I walk up and down Tottenham Court Road finding lunch options slim. I discover when I arrive at a usually dependable last resort lunch spot that the whole shop has been gutted, emptied, even the sign taken off the outside. Peering inside, I press my face to the glass like a nosy child. I see empty chairs stacked up in the corner, nothing left of the counter or the coffee machines, even the huge coolers which once held sandwiches have been taken away (a reusable asset?) I wonder about music as I listen to the same Patrick Wolf song over and over (“The Days”) this was brought delicately into my mind by seeing the film God’s Own Country recently. I think about Frank, having bough Lunch Poems at Gay’s The Word the other day. I think about acting on this idea: reading a lunch poem every now and again at lunch and writing about what happened. I see a fire engine get stuck negotiating the sharp corner of Keppel and Malet street.
The afternoon is hot. I left my jacket in the office. I write this in pencil.
“Clasp me in your handkerchief like a tear”
1. MUSIC – Frank O’Hara
If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe, that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s and I am naked as a tablecloth, my nerves humming. Close to the fear of war and the stars which have disappeared. I have in my hands only 35¢, it’s so meaningless to eat! and gusts of water spray over the basins of leaves like the hammers of a glass pianoforte. If I seem to you to have lavender lips under the leaves of the world, I must tighten my belt. It’s like a locomotive on the march, the season of distress and clarity and my door is open to the evenings of midwinter’s lightly falling snow over the newspapers. Clasp me in your handkerchief like a tear, trumpet of early afternoon! in the foggy autumn. As they’re putting up the Christmas trees on Park Avenue I shall see my daydreams walking by with dogs in blankets, put to some use before all those coloured lights come on! But no more fountains and no more rain, and the stores stay open terribly late.
In the rain, I swoop down on my paraglider, line myself up directly above the giant ogre, then I plummet downwards, thrusting the sword into the ogre’s ugly head. This woke him up. After battling for a few minutes, shooting arrows into his one big eye, he dies and leaves me a cache of very good weapons (also some toenails), which I collect.
Walking on, I realise, in the fight I had got myself turned around and I was actually going back the way I came, I keep going anyway and climb up the hill heading to the ridge I’d climbed earlier, before it had started raining. Now it is night time, I reach the lip of the ridge and see the wide valley below, quiet in darkness. Suddenly from above, a shooting star streaks across the sky and into the valley. A bright yellow beacon of light shimmers at the point where it landed just ahead. I jump off the cliff edge, engage the paraglider and fly towards the beacon. As I get closer to it an unworldly humming gets louder. When I get up close, the beacon disappears and the point on the ground becomes a golden yellow nugget of star fragment. I collect this and keep running on.
On Friday 3rd March 2017, I was excited. I went to work slightly earlier than usual and walked a tiny bit out of my usual way to stop by the Argos on Tottenham Court Road, the staff out numbered the customers quite significantly. I shook off the rain from my umbrella and walked straight up to collect my pre-ordered item, having panic-ordered it that morning. I had received a last minute email from Amazon to say that my pre-order which had been in place for months was delayed and I wouldn’t be getting it on the day of release. Immediately at 6:30am by the light of my phone I ordered the same thing from Argos before I’d even received the refund from Amazon. The guy working at Argos saw what it was as he handed it over and said, “nice one”. After years of waiting I’d finally got my gay hands on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I walked to work under my umbrella and tried to focus on whatever student problems I was facing that day. After work I headed home and had a pretty normal evening with my boyfriend (now Husband). By around 10pm he said, “I can’t believe you’ve waited this long, if you want to play the game, you-” before he even finished the sentiment I was unwrapping the plastic case and firing up my Wii U console. I hadn’t the money or excuse to buy myself a Nintendo Switch, which was also released on 3rd March, but I was happy to play the game on the slightly inferior Wii U version, with plans to replay the game much later once I had acquired a Switch (this plan is still in progress…) Immediately I was overcome with the excitement and emotion that is hard to describe, something that reminded me of the excitement of going to the cinema to see the last Lord of the Rings film or the last Harry Potter films, or reading a new book from a beloved living author. I knew I was going to love it, the reviews had all been so ridiculously good, there was no way I wouldn’t. I was excited to get into this world I was so fond of, for another adventure.
