Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Short story: 'Buried' (the first piece of fiction I've ever shared online!)



Hello you. 

Well, this is something new; I'm sharing a short story of mine today. Which is a first. 

I wrote it last summer, as my final piece of work for Laura Jane Williams's 'Don’t Be a Writer, Be a
Storyteller
' writing course, where the prompt had been to write a short story inspired, somehow, by the prompt 'Woman in crisis'. And it features several generations of women, with the crisis affecting the woman 'off stage' so to speak, the Great Grandmother of the narrator. 

A narrator who - for the record - is not me! It's written in a similar tone to how I write here so I thought I'd just clarify before we begin that it's definitely fiction and not based on my life or family at all. (The photos aren't of my family members either, they're just part of my vintage paper collection!).

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that I hinted, in this recent post, that this story features the topic of conscientious objection. A subject I'm particularly interested in and one which I spent some time researching last year; which is how this story came to revolve around the revelation that ... well ... no ... I won't spoil it for you ... I'll just let you get on and read it for yourself.  So, please enjoy ... 

***

Buried: a story by Julie Kirk 


“I’ll never forget what she said to us on the day of me grandmother’s funeral.”

My own grandmother had paused leafing through an old photo album and with a nobbled finger was tapping at the image of her mother.

“There was me -” she concentrated, squinting behind bifocals, peeling away the years “- our Sally-Anne, Lillian, George-Henry – Georgie – you never met him, he was long gone before you were even a twinkle.” She nudged me playfully, her well-rounded but ageing flesh yielding to mine. “And, erm … who have I said? Me, Sal …” she silently counted, head nodding, trying to recall the names which had grown increasingly, maddeningly, elusive. “Did I say Arthur?” 

I shook my head, no, and the omission seemed to pain her. 

“Well, he was still with us then so ... yes, Arthur.”

And she set the scene: it was the morning of the funeral and she and her siblings were waiting for their mother in the front parlour, lined up as if on parade. As she began casting back, though I could feel the comforting weight of her against my arm, I felt part of her slip elsewhere. 

“There we all were, a bit sniffly and teary, missing Granny - even though she was right behind us, in her coffin - it was what people did in them days.” Then, like a film set collapsing around Buster Keaton’s ears, the intervening years dropped away, leaving her standing awkwardly in a cold street house in 1913.

“And mother looks us up and down” she went on “and says ‘Well, at least you’re all looking smart; no one can say owt about that’. That was it, all she had to say. Bugger that her mother was dead and her kiddies were sad. So long as we weren’t giving the neighbours nowt to talk about, she was happy.” 

Her finger struck the photograph, a typist hitting a full-stop. 

“Right stuck up bitch she was.”




“Grandma!” I mock-chastised. Not that the sentiment itself had surprised me, I’d always sensed the spectre of a rift, but it was more the rawness, the youthfulness, of it.

“What?” she asked defiantly. “No, no. You don’t know. Two of my brothers would be alive today if she hadn’t worried so bloody much what other people thought.”

“Well, maybe not quite, eh?” I said, meaning they’d be well over 100 by now, but, misunderstanding, she dug in.

“Listen, when that war broke out, the first one I mean, our Georgie couldn’t wait to get his head in an army cap. It was all he’d talk about, thought it’d be one big adventure.” she said, officiously polishing her glasses with a hankie. “Said he’d be off with his pals the minute the recruiters set up in the town centre.” she gestured behind her with the arm of the frames. “But, she wouldn’t have it, would she? Leaving home? Going off to war? Not her blue-eyed. Oh no!”

Apparently, a battle had then commenced within the walls of their two-up two-down and Gran described how my Great Grandmother had initially thought that ordering her son not to enlist would be enough to stop him. Then, when it became clear it wouldn’t, she’d tried ‘weeping and wailing for a week solid’ instead.

“But, he must have persuaded her, because ...” I flipped ahead in the album to a photo of lanky limbs trussed up in scratchy wool; Georgie as a Tommy.

“Oh, he went alright. But that was down to Mother seeing Alfie Monroe from a few doors down walking past in uniform. And well, that was that.” With a finger, she made slow circular movements against her temple. “Little cogs started turning. Got her thinking how impressive her boy would look in uniform, how everyone would look up to him ‘doing his bit’”. She shook her head in something close to disgust. “That dried her tears sharpish and he was signed-up by the end of the week.”

“Then once that novelty wore off she turned to Arthur. But he’d always been a gentle one - ‘Soft as shite’ me Dad used to say. And he wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t take a life. Said all the weeping and wailing she liked wouldn’t change his mind.”

Satisfaction rippled over her face as she recounted how, despite the pressure, from his parents, from men too old to sign-up, and even from ‘some daft girls up on Market Street who’d pushed a white feather into his pocket’, Arthur steadfastly refused to enlist.

“And then conscription came in, didn’t it? Kitchener wanted you” she turned to me and pointed “and he was going to bloody well have you, whether you liked it or not.” 

“So, what happened?” I asked, turning the pages to check if I’d missed a photo of Arthur in uniform. I hadn’t.

“He became a conchie.” she announced matter-of-factly. “An erm, what was it now, oh, err, an ‘Absolutist’, that’s it, that’s what called him. Couldn’t budge him an inch. Went to jail for it in the end.”

I was confused. Until then, Great Uncle Arthur was just someone who’d pressed a shiny coin into my palm, or conspiratorially sneaked me a packet of crisps during one of his post-pub Saturday afternoon visits to Gran and Grandad’s. As a toddler, I’d ridden on his shoulders; as a travel-hungry teenager I’d pummelled him for stories about his trips to Europe. And now I had to make space in my understanding for Arthur the conscientious objector, Arthur the prisoner.

When I told Gran that this was the first I’d heard of it, she hooted.

“Oh, she’d’ve liked that would Mother! Me keeping the family secret.”

