Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the line of beauty
As a young woman I really didn’t understand classical sculpture – what’s with the obsession with male beauty, I thought to myself. Yes, yes – muscles, form etc, but, really, let’s be honest here…women’s bodies – lush curves and delicate frames – are so much more, well, aesthetic.
It’s not that I didn’t like the male of the species, I did, I just didn’t think their physiques were worthy of art. Handsome faces atop tall and gangly bodies, blue eyes, short dark hair – the type never changed – were certainly attractive, but sculptural? Hardly.
A few years ago Germaine Greer wrote a book called simply, The Boy, in praise of male beauty and I remember thinking at the time– interesting, but odd. However, something has changed.
I suppose it started with a precise and deeply felt attachment to TA’s bottom. TA is blessed with a bottom that is the peak of pert perfection. Sometimes I just like to hold it – it has (I did ask him if I could write about this) a pleasing density and the softest covering of velvety plush. The obsession that developed over a couple of years has now ripened to a direct relationship between me and it that somewhat circumnavigates its owner. I recognised that this was a radical departure in aesthetics, but it wasn’t until a certain theatre poster intruded into my consciousness that I realised how complete the revolution has been.
That boy, that horse; the beautiful curve of muscle above the hip – the Greeks and Romans were on to something after all.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

back to black
I’ve started judging my weekends by the number of buses I catch. By any measure, this weekend – with two social engagements – was going to be a bit more energetic than our usual routine, but I hadn’t quite prepared myself for just how frenetic it turned out to be.
Saturday, I woke up with a big attack of the bleaks: an overwhelming, leaden inertia. TA knows better than to try to pull me out of the bleakness now. He left me to it and then tried to apply salves only when alone time proved to be ineffective. Chocolate, newspaper, man in a pinny doing chores, snuggles – eventually my ability to be happy resurfaced.
A shopping trip to the evil empire for emergency (cheap) party wear scored a blinder of a bargain dress and I was happy enough to have the energy to do something about my hair, which was red-blonde-brown on the bottom and dark brown on top after a summer madness moment of wanting to be lighter. The raven has now triumphantly returned. Slap was slapped on, new dress donned, hair blow dried and off to Camden we went for a 40th birthday party. Cocktails, wine, dancing, flirting with TA and then a long, long, soaked-to-the-skin wet walk home from Liverpool St (thanks, crappy night bus service).
Sunday’s sleep deprivation was mitigated with the Observer Food Monthly and another helping of dark chocolate before we exposed ourselves to the vagaries of London’s buses, this time with the pupster in tow. Yes – off to the North London Goth House for an afternoon of silly card games and snack food.
Total bus count: 7
Total alcohol intake: respectable
Number of times we ended up in Camden: too many
Money spent: far too much
Return to form: priceless

Saturday, February 24, 2007

a rose by any other name
After a two-hour bus journey, I reach Tropea. I speak no Greek, only graduated a month ago, have spent a weekend on a course learning how to “teach” and am here to start teaching English. I am shepherded into the classroom by an old lady dressed head to toe in black, the grandmother of the school owner. I’m standing in front of my first ever class of students – I have no books, no lesson plans and no clue what I’m supposed to be doing. There are two truculent Greek teenagers, boys with broken voices and stubble, sitting expectantly in front of me. I’m stranded in a village at the top of a mountain. There are sheep and goats outside. I’m questioning my sanity. In time-honoured fashion, I write my name on the board: Miss Lisa.They laugh at me. I wonder why. I survive the lesson, but only just (after managing to offend them by making an innocent gesture that, it turns out, is the Greek equivalent of the finger, while asking them to give me five examples of sth).Weeks later I learn why they laughed. Lisa, the Greek word for rabies.

My team has been discussing the genesis of nicknames via e-mail. This was my entry, not exactly a nickname, but worth a story worth telling nonetheless. All that year I'd introduce myself with a self-conscious smile: yes, crazy [miming mad] skilos [miming a ravening dog].
The year of Earl Grey at 4pm and buying oranges at Saturday market. A James Bond-themed party, one of many. Nights spent in Koutouki (little shack) smoking "mavro" with the other teachers, old artists, revolutionaries, anarchists and a (conflicted) millionaire marxist property developer whose shack it was, drinking retsina and eating horta (dandelion leaves) and potatoes baked in the fire by a man we called “Wiggy”.
Spending one night a week in the mountain school, sleeping in a classroom and only learning after months of cold showers that to turn on the water boiler one unlocked a cupboard, climbed over a wall and flipped a switch.
Finding a dead cat frozen to the doorstep one morning. Asking for bread at the shop and being shown into a woman’s house to be given half a loaf.