Within a few moments, I was stood in front of that first grand vista, from the Great Plateau across this new Hyrule. The music swelled like it did in the trailer I’d watched a thousand times and I remember thinking, oh thank god, finally, I am here. That first night I spent shambling my way around the contained opening area, the great plateau, not really knowing what I was doing, where I was going or what to do next. All the reviews had said it, but it was true, this was a very different game to the other Zeldas. A little directionless, I kept on talking to the mysterious old man, to see if I had missed some info, but he said rather pointedly, “you can figure it out yourself!” He had given me the original task of finding these four shrines on the plateau and it was up to me to find them, unlike in other Zelda games, there wasn’t a prescribed order, there wasn’t a guiding voice that would stop you if you went towards the wrong one, you were left to just find them yourself. Once you’d done all that work, you would come back and see him and he’d give you the paraglider, allowing you to glide down off the plateau to explore the rest of the massive world.
I have always wanted to play games like this, fully open world games where, if you wanted you could just go on a nature hike (I have a great route across the western portion of Hyrule, scaling the mountains). Back in the day on the rare occasions I used to play Grand Theft Auto, I wouldn’t like to do missions (too much violence) I would just enjoy driving around, following traffic signals, watching the landscape change. Maybe I’d cut loose every now again and drive really fast and cause some car accidents, but I never did much else in the game. As with many other nerds my age, playing Ocarina of Time on N64 was an incredibly important moment for me, the freedom, the adventure, the whole living world that was so detailed and so full of humour, it was incredible. Alongside The N64 Zeldas (I played Majora’s Mask so much it actually gave me nightmares) I used to spend hours and hours at weekends playing Pilotwings 64. Pilotwings was a release game for the N64 back in 1996, released to showcase the 3D capabilities of the N64. Flight simulators were a jazzy way of doing this with new systems at that time (Microsoft’s Flight Sim 95 and Playstation’s Ace Combat were other examples). Pilotwings gave you various different aircraft to fly around various island landscapes. I spent hours and hours flying around these vast landscapes, the largest was a scaled down version of the USA, including a few major cities, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the plains of the midwest, Washington DC and Florida (complete with a rocket launching from Cape Canaveral). I flew all of the missions available, but I spent more time flying around just exploring the landscape. The potential to do this was almost infinite, there was no time limit and though there was only so much petrol in your aircraft you could land at the petrol station and fill it up again, then take off and keep flying. I loved the peace of flying and I loved exploring the landscape. I would set myself challenges, landing on roads and driving down them, or manoeuvring in between buildings, or flying from one city to another and landing carefully at the other end, imagining I had passengers. I loved spending my time doing this. I wanted more games that did this, but more and bigger and better.
Playing Breath of the Wild now, long after I have finished the story, I feel the same as I did when I was exploring in Pilotwings. Sometimes I consult the map and plot out a route, wishing to explore some mountain or valley I don’t think I’ve been to. Other times I will just wander, or ride a horse, following a path until I see something that peeks my interest. Breath of the Wild encourages this by placing shrines within the landscape with their distinctive orange glow, you might spy one of these and follow it not realising you will be walking for a long time (and have to battle through a enemy camp or swim across a river) to get there. One incredibly inventive way Nintendo encourage you to explore the landscape is through collecting Korok seeds. All over Hyrule there are 900 hidden little Korok creatures, some hide under rocks, some at the tops of mountains, others reveal themselves once you’ve mastered a little puzzle. They pop up, give you a seed and then you move on. It is necessary to collect the seeds early in the game as this is how you can expand your weapons inventory. After a while, once you have collected a good number of slots for weapons, the need to do this becomes less pressing. I have only recently started hunting Koroks for their own sake and now I am playing the game with a new purpose (I have found only 250 of the 900 available). Now, the game is about being within the landscape, consulting the map, looking at the signs, is there something suspicious about that tree? Does that little hillock look out of place, or have I scaled that particular mountain yet?
