Friday, 31 December 2021

So, how was it for you?

It's all a bit of a blur isn't it? 

Are we in 2020, or 2021? Delta or Omicron? Lockdown or 'don't go to work, but DO go to NYE parties?' Will this fecking pandemic ever end?

I'm now super-immunised after covid last xmas (thank you delta); 2 jabs, a booster and 5 days later - boom! Omicron. It only lasted a day symptom wise - a few aches, a headache, but an underlying lung infection (my third this giving winter) required steroids - which today, I finished and I'm feeling much more my old self again. Hurrah! So I thought I'd take a trip across 2021 to see what pearls of wisdom I discovered this year and what I'm hoping for in 2022. Crickey 2022, it seems but a heartbeat ago we were ushering in the millennium. 



1. A quick gander across my photos of the year shows me that clearly the most important member of my family is my dog. 80% of all the pics were of his sweet soulful face and silky ears. It seems all I did all year was walk a dog and get in icy water. There was a particularly vicious ankle injury on St. Paddy's day - but sadly I was sober and yes, you guessed it, on a dog walk. The moral of this - look where you are going and it pays occasionally to look down - those little potholes on country lanes are just waiting to get you...





2. Talking of that icy water - nothing gave me greater pleasure than getting in. Ok that's a lie. Nothing gave me more pleasure than 25 seconds AFTER I had got in that freezing lake. For the first 25 the pain - THE PAIN - dear god - in my elbows, around the nape of my neck and oddly my shoulders, was like I was on fire. Then all of a sudden - nothing. Just bliss. Just swimming along, in awe of the fact that it was 0.6 degrees on Valentine's day. Well, what says romance more than being shouted at by a scary fisherman warning of impending death by catfish? 





3. Reading this week about an interview with CBBC presenter Sarah Jane Honeywell who lost her job at the BBC for daring ten years ago to strip naked for a PTEA, I was struck at how she turned a really difficult time in her life into something positive. She said 'I'm so grateful though and I now know - even when life doesn't go the way you want it, things can turn out better than you wished for anyway.' Which is perhaps the greatest lesson in life to learn. The failures, the mistakes - those are where we learn - not from our roaring successes. Also, these champagne moments are but just that - mere moments - so if we don't celebrate and enjoy the struggle to get there, then what's the point? 

She also added 'You are not your salary or even where you live. You are not what other people think of you.... You are you and to be alive means everything.' I couldn't agree more. The older I get I see how we all surround ourselves with 'stuff' to make us feel safe, to feel seen, to feel valued, to feel 'successful.' I read of a retreat where folk go and ask a single question all weekend: who am I? They begin with their job, marital status, if they have family, where they live, their hobbies, their achievements, but as they strip them all away - who really are they? A head-fry for sure, but really all the 'stuff' is just fancy window dressing. Don't be afraid to do a bit of an internal closet clear out - and what you find may not be pretty. But letting go of old scripts in your head that do not serve you; being fallible; being unafraid to take a new path - may not be easy, but, trust me, so worth it. 





4. All I am hoping for in 2022 is health and more life experiences. My new rule is for every item of clothing I buy - I'll sell/give away something else. I'm all about simplicity this year. Less is more. Looking through this year's photos again - my best days were those with friends or family, sunshine, sea, lakes or country lanes... My swim buddy KR is all about the mini-break. She believes the way forward in life is simply to have as many mini-breaks as possible. This year I had several - including a girls' night in London in October - and I have to say - they are my new favourite thing. Holidays can drag. Family tensions can rise up after sharing an apartment for a week - but a mini-break? No time to get grouchy! No time to feel on day 4 that you can't face the buffet breakfast again or having to make small talk with the people by the pool for the 7th day in a row... 48 hours people is all you need! 







5. This year I have had to volunteer as part of my degree - 100 hours of my time no less. Its a bit of a gift to help others empower themselves. You get to see (forgive me for getting all Carl Rogers over here) that giving people autonomy, a safe space in which to talk, to feel free of judgement and showing them unconditional positive regard - changes them. What I think surprised me more, is that has changed me too. The biggest gift of this year was realising - really getting - that I can't control anything pretty much or anyone. Just my reactions to things. God I wish I'd known that at 25. I'd have saved myself an awful lot of energy caring about what others think. 

 



6. Life can change on a dime - so there is no time to waste! Do everything you want to. Today. Don't find excuses. Dare yourself. Be bold. Go on!

The other day a friend posted a pic on Facebook of a plane she had taken across the barrier reef - and 3 days later the same plane crashed killing one person and giving life changing injuries to the rest onboard. Below are photos of the bravest family I know - J, C and kids - who had their whole lives upturned in a matter of seconds, when J crashed his bike.  Their lives have never been the same - but the resilience, the determination, the sheer strength of getting through this - is a testimony to what incredible people they are. Donate here if you can - as they continue to battle for help from the already stretched to breaking point NHS - and every penny raised goes towards helping them all live as a family and Jaime continue his journey to regaining more sensation in his legs. 




