A FORGOTTEN LIFE, REMEMBERED

 

There have been a few articles that have caught my eye recently about people who have either vanished intentionally, or who have disappeared some other way.  The first is this one, about a gentleman called Henry Summers, who lived on Easter Road in Leith.  Mr Summers was found dead in his flat, after three years in which nobody noticed or cared that he was no longer around in the neighbourhood.  It’s sad, and it happens sometimes – fortunately not too often, but for those lonely people who go undiscovered, it is a miserable death.  A former friend worked for a housing association, and they told me that sometimes, when they are asked to carry out an eviction, they turn up and discover that the rent’s not been paid for years because the tenant has died in the flat.  Not a pleasant discovery.

But Mr Summers’s story has a few twists, mainly in that people thought he was someone else, or two people, or that someone else was him.  It didn’t help that another Mr Summers, of a similar age, lived on the same road.  It turns out that that wasn’t too unlikely, as Summers was a common surname in the area.  Still kinda weird if you’re the other Mr Summers and everyone thinks you’re dead, though.

I had a similar problem in my 4th year at university.  I received a letter from the Student Loans Company informing me that my loan had been stopped due to me leaving my course.  Being an OCD sufferer, my brain went into overdrive.  What if I couldn’t buy food or pay rent?  What if I get evicted?  Have I been kicked off my course?  What did I do?  It turns out that someone else with the exact same name, date of birth, and in the same local education authority as me had dropped out of their studies at a college in Leicestershire.  I spoke with the SLC over the phone and convinced them that the had the wrong person.  Our names were next to each other on the list, and I can see how the mistake was made.

Something like this happened to a woman living in New York City, when somebody else kept stacking up driving offenses on her license!  Due to the way the system works (or doesn’t), the best thing she could do was pay the fines and hope she didn’t get any more (she did).  They did eventually meet, and the other Lisa Davis finally found out why her speeding tickets had mysteriously vanished off of her record so many times…

I find it more shocking that things like this happen so rarely, if you consider how many people share common names, and that coincidences around birthdates, hometowns, careers, etc. appear to occur quite frequently.  Maybe the system does work!

Mistaken identities aside, there are those who go missing and are never found.  Some intentionally, but not always.  The Missing Persons Bureau has people on their records going back over 50 years, and at present there are approximately 1,000 people on their database who remain unidentified.  As well as these, 250,000 people go missing every year.  Most are found, but many are not.

Here in Manchester, we had a recent local mystery, which could have been the plot of an Agatha Christie novel.  An elderly man arrived in Saddleworth, asked for directions to the top of the mountain, and was eventually discovered at the summit, dead from strychnine poisoning.  Just from those few facts, this looks seriously weird, and like there must be more to his story.  For months he went unnamed, until someone identified him as David Lytton, a British man who had lived in Lahore for many years.  Little else is known about him, and his death near to the Dovestone Reservoir remains a mystery.

In the town where I grew up, a young man was washed ashore, and found by passers-by, drenched in sea water and unable to speak.  While we were used to odd things happening there (it’s just one of those places, trust me), this was pretty epic, even by our standards.  He was taken to hospital, and given a pencil and paper.  He drew an elaborate sketch of a grand piano.  It was rumoured that when taken to a piano, he than played beautiful and complex pieces, but reports differ.  The local press dubbed him the “Piano Man”.  Eventually, he spoke, and was identified as Andreas Grassl, a 20-year-old German citizen who had gone missing four months earlier.  Today, little is known about how he ended up on Sheerness beach, although it is believed that he had planned to take his own life.

All of these tales are stories of intrigue, and sometimes tragedy.  While each of us considers our own life to be of high importance (whether we admit it or not), there is a chance that we may find ourselves in circumstances where there is no-one to look for us, or we cannot be found, or we cannot help ourselves.  If I went missing tomorrow, who would look for me?  And how likely is it that I would be discovered?  I have few living relatives, although I hope that at least some of my friends might enquire after my whereabouts.  What if I move abroad, or grow old alone?  That’s a more common scenario for today’s citizens than it has been at any other time for many centuries – who is going to keep track of the elderly millennials?  And what memories will we have to pass on to future generations?  I hope that I live an exciting enough life to get at least a full-page obituary, just not any time soon.