It’s not just Korok seeds, as you go through the game, even just idly wandering as I do, you’ll encounter beasts you need to kill and in turn your weapons will break, meaning you’ll need to seek out other monsters to kill in order to get weapons again. Sometimes you’ll be walking along and you’ll hear some distant accordion music playing, which means there’s a special little quest nearby set by a Rito (a bird man) who sings clue-laden songs about different parts of the world. Sometimes a character will just run up to you and tell you to do something, ask you to find their lost friends, or get a recipe from a book in the library in the Hyrule Castle (now overrun with horrible monsters). The game’s world is complex and sings with life. Along with the daily cycles of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the weather conditions change every ten minutes, it rains a lot, meaning you cannot climb rocks or buildings until it stops and when you’re in certain tropical areas there will be spectacular thunderstorms, on the tops of mountains it will snow. The world of Hyrule is so vast, you can explore areas which suit your particular mood. If you tire of the epic sandy deserts of Gerudo in the South West of the map, you can adventure to the North East where you find the green rolling hills of Akkala, where the trees seem constantly to be brown and orange with Autumn. In Akkala there is a vast side quest where you end up helping to build an entirely new town on the lake. Venture further north in Akkala, following the coastal cliffs and, where the land runs out, there is a huge labyrinth across the water, where you can paraglide and then get lost and probably get killed by the mechanical monsters stalking its corridors.
What I am saying is, even months later, I am still exploring this huge world. I am still finding new characters I’ve never spoken to before and still very much finding more of the 900 Koroks that are hiding across the huge map.
Standing on the edge of the Great Plateau, in front of me was the vast Lake Hylia, with a huge bridge crossing its span, with a clutch of small islands on the lake over on the right hand side. Night had fallen earlier I was admiring the view on the clear night. Suddenly from somewhere down in the lake, a dragon came out of the water and serenely moved itself up into the air, a long ribbon of a dragon, with talons clawing at the air and a back spiked with blue ridges. The dragon didn’t attack me it just rose up into the air, circled the lake and then returned back into the water.
Successful poems, like successful pop songs have a strong central conceit or metaphor, this is like a central gravitational point which as the piece orbits sometimes closely like Mercury around the sun, sometimes distant like Pluto. The song or poem is a journey of exploring this central point up close or at an obscure distance.
In this post I will be casting my poet’s eye over Lady Gaga’s music to comment on what makes these songs so successful and interesting within the context of lyrical analysis, performance and Gaga’s career at that time.
Poker Face (Nadir Khayat / Stefani Germanotta)
The central idea of Poker Face is evident from the title, it is a song about deception. It is about the struggle of withholding the truth but also the joy in being in control of the truth. The song seems to embody these two sides of the deception, stating in turn that the protagonist is in control of the lie (“he can’t read my poker face”), but also that the protagonist will “show you what I’ve got”. This tonal shift between the verse and the chorus expresses the duality of truth and lies in the song. This is further expressed through the stuttering of the title lyrics in the chorus, the catchy hook “p p p poker p p poker face” sets out this sense of waivering or uncertainty.
“Can’t read my
Can’t read my
No he can’t read my poker face”
Ultimately the song is incredibly catchy, as well as covering a subject matter through the central metaphor that is incredibly relatable to a pop audience, the idea of secrets, deception, and deciding to reveal or not reveal the truth is something that will always chime with teen audiences and those within the LGBTQ community. This was the first song that many people heard from Gaga, it is a great introduction to her music, lyrically it has a strong central relatable message and musically it is catchy and well performed.