She gave the photo album a nudge, sending a plate of digestives skittering across the table like a game of shove ha’penny. “She never mentioned him again after they put him in that prison y’know?”

I frowned sceptically.

“No. Not once.” she stood firm. “When he refused to do anything for the war effort she was ashamed. Wouldn’t visit or write, forbid any of us to an’all. Said he was good as dead to her.”

“What? Really?” I asked. “She didn’t.”

“She did.” she flashed me an ‘I told you so’ face and continued. “That’s what I’m telling you, that’s what my mother was like. And, wait ‘til you hear this, even when Georgie was killed in action, God rest his soul, she still wouldn’t have anything to do with Arthur. Could’ve welcomed him home, water under the bridge. Could’ve held one of her sons again. But no. Nothing.” she paused before delivering the final blow.

“The three of us left at home always said that the Jerrys killed one of our brothers and our mother killed off the other.”

“Oh Gran.” I sighed, reaching out to take her hand, but she gently waved me – and her own approaching tears – away. 

With a crack of cartilage, she levered herself out of the chair, walked around the table to rescue the biscuits from their precarious position on the edge, and wound herself forward in time a little.

“Y’know I never saw hide nor hair of him again until after the second war; 1947 it was. At her funeral.”

She came to a stop behind my chair and with arthritic hands, fingers bent at a right angle to the palms, held on to my shoulders.

“All them years of nothing and then there he was. Big and broad. Suited and booted. A proper man. Different, but when I looked in his eyes he was still there. Me big brother. And, do you know what I said to him, after all that time?”
I tipped my head backwards to look up into her face “Tell me”.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘You can take that off for a start’ and I pulled at his tie – posh one it was – in a big knot.” she smoothed her fingertips against my shirt collars as she spoke. “And I said to him ‘If you’re going to look all smart like that, what will anyone have to talk about?’”

“And, at first, I thought it’d been too long, been too many years in between, that he wouldn’t know what I getting at. But then he lifts his big hands to the top of my head and he says, ‘In which case …’ and he ruffles my hair into a right mess! I’d only had it set that morning. And, well, we must have looked a proper pair; him with his tie all skewwhiff and my perm like a bird’s nest. Mother’ll have been rolling in her box!” And she flipped my fringe loose from behind my ears with a laugh that sparked from deep within her.

“And then” she said, after the laughter had burnt out into a splutter. “Then, we held each other’s hand … and watched them drop her into the soil.” 

***



So - I hope that was a vaguely diverting ... erm ... diversion in your day. 

If you know someone who might enjoy reading it too, will you direct them towards it? Thank you, you're ace.

Feel free to leave me a comment either here, (or on Instagram where I'm @withjuliekirk), either: 
  • about my story;
  • about short-stories you think I'll enjoy;
  • about conscientious objection as a subject;
  • about your own family experiences of war ... or secrets ... or both;
  • or about anything else this post has stirred up in you. 
Thanks for reading me today. 

Julie 


Friday, 6 July 2018

50 Shades of Nay. How I'm ending my relationship with hair dye and embracing the grey.


Hey you. 

If you follow me on Instagram - @withjuliekirk - you'll already have a heads-up on this because I spent much of the day posting IG Stories while I tried out a hair dye removal cream in the hopes it would reveal the grey beneath. (Spoiler alert: it didn't).

(BTW: I've saved all of those stories in my 'Grey Hair' section of my IG ‘Highlights’ if you fancy watching me attempt to wrap my head in clingfilm. And why wouldn't you want to do that?)

So, yes, I've decided to share my flirtation with grey here and Instagram. And, because I'm not above using a terrible pun in telling you all about it, please welcome the new no-dye blog series I'm shamelessly calling... 50 Shades of Nay.



I don’t like being ‘found out’.

If I’m entirely honest, I find it weird enough when people know things about me that are general knowledge, so having people know something about me that I’m actively trying to hide is, at best, rattling.

And, having my grey roots breaking free and glinting shamelessly in the sunshine, revealing their natural naked selves to all and sundry, has come to feel too exposing. Too out of my control. Too furtive.

But rather than spur me on to do a better job at hiding them, maybe by buying one of those root sprays, I’m doing the opposite: I’m exposing myself.

No, wait. Hang on there. I didn’t mean it quite like that. Let me rephrase …
  • I’m no longer waiting for my roots to give me away.
  • I’m going to hide them in plain sight instead; by growing them out.
  • They’ll no longer be able to scream ‘grey roots’ when the rest of my hair is grey too. 
  • (Yes, I accept that going grey is going to bring with it its own delightful set of neuroses ... but I'm saving those for a future blog post!)

So, for the foreseeable future at least I’m laying down my disposable gloves, because I’m done dyeing.

I’m not ruling out ever turning to dye again. After all it can be fun. I mean, that’s why I originally started dyeing it. It was a relatively quick and easy way to play with my image, to temporarily become someone else and often, in doing so, step further into myself.

Thinking back, there's been:
  • The perfect peach streaks that delightfully appeared when I experimented with an all-over copper on top of blonde highlights.
  • The sharp red bob with a fringe the summer I took a film-making course.
  • The brazen burgundy streaks on a white hotel pillowcase, from where my hair was drenched in the rain the night I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet.
  • Plus all the shades of rich woods, precious metals and gemstones a shop shelf can hold.

But then, as more grey began to emerge, I started to leave the fun colours behind. 

The regrowth from those would leave me wearing three distinct colours
  • the dyed shade, 
  • my own dark-brown roots,
  •  … and the greys in between.
Which is when I took up cafĂ© colours instead, turning to ‘iced coffee’ and ‘frosted chocolate’. Which, as well as making me peckish, reduced the obvious distinction between the dyed lengths and my natural roots. Which offered less of an obvious regrowth and yet ... there were still the greys making their way through to the surface like an invasive plant forcing its way from the darkness of a tumbledown shed and out into daylight.

