Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Day the Music Changed the World.

My bedroom door opens and light floods in from the hallway.  I pull my pillow over my head but it’s not enough to drown out Dad singing Karma Chameleon. Or trying to. I fear I may cringe myself to death.
I’m already regretting this.  I was, after all, only trying to prove a point; attempting to show the world that I’d made a serious choice and that nothing was going to make me look at another piece of meat again as long as I lived. Not even a snog with Nik Kershaw. 
Surely it’s still the middle of the night? It’s dark, my duvet is warm and my eyelids are sealed shut but I can smell toast and there’s some awful music coming from the bathroom. Dad puts a plate on my bedside table and pulls back the curtains to look out into the street. The van will be here soon to take me to Govan. The way I’m feeling, it might as well be Australia. I’ve never been further than the school bus route and I once got homesick at Brownie camp, which was held in the field behind my house. Slowly, I sit up and put on my best pained expression. I consider playing the illness card but I know all I’ll get is a boring lecture about choices and commitments and how Dad spent his childhood down pits or up chimneys or something. I reach for the toast.
Today is July 13th 1985 and I’m going to be working a nine hour shift on a butcher van in stifling heat. Meat is Murder says Morrissey on the cover of this week’s Smash Hits. I try to ignore the thought that I would gladly scoff a sausage roll for another half hour in bed.
“This is child cruelty,” I mutter, biting through a thick layer of Marmalade.
Dad laughs.
“When I was your age I had already left school and was working down the pits!”
Here we go.
“Twelve hour shifts in pitch blackness. Kids your age lost limbs down there. This is character building. Think of the tenner you’ll have in your pocket at the end of the day. It would’ve taken me two weeks of hard graft to earn that.”
How could an ancient old fogey possibly understand the importance of today? Dad tries to be cool by asking my friends if they like Ultra-box or Atom Ant and he doesn’t even know who George Michael is despite me having a gazillion posters of him all over my walls. I glance at the one next to my head, the dog-eared centrefold that’s covered with lip-gloss prints of my lips. 
Oh, George. One day you will be mine.
“You’re the one who wants to be a vegetarian, Hazel,” says Dad in his told-you-so voice, “and we told you, if you want to eat differently from the rest of the family, you’ll have to buy your own food. So you’d better get up and start earning. You can watch the concert tonight.”
My stomach clenches. Life is so unfair.
“If I miss George Michael I’ll kill myself. Then you’ll be sorry.”
“Is that the weirdo who looks like a girl?”
Give me strength!
“That’s Boy George, Dad.”
“They all look the same to me. Men with make-up and dresses! What next?”
He leaves me alone and I nibble on my toast, half asleep and drowning in misery.
They’re billing Live Aid as The Biggest Show on Earth, The Global Jukebox. Everyone will be talking about it tomorrow but I’ll have to say I missed it because I was catching lamb chops at the bottom of a blood-stained chute. My sister, who works on the van every Saturday, has filled me in on all the gory details. The guys will make rude jokes all the way to Glasgow, jokes I won’t understand but will laugh along with anyway. They’ll offer me cigarettes and make fun of my brace. Then I’ll spend the day wrapping chunks of dead animal in polythene before handing them out to a greedy, rowdy crowd who speak a different language to me. My sister once caught a whole pig’s head. It came flying down the chute towards her with its mouth gaping open and beady eyes staring up at her. And my parents wonder why I’ve turned vegetarian!
I hear them out on the landing talking about Spandex Ballet.
Please make them stop!
“I’ve laid out your thermals,” chirps Mum, as she comes in my room, arms filled with clean washing.
“It’s July, Mum! It’s supposed to be the hottest day of the year.”
I’m convinced if we were taking a family trip to Venus, Mum would pack the hot water bottles and the 15 tog duvets.
“You’re going through to Glasgow at six in the morning,” she continues, undeterred, “it’ll be freezing. You’ll be grateful for those Long Johns, trust me. You might want to hurry up with that toast.”
Tears prick my eyes and I blink them away.
“I wish I’d never said I’d do this stupid job!”
She sits on the bed, tilts her head and sighs.
“Why can’t I have a normal daughter?" she asks softly. "Most teenagers have a paper round or do a spot of babysitting for extra money. Not you. You work on a dodgy butcher van with a load of foul-mouthed louts. And you’re supposed to be a vegetarian! Why do you always have to do things differently? What about that nice Sharon McDuff?”
I knew Sharon bloody McDuff would pop up at some point. You wouldn’t catch Sharon wearing Long Johns or coming home on a Saturday night with giblets in her raven hair.
“I heard she’s modelling jeans down at the outdoor market,” continues Mum, wistfully. “I bet she eats her mince and tatties without giving her Mum a hard time.”
I swallow a mouthful of toast. This isn’t fair! I’m trying my best here, trying, in some small way, to change the world. Why can nobody understand that?
“Mum, did you know that eighty percent of the starving population live in countries which export food for farmed animals. Ethiopia grows and exports crops for European livestock. Crops their people should be eating. If we all turned vegetarian there would be no need for Live Aid.”
She pats my leg and gives me that look; the look that says ‘how could I have given birth to such a freak?
“Let’s not think about all that depressing stuff. That nice George Michael isn’t on stage till 8 o’clock tonight. I checked in the souvenir paper your Dad bought. He is a dish, isn’t he? George Michael, not your Dad!”
Under the duvet, my toes curl so much I feel the beginnings of cramp.
It’s going to be a long day....