Paparazzi (Rob Fusari / Stefani Germanotta)
Paparazzi, though a song in a darker mood, is no less catchy than Poker Face. It is a song which is more narrative driven with the a central metaphor which draws comparisons between the fervour of the paparazzi with that of a lover. The fact that the song is written from the perspective of the person pursuing their potential lover / paparazzi target give the song an interesting perspective. This song is about fame as much as it is about obsessional love. Lady Gaga was in the early days of her stardom when this was released, this being one of the songs which helped her build her profile and success. It is a fantastically wise move to release a song like this (which is catchy and memorable) which deals directly with fame and love in such an explicit way. In terms of building her career, it worked hugely to Gaga’s advantage. The subject matter of the song placed Gaga within the context of fame with all the trappings. She was not quite at that level of fame at this point, but the song suggested she was. In a way which may have been at best a mixed blessing, this song was courting the paparazzi. Through the success of the song, Gaga’s growing number of fans took on the mantel of the protagonist in the lyrics, with Gaga herself becoming the person being pursued. You can imagine the power of a crowd of obsessive fans singing the lyrics:
“I’m your biggest fan
I’ll follow you until you love me
The perspective of this song, whether intentional or not, encouraged a movement of fans to grow and galvanise. The work of the video in tandem with the song cannot go unmentioned and was the first major event music video of the many Gaga would do over her career. It was filmed by Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund and starred actor Alexander Skarsgård along with Gaga in a narrative which played with ideas of fame, death and unrequited love. The video referenced (amongst many other things) Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Madonna’s music video for Vogue. The video worked intentionally (in a similar vein to the song) to place Gaga into the mainstream of popular culture, with memorable costumes and iconic video moments. It worked brilliantly.
Applause (Stefani Germanotta, Paul “DJ White Shadow” Blair, Dino Zisis, Nick Monson, Martin Bresso, Nicolas Mercier, Julien Arias, William Grigahcine)
Much later in her career, after the huge success of her album Born This Way, Gaga’s career moved in a much more self-conscious direction, the result of this was the album ARTPOP. Although it can be argued that for her entire career her decisions have been skilled and artful, ARTPOP’s release was self-conscious to the point where it was harmful to its own success, Gaga made a more intentional and sustained bid for mainstream success, something, arguably, she did not need to push for. The song Applause (a simple song written by EIGHT people, including Gaga) is a song which continues the threads of Paparazzi but in a different way. Gaga is now acknowledging herself as the idol at the centre of it all and is singing about the affect this extreme success has had on her:
I live for the applause, applause, applause
I live for the applause-plause, live for the applause-plause
Live for the way that you cheer and scream for me
The applause, applause, applause
Where the video for Paparazzi (and Telephone, which I don’t have time to get into!) worked hard to place Gaga within the pop cultural landscape, Applause does the same and attempts to elevate Gaga above pop culture into the contemporary art world. Her collaborations at this time with Jeff Koons and Marina Abramović served both sides as a way of seeking legitimacy for Gaga as well as introducing her younger fans to these well-respected contemporary Artists.
What is interesting about Applause, when looked at compared to the other Gaga songs I’ve mentioned, is that it seems to dispense with the layer of metaphor entirely. It is brazenly upfront about the subject, whilst still being a very catchy and well put together song. It is an impressive move which once again feeds into her own legend and status as a “POP STAR”. It could be argued that this is the point of the song Applause, that it is a self-conscious, self-referential critique of Gaga’s own career and her own desires for validation, which drove her accelerated rise to prominence. It could be read as a hard critique of herself, that she has nothing else important in her life because she lives “for the applause, applause, applause” the repetition does instil a shade of almost manic desperation into the song. Whether this was clearly the intention, is up to the listener. The song itself also works as a catch all song which can be played in various contexts, it works as a song which could be played to encourage a crowd to applaud or get excited about an act about to perform. It’s not just Gaga’s crowds who can be encouraged to applaud with this song. Along with being catchy, it is an incredibly useful song. It’s not Happy Birthday To You but it is a song which was written to have a clear use, a way of setting the stage, this which means Applause will continue to pop up in this context for a long time.
The song ends, rather cynically in my view, by spelling out the name of the new album the song was introducing the world to A-R-T-P-O-P. This worked in the same way that music videos often now feature product placement, like a bright red pair of Beats headphones, sign posting listeners towards the new album. It was a clever move but perhaps a little too calculated.
Ultimately what I’ve learned about Lady Gaga from looking into her work in this way is that she is someone who has engineered her career incredibly well (with perhaps the ARTPOP slump as an exception). The work is written closely and carefully and with a bold and sometimes complex intention at the heart of it. Gaga and those collaborating with her were aware of the song’s potential uses and made sure they worked hard to strength Gaga’s mystique, career, and legend. Whether this explains why Gaga became so successful is unclear. I do think that no matter how the songs were written, their slick production and broad appeal would have brought success in some form. However this extra layer of interest that is at the heart of the songs is what has kept me interested.