And then, more recently I've been using the underwhelmingly titled ‘Dark Brown’ as a cover-up and now - along with the enthusiasm of whichever copywriter named that shade - my desire to dye has just fizzled out.

(I suddenly feel like getting on my hands and knees. looking up to the sky, shaking my fists and yelling 'I don't wanna dye!!!!' But then ... maybe I breathed in too many fumes from the dye-stripper.)

My first step towards going grey: making the decision to stop dyeing. 

(AKA: Saying 'nay' to dye. Because '50 Shades of No' doesn't roll of the tongue as easily.)

The last time I dyed my hair was 11 weeks ago, on the 16th April (2018). 

Then I used a lighter brown than usual (probably called something inspiring like ‘A Lighter Brown Than Usual’) and it didn’t really cover the grey. So at that point, fed up with wasting the time, money and mental energy hiding grey had begun to take, I already had one foot out of the dyeing door.

Finally, when I got a fringe cut in, two months ago, a lot of the grey which had  - until then - been skilfully lurking beneath my parting was suddenly pulled front and centre. And became really obvious:


At this point I'd begun to think life would be much more streamlined if I just stopped worrying about going grey, and allowed it to happen. 

Kind of like a 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood approach to hair dyeing': Relax don't do it, When you want to go to it. Relax don't do it, When you want to ... erm .. grow out your grey. 

Or something like that. 

It was about this time that, in order to speed up the process, I genuinely considered either cutting it very short ... or just shaving it off altogether and seeing what grew back! 

I think I'm over that urge now.

However, the next time I see my stylist I will definitely be asking for something a bit shorter than usual. (I won't be mentioning shaving it off though, because judging by how excited she was when I got her to give me an undercut 2 years ago, I think she might leap at the challenge!)

So, yes, cutting it off is one way to get rid of the over-dyed lengths, but I'm impatient. And I hate the way you can see the grow-out line and so ... I turned to chemicals. 

My second step towards going grey: hair dye removal cream.

Faced with a calendar's worth of waiting for a full head of grey, I wanted quicker results and so I bought myself a hair colour remover product.

Ahem ... I may have taken the opportunity to take some super-flattering photos that - should I ever become a singer songwriter - I will consider for use as album covers. 

I turned to this method - the colour remover - not the stunning 'Old Towel Portraits',  mainly to remove the annoying band left behind from those lighter dyes I mentioned. 

If my hair is going to end up two-tone dark brown / grey for the next however many years it takes for me to go as white as all of the flesh that's suddenly gone on display during this heat wave, then so be it.

I'll call it zebra-hair and it'll be on-brand. 

But I don’t need black, white and a big four inch strip of  lighter brown too. Plus, if the remover managed to "Remove all types of dark colour build-up" - as was promised on the box - then all the better.  

However ... as anyone who's watch the Instagram Stories I filmed during this lengthy (and sulphurous) process will already be aware ... 

Reader, it didn't work. 


Rinse until the water runs clear it said.  The water ran clear from the very start. Nothing moved. 

So far, so disappointing.

But that's not all.

Not only did it not remove that band of lighter colour I was so keen to wave goodbye ... 

Reader, it brightened it and made it MORE OBVIOUS!!


I mean ...


I suppose there's a chance I could have better results if I go to the salon and have my stylist work her magic on it but, for now, I'm just going to live with it, and look for the positives (I'm digging deep for these, people. Deep.): 
  • the conditioning treatment it came with made my hair really shiny and soft, like after dyeing. Which I haven't had for the 3 months without dye so ... that's something
  • It's kind of, almost, blended out some of that annoying harsh regrowth line. That, or the colour's just so bright now it's dazzled my yes and I can't see straight!
  • And ... I got an unexpected new colour for summer! 


But all of this has now left me faced with the one method I was trying to avoid: patience. 

Because that's something I've got in abundance. *Rolls eyes so hard they vanish beneath my newly ginger fringe*.

But I'll give it a try. What choice to I have? 

In the meantime I'm laying down at the feet of the Pinterest gods and pinning images of all the stylish grey haired women I can find. 

To motivate me.

To stop me from slowing down in the 'Permanent Colour' aisle the next time I'm walking through Boots. 

To keep me going. 

To keep me going grey

------------------------

Now I want to hear from you
  • Have you let your grey grow out? 
  • How long did it take? 
  • How did you stay motivated?
  • What have you learned?
  • Did you go back to dye?
  • Has anyone had grey highlights put in to blend it through .... that's my next big plan! 
  • Anything else I should know?
Oh and ... 

If you dye your hair, please know this:
  • We can still be friends. 
  • This is a personal experiment based on aesthetics and a desire to be free of hassle ... it is not a moral/ethical/social judgement!
  • I am not going to become a militant pro-grey activist but I will be occasionally blogging and Instagramming my journey to the grey side!
So do get in touch - whether that's here in the comments, or on Facebook, Instagram, email, in the street (ew, on second thought maybe not, I don't do casual talking in the street.)

Under this newly orange, brown and white hair ... I'm all ears. 

Julie x 

p.s: Feel free to pin / share this image if you think your friends / followers would be interested in reading this. Thanks in advance! 

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Do you have an address book? No, not a 'Contacts' app. A real papery tabbed edge book?


Hello hello. 

Considering I haven't posted here in months the topic of this post is pretty appropriate. It's about communication. 

(By the way, I may not be here very often, but you can find me most days over on Instagram @withjuliekirk).

I'm sharing today something I wrote a few years ago - all about the role of the humble address book in our digital age - which first appeared in print in the ‘Pretty Nostalgic’ 2016 Yearbook.  And I reckoned that summertime - the time of souvenir postcards and 'Wish You Were Here', was a good time of year to bring up this subject with you ... so, tell me ... do you have an address book?



Addressing Life by Julie Kirk 


Do you have an address book?

