National Poetry Day: The Seventh Day

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet. I’ve just written this, for National Poetry Day – the theme of which is ‘remember’.

The Seventh Day

Now hold on a second, young lady,
please hold onto a second.

Hold it ’til your knuckles are white,
your black glitter nail varnish chipped,
hold onto it -

Now hold on a second,
you’re going nowhere like that.

You’re going nowhere.

Please go nowhere all over
and forever again, go nowhere,
hold on,

say something good
before you shut the door

like when you’ll be back,
like a joke
an inside joke just for me,
a secret so hilarious
I swear I’ll go hysterical

or a blown kiss.
Feel your palm damp with the ring of your lips
when it disappears into a skinny denim pocket.

Now just hold on a second,
and a second more,
hold on,

I’m not done and won’t ever be done
again,

I think if you let go
I’ll stay half-baked forever -

The State of Dreaming

This is, image-for-image, action-for-action, a genuine dream I had last week.

As a rule, my dreams are boring. I don’t know why. It doesn’t really bother me. I once dreamt that I woke up to find a poster in my room on a different wall. At my grandparents’ house I once dreamt that I went downstairs, opened the fridge and drank a glass of milk. The next day I found a small ‘dream dictionary’ in a bedroom and went through it, laughing with my sister as we ‘defined’ one another’s dreams. I looked up the definition of milk. Naturally, it was semen. So apparently I dreamt of drinking a glass of semen. Despite the obvious fact that the book was spiritualist bullshit, I was weirded out. But what’s weirder; drinking a glass of semen or keeping semen in cartons in the fridge?

My friend once said – quite accurately – that my dreams are boring because they could all feasibly occur in reality.

Anyway, the dream I had a couple of weeks ago is weirdly complex and layered. So it’s best understood as I ‘lived’ it – live action, present tense, short story-esque…

I’m on a train that has just pulled up into King’s Cross Station. I probably caught the train from Newark North Gate. As the train groans to a halt, everyone on the train is suddenly – I don’t know how – acutely aware that there is a bomb somewhere on the station.

Everyone gets panicked and for some reason choosing which carriage from which to leave the train becomes an incredibly important detail. What’s better – the carriages closer to the exits but the heart of the platform or the carriages further away from the station’s nucleus but a fair distance from a main exit?

Boringly, I choose a middle carriage and rush off. Everyone is running in one direction – towards the main gates – and like a sheep I follow them. Soon it gets to the point where there are so many of us being shepherded along we can no longer run, and instead we are all huddled together, waddling like penguins.

Suddenly, as I approach a pillar separating several ticket machines, I hear a cluster of screams behind me. I turn around.

For some reason, Kanye West is appearing on a podium that rises out of the ground. Some people forget they’re in the middle of a London bomb scare and start weakly cheering. Kanye looks typically pissed off, and holds a microphone in his hand. Everyone stops, like the exits have been blocked off and all we can do is watch.

Kanye takes a bomb out of his pocket and holds it up. People are getting more worried, as you would. Then he starts ranting into the microphone about how this is an elaborate publicity stunt for his album, which – naturally – he thinks is going to be the biggest and best record ever produced, world-renowned because he bombed a train station while promoting it. He doesn’t care about the small issue of his own death, but he seems to think that, like Jesus, he will get up and walk off three days later.

After this strange and lengthy rant, he starts singing Coldplay’s Viva La Vida into his microphone, and in a weird gamble to get on his side, those around him start weakly singing along with him, as if he’ll notice their musical talent and decide to let everyone off.

But, when he gets to the chant-y bit of the song, he hurls the bomb and everyone starts running and screaming.

The blast sends me into the air and, in an act of dexterity the real Me would never be able to pull off, I pull myself around and behind the nearby pillar so that I’m shielded from any shrapnel.

Somehow I’m not hurt. After a few minutes I open my eyes and the whole world is ringing in my head. I look around, and bodies are everywhere. Next to me there is someone I vaguely recognise. I only realise who it is by reading a name tag attached to their blazer.

For some reason, it’s Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History and The Goldfinch (the latter of which has obviously partly inspired this dream, as anyone familiar with the plot will know). Beneath her name, the word ‘deceased’ is written, which really freaks me out because it suggests that the tag is somehow linked to her brain.