The memories are coming thick and fast today.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

holiday
We walked, we gambolled, we breathed deeply of fresh sea air, we completed a jigsaw (a picture of pupsters, would you believe), went to a car boot sale and sampled the delights of country pubs. We ate good home cooking and drank fine French wines. We read the newspapers, sipped coffee and enjoyed long breakfasts. We read good books and enjoyed aperitifs. We got caught in the tide and had to stuff our shoes with newspaper to dry.
The pupster sniffed a lot of bottoms and ran about on the sand. He adventured in the Badger Avenue garden and rustled through dewy undergrowth. He rode in the car (wearing his seat belt) and slept in his Jet Set Dog Bag.
We were with my parents, in a familiar and slightly run down English seaside town, and slept in twin beds, but it was still a holiday. And now I’m back at work. The pupster is shut up in a tiny apartment and, when allowed out, shackled by a short lead. It feels like a prison sentence.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

expensive tastes
We knew Skye would cost us dear, the purchase price was just the beginning, but there are also many unexpected expenses associated with the pupster. For example, I had bargained for the cost of a collar and lead, but didn’t realise he would also “need” a fur-trimmed coat (think Biggles), a harness and a special Italian “Jet Set” carry bag. I knew we’d need to feed him (obviously) but it hadn’t occurred to me that he might be gluten intolerant and require organic rice cakes (the only ones that come unsalted) instead of dog biscuits.
Sometimes I wonder if, being an extension of TA’s psyche, the pup really requires this paraphernalia – a comb, a brush and two different types of scissors to groom him, really? – or whether it is merely TA’s sublimated desires for the finer things in life. But then he looks so adorable in his coat and harness – as if he’s about to parachute out of a Sopwith Camel (or a Sopwith Pup, even – who knew there was such a thing!) – that I cannot be cross or deny TA and Skye their extravagances.
This morning, however, the pup went too far. Pissed off with us for returning him to the Dickensian tenement that is the Sett when he’d been happily running riot at Badger Avenue and the beach the previous week, he decided to pay us back. He climbed on to the sofa while we were eating breakfast in the kitchen, stole my purse, opened it, removed a £20 note, tore out the metal security and ate it…leaving me with two soggy halves.

Friday, February 09, 2007

diet of worms
Imagine the scene — I am just tucking in to my treasured bowl of gorgeous, steaming porridge (I call it a Nova Scotia breakfast – Scots oats and maple syrup*), the only thing that persuades me it is worth getting out of bed and braving the sub-zero day, when TA asks me to inspect the newspaper. Not a newspaper he is reading, by the way, the newspaper on which Skye has just proudly deposited his own steaming treasure. It appears that Skye has also deposited a small length of string.
“What is it?” I ask.
“It’s okay,” says TA, “he was wormed yesterday at the vet. It’s dead.”
So, there’s a reason why dogs are wormed regularly – apparently they can pick up worms quicker than I can pick up a glass of wine and, even more impressively, do it while looking as though they are innocently picking up smells on a grimy city street.
I returned to my breakfast, but despite the wonders of maple syrup it didn’t hold quite the same allure as it had before the worm had turned up.
* Although the maple syrup actually hails from Massachusetts, a gift from K (and the gods of sweet goodness).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