6.  Roll on summer. My happy place: Rathmullan. This year we were blessed with weather that was quite frankly - unbelievable. Normally you can't see your hand in front of you for the rain - but in 2021, the weather gods did shine upon us and grant us an insane amount of sunshine. Such a highlight. Bar the bastard jellyfish who stung me on day 2. (As an aside I am never not going on a mini-break without JM - who has a Mary Poppins stylee bag, whereupon she will bring out ANYTHING you request. Hairband? Plasters? Sting medicine? How about a full size beach blanket folded into a bag the size of a hankie? Oh and she had a 'whole rake of wine' in her room. I mean, if Carlsberg did holiday buddies....).




                      




7. My last year of my 40s - HOLY SHIT. But you know, I'm lucky to be here. I'll be seeing in a new year with my family over a particularly vicious game of Bullshit/Kids against maturity/Uno. I'm grateful for all the experiences of 2021 - even lockdown in Jan/Feb (although I remember virtually none of it). The 3 birthday cakes before 9am on my birthday, the dinners and the drinks and the sunshine and even the moments of unbearable sadness. Loss is all around us. Borrowing from 'Inside Out' - it is ok to be sad. I think sitting with sadness is another of my life lessons this year. It means that you loved...

There were lots of work highs - but it's funny, the highs don't last as long, with the bonus, neither do the lows. I'm lucky to have worked with the nicest folk - and been able to row my own boat - rather than dancing around trying to please producers who have no idea what they want - and it has been revelatory. Writing should be joyful, it should be fun. This year, it really was. 








8. Final thought of the year. Show up. Make the effort. Letting someone know you are there for them, that you care, that you value them - well, that's really what its all about isn't it folks? So all that remains is for me, is to wish you all a happy, healthy, warm and wonderful 2022.  Who knows what the tide will bring in... That's the fun of it eh?

Love always CM xx











Monday, 3 May 2021

12 RULES FOR LIFE

Recently I read about a book entitled '12 Rules for Life' which sounded interesting, if only the author wasn't someone who wanted women's studies defunded and seems to be a conservative in liberal clothing... 

As I turned a ripe old age 2 weeks ago (a wonderful semi-lockdown birthday replete with 3 cakes, cold water swimming and finally, thrillingly a meal out  - which may have been stone cold but who gives a shit because I WAS OUT OUT) I thought I would give you dear readers my own version.  (I mean what do I know? Consult a doctor before doing and blah blah... But hey, who knows, you might find something in here that makes you go - yeah, I'll try that...).

                                                  12 Rules for Life (CM STYLEE):



1. Get a dog.

Why oh why did I not realise this sooner? My college lecturer last year mentioned that people think they need 'stuff' and 'things' to fill voids (more on that later) but in truth, the pleasure of owning and looking after a dog is all one needs. Don't get me wrong the early days feel like you have become a parent again ( On night 2 playing tough love I asked my husband: 'How long can a dog howl for?' Turns out a bloody long time. 6 hours later I caved. Mistake number 1. We simply had to do the whole shebang again - and move our complaining kids into our room. Yes, for a week we were Victorian England in our sleeping arrangements - all sardined into one room because open plan houses aren't the best when a dog wails all night). Anyway, now I love Berkeley more than life and his ears are pure silk. I love how he gets a huge stick in his mouth and prances up to strangers all: 'Get me and my mahoosive stick.' There is nothing better than a dog walk across a wild open common and bonus - most dog folk are lovely, with everyone stopping to chat and talk all things dog. Dogs love you, don't answer back and are hilarious. Frankly that's a lot better than I got from most men I dated in my 20s... 

2. Never compare yourself to others.

This simply is a road to ruin. I remember on the eve of my 25th b'day fretting that I hadn't achieved much - comparing myself to what MADONNA had achieved by the same age. I mean, WTF was I thinking? Every single one of us is unique. Every single one of us is going to have to deal with good times and times where we don't want to get out of bed. Yes, even Madge. But looking around you and constantly worrying that you aren't keeping up with the Joneses is going to send you dolally. Also, pretty much 99% of the time - what happens to others - will have ZERO bearing on your life whatsoever. So what if Sammy down the road is moving to a mansion? If Dickie gets the big fat job you secretly would love? It only eats away at you if you let it. Envy can be healthy and can spur us along - but in reality, have a word with yourself. Write a list of all you have in your own life and think on that. Wish other folk well and be grateful for what you have. Might not be easy to do at times - but trust me, it will bring you peace.

3. Lose the bitterness. 

It ages you. Plus carrying that load - must get pretty weighty, no? If you harbour resentments they will gobble you up and turn you into a gargoyle version of yourself. To quote Frozen: LET IT GO. If you are having trouble with this see point 4. 


4. Have some therapy.

Oh you think you're sorted do you? Well let me just ask you this: where do you get your self worth from? Do you look to others to validate your choices? Or do you base your beliefs about yourself on the opinion of others? No? So you've never checked in on your instagram or facebook to see how many likes you've got? Sure we all do it - but when your life in any way depends on what others think of you then who are you really doing it all for? 

Don't get me wrong it isn't pretty when we rake over our histories or inspect all our foibles and failings as a human being. But in that shameful, embarrassing, painful place - if we can become aware of why we do things - we can change them. Yep, we can grow and goddammit become a fully functioning person (some of the time at least). Life is gonna throw all kinds of shit at us. Sometimes we have the tools to get through it. Other times we shove it down into a deep well within us and we just about survive. But that issue is still in that well and one day it will just pop right back up again when you least expect it. Maybe you'll shove it down again - not unlike a Whack a Mole game - over and over... until one day you can't pop it down any more. 