Eventually I make it out with other survivors, and walk down a series of nearby corridors until I reach the nearest place of safety – which is, apparently, my old sixth form form room, where a smattering of people are sat quite calmly. I walk to the back of the room and start calling my mum.

She doesn’t pick up. Then, I notice her sat right near me. ‘Mum,’ I say, relieved. ‘I was in the explosion.’

‘Ah, right.’ She seems quite relaxed, all things considered.

‘I’m safe now. I’m not hurt.’

‘Oh, well that’s good.’

‘Yeah. Weirdest thing – Donna Tartt was there. She died.’

‘What? Donna Tartt?!’ My mum is distraught at this news, and the dream ends with me feeling pretty pissed off that my mum is apparently more concerned with Donna Tartt’s welfare than mine.

Mild Illusion

It’s been over a month since my last post, which is a bit rubbish of me. I’ve been busy. Not saving-the-world, running-the-country busy, but reading-lots-of-books, writing-lots-of-stuff busy. People don’t take the latter two types of busy very seriously, but I’d rather that than be permanently loathed as I fail to run a country.

I did write a draft blog post about all of the Ian McEwan novels I’ve read, ranking them in order of personal preference. I may polish it (it was quickly and badly written at 2am) and put it up soon, or I may hold it back until I’ve read one or two more. I’m not desperate to read McEwan at the moment, but a friend told me they really enjoyed Sweet Tooth, which made me re-evaluate what little I knew about it. Also, his latest novel The Children Act is meant to be very good, and a few people are shocked at its absence in the Man Booker Prize long list (as well as the absence of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which was magisterial).

I’ve just finished reading Lisa Moore’s February (which was very good) and started David Mitchell’s number9dream (which, 28 pages in, is also very good). At the end of the year I might try and squeeze the best books I’ve read this year into some cobbled-together Buzzfeed-user-friendly Top 10 list. Samantha Harvey’s debut novel The Wilderness may make it up there – I urge you to read it.

Right now the water feature in my garden is active with thin ribbons of water all cascading together, firing off the odd bead of spittle. My four-year-old sister, apparently ravaged with earache and awaiting a doctor’s appointment, sounds remarkably hyper as she tries to convince us all that she was never a baby, and in fact came out of my mother’s stomach as a four-year-old girl.

In September I will move into a house that I’ve paid for for the first time, along with four friends from university, and I’ll enter my second year of my degree, which is prefaced in my head with the ominous tagline Everything Actually Counts This Time.

I’m typing this out on my iPad, which annoyingly lay dormant for a year or so due to the lack of WiFi in my first year student accommodation. I’ve forgotten how helpful blog post writing is with writing in general. Recently I tried to enter the weird world of pen pal websites in order to find somebody interesting to talk to, in the hope of it keeping creative juices alive and ripe. Unfortunately I only came across people who were middle-aged and looking for relationships (on a global eon pal website? Why? What are they aiming to prove?), people who were so cripplingly shy they were near-impossible to converse with, people who were strangely elitist and had their profiles littered with sycophantic and often leery comments, and people who told me that they were casually writing novels, and that it really wasn’t such a biggie.

This is easier, because I have the mild illusion of talking to myself.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

 

ImageOn more than one occasion I’ve seen critics attack Wes Anderson for a sense of emotional detachment in his films. I’ve always understood why people see this, but have never really agreed. Although I wasn’t a big fan of Rushmore, there was at least a charming affability to Max Fischer. Chas’s overprotective nature in The Royal Tenenbaums is touching and Margot’s own emotional detachment from her family is in fact what helps the film steer clear of cold detachment as a whole – because this detachment is explored and nuanced. In Fantastic Mr. Fox I can somewhat understand the criticism – but is this because it’s harder for us to have an emotional attachment to an animated film? (Well, of course not – how would you explain the Toy Story trilogy otherwise?) Perhaps Anderson’s Roald Dahl adaptation suffers from being a little too short or too focused on its (admittedly wonderful) aesthetic. In Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel I simply don’t understand comments regarding emotional detachment, and found the two to be subtly very powerful.