 

OLD MONEY

 

The Conservative press are currently doing everything they can to pander to the irrational beliefs of the Brexiters.  This week’s hilarious piece of rose-tinted nonsense is the possibility of bringing back Imperial weights and measures for consumer transactions.  In spite of the fact that we no longer buy all of our food from local shops where they weigh it out in front of us, and that most people don’t even think about pack size in more detail than “big”, “small” or “serves 4”, the desire of the blue-rinse brigade is to take our shopping experience back to the 1950s.  And who can forget those halcyon days when we had polio, an outside loo, and no telly?

Apparently there are also rumblings about restoring pre-decimal currency, and since we’ve already begun devaluing the pound by voting for economic hari-kiri, we might as well go one step further and properly screw things up by taking the economy back to the 1970s.  My dad often claims that imperial weights & measures are simpler to use, and that “old money” is easier to understand.  The argument goes along the lines of:

“Well, when I was younger, that’d cost two-and-six.  You can’t get that in new money, eh?”

“You can, it’s 30p.”

“Well, that’s devalued because there used to be 240d in a pound and now it’s only 100p.”

“The two systems use different base units and you also have to take account of inflation.”

“You’re talking a load of mumbo-jumbo there, it was all a con, old money was worth more, etc, etc.”

and then…

“But how can decimal measures be more accurate?  I used to go to the butcher’s and ask for 2lb of lamb chops and now they sell me 908g, or 902, or 976 – what’s accurate about that?”

“Well, that’s more accurate….”

Anyone who’s grown up with the metric system, or works with it every day in their study or employment, will know that YOU LITERALLY JUST DIVIDE AND MULTIPLY EVERYTHING BY TEN; IT’S THAT SIMPLE.  But apparently it’s easier to work in a combination of base 12, 14 and 16, than base 10 in which you add or remove zeroes.  Well, obviously this isn’t true, but there’s a reason older folk are clinging to pounds, shillings pence, feet, yards, and furlongs.

Well, a few reasons.  But look at how they see the problem.  Up until 1971 (and for a good while after), they were using a familiar system that had “nice” round values, like “roughly 1lb of jam”, or “just over a quarter of humbugs”.  And then they had to change to a system that turned their simple approximations into intimidating not-whole numbers.  Even though the quantity was exactly the same, this new degree of precision came across as an unnecessary complication.

And it was a change foisted upon them.  I don’t know much of the popular public opinion in the early 1970s, because I wasn’t born then – so the fuss may not have been as great as legend makes it out to be.  I know plenty of older people who are quite happy with the metric system and decimal currency, but there’s a sizeable amount of older people who aren’t.  Articles like the one I linked to in the first paragraph serve to garner sentiment that the old ways were better, and so we end up with the situation we have now.  It makes little sense to those of us who think the metric system is so wonderful, but it’s become an emotional argument out of a practical one.  Initially, it was a change that took time getting used to, and was probably met with some resistance.  But now its become a movement to restore things to the way they “should” be, tied up in rhetoric about the The Good Old Days that never really existed.

From a business and scientific perspective a return to Imperial weights & measures, and pre-decimal currency, would be an expensive mistake.  But we know exactly what the British public think of experts (as evidenced by the outcome of the referendum, among other things), and so that argument carries little weight.  While I disagree with their views, I do think it’s important to listen to the Blue Rinsers thoughts on this, and have conversations with them.  Much of the EU referendum campaign was people from both sides yelling into the void and not engaging in discussions with their opponents.  Changing people’s minds is really bloody hard, and ultimately you have to allow them to do it themselves.  But our present tactics failed us, and we’re in a bit of a pickle now, aren’t we?

 

LOSING MY RELIGION

 

Maybe the title of this post is a little inaccurate.  I never really had religion inside my heart or my mind, but it was very much a part of my life as a youngster.  I grew up in an isolated community in which the church played a big role, and even though I attended non-faith schools, religion was still ubiquitous.  In my first two schools, the legal requirement for an act of daily worship was strictly adhered to; we regularly had visits from church groups to teach us dubious moral lessons, and religious dogma permeated the syllabus.  And this was in an ordinary, non-faith school system.  I’ve heard of the experiences of those who did attend religious schools, and their stories range from the casually harmful to the downright monstrous.  In addition to the formal aspects of education, the ethos of the schools was very much focused on discipline and shame.  We were not educated about drugs, alternative lifestyles or sexuality, or even about our bodies and sex in anything but the most clinical and limited terms.  I think the idea was that if we were shielded from it, we wouldn’t do it (this presents a kind of magical thinking about the teenage brain).