You are in a rut. 

Go sit on a comfy couch and talk to someone. It will change your life if you let it. Since I started my course training to be a counsellor in 2018 I've got to know myself in a whole new way. For a start, I like myself now. I understand myself too. Warts n 'all. Without sounding in any way smug - as hell, it is a journey this life malarkey - a long old marathon - and at this present time, I have never been happier or more content. Not every second of every day - but in general. Talk it out. Get it off your chest. You deserve it.



5. Get outside every day.

Come rain or shine do it. Walk on the grass with bare feet. Look up at the clouds. Get in cold water. Take a venture through a deep dark wood. Run along the shore. I will never ever stop getting in cold water week after week after week all year round. It makes me feel more connected with the whole planet than any other moment of my life. I am never more present than when I am watching the ducks fly overhead, the dawn breaking and the mist twirling around the edge of the clear as glass lake. It's nothing short of magical. Hey, I know it's all in vogue post lockdown but my dear friend Magster told me on a particularly down day in May 2019: go get in cold water and Wim Hoff the shit out of your blues. I did and it helped me more than any other thing. If I can get in that water, I can deal with whatever is thrown at me. It doesn't need to be cold water - it could be a jumping on a bike, having a quick run, walking the dog, bloody pogo sticking down the street or throwing on some skates (yes I want roller skates!) and taking in the day. Enjoy it because without being all Debbie Downer here - you do not know what is around the corner so enjoy enjoy enjoy. 

6. Do not 'keep' anything for a rainy day

Use the perfume. Wear the great pants. Throw on the fabulous dress and just appreciate it now. Why not? Today is as good as any other - right?



7. 'Things' will not make you happy.

Ah yes, if we get that fancy house/car/shoes then the world will be ok - no? Sorry to say - that's a resounding NO. We accumulate stuff - because stuff makes us feel secure. If we surround ourselves with things than life will be comfortable and easy and we can show everyone JUST how well we have done for ourselves with all our status toys... But then next season there will be a new fancier toy - and suddenly the one we loved just isn't cutting it any more. So then we need the new fancy toy... and then - yep. The next one and the next and we chase our tails just trying to have the latest what not and who is it really helping? Not us that's for sure. 

Don't get me wrong - I think having a sanctuary you love to spend time in, be it a room, a garden, a home - is important. We all need our basic needs met to get on with the next level (thank you Maslow's pyramid). But I look to Dr Suess for advice on most things in life - and his book 'The Sneetches' describes this far better than I could...  

One of the happiest times of my life was throwing on a backpack and hot footing it around the globe for a year with my best bud. Life, stripped down to all I owned in something I could carry - was gloriously simple. I recently read an article with Chris Evans who has made and lost millions over his life and in it he talks about not weighing ourselves down. How Marie Koodo-Ing our lives is the way forward. Evans has given away most of his clothes and shoes and finds it freeing. I watched a video yesterday with Trinny going through a collection of 190 pairs of shoes and it just exhausted me. Glorious as some are - she admitted she could live with just ten of them. The very brain power used to deciding between 190 pairs of shoes would waste precious time every day. 

So 7A - is de-clutter - give to charity/sell on Ebay/ or give to a friend. Then every time you go to buy something - don't. Hold that thought for a night or two. Do you REALLY need it? Often I think I want something - don't buy it and a week later realise I didn't want it after all... Better for your wallet and the planet. 




8. Meditate.

Headspace is my preferred app but there are tonnes of them out there. Meditating helps you realise that thoughts - they come and go - and you can just watch them. Yep, like traffic just  whizzing along - coming and going... It gives you perspective so you can give your precious head a break from them. A great friend of mine Rachel once sent me a crochet heart from a wonderful place called TakeHeartXO - who send out gorgeous little hearts for free to keep people's spirits up 'spreading the love one crochet heart at a time.' It says: Don't believe everything you think. It sits on my desk, where I look at it every single day as I sit down to write. Meditation - something I need to practice more often - is a key to just breathing and feeling everything will be ok. Even when you are sure as shit it won't be. 




9. Set boundaries. 

This is a newbie on my list and what a cracker it is. It is top of the old self-care tree. Your time is precious people! How many times do we say yes to something we don't want to do and then moan about doing it, hate every second and end up thinking - why did I do that? We HATE the thought that anyone would think ill of us so we go out of our way time and again and then somewhere along the line we stop and think - WHY? 

For me, I can't abide folk that are inconsistent. One day a smile on the school run the next they cross the road and look through me. It befuddles me. Confuses me. Causes me unnecessary angst. Those folk that sometimes return a text, other times don't or fit you in when they have nothing better to do. Anyone toxic. Well gawd bless lockdown for sorting wheat from the chaff. Now - I know who my people are and I am grateful as hell that I have them in my life. I draw a very careful line around my time and give it to those who enhance my life and who are my champions. My team members. And I them. Chris Evans calls them - Zappers. Those that enhance your life. Sappers he says (those that only want to talk about other people or who enjoy the moments you are having a crisis or constantly try to bring you down) need to be avoided. 