My mild fear of flying had been building for a while. I didn’t fly much at all as a child. Once to Paris when I was 10. Next time to Rome when I was 17. After that it wasn’t until my mid twenties when I started to fly on holiday once or twice a year. Last year we took a lot of mini breaks and visits to friends and flew quite a bit. With this sudden increase in flights, I’d started feeling nervous about flying. We had a particularly difficult landing coming back from Rome last January, in the dark. People all around us were making panicky noises and grown men across from us were trying their hardest not to look too pale. It wasn’t pleasant.
After that I’d been a bit jumpy about flights and in the days running up to them I’d been nervous and withdrawn, which has not been the best mood to be in before or at the end of a holiday.
I decided to do some googling about (as one does will all problems these days) and found various tips and ideas. These are ones that have worked for me recently. Although I was still nervous and not exactly comfortable (especially during landing) I was much happier and better than I would have been, had I not prepared myself.
Look at the flight paths
This made a huge difference to me. In the week leading up to the flight every now and again I went onto Flight Radar 24 and watched all the planes snake their way across the map. It’s amazing how many are about. Watching them takes the mystery out of the process. You can see that planes do circuits in the areas around the airports, it’s totally normal. You can follow the long line that stretches from San Fransico up across Canada and the arctic circle and then down over Iceland, then Ireland, then Wales, then England into Heathrow. Looking at this reminded me that flight is amazing. Something to really marvel at. Imagine what your great-great Aunt Agnes would say if you told her you could be in New York before dinner time!
Not just in the car on the way to the airport. Take a deep breath whenever you’re sat down, doing anything at all. Just remind yourself of the moment. Do this in the week leading up to your flight. At home, at work, on the bus. Then on the way to the airport, on the plane, before and during take off, during the flight, and landing. It will definitely help.
If possible make the flight earlier in the day so you have less time to get nervous. Reduce your caffeine intake as much as possible, this was a struggle for me but I know it really helped.
Reframe the feeling of bumping about
One thing that I disliked a lot is turbulence or even just the normal bumping and shaking about that comes with flying. To help with this, in the lead up to the flight I took notice in the car, train or bus, whenever I was bumped about. I thought to myself: I’m not worried about this, this is a normal thing about travelling. If this happened on a plane it would be normal too, nothing to worry about. If you take notice, you experience and ignore much more buffeting about on a car journey than you do on an average flight. It’s just about reframing this experience and normalising it.
Sit at the back by the toilets
This one we stumbled upon by accident. We were sat right at the back of our Ryanair flight, when I wasn’t reading or chatting I was watching the constant activity of the flight crew, their little private jokes and movements up and down the aisles, miming drinks to each other to bring down as they’d run out, calling someone to help make change after a passenger had paid for a panini with a €50 note. I became quite fond of the flight crew just from watching them work, they seemed happy to be doing their job and I can imagine it is a busy and tiring job. Watching them was a brilliant distraction. On top of this, every now and again, people shuffled by to the loos, which was another distraction. Sitting at the back felt busy but not noisy or frustrating.There was also a free row in front of us which meant we had more leg room and I felt less constrained. We also managed to get off the flight very quickly out the back door and were straight through to passport control, we’ll be booking the backrow again!
Choose a book that is complex or interesting enough to really grab your attention. Make sure you’re already a few chapters in before the flight so you can just start reading. I wouldn’t start a new book on a flight just in case you don’t like it or can’t get into it. I had a nice book of critical theory and a book of poems, the opening poem was about the beauty of a plane flying into a gap in the clouds at sunset, so this was a nice thing to read on the flight. My other book on the way home was an Agatha Christie novel I was 3/4 way through. Perfect distraction!
Marvel at the view!
Leaving UK we had a perfect view of the Isle of Wight. It was beautiful seeing the whole island fit perfectly in the cabin window, to see the little ships dragging themselves slowly across to Portsmouth. The slow movement of life below. I’ve always found planes fascinating, looking up at them from the ground and wondering. It was nice to think that I’m up here now and people down on the ground are looking up thinking about where we’re going and where we’ve come from.
