade of shit. There’s a world of gift shop tat out there just waiting for me. I’ve not gone all minimalist in the ‘now all my belongings fit into a Waitrose jute bag’ sort of way. But the cathartic kind of spring clean that happens once every few years, not at all every spring.

I think the binning is necessary, by the way. I’m not trying to sell anyone on this as ‘kooky’ behaviour. My desk still has too much on it, and I still forget to bin magazines every week until I find them under the sofa, or stacked in threes on the coffee table. But having a permanent home for the first time in a long while, having stability, is making me bunker down. I’m being a recluse, though one that keeps in touch. It’s easy really, making space at home. Now I’m buzzing every morning to drink coffee on the sofa, to come home and spend more time drinking coffee on the sofa, to stay up late reading or watching TV. To feel absolutely un-stifled by the shit I never needed, and by the idea that what I do outside of the home is what really matters.

Loveheart shaped cake
I’m baking for fuck sake! What’s happening?

Clearing space and taking up space are kind of the same thing. I’m making room for my home life to exist, in a way that I’ve never focused on before. I’ve always looked towards the next thing coming, studying, finding a new job, you name it. What all this clearing has led me to is that it’s so much harder to take up space in other settings. Not tucked into bed at a friend’s house with the telly left on all night – that’s easy. But working in – even imagining – professional spaces as ones you’re entitled to be in is the new de-cluttering. I’m telling you, it’s the next big thing and it’s near impossible. How am I supposed to declutter all of my own ideas about about what I’m supposed to do? Using my education, or even trying to figure how I possibly could in the work place feels frivelous when there are bills to pay and the world is dying.

Why can I not mentally make space for myself in situations I already have space in? Education is the biggest one for me, maybe because I’m thinking about it so much as I come to the end of my MA. My dissertation is due in two weeks. It’s such a privilege to have the means and the opportunity to be self-indulgent enough to do a Creative Writing masters. But thinking back over my last four years of education, I can’t avoid the insecurity and feeling of being an imposter who has blagged my way into a setting I have no right or reason to be in. If anything, as I attempt to allow myself to exist in these professional and academic settings, I hope I’m sort of entering a season of thinking less. At least about all the wrong things, the thoughts that slow me down when I’m being productive or throwing things at the wall and trying to come to an understanding. I need to be making time to practice this – either in the morning or in a meeting.




Cardiff Times December Contributions

Thought I’d compile what I’ve written for the Cardiff Times blog for December!

The first is my review of Zena Blackwell’s debut solo exhibition at Cardiff MADE. I loved the exhibition even more than their carrot cake – and I’ve been having dreams about it.

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And my second one is about my relationship with food. Complex and ever changing – like most of us. It’s just little tiny vignettes into different stages of my life so far and how my attitude towards eating has changed, maybe even healed.

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Let’s not ignore that cracker of a picture. Me diving right in, Rob posing. Also that brownie had a layer of cookie dough on it and was from the lovely Vegan Live festival in Alexandra Palace.

Cardiff Times November Issue!

IMG_0376I’m excited about this. Quite literally buzzing. I know it’s December now, but I wanted to share my first article in print. It’s a double page arts feature for Cardiff Times. A few cheeky wobbles from overwhelming tides of inadequacy and I got there!

You COULD read it in print – last month – but it lives on forever on the website.

I was lucky enough to be invited back to one of the places I featured in the article. Arts cafe, collaborative work-space and gallery, cardiff MADE, to review Zena Blackwell’s beautiful debut solo-exhibition ‘seen, not heard’. That’ll be coming sometime in the next month – I’ll share the link when it’s published! But there’s been a few more in between so I thought I’d include them below if you’re interested!

I had so much fun attending the Cardiff International Film Festival (click here for the article).

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And of course, the gluttony and joy of this! I got to review the Welsh winners of the 2018 Great Taste Food Awards! (click here to have a look!)

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That’s it for my November contributions. If you’re in need a queen with some opinions and no authority to share them, hit me up.

Quitting Time

It was Wednesday and Donna had just come back off unpaid leave for stealing a leather armchair. She’d managed to skirt around getting sacked, or sent to prison, with a doctor’s note on the account of anxiety caused by her best friend’s murder. More troubling than something this horrific happening to somebody you know, is the conflict it causes you internally. Were we bad people for not liking a woman going through such a traumatic event? Regardless of her 6-week absence, she returned, 10 minutes before opening, took one good look over the standard merchandising, set according to the company’s step-by-step guide, and murmured loudly “Oh, I’ll have to do something about all this.”