Upon watching The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I sadly understand the criticism more than ever before. Zissou, an oceanographer and documentary filmmaker, is destined to hunt for the gigantic ‘jaguar shark’ he saw kill and eat his old buddy Esteban and kill it in an act of revenge. He assembles his crew and attempts to film his journey, joined by Ned Plimpton – who may or may not be Zissou’s son – and Jane Winslett-Richardson, a journalist who comes along to chronicle Zissou’s quest. Jane is pregnant with the child of her boss, who is married to another woman. Both Zissou and Ned fall for Jane, creating a rivalry between them.

The idea is an interesting and unique one, and gives Anderson plenty of scope for list-ticking eccentricities and quirks. Zissou’s boat, the Belafonte, is beautifully and intricately designed. Detail is incredibly specific. The sea creatures are animated and given something of a plasticine-like sheen, giving the film that storybook quality that features so heavily in Anderson’s films. 

However, at nearly two hours long the idea seems to be a little ambitiously stretched. It feels like you’ve come across a Steven Moffat-penned Doctor Who monster. It’s a wonderful idea, but seems to be just that – a wonderful idea, snatched from the moment the lightbulb hovers over the head and taken straight to the page without always being fully fleshed out. 

On board the Belafonte, then, we’re made aware of Zissou’s infatuation with Jane. But ‘infatuation’ doesn’t quite feel like the right word. They talk a little and Zissou tries – and fails – to kiss her. The next thing you know he’s broken into her cabin and read through her notes where she criticises him for not being the hero he was in her childhood. The obsessive nature of this action implies a possessive infatuation – but despite the fact that Zissou’s character is that of a dejected, slightly glum loner, this crush of his never seems to amount to much in the script. You start to wonder if the infatuation is in fact Zissou’s desire to be hero-worshipped like he used to be in his younger days. If this is the case, it’s too muddled up in the guise of a love triangle and doesn’t ring true. Ned, being younger, more handsome, more polite and generally less of a sulky arse, develops feelings for Jane that are reciprocated. 

Naturally, this angers Zissou. Yet when the two argue you still feel disconnected from the both of them because their relationship is indefinable at this point in the film. Are they father and son or just two blokes who think they could be? Does Zissou – despite not allowing Ned to call him ‘dad’ – like the idea of having a son? Does Ned really like the idea of having Zissou as a father? For me, this lack of a definite relationship made several of their scenes feel distant and at times a little cold. I actually thought Zissou was a well-written and interesting character – but his relationships with Jane and Ned didn’t feel authentic enough for me to become emotionally invested in the heart of the film.

That’s where my main problem with the film lies – in the writing. I’m usually impressed by Anderson’s writing style, and there are certainly moments in The Life Aquatic where he’s on form – it’s certainly a funny film, mostly down to little pieces that actually help build characterisation (Willem Dafoe as Klaus is a real standout character and garners most of the laughs). The film also mostly avoids overly saccharine moments (though the final confrontation with the shark teeters dangerously close), and characterisation is generally strong.

Anderson’s problem with this film seems to be the tying together of several well-developed characters, who end up feeling as separate from one another as the tiny cabins that populate the boat the film is mostly set on. This, plus a wonderful idea that is perhaps better suited to a short film than a near-two-hour story, lets the film down significantly.

I did enjoy The Life Aquatic – it’s adventurous, visually engaging and at times very funny. I just didn’t believe it. Even though Anderson often likes to tell stories about storytelling – and often lets his audience know this – I still usually find a way into believing his films, in getting emotionally invested in them. Here, I have to agree somewhat with the critical stance that this film, at least, has issues with drawing the viewer into the emotional lives the characters share with one another.

A Poem For Michael Gove

ImageAs you may have heard, Michael Gove recently completed another step in his apparent quest to claim the title of Ultra-Turd, and scrapped classic American texts from the English Literature GCSE syllabus. This made myself and a lot of people angry. And instead of finding Michael Gove and telling him he looks like a strange duck or punching in the face, I showed this anger by writing a little poem for him, which I hope he likes (and it’s not American! I’m English, Michael! Promise!)

 

Gove

Look what you’ve done: a shout from within,
no reasonable doubt, a door silences all and
Atticus walks out.
You hold your hands up: yes, racism
is obscene. But what can we learn
from a Southern court scene?

