Tag Archives: relationships

Angels and Drunks

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Dear Friends

This is a thank you letter from me to you. If you are not sure if I mean you personally, then ask yourself “have I laughed/cried/been hugged by or pissed with, this woman on several occasions?” If you can answer yes to at least two of those options, then chances are that yes, I do class you as a friend and therefore, yes, this applies to you, so pay attention.

At the risk of making you feel like inserting your fingers down your throat in disgust at my over sentimentality, I would like to tell you all how much I love you.

We may have known each other since childhood or for only a year or so. We may have shared a house at some point, been on holiday together or merely bonded in the 8 hours a day, 5 days a week proximity of the office. I may have spoken with you yesterday or (and sadly this is more commonly the case) not in the past 18 months. But I truly do love all of you, the old and the new, genuinely and sincerely.  You are, each in your own unique way, very dear to me and I feel lucky to have met you.  You have made my life richer and more enjoyable and whenever I despair of how cruel, heartless and unsympathetic so many people in the world can be, I remind myself that there are good, kind and decent folk still and that you, my friends, are testament to that.

Now that I have nauseated you/completely freaked you out (delete as applicable), I should hasten to add that I am not only sober, but also free from any other mind-altering substances and not in any imminent danger of dying, as far as I can tell.  The fact that this is written in (mostly) coherent sentences and then, glory be, actually posted on the dust bowl that is my blog, will add to the sincerity of my declaration, as you all know,

a) how long it takes me to write anything

b) how infrequently I post my musings and

c) how my usual declarations of affection for you are preceded by us sharing copious amounts of alcohol.

This sudden urge to publicly share my affection has been brought about by many months of musing on the nature of friendship and how blessed I am to know so many lovely people. Ok, I admit that some of you drive me nuts on occasion with your weird likes and dislikes, your stubbornness or irrationality etc. but I know that you must feel exactly the same about my own foibles. Perhaps the ability to cope with occasional mutual irritation without any lessening of fondness and respect is what makes an enduring friendship. And being able to take the piss out of each other, good-humouredly and without malice, is for me, one sign of a healthy relationship.

This is not only a thank you letter but an apology to those of you I rarely contact. I do not invest half as much time in our friendship as I would like and or as much as you deserve (which sounds uncannily like something Bilbo Baggins said to his guests at his birthday party!).  Nevertheless I am constantly amazed at how it is possible to go months or even years without seeing or speaking to some of you and then still be able to jabber away as if it were yesterday, when we finally do catch up. How lovely it is to feel so at ease and comfortable with each other,  to be reminded of that shared sense of humour and affection, and to know that if we needed to, we could share our deepest hopes and fears or our guiltiest secrets, without being judged.

This came to mind a year ago when I met up with my old university housemates for one of our bi-annual reunions. Here was a reasonably diverse group of people thrown together in a student flat in 1982. We all had different personalities and varied tastes and interests but somehow we bonded and became close friends who loved and supported each other.

After graduation we scattered across Britain and indeed, the globe. Nonetheless, in those early years we all kept in touch regularly and met up whenever we could. As mortgages, marriages and children came along, it became increasingly difficult to find the time to sustain the level of intimacy we had once all shared. But we never lost touch and still managed to get together every couple of years to catch up, reminisce and share news.

This particular reunion was especially poignant as we had lost one of our group to ovarian cancer earlier in the year.  Our dear, lovely, kind, intelligent and thoughtful Lizzie was probably the matriarch in our little gang. Indeed she was the first person I met on my very first day at university.  I arrived, scared and overwhelmed, and sat for ages in my breeze blocked, cell-like room crying. When I finally plucked up the courage to go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, this quietly confident young woman came in, introduced herself in her lovely Yorkshire accent and started chatting. That was the start of our 33 year friendship.

Lizzie had always been the voice of calm and reason and the one who would organise us and gently whip us into shape while the rest of us procrastinated. She was the one to go to in a crisis, the one who shone the light of perspective and good humour. She was an amazing woman and will be sorely missed.

Meeting up with the rest of the gang for the first time since losing Lizzie made me appreciate them all over again. The ease with which we talked and laughed (and cried) was actually profoundly reassuring and filled me with love and gratitude.  I was reminded that although we all have busy and very different lives, we have a bond that will last a lifetime.

lennon-quoteI have close friendships beyond that little clique though. One set of friends (again 30 odd years in the making) are still so very dear to me even though I see them once a year at best these days. I still count them as some of our closest friends and fantasise about retiring next door to them somewhere, or at least holidaying together again as we have done on and off over the years.