Donna often decided our work wasn’t up to scratch. She’d stand over you, pointing to pieces of metal stands, asking you to drag them across the floor while customers with 2- for-12 t-shirts dodged out of the way. All the while glaring at you for not being careful enough. She began to avoid eye-contact and I’d anticipated her request to put everything back, exactly as it was. We could all see it coming, that she’d be popping out for her 4-hour lunch break.

“I’m taking my lunch early.” When family members lie dying in hospital, they get that look on their face too.

Once Donna had left, Mandy’s eyes widened in a way that frightened me. I’d seen my mother have a minor stroke, years before. Her lips pursed, like the shock of being kicked in the crotch, she lowered her voice and spoke calmly. “Donna’s back everybody.” I’m not sure who everybody was, but Mandy’s husband had recently gone blind and I had begun making a point of agreeing with everything she said and did. Besides, the empty shop would do her some good.

After a few minutes of rattling our hands over rails of clothing, we decided we’d put the kettle on and do nothing. For fear of showing initiative, we’d only disappoint if we looked too keen. We stood at the back of the shop, behind the stands of black trousers in any style or fit someone daft enough to wear them, could dream of. We agreed to make a point of being unable to take our breaks, being only two of us in the shop. “It’s not on” was Mandy’s favourite expression. But I considered: if it wasn’t “on”, our version of “off” was likely an out of body experience, where we watched ourselves do as little as possible from the fake CCTV cameras.

I was in the middle of calmly explaining to a regular that she could not, in-fact, return underwear for hygiene reasons, when M sent the gas signal. Mandy’s tiny 5-foot stature popping out from behind the customer. For those blessed with zero retail experience, it’s a complex hand gesture that involves holding the nose and making a waving motion with your free hand. Spitting from the corners of her mouth, the woman with the butterfly clip and indoor sunglasses decided to try an age-old sob-story. The particular hinge of this one being that her Mother was in hospital. In London. And we all knew southerners were far too tasteful to be caught dead shopping in Barato’s Bargains. I agreed with her. I also recalled selling them to her yesterday – a double pack of cream Sloggy’s – and complimenting her mother’s cardigan. It reminded me of Joseph’s technicolour dream coat, which as a child, my Godmother had forced me to watch a VHS tape of Donny Osmond performing on west-end. Mandy tried to do us all a favour and suffocate her with air-freshener, before coming to work through some of her anger.

“Actually, that’s quite disgusting,” Mandy said, leaning over the counter slightly and peering through her own narrowed eyes into the heart of the beast. Mandy was from Yorkshire and had the rare and under-appreciated ability of being condescending while sounding perfectly reasonable.

“Well the pack hasn’t been opened, look!” she said as she pulled an open pack of control briefs out of her carrier bag.

“I’m not sure what the problem is then,” Mandy said, with a tone shorter than Donna’s working day.

“Well they don’t fit”

“And you’d know that how, if your mother hasn’t tried them on?”

“Because we took them out of the packet and held them against her thigh.” I wondered whether the woman was stupid or simply cared so little that she’d given up all attempts at hanging onto reality.

“Why don’t you try taking them back to M&S, tell them you’ve forgotten the receipt,” I ventured.

“Oh, good idea, lovey! You’re so good to me here. Send my love to Donna.”

Mandy held her arms up in the air as the woman left the shop. If I understood exactly what had just happened in front of me, I’d have probably walked straight out myself. I’d have left Mandy on her own to shout at the old ladies who complained the £3 sale t-shirts weren’t also on the 2-for-12 offer.

Ellie was in at two, she’d been owed five hours for last week. Donna’s return to work actually being last Monday, but due to the rising costs of childcare, our retail manager had decided to work from home. I wondered what her home looked like. It likely smelled of the pine floor disinfectant we’d ordered on our cleaning supplies and never received.

“I’ve been here two bloody minutes and there’s a shit in the changing rooms!” Ellie always wore clothes far too large for her, and her cardigan billowed like a cloud of black smoke around her.

“Not again!” Mandy exhaled, with enough defeat, that we told her to have a sit-down in the staff-room.

“Will you get me the paper towels and a carrier bag,” Ellie said, without a single tear leaving her eyes. “Oh, and the washing up gloves from the staff room.”