Learning to say NO!!!! takes practice and once you get into the swing of it - is as liberating as taking your bra off at the end of a very long day. 


10. It is never to too late to go after what you want in life. 

Hold that thought dear. But ask yourself always - does it make your heart sing? If it doesn't - then it is the wrong path. Follow your passions and be brave. Doors will open. 




11. Don't be afraid to love wildly. 

Sure, it makes you vulnerable. But my god it is worth it. Tell those that you love just how much you love them and let them know this all the freakin' time.  There are heart stoppingly awful moments in life where you get a phonecall, or an email and the news just blindsides you. Knocks the wind clean out of you. 

We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are for forever?

So I say love wildly. Hug folk because Christ, we all haven't been allowed to for so long and who saw that coming? Be vulnerable - it is in those moments of letting people in - and they us - that we truly connect with another human being. Being known, seen and loved is perhaps the greatest of all the gifts we can have on this earth. I am a sentimental old fool I know, but I'm so glad to those that I have loved so dearly and lost - that I told them, I hugged them and I felt and feel grateful to have known them. 

12. A Don't care about what others think of you. 

Easier said than done. My husband is genuinely brilliant at this and while he is also an anti-social grumpy Australian - on this point he is completely correct. Obviously don't be offensive or disrespectful - or try to be a dick. But all in all be happy in yourself. It's that freakin' simple folks. Fly your own flag, row your own boat and just go - this is me. You are good enough. Once you know that and BELIEVE it - the world is your oyster kiddo. 

 B Don't be a dick

This is self explanatory - but honestly manners go a long way. Treat others how you want to be treated yourself. Show some grace. It may not be all about you - that other person may just be having the shittest day ever. A waiter is there to bring you an order not be treated like they are beneath you. Anyone in a position of power who speaks down to someone who has less power is frankly a class A dick. Mentor others. Be generous. Be kind. Put out lightness and it will come back to you. Volunteer for something. Make your life meaningful. All of this could be summed up as: be less of a dick. There. My 12 rules for living. So far they are working for me... 

So what are yours? 




Monday, 14 December 2020

Well, what the heck was all that about?

Every year I look back over my end of year blog - one of the very few traditions I have kept up since I started this here lil' old blog in 2008. Every year I reflect, try and learn a lesson or two and look hopefully towards the new year about to be ushered in. But I think I have NEVER looked forward to a new year more - than this year and I know folks - I sure as hell aint alone.  I mean WHAT WAS ALL THAT ABOUT??? Answers on a postcard...

In the blink of eye we were all locked down, hidden away, masked up and life as we knew it would perhaps never be the same. So if I didn't learn anything this year - then what pray tell was the point? I could sit here, feet up, glass or mug in hand and rant on about the lunacy of the 'rules' - the 'go to work, do not go to work, do not take public transport but go to work, but work from home' that Matt Lucas parodied so beautifully... I could wang on about the forgotten 3 million self employed who have received nada from the state (a travesty) and I could bitch forever about trips to Castles by cockwomble politicians. But that is too easy and frankly it does a whole year of my life a disservice. 

So things I learnt in 2020: (forgive me if I knew them before, now I know them WELL) 

1. A quiz is brilliant. When I say Tiger King, Stuart McQuitty's quiz and secret wild swimming got me through 2020 I'm not lying. Thank the lord for a bunch of my schoolmates in Belfast who brought me onboard every Tuesday night for a wee quiz. We drank too much, talked until the wee hours and somehow, I didn't feel so alone. Even when Stuart had better things to do - we still attempted Halloween and festive quizzes and honestly, it great craic. Meanwhile my cousin started a Sunday night bingo, which then became various quizzes, a round of 'Mrs and Mrs' and even 'Play Your Cards Right.' His wife's family all joined in and the technical hitches and oldies inability to work zoom just added to the thrill. So grab some mates on zoom/teams, take a turn each week and a whole year will just fly by. 

2. A walk in the woods cures all ills. Perhaps best not to listen to a true-crime podcast though while you are doing so... or by god do you sprint home again in a flash. 

3. I miss hugging. When this is all over - friends, family, hell, strangers - beware -  because IMMA COMING FOR YA. Now there are awkward elbow pumps goodbye and lots of uncomfortable smiles and that awful face (which you also hold while you leave a Zoom meeting) when a HUG does and says so much. 

4. If it looks like a wolf and smells like a wolf and is wearing sheeps clothing - it is still a wolf. Even the nicest person can be a total arsewipe if it serves them better than you. Hard to spot but never forgotten.

5. Empathy is an underrated gift. I have had some truly horrible moments in 2020. In those moments I have had some super lovely empathetic people listen and support. But I have also had those who turned those moments into ALL ABOUT THEM and used it as a way to somehow try and make me feel worse. Hey - I'm on the floor here, so could you like just leave your ego alone... for maybe a second?? In case anyone is confused: empathy is something you do WITH someone, sympathy is something you do TO them. Empathy is trying to really HEAR them and walk in their shoes. It is not saying 'you think that's bad? Wait till I tell you how bad my XYZ was and also how I'm now alright Jack.'  Or 'You think you had it tough, well I did too and yet I'm shining through...' 