tearing off tights with my teeth
Last night I had insomnia. My mind was freewheeling down country lanes of thought to an internal soundtrack of Faithless and generic country noises (Essential Sounds of Ambridge CD BBC Audio Collection – yes, it really exists). I was trying to think happy, de-stressing thoughts to decompress and relax after an intensely long and stressful urban worker day, but sadly my happy thoughts were too exciting.
Counting sheep, pigs, cows, geese, ducks, chickens and guinea fowl led to thinking about menu ideas for my smallholding cum B&B enterprise. Porridge slowly melting to perfection in the Aga overnight; crispy home-reared, brined and smoked bacon; freshly laid eggs scrambled with a touch of cream; stone-ground wholemeal sourdough rolls created by my own fair hand slathered with home-churned butter and rich, bitter marmalade; a dark china pot of steaming English Breakfast on a oak table – who wouldn’t want to pay to stay with me?
Sometimes guests might be treated to an evening meal, perhaps it could be a regular Saturday night event with diners joining the table from the nearby villages. My mouth filled with saliva and my palms itched with the cheffy possibilities of organic, home-grown produce.
I could organise country walks with Skyepup and my other dogs for the visitors – we could have chestnutting weekends and return to an open fire to roast them. I could be known for my idiosyncratic taste in wellington boots and emphasis on homely comforts. People would be amazed to learn that once upon a time I’d spent eight years living and working in London – the posh client dinners, the cocktails, the backstabbing, greasy-pole climbing, the politics and everyday pollution of skin and soul. The cruelty of concrete and barbarity of bricks. Hours spent staring at a screen in a production line that doesn’t produce anything.
Making empty small talk last night in an overcrowded, over-hyped and overpriced Italian chi-chi restaurant with perfectly pleasant people doesn’t sound like work, does it? But free dinners aren’t free is you’re a wage slave, or rather they are but you aren’t. Buried among the puppy stories, the shop talk and the empty pleasantries was a shocking kernel of self-realisation. “I’m embracing a premature middle age!” I laughingly explained as I related how much I’m looking forward to heading to the Isle for a few days to take Skye for runs on the beach.
Thinking it through more deeply now I can admit to myself that it’s not that I’m embracing a premature middle age, rather it’s that I’m thinking about ways of rejecting London’s “creative” circus and its associated value system. Sitting here in my long skirt, brown boots and cardigan – doing just enough to “pass” as an office worker – and helping a soon-to-be-ex-colleague cope with the redundancy process, I’m plotting my escape (again).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

bloody roots
J, TA’s sister, came over for roast chicken last night and ended up in a bone-picking session with TA. Families, eh? Motives, patterns, events, emotions, “facts”, unintended consequences – it’s a boiling cauldron of spicy gumbo even in the most straight-forward, “normal” families – and who has one of those? Throw in religion, sibling rivalry, financial struggle, business failure, mental breakdown, lack of communication and distance…and, well, it gets complicated. Not so much chicken soup for the soul as grist for the therapy mill.
I tried to stay out of it although, of course, I bring my own prism of experience and opinions to the party. Marriage, for better or worse, is about joining families just as much as it is about uniting two people. I’m a TA as much as he is a Badger now. But, as TA reminds me, it’s not about me and so I bite my tongue and try to facilitate rather than opine – hoping that J will give TA a fresh perspective.
The pupster – as an innocent reflection of the parents we might be – was referenced by all. I wonder if he sensed the energy shift in the room as TA and J broached the subject of their childhood. Teething, he gnawed a twist of rawhide as his pack elders chewed the fat. Halfway through the evening TA handed me a tiny pearl with one half of the root missing – the pupster’s first milk tooth to leave the nest – a core of dried blood visible through the translucence.
This morning, listening to the news, I picked over the carcass and rescued the wishbone. I offered half to TA to pull, shut my eyes and made the same wish I always make. Snap. I wonder what TA wishes for? I got lucky, for once, and in my hand was the bigger half. Not that it makes any difference since my wish is always on TA’s behalf anyway.

Monday, February 05, 2007

performance anxiety
I’ve been thinking about this and I think I can honestly say that helping my detail-obsessive, immaculate, gay (sort of manager) co-worker to decorate his new apartment is the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done in the name of friendship. And I don’t say this lightly, for want of other things I’ve done in the name of friendship with gay men that might have led to paranoia, since that particular field is somewhat crowded thanks to an ill-advised fling with a friend who was trying to ascertain if he was fully committed to his boyfriend (he wasn’t, he was fully committed to being a pleasure slut).
On Sunday the badger family set off into deepest darkest East London – a journey that required two buses – to help my sort of manager to paint his new apartment. We haven’t finished the latest bout of DIY at the Sett yet so this was even more of a humanitarian aid project than you might otherwise imagine. We arrived at around lunch time and put in a good four hours of painting labour – I even braved gloss and the only strong colour he had selected by painting his bedroom wardrobes white and his kitchen walls yellow. TA painted the hall (pale grey) and the pupster behaved himself admirably.
The new homeowner wafted from room to room, glass of chardonnay in hand, saying: “Do you need a bigger brush? There’s a drip!” and “Can I get you a glass of wine?”
We weren’t the only ones there (he’d accrued quite a team of slaves) and I don’t think my painting was any worse than anybody else’s and – for goodness’ sake – sort of manager is getting his apartment painted for free, but the fear remains. I can see him now pacing the apartment, examining the finish on each surface and sighing in disappointment at my slap-dash execution, even though I think I managed to surpass my previous personal painting best.
On a related note, when we finally got home – a trip that required two buses, TWO! – I smiled at our hall and felt happy to be back in the world of colour. TA and I agreed – taupe and greys and beiges look sophisticated and urban and chic, but we don’t want to live in a Muji show home. This morning I admired the purple in the kitchen – I think it looks great against the white tiles. Sure it’s strong and perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes me smile. I love spice and flavor and energy; texture, luxury and depth. Good taste, tasteful taste – my coworkers are amazed and a little horrified when I tell them of our green, yellow, white, red, purple little house – does it have to be bland?
We are a family that loves colour!