What actually happened on the flight:
Chilling on the back row, it was myself, my partner, and a lady in the window seat. The flight was totally fine, as we were late we taxied on to the runway and went straight into take off, without a moment for me to become nervous. Take off was exciting, the bumping and buffeting around stopped as the plane’s nose eased into the air. The weather was good and the views were beautiful. Everything was fine until we were coming into land in France. Due to the heat of the day, there were thermal updrafts near the runway which were causing turbulence. This meant the pilot could not make a clear approach of the runway. We had all been prepared to land but it was feeling quite rough and the pilot decided not to land. It was rather unusual as all of a sudden the engines whirred until action again and we tilted upwards. The crew made the annoucement about it being a missed approach. This alarmed a few people around us as we accelerated and banked to the right. People across from us (one of whom had been sat there crying during take off) started to throw up. Cabin crew had to rush about with a few sick bags. You can imagine, this was exactly the sort of thing I had been dreading. But I was actually fine. I took deep breaths, watched the scenery from the window (a gorgeous chateau with gardens, the fields, the snake of the river) and trusted that the pilot knew what he was doing. I felt safer thinking, yes people are in control of the plane, they’re doing their job, all is well. (silly though this sounds, it helped!)
As we were flying in a circuit to approach the runway from the other angle, we chatted with the woman next to us who was not at all bothered by any of it. She said, “I wouldn’t mind landing at some point, feel like I’m on a merry-go-round”. There wasn’t an ounce of panic in her voice at all, just the mild frustration, like she’d been delayed at a red light. A delay was all it really was. After we landed with a bit of a bump, applause struck up from the passengers and we came to a stop. A girl whose baggage was above our head came over to wait to get off and chat. “Ooof a few people suffered with that one didn’t they!?” She was totally fine and happy. No panic from her, no utter relief at it all being over. It was all fine. One member of the flight crew came by holding a sick bag, still with a smile on her face. Everyone around me was fine. Only a few had really suffered. And this wasn’t because the extra part of the flight was bumpier than before or the turning was sharp, it was just normal flying. People were being sick because they were anxious, having prepared themselves to land, we weren’t quite landing yet and this was disrupting. I realised it was more about experience (I’m sure the people who were nonchallant had been on more flights than I had). It’s about keeping yourself from suffering. I was really happy with the way I handled the landing after all my nerves about flying. I took deep breaths, looked out the window, carried on chatting with my partner and the woman next to us. I normalised the unsual feelings of being buffetted about and bumping at landing, thinking if I were on the bus, this feeling wouldn’t even register as scary. It was all fine. I was pleased to be off the plane but I wasn’t scared to get back on in a week’s time.
When we flew back I continued with my deep breaths and the whole flight was fine, even if the landing was once again a bit bumpy in the final approach (at least we only made one final approach this time!) There were some young kids sat behind us and the young girl was telling her mum how excited she was about flying, she said coming into land was her favourite part because she loved the sinking feeling, watching the ground rush up to meet the plane and the bump of being back on the ground.
What a lovely weekend it was and how long ago it now seems! Open Garden Squares Weekend was 18th and 19th June. Through a scheme called Remixed Borders, a collaboration between London Parks and Gardens Trust and The Poetry School a handful of poets were collected and then scattered across gardens all over London to write poetry and engage with those who use the spaces every day and those visiting just for the weekend.
I was very lucky to be sent to Branch Hill Allotments in Hampstead. Look at my little profile on the website! I chose this garden as I live nearby in North London and Hampstead has always been a favourite place of mine. I was attracted to the allotments because of the history of the area, the site was once part of the gardens to an Edwardian mansion owned by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership. As an ex John Lewis shopboy I was very happy to be part of the site’s history. John Constable lived nearby and painted a view across the allotments, John Keats wandered the area when it was still part of Hampstead Heath, Gerard Manley Hopkins lived down the road. Poets and painters were everywhere!