Moody Me

Dangly earrings & Avon's Iced Champink lipstick were all the rage back then
The Global Jukebox

Sunday, 5 January 2014


“They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark
She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones
‘Twas then he felt alone and wished that he’d gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate.”

Bob Dylan

From the café I watch the street, waiting for you to appear. I promise myself that if I don’t see you I will give up – accept defeat and move on. It need only be a quick glimpse; your face in a bus window, the outline of you in a shop. I can’t be sure but it feels like our fate has already been decided. 

My glasses steam up as I sip my tea and for a moment I panic that I might miss you. I hold the cup close to my face, careful not to breathe so hard that I create a cloud of steam for you to hide behind.

I wait for a long time. Twice I think I see you, both times my heart stops and my tongue slides involuntarily along my bottom lip. It wasn’t you but it helps to imagine that it was. I have played out the moment inside my mind so many times that I’m not sure if reality could match up. I realise how ridiculous I am being, how futile this hope is. But you have become my new disease; I cannot shake the feeling that it was not an accident that I found you.

I open my book, the one I carefully chose to help me appear aloof and intelligent; so confident was I that you would spy me in the window. My eyes scan the page but are quickly pulled back to the street. You may pass at any moment and I must catch your eye, throw you a smile that will stop you in your tracks; a smile that will make you change your mind. I practise the curve of my lips on an old man who has stopped on the other side of the glass. He smiles back and tips his head graciously. If only it could be this easy every time.

The waitress stops at my table and asks if I would like more tea. No thanks, I reply, hoping I don’t sound rude. She has stolen the attention that should be on the street. What if you chose this exact second to walk by? What if you passed the window when my eyes were on the book?  What if you’re already walking down someone else’s street? 

Fate is rarely kind, far from the romantic notion that some external force is controlling our destiny; that love and good fortune are written in the stars. Sometimes fate has a cruel sense of humour, offering us the perfect person with an impossible situation (or a perfect situation with an impossible person) and all too often fate can be a lonely café where the waitress appears at the wrong time to offer us something unwanted.  

In the end we all watch and wait, hoping for guidance or a sign that will determine whether we continue or give up. Karma, Divine Providence, Kismet, Chance, Destiny, Serendipity – regardless of our beliefs, we all cling to something, choosing to accept that the merest coincidence is something more profound, finding significance in a moment that might otherwise slip our notice.

I didn’t see you today but that doesn’t mean I have given up hope that one day you will change your mind. Some things, no matter how unlikely, are just supposed to happen. I prefer to think of life like writing a novel. Every day we are faced with a blank sheet of paper and it is up to us what we write on it. Perhaps it was my fate that led me to you but it could just as easily have been my fat. What I do know is when we find something this important, someone we know we were designed to be with, they’re worth waiting for. 

Even if that means forever.