My family were incredibly religious, attending church at least twice a week.  My childhood was overseen by good old-fashioned Christian discipline, with certain topics off-limits for discussion (anything about the human body, sex, or social injustices), and certain viewpoints the unquestionable truth (homosexuality = bad, nuclear family = good).  The way this was instilled within us was by fear.  Disobedience or blasphemy (yes, as a child I was instructed to limit my speech, and by extension, my thinking) were punished by a beating, or at the very least by being yelled at.  No opportunity for reflection was given, so that I could figure out what I’d done wrong – I just learnt to know what I could get away with around whom.

Throughout my school career, there was a noticeable divide between those who had religion, and those who didn’t.  Although our community was cut off, plenty of families were more outward-looking and didn’t get caught in the trap.  At the time, I thought that the children from those families were mean and spiteful and bad.  So it was a difficult dance to perform at school – I wanted to have friends, but I also knew that the kids I wanted to hang around with were prone to taking the piss out of the religious, and it made me feel really small.  Even though I didn’t believe in it, there was a feeling of “wrongness”, like these words were a personal attack on me.  In these situations I just kept my mouth shut and hoped they would stop, and (please, please, please!) not turn their attention on me.  Not having anywhere to turn while trying to leave religion behind was so awkward for me.  I wish that I’d discovered atheist groups before my thirties, my formative years could have been so much more enjoyable.

In my late teens, a family friend encouraged me to get confirmed.  By this point in my life I was unsure how I felt about religion, but it was something that we just “did”, so I went along with it.  Unfortunately this then imposed all kinds of expectations on me, that I would attend church more regularly, that I would take communion (I felt so uncomfortable about this – like I had been coerced into a ceremony I felt no connection to), that I would live my life in a certain way, and most insidiously that I would “find some new friends”.  I toed the line up until the first opportunity arose that gave me a chance to leave, which was going to university shortly after I had turned 18.  My parents were dead against it (it’s a dangerous world, there are all sorts of bad influences out there, etc, etc), but I already had a reputation for being headstrong (I wasn’t really, I was just normal, but my parents didn’t want to have to deal with “normal”).

So by the time I arrived at uni almost 20 years ago (I know!), I was simultaneously glad to be free, and quite fearful of the myriad opportunities for transgression that were available pretty much as soon as I was left alone in a strange city for 5 minutes.  I wasn’t good at making safe choices, or controlling my impulses, because I’d never been allowed to make mistakes as a child.  Religion may well keep its adherents on the straight and narrow, but only because it prevents them from figuring things out for themselves.  Take someone out of that environment, and they have a LOT of catching up to do.  I was all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and very little study.  I learnt so much about myself that first year away, but I did it the hard way.  I made all my social mistakes at once, and got myself into some rather sticky situations that I found it difficult to extricate myself from.  I discovered that left alone to develop my own morals and beliefs, I was becoming quite a different person to what my parents had told me I was.  My year 1 flatmates didn’t really like me, and one of the reasons we didn’t get on was that I just wasn’t at the same stage of development as them.  I went it alone a lot of the time, and didn’t always reach the healthiest conclusions.  I would never have wanted to admit at the time that I was vulnerable, but I was.  I wasn’t self-aware or resilient enough – if I had been, I’d have dropped religion a lot sooner.