I’m not talking here about the contacts in your email or an app on your phone. I mean a real address book. Old fashioned even. One made from paper with A-Z tabs along the edge. One which is there, on hand, to easily refer to whenever you feel the need to reach out to someone?

Perhaps you’ve never given them much thought, they’re just something you keep in a drawer most of the year, yet the average address book is not only a practical document containing information on other people it's also a chapter in the book about you.

Because if, as Shakespeare proposed [and goodness knows I’m not about to quibble with the Bard!] ‘all the world’s a stage’ and all the men and women merely players who have their exits and their entrances, then the humble address book is surely the 'Dramatis Personae' of our lives:
  • It's the cast of characters who have made an appearance on our personal stage; 
  • a platform featuring everyone from those with long standing starring roles in our biopic, down to the bit part actors who, like a character from Game of Thrones, we assume will be there forever but, in reality, don’t make it past Season One! 
  • And if you’ve been keeping an address book since you were a child then you’ll even have the cast list to the prequel in there! 
Until very recently I didn’t have an address book, or at least not one that I’d updated in the last decade. I’d grown used to storing addresses here, there, and everywhere from the back of a journal to the back of my head and at the bottom of my inbox. And yet I had a growing sense that I really ought to start keeping one again. After all I use pen and paper to house other things I want to store away for future reflection: ideas, lists, moments and memories; but I wasn’t doing the same for important things like addresses, phone numbers and dates.

Then idea of getting organised with a humble address book started to feel more appealing when I was planning my holiday last summer and I decided that, this time round, I’d connect with friends and family via the retro route: with a postcard. The scene I pictured, of writing out my ‘Wish You Were Here’s on a sunny balcony, was far more romantic without a contacts list open on a laptop screen in the background so in preparation I searched through emails for addresses to print off and scribbled down others in my travel journal. And I realised just how much simpler the whole endeavour would’ve been if I’d just had a straightforward, low-fi, address book to take with me.



So what happened to keeping the cast list of my life up-to-date?

All of this made me wonder why I didn’t already have an address book filled with those who’ve played supporting roles on my life’s stage; but it only took a brief flip through the one I’d abandoned to find the answer: the internet!

The most recent entries were from years ago including old university friends and even my boyfriend at the time; and the former I’m no longer in contact with while the latter’s home address has become much easier to remember since it became the same as mine when we bought a house together over a decade ago!

And it’s surely no coincidence that I stopped updating my book around the turn of the century; the same time that, like many of us, I began communicating via email and mobile phones. New technologies which not only offered alternative places to store people’s contact details but which gradually eroded the need to know someone’s street address in the first place. After all how many of us have reduced the number of physical greetings cards we send since Facebook made it so easy to leave a message on someone’s virtual doormat instead? Where we don’t even need to note down the date on which to leave the message as we’re reminded it’s someone’s birthday as soon as we log on!

Now, I’m no Luddite, I adore the wider world of friendship and opportunities the internet has opened up for us and many of my close friends are those I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting in ‘real life’ as yet. But if, like me, you enjoy playing a part in maintaining written communication in an increasingly digital age then together, between us, back-and-forth, we’re going to have to make sure that while so much is being sent to ‘the cloud’ we’re also sending tokens through the street, the post bag and the letterbox. And to achieve this then an up-to-date address book is going to be as vital as ever!

But wait … reports of the death of the address book have been greatly exaggerated!

Once I’d realised how much I’d neglected my own address book I started asking around for other peoples’ postal experiences. Many my age and older have grown up seeing a parent refer to an address book, a repository of family information, if only at Christmastime when writing out cards. And many of us with early stationery-addiction tendencies will have also kept our own even if it only contained addresses of the school friends we saw every day anyway or of pen pals and fan clubs. [Remember writing to fan clubs and sending postal order to pay for memorabilia? Now there’s a blast from the postal past!] 

We’re of a generation who became accustomed to there being one place in which we’d find the details we needed to write to someone, even it if was only when we felt a pressing need to swap some stickers!


So I did a little bit of research [ironically using the same instant response social media that’s had its impact on slow mail] and I learned that not only is the humble address book alive and kicking in the digital age, it’s actually being cherished by many as a vital document of their personal and their family’s history.

Two key themes recurred throughout people’s responses:
  1.  The first was that many of those address book still in use had been in their owner’s lives for so long that they were now falling apart
  2. Meanwhile the second was that, despite this fact, the sentimental attachment they’d developed for these notes about familiar characters meant they wouldn’t dream of ever getting rid of it! 
Descriptions such as “old and tattered” “battered”, “worn” and “falling apart” were frequently used by people who often admitted to having had their book for over 20 years. No doubt people will have been using those books since a new era in their lives was marked out by the buying of a first home, or getting married; that time in our adult lives when the responsibility for fostering the bonds between us and our life’s cast members shifts from our parents over to us. A time when we take on the role of keeper of the contacts!

“I’ve kept every one I’ve ever had”. 
But when those much referred to books were filled, what then? People told me that when dilapidation or lack of space dictated a new one must be bought, they still “couldn’t bear to part” with the original, stating they would be “lost without it”. It was almost as if throwing away an address book would be in many ways akin to throwing away family photographs i.e unthinkable, out of the question.

Because when we’re talking about something containing details from our long distant past, those addresses with rhythms so familiar on the tongue and the names so evocative of good times then we’re not just talking about a book that keeps us organised, we’re talking about a book that keep people and places and memories.

Unlike many of the other office supplies you might have laying around at home an address book is a living breathing family document that can elicit tender emotions. [I don’t know if anyone ever shed a sentimental, nostalgic, tear over a ring binder or box file, but address books certainly have that power!] 

It’s like Shakespeare said, on our stage people make “entrances and exits” and many people use their address books to note down names of new characters, spouses and children, who enter stage left as a family expands. 