But I stress again that I love ALL of you, my friends, in your own way. I have known many of you for my whole adult life and with good reason – you are awesome.

There are newer friendships too, such as those that have developed with the parents of our son’s friends. Our boy is a pretty good judge of character so his close friends, who are the nicest, funniest bunch of young people you could wish to meet, tend to have equally lovely parents, who have become our friends in their own right. These people are no less dear to me.

And of course those of you I met through work have kept me sane over the years. When you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the same environment with someone you laugh with, discover similar interests and worlds views with, it is almost impossible not to become friends. It is not unusual to spend more waking hours with your colleagues than it is with your family in the average week so workplace friendships are most definitely important to me.  In the enforced intimacy of an office environment, I have met some brilliant, supportive, funny and kind people (and you all know who you are).  I have even managed to sustain friendships with a good number of you when we have both moved on work-wise, assuming you count intermittent emails, messaging and dinner once in a blue moon of course.

So there you have it – my love and gratitude to you all, dear friends. Although Mr Guy Garvey and his colleagues sum it up much more eloquently in one of my favourite Elbow songs (and incidentally one I want playing at my funeral as and when it happens!)

Dear friends
You are angels and drunks
You are magi

Old friends
You stuck a pin in a map I was in
And you are the stars I navigate home by.

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Party Animal (a short story)

OK so I’m a little late for a seasonal story – sorry folks! I simply ran out of time. Next week I thought I might tell you about the process I went through to write it as it was actually an interesting exercise… if you’re a bit geeky like me anyway ;-). Please read, hopefully enjoy and do feel free to give me your constructive criticism.

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She stared despondently at her screen and sighed deeply. The file was there alright but the time stamp confirmed her worst fear,  that all of the changes she had made to her presentation since lunch were lost and gone forever. The application had stalled and crashed just a few minutes ago and failed to auto-recover her file. She wanted to cry but swore quietly under her breath instead.

“You alright Jen?” Matt enquired, peering at her from over the low partition that separated their desks. “Not really. I’ve just lost three hours worth of work and it’s my own bloody fault – I hadn’t saved it for ages. Colin needs this by tomorrow morning so I’m going to have to stay late. Again.” He grimaced sympathetically just as his phone started to ring, “Bummer. Gotta take this call, sorry Jen”

She exhaled yet another deep sigh and gazed out of the window. All week it had rained relentlessly and  the heavy,  leaden skies matched her mood.  This was just another in the series of crappy events that she had endured over the last couple of months.  Her Dad’s cancer returning, the sale on the flat falling through, an important meeting missed through a cancelled train and one row after another with Phil about her working hours. On one occasion he’d even gone so far as to accuse her of turning into a “boring bitch”.

She felt utterly stressed out. Her daily run usually helped her to unwind but even this was proving to be a challenge recently. As if dodging potholes and dog shit wasn’t enough in these dark autumnal mornings, last week she’d collided with a speeding cyclist as he careered around a corner and cut straight in front of her, and just this morning on the edge of the common she’d been attacked by a stray dog.  A huge thing that looked like a German Shepherd had suddenly bolted out of the trees and leapt at her, snapping at the forearm she had held up instinctively to protect her face. She was preparing to sprint for it when suddenly, inexplicably,  it stopped snarling at her, lowered its ears, whimpered and ran off.  She examined her arm. It had barely touched her really, leaving more of a scratch than a bite, but she was badly shaken and more wound up than ever.  She should have known then that today was going to be a waste of toothpaste and one that would have been better spent  at home in bed.

Another sigh. She turned back to her laptop to focus upon re-writing her lost material. Over the next few hours Jen concentrated on the task at hand, looking up now and then to say goodnight as colleagues left for the evening and the office gradually emptied.  At a quarter past seven and alone bar the cleaner, she hit SAVE for the final time, attached the file in a covering email to Colin and clicked SEND with relief. As she was closing down her laptop the sudden thrrrum of her mobile vibrating on her desk made her jump. She could see it was Phil calling and not knowing what mood he would be in, tentatively pressed the ‘Accept Call’ icon.

“Hello babe. Are you still in the office?”, he sounded cheery and she could tell from the background noise that he was in a bar somewhere.  “Just finishing up now” she replied. “Good. Listen, I’m sorry I was such a tosser last night. Come and have a quick drink – I’m with Mike and Jo in The Blacksmith’s Arms ”.