By this time religion was just something that one did, I certainly didn’t feel an attachment, or find meaning in any of it.  There had been times in my teens when I had enjoyed the collective euphoria of a religious service, or the community aspect, but I never really believed it.  I assumed that other people at church must have felt the same way, but I’ve since met many people of whom it is clear that they really do believe (I try to understand their views, but it’s almost like the “religion” part of my mind doesn’t really work.  The “philosophy” part, however….).  I wonder if the first red flag occurred with Santa Claus.  See, I hear of many stories when someone first realised that Santa wasn’t real.  Well, I don’t have that memory.  Santa was spoken of in our house, I was told the stories about him delivering all the presents on 24th December and sneaking in down the chimney to drop them off, and many of my Christmas presents were “From Santa”.  But even my 4- or 5-year-old self knew it was a crock of shit.  I clearly remember knowing while that age that Santa was just a story.  As was the tooth fairy.  But the thing to do was to play along because it was kind of fun, and involved getting presents.  This could well have laid the foundations for my shallow acceptance of religion growing up.  I knew that with non-religious peers and adults, I could do and say one thing, and with my family or at church I must do another.  It was complicated by the overtly religious nature of my schooling, because the lines between religious instruction and the real world were blurred.  I had to discern which role to play in which circumstance, so while I lacked some social skills, I became very good at reading people’s intentions.  I also knew how to give people what they wanted, which became dangerous as I also learnt that I should always please others.  That’s a hard one to shake, and I’ve still not really got there.

One thing that I really struggled with was that adults who knew the family, even if they weren’t religious themselves, had expectations of me being religious.  I had to act out scenes which I really didn’t believe in.  It felt hypocritical.  I felt uncomfortable going through the motions, because I knew it wasn’t me, but I also couldn’t tell my parents how I felt – they totally lost it if I repeated a religious joke, so telling them I thought it was bullshit was probably not going to go down well.

So I was away from home, feeling gratitude that I could live my life the way I wanted, but also still holding on to some “god-fearing” beliefs.  To this day, I have anxiety about taking the Lord’s name in vain, even though I know it’s entirely inconsequential.  It’s like I retained all the bad bits and lost any good bits from religion (fortunately there aren’t that many).  Over the years my confidence grew, and I’m a lot more outspoken about my beliefs.  I also don’t put up with other people’s false assumptions about me.  I only wish I’d managed this quicker than I did.

I used to hold some really objectionable opinions that were completely baseless when I actually thought about them logically (for example, I inherited – and subsequently disinherited – homophobia from my parents, while also knowing that it was a stupid and harmful belief.  That’s cognitive dissonance for you!).  And that was one thing that changed in my mindset – I had no problem logically seeing that the religion itself was a fantasy, but the baggage that came with it went unquestioned until I was out of the bubble.  Deconstructing these beliefs and opinions also took time, but it was a necessary process.  My politics and views on oppressed minorities are so changed that my personality is unrecognisable now, and I cringe at some of the views I held up to be true.

Actually leaving religion – that was the hard bit.  I had no resources to safely get away, or to prevent well-meaning family from trying to rein me back in.  Leaving home was the only way that I could do it, and it had to be far away.  Living just down the road would not have been enough distance.  It’s one thing that makes me wary when people mock the religious: like at school, when kids from the more enlightened families would poke fun at religion.  I shared their views, but I could also tell that they saw me as one of the religious types.  The joke kept me in my place.  Having met many people who’ve desperately searched for a way out, I exercise caution in this respect.  Sure, it’s one thing to ridicule from afar, but how many closet atheists are we preventing from finding freedom?  We have to be welcoming to those who retain their faith, to those who question it, and to those who we have no idea of their intentions.  Leaving religion is a journey, and there’s no set course.  Assumptions harm, and as skeptics we should be especially wary.

DIARY OF A SIMPLE MIND

 

Because I’ve been going back over old posts, to check that they’re formatted correctly (oh yes, there is some spring cleaning going on!), I’ve also re-read a lot of things that I posted over the first two years. It’s interesting looking back, but it was part of a mammoth task that won’t go away (changing my WordPress theme caused me a world of pain – there’d have to be something really special to make me do that again). I noticed that the further back the posts went, the more simplistic they were, and they were more likely to be reblogs of other content.

A part of this is that my writing style has just developed anyway since then (if I’d gone backwards, I’d worry), but when I was mentally healthier I used to be able to trot out opinion pieces like magazines were going out of fashion (turns out they were, hurrah for the Internet!). With the fog brought down by depression, I could actually feel the cognitive decline. It was scary – a part of my OCD is hypochondria, and I believed I had a neurodegenerative illness. But the inability to concentrate, and poor memory, are symptoms of depression, which is a far more likely cause in someone of my age.

And while earlier pieces might not have been that original, or very well constructed; they’re a part of my recovery, and so I will leave them as they are. Maybe I’ll look back on this post two years from now and think this is a load of crap. And here’s hoping – if I can be an even better thinker in future then I’ll be a happier & better person.