Conversely there’s the ache of leafing through the pages and finding those who've exited the stage for good.
  • “The sad thing is” said one respondent “the people who are crossed out as they have passed away” while another told of how she’d never part with hers as it contained “the addresses of grandparents and others who are not with us any more”. 
And in my own book I found the address of a grandparent crossed out with a poignant final address, of a care home, written beneath. 



It was then I fully understood that address books are seemingly mundane work-a-day items ...
  • Until you begin to reflect on all those lives you’ve pinned down between its covers. 
  • Until it comes to crossing out an old address that had sentimental value to you, or the name of a friend from who you've moved on, or of a family member who's sadly no longer home. 
  • Until you find that you can't throw it, along with all those memories of people and places and moments, away. 
It’s only then that this underrated book makes known its deeper meaning.

A new tradition?

Now that I have a fresh new address book in which to restart recording the cast list of my life I won’t swear to never again rely on the quick search facility in my email to find an address, and I’ll certainly continue to keep mobile phone numbers safely tucked away on my SIM card; it’s just that I now have a back up.

In an increasingly digital world we can still make good use of paper and pen [or pencil for those among us who prefer erasing to the horrors of crossing out!] to store those more recent communication methods such as email and blog addresses, mobile phone numbers and websites. Because a tangible ‘real’ address book won’t crash on you, or become corrupted or, like our much relied upon, but ultimately vulnerable smart phones, it won’t be rendered useless after being accidentally dropped into a toilet bowl! And while I’m not saying it would be a pure joy to flip through those soggy pages after rescuing it from the watery deep, you would at least still be able to flip through it if you needed to look up Aunty Mary’s land line number in a hurry!

But not only is maintaining an address book a practical defence against third party damage, theft and general clumsiness, it’s a back up of our more personal memories too. As we live out our stories on life’s stage the address book is a means for us to reflect on all those who we’ve co-starred alongside already and to keep track of the cast of characters who will populate all the new chapters and scenes still waiting to be written. 


So perhaps it’s time we started a new tradition. 

Why don’t we start gifting young people their first paper address book when they turn 18, with an accompanying note to share why we believe, they’ll enjoy leafing back through it one day. [Although we might have to do some serious explaining to true ‘digital natives’ who’ve only ever known communication through Face Timing and Snap Chatting!] We’d be setting them up with a simple means of preserving memories of those characters who’ll inevitably drift in and out of their life story and the locations in which they were set.

Of course, if you don’t have one already, then give yourself the gift of an address book and start making documenting your own supporting cast. But if you do, especially if it’s one you’ve been neglecting while you’ve been busy tweeting and writing on people’s virtual ‘walls’, then why not open it up today and indulge in a few re-runs; a few episodes from your life, complete with that familiar cast of characters who’ve played a role on your own life’s stage. 


******

Before I go I want to thank all of those who contributed to my research on the topic! Thank you for sharing your own address book tales, you inspired me to write a full  feature from what began as the flimsiest of thoughts. As ever ... I learned that there is always more than meets the eye, and that sometimes the most simple questions reveal the deepest, truest, eccentricities that make us human. 

And please ... do drop me a line (here or via Instagram) about your own address book habits. Or any thoughts you have about the subject. 

And, if you do use both a papery address book AND Instagram, then do share a photo of yours!!! 
  •  Use the hashtag #myrealaddressbook
  • And tag me @withjuliekirk so I can see it and the inevitable comments your followers leave! (because, as I've learned from experience, you only need to mention address books and people start telling you about theirs!)
Julie x


(p.s: bundles of vintage postcards are now available in my Etsy store). 

Thursday, 1 February 2018

*Anxiety Episodes*: my anxiety as a TV show. Time To Talk day 2018.

'Anxiety Episodes' 
OR 'my anxiety as a TV show'

This was taken 7 days before the events in this story. In retrospect, those aren't happy eyes.

The scene unfolded like a page from a screenplay that had slipped loose from the pile and floated down into an average Wednesday morning before shouting ‘Action!’.

“You need to go home” she said, her arm outstretched behind her back, stopping her cigarette smoke from drifting into our conversation, on the chill November air.

“You need to go home, and you need to see your doctor” she repeated. Emphatically.

And there was something so sincere, unequivocal, about how she said it that, not only did I know that she believed me, it led me to believe it for myself. A case of “Shit, if someone outside my head can see the trouble I’m in … then I guess it must be real after all”.

Because, until that moment, sitting on a bench, talking to a work colleague, I hadn’t especially believed it.

I’d only starting feeling unwell on campus a week before that cold morning when I simply could not face going into work. Only three times I’d struggled to sit still in lectures, watched the clock, felt nauseous, crampy, sweaty. How can something that had only happened three times feel this insurmountable this quickly? How could it be real? It must all be in my head.

And it was:
  • it was in the constant, incessantly racing thoughts that impeded my ability to function, like a computer virus slowing down a laptop. 
  • it was in the negative self-talk that made me feel pathetic, childish, neurotic, for suddenly struggling with something I’d done regularly for over a decade. 
  • it was even in the positive self-talk I ceaselessly narrated while I was flailing. ‘You’ll be OK, this is nothing, you’re just exaggerating, you won’t pass out, you’ve been anxious before and never thrown up or fainted, just get through this next hour without jumping up, rushing out and making a show of yourself. OK, f*ck the hour, just get through the next minute, second …” and repeat until home. 
All of which had no effect, except to exhaust me.

So yes, it was all in my mind. But, funnily enough, your mind’s kind of a useful thing to have on board to get you through the day.

It kind of keeps the whole ship running. And if there’s a mutiny, well, nobody wins, you all just get scuppered, wrecked, pulled under with the tide.

But right then, when she said: “You need to see your doctor”, like Cinderella’s golden coach and snowy white horses, the reality of my mental illness suddenly materialised before me.

This thing was real. This wasn’t normal behaviour. Even for me. Something was wrong.