6. People can surprise you. Looking at those folk who have gone out of their way to crowd fund for my friend Jaime (see my previous blog post - I mean, I still can't fully comprehend what that family have had to go through) just made my heart sing. You kind, kind folk. I see you and I am so grateful. It's humbling. 

7. Thank god we had a small respite in the summer. A trip to Ireland, Stuart's quiz IN THE FLESH!! ( I was in fact his first human contact after lockdown. Sorry Stu but I love you and I needed that hug) and a wonderful week in York just about saved my head. I was in the sea in Yorkshire and I looked up at the sky and thought - as long as I can get in cold water, it will all be ok. I am so grateful I have a friend like Katy R - who is as insane as me and thinks 5.8 degree swimming is a LOT of fun. We may have been told off for illegal swimming in November by a fisherman who was a bit 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' (I was waiting for the hook to appear) and warned that we were about to face death by 'giant catfish' - but it was worth it! 

8. To all those who checked in on me in 2020 I love you - because as an extrovert - being locked up/down whatever - without the ability to throw the MOTHER of all Halloween parties as I had planned - it was a hard year.... So thank YOU. I will be making Halloween 2021 UNFORGETTABLE. Be warned. 

9. How little we need eh? Turns out the fancy clothes all just gather dust as we don't get out any more... Not that I did that much anyway. For me the thing I missed most was the cinema... But since it has reopened I feel a sense of total freedom. I'm also so pleased college continued - in the FLESH; that connection with people every week was/is such a joy. But my goodness, next year I'm going to have a party the minute I can. For no reason. Just because we can - and that my friends, is a good enough reason. My lychee martinis await you all. Also beware, one Mum needed carried into a cab after a sesh on those martinis at mine - but I promise you, is worth the vom fest. 

10. It's ok if folk airbrush you from someone's life at a funeral. You know what you meant to the person that died and that is all that matters. Don't wait for others to validate you - or you will be waiting a long, long, time. 

Finally, I learned this year that the phrase 'self-care' - which hitherto had made me want to vomit  - now is my touchstone. Be nice to yourself - you deserve it  - you lovely person you. So have that bath, read that book, veg on the sofa, buy the shoes, kiss that boy, send that text. Don't fecking delay DO IT NOW. Why? Because life can change on a dime so if you don't now, then when? 

Go boldly in 2021 - it WILL get better. We've been through the worst I hope (don't mention Brexit). Remember you can't control what others do - only your reaction to it. Do your best. Love your hardest. Never give up.

I'm right with you. Love CM x



Friday, 11 December 2020

The worst news of 2020...

Let's face it 2020 has been a total shit show hasn't it? I mean there isn't a person alive who hasn't been effected in some way by the pandemic. However, there is one person has had the hardest year and shown the most resilience out of anyone I know, or have heard about.


His name is Jaime and he is a Dad of two beautiful kids. His partner Caroline also happens to be one of my closest friends from school. I met her when we were both 11. She had a longer fringe than her school skirt, the most beautiful face and a tan from a summer holiday in Spain. We bonded over our love of Prince and she still wears so much fake tan we call her 'The Mexican.' (Forgive me if that isn't PC). No one takes the piss out of me more, or better than she. For example she managed to get me to buy the WORST xmas jumper I have ever seen - let alone worn in my life - I was hungover by the way - and she photographed me in it and spread it all over facebook. I took it back of course but the damage was done. She tells me I have to die before her because she has my funeral card all planned with enough embarrassing photos to paper the wall of china. 

Anyway, this year Jaime, wanting to enjoy the sport he loves and get some exercise in the middle of lockdown 1 - went for a bike ride on Ilkley Moor. He walked out the door and he sadly wasn't able to walk back in again. A tragic accident - simply hitting a stone and flying over his handlebars - left him with life changing injuries.  He is paralysed from the chest down. It's the kind of story you hear about someone in the news, but you never think it will happen to you. Or you will know anyone who has to go through it. 

Here is their story and footage of that fateful bike ride.

Jaime now spends 16-17 hours a day in one room, where he eats, sleeps, has his commode and all his physio. This is a photo of him in it -

Jaime has shown such bravery and strength it is beyond humbling. But the facts remain: the house the family have had to move into - is not adapted for a wheelchair. They have had to leave their beloved home and at present Caroline has no room to sleep in. Funding has dropped off a cliff and nothing is available - despite them spending months researching all charitable grants etc. The council have said they will have to wait 6 months before he is even assessed, let alone them helping. The whole family has been psychologically scarred by the whole trauma and the absence of a home where they can live functionally together, in this new unasked for life - makes everything deeply difficult in what already is a difficult adjustment.

This story could be mine. It could be yours.  We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. 

So I ask - if you have ever read a single blog of mine - and it made you laugh - or cry and or think 'what a dick' then could help in any way?  This is the crowdfunding link where Jaime needs your help.