Caulfield’s caught swearing,
(he doesn’t like school, he thinks about
sex which doesn’t really happen,
he is sad and happy in absurd oscillations)
Sixty-one to eighty-two,
you salivate at the book bans:
is the rye for catching
plucked by English hands?

Think what they’ll be reading:
Huckleberry Finn? For dialect
a plane away you swear there’s just
no room – and what if all the kids
start drinking in the afternoon?
And where’s the Thames,
where’s Hampton Court,
the thou, the thee, the whom?

Was driving on the wrong side
the cause of Myrtle Wilson’s death?
(And what’s the American Dream,
anyway? And why would you
be dreaming it?)
Why are billboards eyes of God
and why would you be
screaming it?

You like your labour soft, pallid;
Lennie’s was too manual
(were you scared the puppy crushed
was a King Charles Spaniel?)

The Crucible had God – and don’t
you have him, too?
And wasn’t England’s first Witchcraft Act
signed in 1542?
You like your classrooms puritan,
wheels within wheels, fires within fires…
is American literature comfortable atop your funeral pyres?

 

Facebook’s Accidental Truths

ImageA year or two ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a status expressing disgust at seeing two people root around bins in a McDonald’s car park to look for those Monopoly stickers that can sometimes be exchanged for various McDonald’s products. 

The weird fusion of a) wanting to be honest to gain people’s respect and b) pandering for people’s ‘likes’ on Facebook often results in this sort of thing. It’s horrible, of course. To call people out on looking through bins is a strange thing to do.

Do you know those people? No. Were they offending you in any way? Probably not. Was the event particularly extraordinary or profound? Not at all. By calling them disgusting are you achieving anything? No. Do you know anything at all about these people? Of course not. Do you think that by sharing this thing you’ve seen on Facebook and calling it disgusting you’ll get a nice handful of people liking your post – confirming that you weren’t wrong and that it really is just laughable and gross? Yes? Then you’re set.

The gamble some people take on Facebook is genuinely intriguing. Despite assertions that people aren’t really themselves online, these sort of rude/offensive/careless posts made to be ‘liked’ tell you something about everyone – not everything, of course. I’m not at all suggesting that you can ‘know’ a person in that way through Facebook. You’re just given a glimpse – but what you’re glimpsing is sometimes more interesting and complex than you’d think.

This isn’t anything new. People know this already. It’s just helpful to be reminded. When you see someone post a status laughing at two people looking for tokens which can be exchanged for food in car park bins you have a whole glimpse into a sort of truth nobody would willingly like to share. It’s a double-edged sword but the first strike – the likes, the comments, the reminder you’re giving people that you’re still here and still funny and still opinionated – is powerful and instant, while the other edge draws blood and leaks – it’s not the actual wound, but something nasty about it, something that comes from it.

Scrolling through Facebook now reveals these accidental truths in strange and interesting ways. As someone who loves writing, and writes for at least an hour every day, these honest exclamations – that aren’t always aware of their own honesty – can be helpful. Sometimes you’ll see a stupid phrase on Facebook, something misspelt that looks and sounds better than the correctly spelt version, an opinion you abhor, a message of affection that is natural to the writer yet bizarre and cold to the reader.

I wrote a short story about the two people rooting around in the bins. That status helped me write something. I thought it was a horrible status, of course – close-minded, cold, condescending and cruel (that’s just the Cs) – but it helped me think about the people on the other side of the coin. The people who had no idea they were the subject of a Facebook status which was used to fuel one girl’s popularity – who were they? Where did they live? What did they do? Were they happy? Who did they love? Who loved them? What was their earliest memory? 

I also set myself the (slightly bizarre) challenge of writing a poem made entirely out of words and phrases I saw on my Facebook feed. Here it is, taken from one evening’s social networking a few weeks ago:

Today is not that day (happy birthday!
thank you!), I didn’t think I’d see you speechless.
Say it again? I want to watch something.
Hahaa I’m not saying it is but she
took a HUGE fashion risk (it paid off),
thanks for the invite the realisation
I did thank you I am just about finished and
have no life who am I kidding, it won’t
charge at all, deep apologies,
time to relax, monthly outing,
abstract, motivation,
funny, study,
helpful,
babysitting blog
holiday nowholiday
sixthquestionslastday
form blog helpful,
funny studying for abstract
monthly outings, I won’t charge
at all, no kidding, I thanked you before
sorry I can’t make it fashion fashion
but she is, watch anything, deaf awareness
or motionless actually, thank you,
happy birthday! today’s the day!