 

SCHOOL DAZE

 

I’d been reminiscing about a few things from my youth of the 80s / 90s, and it turns out that just about everyone on the Internet is too.  I began high school over 20 years ago (this thought TERRIFIES me – babies born in that year are now old enough to go to the pub, and some of them are parents themselves – or grandparents where I come from, hehe).  I’ve found some really good articles by others, so follow the links below to relive your misspent childhood!

Clicky The First: The Power of Style | Things I Wish I had Known When I Was 15

Ah, when all around us are writing serious lifestyle pieces about our own teenage mistakes, thank f*ck we have someone who just wants to take the piss.  Although I remember from my high school days that my some of my observations of my peers were just as cutting.  The first time I read the article (on a mate’s FB timeline), I was indignant with rage at the crass stereotyping… and then remembered that I was just as bad as everyone else.

Clicky The Second: 15 of the worst 90s fashion trends you hope you’ll never see again | Metro UK

What are you talking about, Metro?  These were 15 of the BEST 90s fashion trends!

Clicky The Third: If Destroyed Still True | Putting my teenage diaries online is a pretty daft idea but I can’t quite bring myself to chuck them on a bonfire after years of writing EVERYTHING down

Ok, this is awesome!  The author is posting their original diaries from the 90s on this blog, along with present-day annotations.  Just goes to show, we all thought we were the odd one out, but actually we were all the same.

Clicky The Fourth: World of Crap | Nostalgia, Humour and Shite | 10 random things from 1991

The whole of the World Of Crap blog is amazeballs (I laughed so hard that I cried at the “10 random things from the 1986 Argos catalogue” article), and you should definitely read more than just this one article that I so carefully selected to match the 1990s theme.

Clicky The Fifth: Don’t Look Back In Anger | A 90s Nostalgia Blog

Just loads of random pop culture things from the 90s.  It’s not been updated since 2010, but given that I’ve only just discovered it, I still have loads more to read through.

Clicky the Sixth: 33 Things You’ll Only Understand If You Started Secondary School In The ’90s | Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed’s always good for an inoffensive chuckle, although this isn’t one of their best articles.

I’m going to stop now because trawling the Internet for nostalgia of any form is a black hole from which it is very difficult to emerge. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t jump on the 90s bandwagon; yesterday I bought myself one of these tattoo chokers from Rowfers (right).  All the Goth Girls (including me) had one of these that we wore under our shirt collars until we were asked to take them off… and they then went back on again when the teacher’s back was turned.

Extreme Largeness are also great for funky retro and alternative jewellery. And if you’re lucky enough to live in Manchester, you can visit both these stores in Affleck’s.

 

HIGH HEELS

 

Last time I posted about experimenting with make-up.  Today, I’m going to talk about another fashion experiment I participated in as a teenager: ridiculously high heels.

Between the ages of about 12 and 19, I wore heels for 95% or more of the time, and bizarrely found it difficult to walk in flats. This made P.E. lessons very interesting. Those days are long gone, and during my twenties, I’d wear trainers whenever possible, and smart flat shoes (usually men’s) when the occasion called for it.

I had a pair of boots just like these, and because we were permitted to wear trousers at high school (how progressive), I could conceal the fact that they were boots and not the regulation shoes (let’s be honest, I was probably committing a greater uniform transgression by wearing 6″ heels, a ton of jewellery, and a Teletubbies badge on my frayed school tie).

And now, in my mid-thirties, I am That Woman Who Doesn’t Know How To Walk In Heels.  I had to re-learn!  Seven years of near constant stilt-walking, and my leg muscles had forgotten it all.  But because I’m feeling more confident and interested in my appearance, I really want to give them another go.  And anything that can boost my tiny stature can only be a good thing.

I’m definitely not a Girly Girl (hell, I’m not even sure if “girl” / “woman” is the right term), usually dressing in a very masculine style.  But, you know, sometimes we all just want to be a sparkly princess.

I have a special shoe drawer at work (one of the pairs in there is my site boots, so I can totally justify this), with the full spectrum of heel heights.  I have a pair of 6″ stilettoes which are very much Indoor Shoes – for now.  I’m hoping that with enough practice, I will once again be able to strut through the streets of the city in the early hours, safe in the knowledge that my balance is intact, in spite of any alcohol imbibed.