I thank you all. Jaime and Car are the best of people and they deserve to have a life together after all they have been through. Please lets make that happen. x

Thursday, 10 September 2020

I'll Be Gone In The Dark

April 21st 2016 is a date burned into my memory. It was unseasonably cold. My son's weekly cricket practice had begun despite football having yet to end. Which is why I found myself standing on the edge of a cricket pitch, bracing myself against the elements with my husband standing next to me, already tetchy about how the blustery wind would affect play. He was making polite conversation with another parent when I got a text - 'is this true?' with a link to a site announcing my all time hero, Prince had died. I was certain it was a hoax. But messages on facebook started to ping through  and it the crushing news was in fact true. I started to cry and all I remember is my husband shushing me, mortified that I was acting like such an emotional loon in front of random parents.  It was the day my all time favourite musician died - but unbeknownst to me, an incredible crime writer died that day also - Michelle McNamara. Only later did I discover that not only do we share the same birthday, but she too had loved Prince....

Two years later I chanced upon an article about a woman writer who attempted to catch a serial killer from her daughter's playroom. While her family were peacefully sleeping, Michelle would stay up into the wee hours, trawling websites and hunting for clues to track down the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist,  the Original Nightstalker (EARONS) or as Michelle cleverly coined him - The Golden State Killer.  Michelle called her book, 'I'll Be Gone In The Dark' - a reference to a line that the monster hissed to those he raped: 'Make one move and you'll be silent forever... and I'll be gone in the dark.'

When Michelle was a teenager, growing up in Kansas City, Missouri - less than a mile away from her home, a 24 year old woman called Kathleen Lombardo was brutally murdered while out on an evening run.  She had been dragged into an alley and had her throat sliced. Two days later Michelle walked the same steps Lombardo had taken and picked up the fragments of her shattered Walkman that lay on the ground.  From that day onwards, unsolved murders became Michelle's obsession. 

Michelle was fascinated by the fact The Golden State Killer is the most prolific serial killer that you have never heard of.  She was curious as to why he wasn't widely known and why the cases remained unsolved. Between 1973 and 1986 he committed at least 120 vicious burglaries, 50 violent rapes and 13 brutal murders across California.  His crime sprees each spawned different nicknames as back in the pre-computer days, it took years for the individual police forces to connect the burglaries to the rapes and eventually the murders he carried out. Michelle told LA Magazine : 'However twisted the grins of those killers, however wild the eyes, we can at least stare solidly at them, knowing that evil has a shape and an expression and can be locked behind bars. Until we put a face on a psychopath like the Golden State Killer, he will continue to hold sway over us - he will remain a powerful cipher who triumphs by being just out of reach.'

As Michelle was midway through writing the book, aged just 46, a combination of an undiagnosed heart condition and a home-brewed concoction of anxiety meds and painkillers (including the drug that would cause Prince to overdose - Fentanyl) killed her in her sleep on April 21st, 2016. Her husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt, showed incredible determination by helping Michelle's researcher Paul Haynes and acclaimed investigative journalist Bill Jenson to join forces and complete it with the wealth of material Michelle left behind. It is an astonishing read. Michelle is equally concerned with getting under the skin of the determined lead investigators of the case as she is the unnamed killer himself. In her writing, the victims blossom from the page: their living breathing lives and relationships laid out: the person behind the number, the quirks behind the cold statistic. 

There are details almost too raw to read: how the phone rang in the house of a victim, 20 odd years after her attack. She had lived at the address for 30 years. His voice was low, she recognised it immediately: 'Remember when he played?' he whispered.  The 15 year-old victim who was alone in the house playing the piano when she felt a presence behind her. After the rape she no longer played - always assuming that someone uninvited would appear behind her. The plates that the rapist placed on the bound husbands' backs as he led their wives away to another room to be raped.  He would warn them that if a plate dropped he would murder them both. The 13 year old victim who asked her dog 'why didn't you do something dummy?' There is a simple cruelty in taking items which only held sentimental value to the owners; he wanted to infiltrate their lives, destroy them, humiliate them and take from them every last breath of security they ever felt. Blindfolded and bound victims remember lying silently for 45 minutes and beginning to move only to feel the blade of his knife against their neck and his heavy breathing - he had been silent but present the whole time. 

The Epilogue of the book is entitled: 'Letter to an Old Man' - as the killer was then still at large - but Michelle was convinced that he wouldn't remain free. That a police car would pull up to the curb. 'This is how it ends for you,' she promised. She desperately wanted to know his face. 'Open the Door, show us your face. Walk into the light.' Her dogged pursuit of the case kept it in the limelight, helped people to remember, forced questions to be answered. 

I finished the book in April 2018 and as I literally closed the cover and googled some more info, I was stunned to discover that he had just been caught. As predicted by Michelle - it was through a public genealogy website. The police had tracked him down as a potential suspect and raided his bins to ascertain if the DNA was indeed a match.  Joseph James DeAngelo, father of three daughters, was roasting a chicken in the oven when he was arrested. This is how it ends for you. In June 2020 he pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first degree murder and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. While the rape cases had passed the statute of limitations - the survivors were allowed to address the pathetic excuse of a man in court. They did so with tremendous courage. In the documentary of the book 'I'll be Gone in the Dark' (on HBO) many of the survivors movingly gather together - able to rebuild their lives knowing the man who tried to ruin their lives - but failed to do so -  is at last behind bars. The tragedy is that Michelle is not alive the witness this.