Isn’t Facebook weird? Isn’t it weirdly fascinating? For all the times people have made me angry on Facebook, there’s so much more behind every word selection in every status. Why did they word it like that? Did they take time over that? We all do it – sometimes I spend a good minute or so trying to choose a ‘tagline’ for these blog posts when I share them on Facebook. Whether what we read is funny, honest and kind or self-righteous, problematic or discriminatory, it gives off these strange truths about people that they don’t mean to give off themselves – and then opens up a whole network of looking at people in different ways, asking questions to them, about them and as if you were them.

 

Acid Pig

I’ve already failed. I said I was going to try and post at least once a week but apparently I can’t even do that, which is quite pitiful. My last post was on May 23rd. It’s now June (what? Since when? Are you sure we’re still not in 2013?) and I’ll be moving out of my first year uni accommodation in about a week and a half.

Then the summer lies ahead like a Snorlax-shaped bouncy castle. Fun at first, then cripplingly boring. I’ve got a job sorted out, which is something. I’ve posted a message on Facebook to my four best mates that consists purely of the words ‘impromptu holiday?’ I haven’t heard anything back yet. Usually getting the five of us together for a few hours at the pub is an achievement enough.

Then, in September, I’ll be moving into the house I’ve bought with four of my current flatmates. Tomorrow this means we have to get together and ring around about all the boring stuff, saying things like ‘please give us water!’ ‘please give us electricity!’ and ‘please give us an internet provider who is lenient about illegally watching TV shows!’

In the more-than-a-month-now period I’ve had since my only first year exam, I’ve mostly been reading and writing. I must have read about five or six novels. The last I read was Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, which is hauntingly brilliant. Now I’m reading Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. I’m over halfway through now and I like it so far.

I’ve watched two new films, too: Withnail & I and The Royal Tenenbaums. I loved both. Oh, and I’ve started watching House of Cards on Netflix with one of my flatmates. That’s also really good. Kevin Spacey is brilliant.

Today’s been a dull day. Outside it’s been threatening to rain for a while and the air is dense with pollen, meaning I’ve sneezed enough to power a small lightbulb in a shed for forty minutes. I’ve drank lots of tea. A mate and I tried to set biscuits on fire. Then he put post-it notes with drawings of eyes on my eyes. The Tate would have probably accepted it. Just now the same guy has thrown the cut-off top of a juice carton at me. He drew eyes on it so it looks a bit like a pig. The juice tasted like acid so we call it Acid Pig. Acid Pig is now looking at me. I wish you were here to see.

I can see the use by date printed on Acid Pig’s acidic little head. 20th June. By then I’ll be back home, and will have been back for a week. It’ll be my mum’s birthday in a matter of days. Acid Pig has done a lot in bringing this post to a natural close. As it stares at me I thank it for giving me that very minor and insignificant glimpse into the very near future. Thanks, Acid Pig.

 

Talking About My Secondary School (And Fighting For English)

I’m pleased to find out that my secondary school (I was going to write ‘old secondary school’, but I only left it last year so it doesn’t really feel ‘old’ to me at all) now has much more of a voice when it comes to literature and creative writing than it ever did while I was there.

I first saw this upon learning that the school has a Twitter account (such hashtags! So networking!). There was a tweet about a literary festival at the school. I had to re-read this several times, since in my mind – and certainly during my time there – literature was something the school didn’t really seem to care for. But my eyes weren’t deceiving me. The school held its first literary festival earlier this month, which made me feel a) incredibly proud and b) profoundly annoyed that I left the year that I did. 

Further to this, after exchanging emails with my old A Level English Literature teacher (and, I’d say, the best teacher at the school), I found out that the school had offered Creative Writing as an A Level this year. It’s even better than that, in a way – they’re opening it up properly next year, because this year the A Level has been carried out in after-school sessions. A group of students have been going to out-of-hours lessons to complete a Creative Writing course. Respect to the teacher(s) and students for making that possible. I’m jealous I missed all of this.