Friday, February 02, 2007

quarter cross
The sun is in the sky for longer, the days are noticeably longer and today is Imbolc: traditionally a celebration featuring candles and badgers. It’s not supposed to be about Bill Murray, although perhaps it is about learning from our mistakes and the erosion of sour worldliness.
Despite my best efforts, I’ve still got paint under my nails and probably in my hair. I’m wearing a red jumper in an attempt to keep me awake and make me happy, but yesterday’s bleak mood is resolute. Today the nose spear isn’t helping me to be a warrior. There’s rusted sludge in my body.
The pupster runs and jumps and greets every smell on the breeze with joy. TA and I look on enviously. In my head funeral music is playing (I don't want to swim the ocean; I don't want to fight the tide; I don't want to swim forever. When it's cold I'd like to die) and I want to crawl back into my hole to hide from my shadow and the sun.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

(Two posts today: scroll down for pupster pics)

puncture wound
I’m not a big jewellery wearer. I had my ears pierced like all the other girls at school, but only occasionally – then or now – can I be bothered to wear earrings. Necklaces, rings, bracelets – not really my thing; I rarely wear my engagement ring and even my wedding ring sometimes annoys me by feeling heavy or odd.
I remember as a youngish child watching a clip about a woman in a wheelchair who was using piercing as a way of reclaiming her feeling of ownership and control of her body. What an interesting idea to use body-modification hardware to subvert the body-modifying hardware that had been forced upon her by her body’s limitations; I didn’t think of it entirely in those terms at the time, of course, but I was – and have remained – fascinated by body modification and its proponents’ motives.
In my second year of university – through a series of life-shaping experiences, friendships and encounters – I essentially became the person I am now. Strange that I can pinpoint it so exactly (and perhaps I am mistaken to think I can). It was the year I swapped my glasses for contacts and it was also the year I got my first deliberate and symbolic body modification: my nose stud.
At the time I told people how blank my face looked without the bracketing metal frames and that I thought it needed a punctuation mark. I was in a writing class at the time and working through ideas of identity and image. Now I wonder what was really behind that desire to puncture my nostril. Later, perhaps the following year, I added a piercing to the top of my right ear to balance the nose stud.
My nose stud came with me to teach in Greece, much to the disquiet of some of the locals, and was still firmly in place when I added to my self-determined body mods: my nipple rings. These are both easier and harder to explain – easier because I know exactly why they were important to me; harder because, well, it’s a bit embarrassing! My nipples were “shy” and I was shy about them being so. I wanted them to be more forthcoming so that I could be more confident.
By a fluke of timing, TA was the first (and only, needless to say) boyfriend to get the pierced-nipples me. I can’t remember the exact timing – I think it was before we were married – but one night I woke up and felt over-burdened by metal. Out came the nose stud, the earring and the nipple rings, and I felt odd about leaving them behind, but lighter too. And that was that – five or so years of no deliberate body mods. Of course, all the mods that life has left on me have remained, I’ve even accrued some new scars (although none look set to rival my early collection of surgical cuts).
Washing my face last night I was looking in the mirror and frowning at my monthly dose of acne (almost 30 and still spotty). Suddenly I wanted to put a stud back in my nose. I don’t know if the two things were connected – putting a full stop to spots? – but I got a jolt of excitement at the thought of reclaiming my piercing.
Ten minutes later, after faffing with an ice cube and passing a needle through the scar, my nose was pierced again. I went to bed on fire – with ideas, creativity, energy and, probably, adrenaline – a sense of renaissance and return. And so here I sit, conscious of the thin metal spear through my nostril, thinking I wonder how long this will feel right for and what does it signify?