Looking at the frail old man, it is hard to imagine that any human being would be capable of such cruelty - and I can't help but think Michelle was right. In seeing his face - bald, wrinkled, weathered - or even the faded photos of how he looked at the height of his crimes - baby faced, thick nose, frighteningly ordinary - he loses his mystery, his power. Relatives in the documentary talk of a sweet man, 'Uncle Joe' and they cannot reconcile the man they knew with the atrocities he committed. Perhaps this is why he escaped detection for so long - he was just a face in the crowd; he moved amongst people, silent, observing, impassive, blank.

He isn't clever - just lucky. In todays era he would be unable to prowl neighbourhoods as he did - CCTV would have spotted him in a heartbeat. Phonecalls would be traceable; DNA lifted at the scene of the first crime. His face would have been captured on a mobile phone; mid attack a child in another room would have called the cops from his iPad; security cameras would have unearthed his every movement. 

Michelle can rest in peace. Something, his dark hollow soul will never be able to do.


Monday, 13 July 2020

Conversations we should have had....

As we come out to this 'new normal' whatever that means - I've been reflecting on what I can take away from this loooong time in the wilderness... Forgive me is this is a more rambling blog post than usual but I put that down to 1. My head is fried. 2. My head may always be fried.

Having spent lockdown watching the wonderful Normal People - it made me realise that there are so many conversations that we should have, but for various reasons, never do. How one little conversation could change the whole outcome of a relationship, even the outcome of a life. We shy away from being truly congruent with another person for fear of offending, or worse, being emotionally vulnerable and then we have to live with the consequences. Just imagine if Connell had told Marianne he had nowhere to live that summer? Or admitted to his mates he was seeing her whilst at school? If she had told him the truth about her tortured family life?

I think over the night the cruel dog breeder texted me asking me if I wanted some of her poxy overpriced calendars - and I refused, lying that funds were tight. She immediately assumed that meant we wouldn't pay her the £600 she had added on to the already eye watering price tag for a pup - which we had agreed to pay after collecting Cooper. Rather than have an adult conversation - saying - sorry to hear funds are tight, but you will still pay me, won't you?' she choose instead to suddenly withdraw the sale causing massive hurt and a whole wealth of recourse where we felt duty bound to report her to the Kennel Club, Champ dogs, the council etc. Anger fuelled me until it left me empty. One conversation - and everything maybe would have been different. It is incredible when you think that we pivot on these moments - that the chips could fall in many different ways, all depending on what people say - or rather don't say...

Imagine if everyone was just a bit more honest? How refreshing it would be. Instead lies disguised as pleasantries: 'We must meet up soon!' 'You look amazing....' 'I'll call you...' we all just said how we really felt. I read a problem page recently where a woman asked the agony aunt about how she should end a friendship - as every time she saw this old buddy, it was fractious with neither party really enjoying themselves and yet they persisted in this merry old dance. Emma Barnett gave some brilliant advice - where she suggested the woman actually calls her friend. I know. Terrifying. I choked on my wine as I thought about how awks this would be - had I been in her shoes. But also how wildly honest... and brave.  Barnett suggested the woman simply tell the truth and wish her friend well, suggesting they no longer labour keeping in touch for the sake of things and cut ties accordingly. All very cheery amicable and sensible. Having wasted years on keeping some folk on the fringes of my life, I think this chop, rather like the haircuts we all desperately need - would be nothing but a bonus; if nothing else lockdown should have highlighted to us the things that are important in life and those that really aren't worth fretting over.

Which brings me to last week when a woman ran into me - sadly, in her car. I was in my car too I should add. It was a rainy tuesday and it was entirely this other woman's fault. I was so delighted that no one was hurt and that it wasn't MY fault for once in my life - that I decided to be to this woman how I would want someone to be to me...  (Or rather how nice neil was to me when I totally his BMW in November '18). I was freakishly calm, I told her not to fret and when I returned home husband said he was surprised I hadn't invited her to dinner... (I would have but we both had just picked up our takeaway burgers).

Instead of being stressed and angry I just told the woman sincerely-  that a car crash is no biggie. It is a hunk of metal and not to fret. I meant it. Anyway, the whole thing did turn out to be a huge pain in the arse - of course it was - with insurance and cars written off and hire cars and car tax and all that palaver - but all in all, I was pretty chilled about it compared to crashes of old. Lockdown has taught me two things - to let go of the stress, because really, most stuff is solvable. Two - be as honest as possible.  During this whole house arrest, I found it nigh on impossible to get a second of headspace. Between home schooling, kids fighting, someone needing something urgently despite having nowhere to actually go, emptying the dishwasher twenty times a day and relinquishing my phone and computer so my kid could house party while robloxing - and screaming the house down as she did so - I got precious few seconds to think a thought to myself. I told my producers and they totally understood. I didn't want to hear about people who learnt french or how to crochet a plant holder or what not - I was surviving goddammit - just about.