So, I did exactly as I was told. As instructed I went home and, the next day, I went to see my GP, who also believed my new – no longer a pumpkin – reality and signed me off work for a month. Just like that.

The explanation on the sick note read: ‘Anxiety episodes’. Which at least gives me the title for the TV drama, when I write it.

‘She’, by the way, is my closest colleague on the university campus where I’ve worked, part time, for over 11 years. Let’s call her Anna.

Anna is self-effacing, generous, funny (she can spin a good yarn, often complete with actions); the kind of person who knows everyone who passes by and who, somehow, also knows all their names, and they hers.

The kind of person who, without missing a beat, can turn someone’s month around, all while finishing off her morning ciggie and take-out coffee.

I’d been mooching around, unable to settle, when I spotted her outside and went down to join her. After waiting patiently, fake-smiling and laughing all the way while she chatted to one of the groundskeepers (who she knew by name, naturally) – I eventually did something very un-British:

When we were finally alone, and she turned and asked how I was, I didn’t say ‘Fine thanks’. I told the truth.



“I’m feeling anxious” I confessed, "And I just don't know why." then she pretty much intuited the rest.

“For no reason?” she suggested.

I nodded.

“And you thought if you came to talk to me it would help distract you?”

Another nod.

“But it’s not working is it?”

I shook my head half in laughter, half sadness.

That’s when she instructed me to go home and talk to my GP. Hell, she even offered to talk to the administrator in our office to explain why I had to go home. 

And – just like that – Fairy Godmother style again, there was the administrator, walking across the square in front of us. And Anna went over to her and the morning continued to play out like a TV show; now I was in one of those scenes where the protagonist can’t hear what the others are saying, but there’s enough gesturing and glancing in their direction to know they’re the topic of conversation. 

Then she was back by my side; obstacles magically removed; deal sealed: I was going home.

And I did go home. But, before I went, and before this story ends, let me tell you one more thing Anna did for me that day …

When I write ‘Anxiety Episodes’, (the hit TV series), it’ll include a scene that everyone watching will think is a little far-fetched, a bit on-the-nose, purely there for broad comic effect. Everyone, that is, apart from you, me and Anna because, we’ll know that it was 100% based on true events.

These events in fact.

While we were talking Anna’s student, a wheelchair user, arrived in the car park so we headed off to meet her. And there, while waiting for the student to get her belongings together Anna made me promise to text her when I was safely home, before uttering that simple, matter-of-fact phrase, often used by allies of the mentally unwell:

“There’s nothing for you to feel silly about” she chastised “You wouldn’t think anything about being off work if you had a broken leg, would you?”.

And, of course, she was right. Our society really shouldn’t still be finding mental illness so much harder to comprehend than broken bones, vomiting bugs and runny noses. But, it does. And, on that day, and for at least a few weeks afterwards, I did.

But, as I nodded in half-hearted agreement with her sentiment, Anna’s face changed, her eyes bulged, she tried to hold my gaze while wordlessly indicating something with a tilt of her head.

“I can’t believe it” she gasped. “Here’s me going on about broken legs and then …” the head gesturing grew more pronounced forcing me to turn around just in time to watch a student slowly, but determinedly, hobble past us …

… on crutches …

… with her a leg in plaster.

I swear!

So there we were. Two disability support assistants, trained to the hilt in inclusivity, loitering in a carpark while appearing to be – hang on, no, not ‘appearing’ to be – but actually, hooting with laughter at a hobbling student! Wheelchair to the left of me, crutches to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Anna, with the aid of the impeccable comedic timing of the benevolent universe, gave me laughter too that day. Right when I needed it.

And I hope the ripple reached you here. Have a smirk on us. And maybe pass my 'Anxiety Episodes' story along to someone who might need to hear it.


*** 

Thanks for pausing with me and Anna today. I should tell you that I’m feeling much better now, so there’s no need to be concerned about me. But I’m gratified to think it might have crossed your mind to worry.

Anxiety Episodes’ is my contribution to ‘Time To Talk’ day (1 February 2018), a campaign to tackle the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.

For more stories and information: 
And if you’re struggling with a mental health issue: 
  • please know that you are not alone. You might have your own Anna to confide in – even if you don’t recognise it at first. I’d never imagined how OK it would be to say it out loud until that morning. 
  • When our inner voices are telling us we’re useless and feeble, we judge everyone else through that filter. But most people are more understanding than we give them credit for. Plus others can be better than we are ourselves at appreciating that something’s wrong, as they have the benefit of distance and clarity. 
  • Alternatively, follow this link to the Time To Change resources page which contains many sources of information and support: 
  • And there’s always your GP. 
And if you're a potential Anna ...

  • if you're someone who might be able to listen without judgement and guide without criticism then, don't be afraid to engage.
  • You don't need to solve all the problems for whoever confides in you.
  • But listening, and even laughing, can be the perfect opening scene where someone can begin to share their story  ... 


Thanks for stopping by today.

Julie 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

2017: A Year in Bad Portraits



Hello you, and happy 2018!

As is now customary round these parts (this is the 5th year running), my first blog post of the new year is:
  • my factory reset for the ego; 
  • my rejection of photo filters;
  • my antidote to all the tasteful, vetted, photos of myself I've shared unapologetically throughout the previous year; photos like these: 

Because, after another year of carefully curating my selfies, today it's time to for me to share ...


My Year in Bad Portraits: 
The 2017 Edition.


(If you’re new to the project then do treat yourself to the gurning, gawping and glaring of previous years here: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016. I'll post links again at the end of this post so you can't possibly miss any of my ridiculous faces. You're welcome.)