“You can’t pick that up, Ellie. You don’t know what’ll happen”

“God, you’re right.” She paused. “I’ll get the hoover.”

Would she have tried this if we only had one hoover? Leaving us to effectively torture ourselves when the door mat needed vacuuming, or when another customer shattered her dentures into tiny little pieces on a Werther’s Original. We’d likely have to tell everyone to avoid trying on shoes, and watch out for shards of molars if you came in wearing sandals.

“If anyone asks you to hoover, just say you’re busy.” She knew full well it’d be me or Mandy at the end of the day, stuck with the dodgy one, afraid of switching it on, for fear of boiling the thing.

“What’s wrong with these people?” Even though Ellie was fumigating the shop with Smart Price air freshener, in hindsight, she didn’t really seem that bothered. Indifferent might have been how I would describe her response. Like someone’s who’s been to war, and walks into fight outside the pub, breaking it up and then carrying on with her evening. I wondered what awful things she must have seen, and then I remembered each female member of staff were semi-trained bra fitters with no way of measuring the cup. I made a mental note to send her any job vacancies I saw. There was nothing wrong with fitting bras, of course, at least for the customers who wore deodorant. I realised by now she must have an above average tolerance for smells. That and she carried hand sanitiser in her pocket, always ready for action.

Donna returned around three. “I’ve not stopped all day, so I’ll quickly go eat now and then you two can go for lunch.”

By this point, Mandy was two more comments away from needing an ambulance, and my own instinct was to stage a coup, walk out and see if she had the audacity of firing any of us. We all knew too much, and I could never tell whether Donna was blissfully unaware, or so brazenly convinced she was indispensable, that we’d never dream of slipping an anonymous complaint in the general direction of our area manager.

“I’ve got you brownie and everything,” she whispered as she stomped her way past, like a child being told they have to clean their room. In that moment, I realised my visual disgust when she opened her mouth had not gone to waste. Meanwhile Mandy and Ellie looked as though we’d had another mobility scooter to pedestrian crash. I still had flash backs of the poor woman’s mangled form, cowering under the sale stand while we phoned for an ambulance. The woman in the scooter, so in shock that she carried on and went for the face. I don’t know whether she disliked the woman, or if it was simply an accident, but I admired her conviction. Why stop until you’ve finished the job?

‘February’ and Cheval 11

9781912681082_1024x1024.pngI recently had the pleasure, in all of its terror, of reading my work in front a packed audience at Swansea’s beautiful Dylan Thomas Centre. As one of the writers included in this years publication of Cheval 11, I had the opportunity to meet other writers from the area, and the rest of Wales, including this years winners Katya Johnson (1st prize), Michael Muia (2nd prize) and Thomas Tyrrell (joint 2nd). Hearing each story and poem read in succession could not have hammered home harder how remarkably different these works are to one another. In perspective and style, the diversity in talents of the prize winners is breathtaking – as are the rest of the works by the 31 writers printed.

Cheval is fabulous. Existing as both an annual anthology and an organization dedicated to nurturing and publishing young writers. Aida Birch, the organisation’s founder, started with the joint mission statement of honouring her late partner, Welsh poet Terry Hetherington, while giving mostly unpublished writers with an opportunity to see their work in print for the first time. As well as every year providing one young writer with an incredible £1000 in recognition of their talents. With Parthian assuming publishing responsibilities, the book is beautiful. The cover itself , this year, being designed by Rose Horridge as a part of the publisher’s design competition – opening up Cheval’s opportunities to artists in the community.

If you’re thinking about entering the competition of 2019, entries are open now and all the information is available on the Cheval website. The book is published by Parthian and is £8.99.

And while you’re at it, my poem ‘February’ is the very last one, gracing page 147.

What I Learned from Growing-Up Fat

Ask anyone who was fat and unlucky enough to experience when they were young, the miseries of being put on an involuntary diet and they’ll tell you – perhaps upon a moment of reflection – that it haunts them to this day if they think about it long enough. I would argue it’s one of the most obvious influences on the person I am today, these familial attitudes surrounding food. In pondering this relationship I have with food, and where it began, I struggled to find a general consensus that reflected my own massive appetite. A need to feed those around me, to share food, and to enjoy it. Something that forms the very basis of my relationship with my best friend – the comfort and celebratory nature of food being as healing as any closeness.