If we can have the conversations we should be having rather than the ones we do out of duty, out of fear or out of saving face - then life would be so much simpler dontcha think?  This all might have been born out of the fact that I read over all my old diaries for a project I am working on - and it was truly fascinating. I thought I was wildly mature, cultured and fairly balanced. I am a total fruitcake. Why no one on earth told me to stop mooning over a boy in Manchester who clearly didn't give a flying feck about me and get on with my life, I have no idea. I am tragically deep, boy obsessed, allowed to hang out with a tennis player for an entire night MID A-LEVELs and kiss a male model in London when I am 15. FIFTEEN! Heavens above. My son is now 14 and I am now locking him in the shed for the rest of his life. We are all virtually alcoholics before the legal age of drinking and I spent my life on a bus going somewhere in Belfast, usually The Empire pub, mates' houses and Botanic gardens. It is a wonder I have time for school. Anyway, I wish to god I could have had a word in my shell like and told myself there is a whole world out there and not to mope over a boy and instead to do some fecking revision. I did pretty ok in my A levels but I wonder what I'd have achieved if I hadn't been studying the morning of the exams... for the first time. The moral of the story - is there one? Well it all turned out ok in the end I guess, and boy I had a ball, (too much of a ball it seems) but did I have to write and tell every boy how I felt - begging them to put me out of my misery instead of seeing the writing in CAPITALS on the wall? If they'd had the balls to be honest and not string me along it would have saved a lot of tears and by the sounds of what I have written - a feck tonne of paper as well.

Honesty people. The conversations we never had. I say have them.  Warts and all.

I dare you*.


CM x

*I take no responsibility if it all goes tits up mind. 

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Tuesday is the new Friday





There was nothing quite as sweet tasting as that Friday night g and t - always a double (what is the point of a single?) and that lovely blurry feeling that signalled the end of a working week and the joys of a weekend that lay ahead.

But in this whole covid lockdown malarkey, Friday ceases to mean anything - as the weekend stretches before us - a gaping void with no social activity or children's sports to attend. So I've had to find that fuzzy feeling elsewhere and stone the crows but all of a sudden Tuesday is my new Friday. Why? Well it is all down to one man and his incredible mane of hair. I'm not talking Joe Exotic - (although Tiger King does have a place in my heart by easing me into this new world).  The reason Tuesday is a 'bother to put on mascara and brush your hair to greet your mates on zoom' kind of a day is because of a tennis coach called Stuart McQuitty who each week throws together a stonking quiz for anyone - all from his humble lounge. No disco balls and flattering lights for our Stu - no, he simply pours himself a beer (harp, natch) or a large G and T and settles into what looks like the least comfortable chair and begins...

My schoolmates alerted me to the quiz; there are six in our team (although last night 3 A-level Maths students let us down on the angle question - and they know who they are) and we all chat via Teams, even after the quiz until the wee hours. Meanwhile on another device, we have Stuart blaring out from his live facebook feed, entertaining us with his (dreadful) singing and cheery anecdotes in between quiz questions and refilling his glass. 

The quiz is simply brilliant. I'm not much use to be honest (picture rounds and film rounds are my specialities) and whilst there is the odd low-brow question to make me feel like I have contributed - by and large there are other sharper tools in the box to help with questions on types of hamster, renaissance literature and anything chemistry related. So far,  we have come third and then last night an all time best of joint second; but we have yet to win the coveted top spot. Our team name: 'Anyone Malone?'  comes from the many (school) years spent staggering from the Empire pub to the taxi-cab firm opposite and waiting for the above two beautiful words to be spoken by the controller - to signify we would no longer have to sit in the sweaty, fag ashed room that smelt of piss and burgers but were being thankfully released to pour ourselves into a waiting cab, making our curfews by a whisker. 

The highlight of the quiz is not actually the quiz itself. (Sorry Stu). No, it would be Stuart's hair. Week one and barely a question was asked when he didn't stroke his just-stepped-out-of-a-salon brown locks (Joe Wicks you have nothing on Stu) - so we decided every time Stu caressed his curls, we would shout 'DRINK!"  Necking a glug of our chosen alcoholic beverage. We were hammered by round 2. Our mistake was to tell Stu this (via facebook comments). Next week he saw our game and he raised us - by wearing a HEADBAND. We were devastated. Next week, he teased us with his hair hairsprayed back and oh no - what was this? A kind of ode to Burt Reynolds crossed with 70s cop show moustache. Thankfully last night the tache was gone and the hair stroking was back in full force. Next week he has promised us a man bun. The big tease. I'm hoping he releases a calendar and the proceeds go to the NHS. I for one would buy it. 

The thing I love most about Stu and the quiz is its sense of positivity. It is the shining beacon of hope in my otherwise monotonous week. I applaud him for getting off his butt and bothering to do something that brings folk together, entertains us and gets the old grey matter ticking, in what would just be another 'what shall we find to watch but spend most of the night trawling Amazon, Netflix and Sky and still end up watching Derry Girls repeats' kind of night. 

After the quiz has wrapped Gar and Jo - the mothership of our team - send us picture rounds - as they are UBER quizzers. We are not their only quiz rodeo of the week. Nope they cheat on us with not one, but two, other quizzes and then throw us the picture rounds to test us. This is where I truly shine - knowing one Z lister after another. Then we pour another glass - because it is the new Friday after all and suddenly, inexplicably we look at the clock and it is well past midnight. On a school night. The next morning our daily Joe Wicks is always a bit of a chore and we pray for bunny hops rather than the burpee hell and slump at our desks while the joy of home schooling begins. Wednesday drags but before we know it, Tuesday will roll around again. I simply cannot wait.

If you fancy joining in - and anyone can - from all over the globe - it is 8pm Tuesday nights here

Stay safe and keep her lit xx