She hesitated just long enough for him to spot the chink in her armour “Come on! You know you want to. Just a couple of beers and we’ll be home before bedtime, promise”. Before she could reply she heard Jo and Mike in the background, shouting “Jen! Come out! We miss you!” Jo was one of her dearest friends and she hadn’t seen her or Mike for ages. The idea of a large glass of shiraz was tempting. “Ok give me 30 minutes and I’ll be there”. There was a collective cheer at the end of the phone as she hung up.

Closing down her laptop, she grabbed her coat and umbrella and headed out into the rain, reflecting upon how much she had changed. These days she rarely went out on a “school night” though once upon a time she had been a stereotypical party girl. The life and soul of their social circle, she had always been up for a night out drinking, dancing and partaking of the (very) occasional illegal high. Her demanding job, her Dad’s illness and her own diminishing ability to recover from a hangover as she was getting older had led her to cut down on the partying. Maybe she ought to get out more though. She certainly felt that she needed a strong drink after her shitty day.

Two and a half hours and five strong drinks later she felt much more cheerful and nicely fuzzy around the edges. It was lovely to catch up with Jo and Mike. She’d missed them too and had forgotten how much Mike made her laugh. Phil had been right, she had been turning into a boring bitch recently and she’d forgotten how much fun it was to spend an evening in the pub with her mates. She watched him now as he somewhat drunkenly regaled the others with one of his anecdotes. It was a shaggy dog story that she had heard him tell many times before, but it still made her smile.  Stifling a yawn, she looked at her watch and grimaced when she realised how late it was getting. “Babe, we need to go, I’ve got to get up early in the morning” she nudged him.  “Aw come on Jen it’s only 10 o’clock – just one more!” he pleaded.  “I’m knackered and if I drink any more I’ll be rough tomorrow” she argued. “I know what you need…” he put his arm around her shoulder and lowered his voice “…a little pick me up”.  He reached in to his inside jacket pocket, pulled out a small tin innocently labelled ‘mints’ and shook it near her ear.

Phil had always been a bigger fan of recreational drugs than she was, even at the height of her party going days. “Absolutely no way! I’ll be up all night and I have to go to work in the morning”. “Suit yourself” he shrugged “you’re no fun anymore” and proceeded to pop one of the tiny white pills into his mouth.

Jen was furious, she knew she’d never get him out of here before the last train now.  Ever the peacemaker, Jo tried to come to the rescue. “Just have a diet coke hun and you can still get the 10.45 train after that”. She nodded ok and Jo went to the bar for another round, while Mike tried to lighten the mood again by making small talk about their plans for Christmas.  Excusing herself she fought her way through the throng to the ladies, where she splashed water on her face and gazed at her reflection.  The lovely warm tingle of alcohol was dissipating along with her anger, but adrenaline was still making her heart race. She was beginning to feel off colour and ached slightly all over.  Obviously not used to drinking so much on an empty stomach she thought.

Snapping out of her introspection, she headed back to the bar and took the bottle of coke that Phil was holding out to her.  She sipped at it slowly, watching as Phil became more and more animated and talkative, spouting juvenile rubbish as he tended to do when he got high. Jo and Mike finished their drinks and made their excuses to leave, politely declining Phil’s suggestion that they move on to the new club around the corner.  Jen hugged Jo goodbye and whispered “Am I really being boring?” as they clung together for a few seconds. “Of course not – Phil’s just being a pratt” she reassured her and they giggled conspiratorially.

As soon as her friends left Phil disappeared to the gents and Jen downed the remains of her drink  quickly so that there was no excuse to linger when he came back. He seemed to be gone an age though and she became increasingly conscious of the ‘flu like symptoms she was feeling. She really was starting to feel unwell. Her heart seemed to be racing ever faster rather than calming down and beads of sweat were forming on her forehead. All of her muscles were beginning to ache and she felt incredibly tense, almost wired. Swirling around the dregs at the bottom of her coke bottle she suddenly had a horrid thought, one that solidified into certain knowledge when she spotted Phil swaggering towards her and grinning inanely . “Feelin’ happier babe?” he winked at her.