Growing up, we didn’t often have crisps and sweets around the house. Partially, I suspect, my Mother wanted to avoid the shame of having to take us to the dentist to have large holes in our teeth filled. Both myself and my two older brothers, however, would all come to benefit from an adolescence of braces. If we’d been the kind of family to take holidays abroad, I’d have understood her fears. It makes perfect sense not wanting to get held up in line at security because your five year-old son has a suspicious presence going on in his mouth. Of course, my suspicious oral activities didn’t begin until I was much older.

My earliest memories of dieting hark back to around age nine. The same time my mother told me that she and my father were thinking of getting two kittens. The very same evening, in fact.

“I’ve got ice-cream in the freezer if you want one.” My Grandmother told me, as my Mother dropped me off on one of my weekend sleepovers at her house.

“No, we’re being healthier,” said my Mother, her tone raised so high you’d have thought my Grandmother had just offered to let me jab knives into the toaster. Something I had done, aged 4, to brightest flash of white light – and screams from everyone in the room but me. Luckily my sensible Clark’s and their thick rubber soles had grounded the shock. I couldn’t understand the fuss until I realized I’d broken the toaster.

“Oh, I forgot you were on a diet. One wont hurt though will it?”

“It’s not a diet! It’s healthy eating,” said my Mother. God bless her for trying to turn this already humiliating situation into something even vaguely positive. “We had a big fruit salad for pudding, anyway.” A fruit salad is not something anyone in their right mind learns to appreciate until an adulthood of slowing metabolism approaches. I don’t care what the Change for Life leaflets told you.

It had worked to varying success over the years, although in hindsight to negligible results. It wasn’t until around age seventeen that I finally managed to drop down to a healthy weight for my height. To which I found teachers asking me to wait behind at the end of lessons, asking if I was ill – with a capital ‘I’. My interest in school work had reached zero and my weight was decreasing on a similar trajectory. My clothes, too big and swamping my newly sized S frame. I felt too proud of my accomplishments. I had done one thing with absolute commitment, to the betterment, or so I believed, of my self esteem. Neglecting any awareness for the needs of those around me, especially the one’s as emotionally under the weather as I was.

So what if I found myself self-isolating, obsessed with counting calories, academically a disaster, but I was thin. I was, for lack of a more enlightened point of view, finally  sexually desirable. And absolutely clueless as to what I was to do about it.

It’s a personal belief that I hold, that when you experience the real brutality of childhood ridicule, there’s only two options for you to take later on in life. You’re either a far nicer person for having known the personal consequences it has on your own self-esteem, or a far crueler, bitter person for having been subjected to it. I credit it as the sole reason I work well in teams as an adult.

I remember with horrifying lucidity, meeting for a Pizza Hut lunch buffet, organized by a close friend of mine at the time, and ordering a salad. The waitress bemused, having taken such large celebratory orders from everyone else around the table, ecstatic about their AS results, handing me a plate free of charge. “Don’t worry, they all get a salad free with their meal so there’s no point in you paying for one.” Her generosity only further highlighting that I was doing something so remarkably different to everyone around me. That same friend’s home whom I had purged a slice of pizza at a gathering, earlier in the summer. Wandering up to the bathroom while the sound of the television and loud chatter masked my first venture into slamming away extra calories down the toilet bowl. I felt, at every turn, the beginnings of something sly growing at the back of my mind. Each time I got away with something in a social gathering, a confidence building. No one suspecting the former fatty.

Of course, ease like that cannot last. An obsession with exercise and having always conveniently eaten ahead of time at lunch, lead my best friend to a confrontation. The two of us, walking up Bangor high street towards Asda, my hands cramping in my sweatshirt pockets, unsuccessful at holding back the tears. Her own similar experiences with a cousin – albeit different almost entirely – felt as though they were smashing me back into real-life. A life where people ate to survive, and celebrate, ate for enjoyment as much as they did necessity. I felt, for the first time, how cruel this behavior was when heard it spoken from the mouth of someone I loved.

I left school following a summer of disastrous AS results. Picked subjects I felt interested in, in the college down the road. We began to meet up every Tuesday and Saturday after work, for coffee and a cake. Sometimes, just if one of us was having a bad day. Sacrificing our responsibilities for a shared love of food and sugary coffees. A ritual born out of our own needs for healing. No shame in crying with each other, we knew better than that.