I made a handful of visits before the open weekend, these were arranged with Annie, my contact at the allotments. The site is on quite a funny corner, a little downhill from a handsome gatehouse which used to serve the manor house, there are black iron railings and only a the noticeboard inside the site lets on that this is the allotments. Annie would meet me at the gate and unlock it to let me in. We’d then stroll down the hill with the site unfolding to our right. The plots range in size and shape, they respond to the natural undulations of the land as the ground slopes down to the bottom lefthand corner, which was a pond in the past. I walked circuits of the allotments, thinking about the space, about what I saw, the huge crops of rhubarb, the bee hives. I especially loved seeing all the repurposed recycled, plastics and wood, reused on plots. Old kitchen sieves used to protect fruit from the foxes, fish netting to cover raspberries. All the compost bins full of homewaste with a whole little world of worms living in there. I chatted to those who were gardening (but was very careful not to disturb anybody and extra careful to not offer to shake anyone’s hand while they were wearing their gardening gloves, you only make that mistake once!) I loved the peace of the site and felt really priviledged to visit and write there.
Over the weekend I sat at a lovely table in the far corner of the site, meeting most visitors half way on their wander around, I chatted with lots of people about poetry and my time writing about the allotments. I gave out postcards which had poems on the back and print offs of the poems I had written about the allotments. Visitors were very kind and interested in my work and many were very happy with the postcards. I think I have around 6 left of the 50 I ordered.
The Remixed Borders project was such a wonderful opportunity for me and something I am so grateful to have been selected for. I’ll always be proud of my allotment residency as this was the first time I’ve undertaken a poet in residence scheme. I feel I have made connections with people at the allotments that will last and have also made friends with my fellow remixed borders poets.
This is one of my poems, Land
London is a marsh knitted together by rivers.
It is valleys with sharp hillsides and rocky outcrops.
I’ve already eaten my lunch at my desk as it’s been raining all morning. I’m still keen to leave the office for some cold fresh air. I cross Tavistock Square under my umbrella. Looking down at the weathered stone pavements, they look worn, shaped like a relief map of a landscape in Geography, bumpy and collecting little lakes and river deltas.
I walk on past the grand Church on the corner of Gordon Square, sandy yellow old stone stained and wearing away in the rain. I walk past the coffee guy with his little van he parks up each day, by the wooden benches that usually have students lounging about on. Waterstones is on the corner.
The building is a huge piece of gothic revival architecture. Ornate turrets with green copper roofs, stone relief work everywhere you look. It’s a huge statement of a building. Inside it is a large, multi-roomed sort of place. Most sections have their own little antechambers, military history leads on to world history, leads on to travel. I walk to my usual section, up the central stairs and to the right, into the poetry section, where they have a little armchair. I read across the rows and rows of poetry book spines, nodding when I see something unusual or especially good. I pick up a few books to read the first poem the book opens on. In this Waterstones, they mix in secondhand and antique books with the rest of their sections. It’s nice to see a few of the vinatge penguin poetry collections, with their vibrantly pattened front covers.
In the furthest corners of the buildings, the turrets provide reading nooks. The turret in the children’s section is a cosy nook festooned with toys and picture books, with a gorgeous view (even on a rainy day) from the casement windows out to the Georgian terraces on Gower Street. At a little table and chairs a dad goes through timestables with his daughter, waiting for the rain to slow or stop.
I don’t buy anything this time. I do another circuit of the building to avoid the rain, move down through the various categories towards biographies in the basement, next to the Ryman’s in house franchise.
I ready myself with my umbrella and swoop out onto the street, the rain steadily singing away above my head.
When I was 16 it was the year 2000. We had email and chat rooms then but nothing close to what we now call social media. We had to phone up each other’s landlines and ask our friend’s parents if they were free. We had to chat in hallways or our parent’s bedrooms, as the phones had to be plugged in. It was hard for me when I came out, as I’ve written about at length before. I was really lucky to have a best friend called Chris at that time who was also coming to terms with his sexuality. When we were feeling brave after school we’d go to W.H. Smith and look at Gay Times and Attitude. At that time it was a huge deal to be that open about it. Boys from our school would see us and laugh and shout at us, the usual homophobic things they shouted at me. They got away with it at outside of school just as easily as at school.