Before I begin ...
... for some reason, this year there weren't so very many #BadPortraits for me to choose from. Not because I became miraculously more photogenic in 2017 - although, maybe I have learned more about which angles suit me! But for a few other reasons which I've narrowed down to:
  1. It might, in part, be James's fault. (Yeah, why not, sounds like a likely cause). In previous years, some of the worst photos of me were taken by my beloved (although goodness knows what that says about how he sees me) but he doesn't seem to take as many photos these days, so my awful stock-photography levels have been depleted. BTW: he makes an appearance with a #BadPortrait of his own later in this post. It's not one for the faint-hearted. Don't say you weren't warned.  And ... 
  2. My concept of what constitutes a 'bad' portrait has changed. Having done this for 5 years now, I'm getting used to seeing imperfect photos of me for longer than it would take for me to hit the 'delete' button. (Remember I even got to feature on Marie Claire UK with them?! They're hanging around out there.) And, in response, I'm becoming a bit immune! My ‘bad’ portraits bar has been raised so high that I have to look reeeaaallly bad for me to even notice.
  3. Plus - this year - I've started talking/appearing on my Instagram Stories (short videos that only last 24 hrs) and around 90% of the time on those I'm not wearing make-up and am often in my 'working from home no one will see me' clothes. So, again, I'm losing a level of self-consciousness and accepting what I actually look and sound like as just part of the 'real' me behind the careful social media presentation. 
Case in point: 

All that aside ... there were plenty of perfectly imperfect portraits on my hard-drive so how about we dive in?

As ever, you are free to laugh at these! In fact, please do, because otherwise ... what am I even doing here?! 
  • If you can see it - it's fair game: of course there are some shots throughout the year that don’t make me laugh, that make me feel awkward, weird, or unattractive. I don't share those ones, and so you're safe to laugh at the ones I do! 
  • This project is never about body-shaming or self-critique. At worst it's self-deprecating ... at best, it's a healthy self-assessment, and I share mine in the hope that it'll make you feel better about yours
So, let the guilt-free voyeurism commence ...

My Year in Bad Portraits: 
The 2017 Edition.

The glamour of 'Champing*'
I can honestly say that, in my 40+ years, until the day this photo was taken, I had never undressed in a church before. I mean, I might have taken my coat off on occasions, but even then ... that would have felt a bit risque. But, when James and I spent a few days Champing (*camping in a church) last year, I learned just how quickly I can take off one item of clothing and replace it with a nightie (And a dressing gown. And a vest. And a hat. And bedsocks.) in order to mitigate the sheer unrelenting awkwardness of  - I'm just going to say it - of having my boobs out - in front of saints and angels.

And wasn't the end result a glamorous one? Not for us an anniversary spent at a fancy hotel!
For the record:
  • Yes,the door was locked. 
  • No, there was no congregation in at the time ... 
If you'd like to see more photos (and a couple of videos) from Our Great Big Anniversary Champing Adventure then do visit the blog post I wrote all about it.

This next one was taken in MIMA gallery where I spent part of the summer writing, and co-hosted a Snipped Tales workshop for the dementia friendly craft group there, as part of my stint as Writer in Residence.

And don't I look professional?

That thing I'm doing there - the whole looking upwards and away thing - is not, sadly, an isolated incident. Whatever look it is I'm aiming for ... be it 'really engaged in my surroundings', 'dreamy', 'wistful' or whatever, it never works. So why am I a repeat offender?

Exhibit B:'First her eyes rolled up into her head ... then she started doing impersonations of a chicken' ...  

No, I don't know what's happening here either. Let's blame James again shall we.

And, apparently, when my eyes aren't trying to escape my skull, they're glazing over instead ... 

Here I am stumbling bravely over that fine line between the pose that says 'I'm a deeply pensive woman' ... and the one that says 'that evil witch made good on her threat to turn me into mannequin':
I mean, for someone who generally can't sit still for two minutes, in these photos I'm doing a pretty good impression of something made entirely from fibreglass.  

And, when I wasn't playing the mannequin in 2017 ... I was in charge of making one speak ... 

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me introduce to you: Little Fitz and his ventriloquist dummy Ziggy:  
No, there isn't anything I'd like to reveal to you about my private life. And no, this isn't how I generally dress at the weekend, honest guv, but this long weekend away in a cottage with friends (yes Jean, that includes you! I know you'll be reading this!) had a Murder Mystery theme.

Jean had bought a mystery game in which we each had to take on a role and find a suitable costume to bring with us. I played 'Little Fitz' (and Ziggy, because my acting talent is nothing if not versatile), and managed to source everything except the trousers (a loud check pair I found in a charity shop) in my own regular wardrobe. My instructions stipulated a bow-tie ... and I even had a choice between two. (I opted for silver in the end, because, why wouldn't I?)

What exactly does it say about me that - at the drop of a hat - I can open my cupboards and dress like a 1900s Musical Hall performer should the whim arise? 

And it''s all - literally - fun and games when you're trying to make people laugh with your appearance, but it's not such a joy when you're not ... 

Sometimes you think you're rocking '60s Beat poet in smoky Parisian cafe' chic ... when you're actually more like 'toothless French poet gets door-stepped by paprazzi':

Ah, the gap between intention and outcome. That can really punch you where it hurts!

Similarly, judging by these next two, things go strangely awry when my intention is to convey how happy I am ... and yet, what gets captured instead is this ...

I call these my 'Wow, Julie looks thrilled' poses:


Because, the thing is, I was happy, on both those occasions. The left one was taken before we went to a comedy performance, and on the right I'm standing in front of the first Snipped Tale to feature in a public exhibition!

I genuinely was happy. It's just ... no one had told my face.

Same again here.

  • I'm purely trying to get a decent shot of myself. 
  • I am not under duress. 
  • No one is bothering me. 
  • I'm entirely alone ...

So why do I look snotty, and disapproving, and all 'Errrm, excuse me? Can I help you?'
Surely there's someone out there working on an app that can talk to you while you're taking selfies ... one that drops gentle, friendly hints like 'Hey Julie, you might want to stop frowning at invisible people' ...