“Did you spike my drink?” she demanded although she knew that she didn’t need to wait for his reply, his face said it all. “You absolute arsehole!” Enraged now and heart pounding she picked up her coat from the back of the chair and, ignoring his protestations, stormed out of the bar. It had stopped raining, but she still ran down the street until the pounding in her chest became unbearable, then slowed to a quick march instead. She couldn’t believe how irresponsible he was and asked herself why she had stayed with him for so many years. Nor could she believe how utterly tense and physically awful she felt. She had never had quite such a bad reaction before and began to worry that there was something seriously wrong with her.

A sudden agonising cramp in her stomach caused her to stop and double over in pain. She slumped against the wall next to her, panting hard. Another wave of cramp hit her, this time in the backs of both legs. “Shit” she breathed aloud. What the hell was happening to her? She became aware of a couple, walking arm in arm towards her and laughing. She made an effort to stand upright and start to move. The laughter stopped and she looked up to see the couple staring at her as they walked by. There was no sympathy or concern in their eyes, if anything they looked slightly scared. They probably thought she was a junky or a weirdo.  Not surprising, she thought, there were enough of them  around.

She took a few tentative steps forward, edging her way along the darkened offices and shops to the corner of a dark alley, when another wave of pain began to spread from her chest out across her whole body. She turned into the alley and braced herself for the agony to come. And come it did. Intense spasms and cramps seemed to be ripping her apart. She bent double again only to arch back quickly when a spasm tore up her spine, causing her to cry out in distress. Leaning backwards with her face turned to the skies, she noticed the last of the rain clouds drifting apart to reveal the October moon in its splendid entirety. “How beautiful” she thought, even as her tortured body wracked yet again. Her scream turned into a primal howl and everything  went black.

When the world came back into focus, Jen knew that everything had changed. Instead of pain and sadness and fatigue she felt energy, strength, vigour and an alertness unlike anything she had ever experienced, pulsating through her entire body. And what a body it was; lean, powerful and perfectly designed to hunt and kill, she was magnificent. Somehow it did not surprise her at all to realise that she was no longer human. It thrilled her. It made sense now, the dog by the common was no ordinary dog and the reason it had turned tail and fled before inflicting any serious harm was because the sun had just crept  up over the rooftops in the east. But the scratch had been enough to draw blood.

All of her senses were heightened; the cacophony of noise was startling to begin with. Human voices from all around, laughing, talking, shouting. A cat somewhere hissing at a rival, rats rummaging in the refuse bags at the back of a Chinese takeaway. The constant background hum of road traffic, distant overhead aeroplanes and the rattle of the underground,  bombarded her with sound. She sniffed the air and easily distinguished the smells of petrol and carbon monoxide, the remnants of yesterday’s fish and chips discarded in a gutter, someone smoking a spliff, someone else throwing up and then…Phil, close by. His aftershave and his own unique body scent, delicious.  She suddenly became aware of how very hungry she was.

Jen padded out of the alley and looked down the road towards the station. She knew he had gone that way and set off after him. There were still a few people around even on this quiet side street but she ignored them.  Some instinct told her that these people were irrelevant and that her quarry was the one who had somehow angered her and hurt her, although she could not quite recall how or why. For the most part they ignored her too, and went about their own business. The one or two that did stare at the unusually large “dog” stepped by cautiously, sensing that it was something to genuinely fear. Completely focussed on following Phil’s scent she did not intellectualise what was happening to her or what she was doing. Her sense of power, instinct and sensory perception overruled everything.  She had never felt more alive, supremely confident and utterly ruthless.

When finally she spotted Phil ahead, meandering casually across the road and cutting through another back street, she speeded up, stalking him until she was just a few feet behind. The dark, narrow lane was empty and Phil’s footsteps echoed off the cobbles, still wet from the rain. Whether he heard her or somehow merely sensed her presence she could not tell, but he stopped and turned around slowly to face her, fear and horror spreading over his face. His reaction excited her and with a low growl, she took two steps nearer. She was aware of feeling very, very hungry and his scent was so irresistible. He stepped back, stumbling and almost falling as she crept closer and closer, snarling all the time. The smell of his fear added to his usual body scent was intoxicating and saliva began to drip from her perfect, glistening teeth. He was muttering quietly, whimpering “Jesus, God! No!” but the words were meaningless to her. Then, with all human emotion left behind with her shredded clothes in the alley near the pub, she pounced, knocking him over onto his back. With her huge paws on his chest and yellow eyes staring into his terrified face, she sank her jaws into his throat, cutting off his final scream, and gorged herself.

Bitch she may be, but boring? Not anymore – the party animal was back.