Sometimes I was brave enough to buy my own copies. In the letters page of one edition (I think Dermot O’Leary was on the cover) there was a letter from a boy called Tom, 16. He was talking about how lonely he was and how hard it was to be gay at school. I felt the same, obviously. I was being bullied severely which caused my depression, I was a mess, my parents didn’t know what to do with me. But that little letter in the magazine made me feel a bit less alone. At this time you could only go on the internet during times when someone wasn’t using the phone line so I used to stay up late on Friday nights to go online. Feeling brave on Friday night, I wrote an email to the editor of Attitude magazine, which was sort of like this:
I saw the letter from Tom in your previous issue. I am the same age and feeling very isolated. Would it be possible to be put in contact with Tom?
After I sent it I didn’t really think about it much. When I bought the next edition of Attitude I was reading it on the train sat across from a friend called James. Suddenly this cold chill panic feeling set upon me when I saw MY LETTER and my name Ed,16 on the letters page. James didn’t really understand what I was talking about and when I went to pass him the magazine, he didn’t want to touch it (not that me being gay bothered him, of course, but he didn’t want to touch a gay lifestyle magazine, he was a great friend). I had not at all intended for them to PRINT that letter. I was lonely and isolated and then all of a sudden, everyone knew. The editor answered my letter by saying that they could not put me in touch with Tom but in a few magazine’s time they would be doing a special on isolated gay youth. It made me feel lonelier that I was in print, my little glimmer of hope, that I might be able to even chat to someone. I do feel the editor could have replied directly to the email, instead of printing it in the magazine for everyone to see. When I was 16 I was so desperate for a boyfriend, to even kiss a boy seemed so impossible. I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen. Sending that little email was another way I thought maybe it could. I felt really embarrassed that all the grown up gay men, the ones in London and Manchester who had boyfriends and flats together would see my sad little letter and pity me. It was horrible.
A few days after the magazine stuff had happened, I got an email from someone out of the blue called Tom. He said that the editor had passed on my address even though officially he’d said he couldn’t. Tom only wrote very short emails but I wrote long replies, going into my interests, my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sheryl Crow, the film Cruel Intentions and Brian Molko from Placebo. How sometimes on Saturdays me and my friend Chris would go to London for the day to go shopping on Oxford Street and then walk around Soho. Tom only sent a few emails back and he didn’t tell me much about himself. But thatfirst moment of seeing his name in my inbox was amazing. Somehow he’d found me! I thought. I was so excited. I didn’t know what he looked like, who he was at all, but that didn’t matter because we had a connection because we were going through the same thing. After a week the emails stopped coming and then I was back feeling really down.
One evening after school I got a call from Chris. He’d called me to tell me that he was Tom. He’d set up a fake email account and started emailing me pretending to be him. At first it was such a weird revelation I sort of didn’t believe him and laughed. He’s jealous that I’ve found someone to chat to and maybe meet up with I thought. But when he said it all again, quoting some details from my replies about Sheryl Crow and Cruel Intentions, I started sweating against the phone at my ear. I was so upset and disappointed. I didn’t understand how or why someone would set up a fake email account with a different name. He said he was sorry. I was really upset and just wanted to know why he had done it in the first place. But Chris couldn’t really answer. He’d taken pity on me too. Looking back on it now, in a way it was a kind gesture that he had not properly thought through. He could see how lonely I was, and how desperate I was for a boy to notice me. And reading my keen replies he could sense I was starting to gear myself up to asking Tom to meet up and the consequences of his actions dawned on him. He was really sorry.
Chris and I were friends for a long time after this but we were, fundamentally, very different people. I was always more withdrawn and he was always the extrovert. Our friendship grew out of that secrecy we both had to keep as teenagers. Never telling our parents what was happening. Never answering questions about whether there were girls we liked.
I want to just say how glad I am that we have the technologies we have now, where we can meet each other through twitter, instagram, and dating sites. We can, if we like, hook up with people who happen to be nearby at the right time. It’s incredible. I’m not saying these opportunities are always positive, and don’t in themselves make people feel lonely in a different way but it’s better than the world I experienced.
These days there’s a whole television show about what is now called Catfishing, this is when people pose as someone else online and string along unsuspected lonely people. Catfishing is more than just a hotmail account, it’s fake accounts on Facebook full of pictures, with fake friends and family. Growing up in the year 2000, as I did, the loneliness and isolation I felt was very real and hard to live with, of course things aren’t perfect, but I’m glad things are at least different for teenagers now.