So far, I’ve progressed from “newborn deer” to “wonky horse”, and long may my progress continue!  The next step: high heels outdoors.

 

CLUBBING IN YOUR 30s – SANKEY’S SOAP

 

During my undergrad days, Sankey’s was touted as The Place To Go on a night out.  If you were serious about House Music (yes, yes I definitely am), this was your sanctuary.

Unfortunately, during my initial time at university, I was a bit of a Shrinking Violet (hard to believe, I know), and I didn’t really end up with the type of flatmates I actually got on with (or even liked, tbh). It was a self-perpetuating cycle: not going out because I didn’t have many good friends; not having many good friends because I didn’t go out. I finally decided to do something about my miserable predicament in my mid-twenties (more on this in another post), and started exploring the awesome city I’d lived in for Ten Damn Years.

I found some friends (in the office – who says it’s all work and no play?) who did want to go on a proper night out, and so we embarked on an adventure.

Now in my uni days, it wasn’t the case that I never went out, it was more that I went to the safe, pedestrian venues that all the other preppy clones were going to.  There was plenty of bad behaviour and fun to seek out, but it was in a controlled environment, never straying too far from the interests and venues of the predetermined middle-class student experience.  I craved more, but didn’t have the boldness to go out and get it.

In my thirties, the opportunity for adventure aligned with my spirit for novelty, and I joined the heaving, sweating masses at Da Club.  Most of the patrons are younger than me, but there is a substantial minority of thirty-somethings trying to capture that last flush of youth prior to middle-aged spread.

But there is one Universal Truth:

In the club environment, there are exactly two topics of conversation.  Due to the fleeting nature of our interactions, and the audibility of nothing except some dirty beats, brevity is essential.  These talking points are:

  1. “Have you got any drugs?”
  2. “Do you fancy a f%&k?”

And that is it.  No great philosophical debates to be found here – save these for the pub or the after-party.  But it actually suits me as a clubber in my thirties – in my more naïve and non-confrontational guise, I had a severe aversion to the word “no”.  In some respects, it gave me some incredible experiences, in others it led me to some icky and dangerous places.  But now, at this time of my life, I just want to go and dance, and coexist in indifference with my fellow humans.  No, I don’t have any drugs, and no, I’m not going back to yours.  I’m just here to dance.
 

MY HERO – TATTOO STORIES PART 1

 

Remember how I’ve written before about the significance that tattoos hold for me?  Well this is a very special one, and today is a very special day.  Len was my grandfather, and today would have been his 100th birthday.  As you can probably guess, he was a heavily-tattooed sailor, and also an engineer like me (well, maybe no-one is an engineer like me – haha).  He fought in WWII, which was the reason he ended up moving to my birth town in the first place.  Funny how events lead to conclusions.  I got this tattoo to remember him by, as sadly he died when I was in my teens.

 len

We were pretty close, but I wish I’d had more time to speak with him, as he’d lived an exciting and fulfilling life.  And he was so easy to speak with – he had a way of speaking effectively and eloquently with just about anyone, no matter their background and social status.  He was a great guy, but he didn’t put up with bullshit.  He worked hard, achieved great things, and was pragmatic and personable.  He’s the only individual I could ever consider a role model.  My dad sent me a copy of his military record, and it contained the most glowing reference from his Commanding Officer that I have ever seen (he was discharged in the 60s due to ill health).  I’m not sure where it is right now, but if I find it I will post it here.

I used to see him a lot, as he lived very nearby, and we parked the family car at his house, so we had excuses to be there all the time.  And I loved to see his cats.  I grew up around cats and I feel like I understand them in a way that I just can’t with dogs.  So many great memories, and he lives on in ink on my arm.  Until my time is up.  But at least they’ll be able to identify my body if I’m lost at sea.

 

THEY F**K YOU UP, YOUR MUM AND DAD

 

…They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”After my last post, I felt it was an obvious opening to quote a bit of Larkin. I recommended this poem to a friend’s daughter, who was just turning 18 and preparing to leave for University. I remember how I felt at that age, so full of idealism and opinions, believing I was immortal. But we are all the product of our upbringing, in ways that will stay with us forever.