The next couple of shots are from a time when I wasn't alone, and when the other person with me definitely wasn't invisible. And while they're not strictly 'bad' portraits ... you'll be able to guess why neither made it on to my Instagram grid - @withjuliekirk - in 2017.

Part 1: The Photo Bomb
To quote Sophia from the Golden Girls 'picture the scene' ... it's a Saturday morning, in our hallway, and - as is often the case - I'm trying to take decent 'Outfit of the Day' shots, to share on Instagram.

And then, with my camera propped up on the pew, and set on a timer, this happens ...

But ... two can play at that game Mr ... 

Cut to a month later, same hallway, same day of the week, same posing for an outfit of the day shot, only this time, the tables are turned ... 

Part 2: The Photo 'Bum'
Genuine conversation in our house last week:
  • Me: "I've been looking through photos for my Bad Portraits post and there's one of you, on the stairs, tying your shoe lace, and well, you're jeans are a bit low. Are you OK with me using the photo? ... It's not that bad ... my finger is covering most of your bum crack".
Reader, I showed him the photo and he agreed to let me share it with you all. Feel free to judge his exhibitionist qualities as you will. 

And, while we're in the hallway, here are another few, taken in the same spot, that I took by accident. Obviously. Because who would deliberately pose like this? 
There's something a bit creepy, voyeuristic, about that left hand side one. Like it was taken by someone hiding under a bed or something. *Shudders*. (It was actually my phone propped up in a shoe and my hoodie had slipped over it, which isn't so sinister after all.)

And from ones I didn't pose for , to one I kind of did ... 
Here I was trying to capture the strange new hair growth  that I've noticed in the last few years. Before you ask - no - it's not pregnancy related, I've had it for around two years now and, last time I looked I wasn't an elephant, so I think we can rule 'gestation' out as a cause.

It was almost like I turned 40, got lots of presents, a big cake ... and a second fringe.

I reckon it's 'hormones', because isn't it always? I might stop trying to photograph it though; that level of close-up does no one any favours.

As for these two near-identical poses ...

I'm calling these 'Oh Jesus, did I lock the back door?' and 'Mardy teenager gets asked to do the washing-up':

I honestly don't know what happens to my face once it becomes aware that I'm trying to capture it! Although - I should make it clear that with these I was capturing the shots in a public space and ... I don't know ... I know I share a lot of photos here, and a lot of people see them, but ... it doesn't make me any less self-conscious when snapping photos when I'm possibly being observed by strangers.

I mean, who wants to grin and pose all perfectly perky? I mean who would do such an annoying thing?? Who???

Oh yeah ... me:
Don't take this the wrong way but - when I look at the Julie in this photo - I could just give her a swift kick. Nothing too violent, but just enough to stop her being so painfully perky. 

Of course, the difference between Perky Julie and Glazed-over-emotionless-android-Julie selfies is that no one can see me in my hallway! It's far easier to attempt to be human from the privacy of your own home. I'm a much less convincing human in public.

However, my true self can probably be found somewhere between the overly keen Julie above ... and  the overly emotional Julie below ... 

This pose is called 'Julie watches Billy Elliot the Musical for the first time - particularly the bit where boy-Billy dances with adult-Billy': 

Oh man. That show. It drained me and filled me up at the same time. 

I love the film version. Jamie Bell's performance in the Town Called Malice scene is a perfect 3 minutes of cinema. If he never performed another creative act that routine alone is lifetime's worth. And so ... I'd always - wrongly - expected a 'musical' version to be a bit, well, tacky

Then I watched it. And I cried. And cried. And made everyone I know watch it too. Then they cried. 

I've never been happier to have been proven wrong! 

And now, after all that crying ... let's just check that there's nothing untoward happening in the nostril area ... 

Because no year of #JuliesBadPortraits would be complete without an up-the-nose shot. You're welcome:
What was I thinking? Well ...
  • I was thinking: wouldn't it be nice to get a shot of me walking along the road, in the snow, beneath this clear blue sky
  • But I was also thinking: yes, that would be nice but ... I don't want all the people going past in cars to think I'm a total narcissistic tit who takes selfies while walking down the highstreet in the snow. So I tried to be surreptitious and hold the phone low down. Which resulted in nostril central here. Mystery solved. 
Of course, the irony is that - as much as I don't want people to catch me taking selfies in public - I do rather defeat the object of all that coyness by then collecting them altogether and broadcasting them online! 

Even the bad ones! 

*** 
So ... there you have it - my 2017 in Bad Portraits - I hope you enjoyed them.  Let me know your best of my worst in the comments!

Now, this is where I usually set out the rules for if anyone wants to play along (only photos of yourself, no body-shaming, the photo MUST make YOU laugh first) but ... no one ever does join in. Not that I blame you. It's not for everyone.

But ... if you fancy giving it a go during 2018 here are my tips:
  • Ease yourself in by simply not immediately deleting the awful shots. 
  • Let them hang around in your phone for a while.
  • If they make it that far ... save them to your laptop/harddrive/cloud.
  • Set up a 'Bad Portraits 2018' folder and start dragging them over into there.
  • Add to the folder throughout the year.
  • Delete any that make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Keep the ones that make you laugh, that free you up a little, that make you see the absurdity that is being human!
  • If you feel brave enough - drop them into a blog post sometime in January 2019! 
  • OR if you share any on Instagram - no matter what time of year - use the hashtag #juliesbadportraits or #badportraits and let me know @withjuliekirk and will hop over to look/laugh along with you. 

Thanks for dropping by to see me in this shiny new year. May 2018 bring you all that you wish for yourself ... plus good camera angles.

Julie x
*** 

Psssssst, before you go: if you've ever missed any - fear not - here they all are again:







 If you're a pinner will you save this to Pinterest to spread the #BadPortraits word? Thanks!

#BadPortraits 2017