When I was at the school, the English department was, I’d say, overlooked. The school prides itself on science and technology (ironic, since I can comfortably say these were two of the worst-taught subjects I came across in my seven years there*), and English always seemed like an afterthought. Actually, it was never really a ‘thought’. I was nominated with three others for the position of head boy in my penultimate year at the school, but knew I wouldn’t get the ‘post’. A good friend of mine was also nominated. I studied English Literature, Theatre Studies and Religious Studies. He studied English Literature, French and German. I was quite comfortably aware that neither of us would become head boy or deputy head boy. This didn’t really bother me in any way. What did we have to offer in a school ‘of science and technology’? We didn’t quite fit the desired demographic. We both took part in the annual school musical. We were very much performing clowns who liked reading books. We were never going to get the position without having a more business-headed, mathematical/scientific-leaning future ahead of us. That friend of mine is now studying at Cambridge University. 

Now, of course I’m not suggesting that my affiliation with English – and my love of it – hindered my chances in that respect. That would be a stupid thing to say. What I am saying is that English was always treated like one would treat an old National Trust building – vaguely important, but not worth wasting too much time discussing. The Powers That Be (by which I mean the cluster of ‘senior’ figures in charge of the school in a bizarre autocratic group bordering on farcical) weren’t too fussed about English. Creative writing was never spoken of. What was it? Telling stories? What’s the point in that? It is, of course, the most powerful thing we can do. But there it was all a bit airy-fairy.

Before I left the school to start my degree in English Literature with Creative Writing, my sister was taught by my then head-of-year. He asked her a couple of times how I was in the run-up to my exams. He also asked after me once I left the school. Once or twice, of course, he asked her how I feel about knowing I’ll never get a real job/wasn’t doing anything worthwhile. All tongue-in-cheek, of course – but with an element of seriousness that underpinned a general feeling across the school. The same teacher allegedly put me forward for head boy. These tongue-in-cheek comments were not out of the ordinary – he was very much a teacher who appealed to the popular, clique-y students in younger years, often doing this by subversively mocking other students or mocking the clique-y students themselves. He was humorous, though, so got away with it, to the extent that most younger students – even the ‘unpopular’ ones – were charmed by it and held him in their heads as a wonderful teacher. In an early AS Level lesson, where he went on a tangent about how he didn’t really ‘believe ADHD is a real thing’, I started to doubt that notion. 

Hopefully this is the first step of the English department in the school to getting the footing it rightly deserves amongst the ‘legions’ of maths, science and technology that, as I remember, were bizarrely hero-worshipped by The Powers That Be. The dedication of the teacher(s) and students in setting up and attending after-school creative writing sessions also warms my heart and fills me with pride. After spending a lot of time at the school feeling disillusioned regarding the lack of importance subjects I loved were given, this can only be a good thing for English and Creative Writing.

 

*good teachers exist in both subjects, of course – and for all I know the two are much better taught now.

Meningitis

One thing that struck me when I walked into my room at university for the first time was the attention that had been paid to printing and distributing heaps of leaflets warning new students about the threats of meningitis. While this is something of a minor downer on an otherwise great moment, it is of course really important. The leaflets were made to be a bit scary. ‘Are you ILL? You might DIE’ – that kind of thing. They really hammered it home. They also left a little welcome box on the desk. It included various leaflets and some random things like an emergency shower gel sachet, a pack of fajita mix and a teabag. There were more meningitis leaflets in there.

Fast forward a little: it’s day three of university, I’m a little hungover and I’m looking into my mirror. There, on my left shoulder, is a sort of bruise-y rash. They go mad for rashes in the meningitis leaflets – especially rashes that don’t fade when pressed. At this point, the word shit is plastered over every wall of my mind. I’d been vaccinated against meningitis, but then that was only two or three weeks before. I press the rash and it doesn’t fade. This, couple with a hangover that’s making me feel sleepy and generally a bit crap, alters the word shit to fuck.

I already know thanks to the leaflets that meningitis can kill in hours, which would be incredibly inconvenient on my third day of university. So I decide that I’m going to have to go to the university medical centre. I haven’t properly signed up at the centre yet, but I presume that for something as serious as this I’ll be able to get some kind of emergency appointment.

I was wrong. Upon entering the medical centre and walking over to reception, I alert the receptionist of my possibly impending doom. Though she seems mildly concerned, she tells me I’m going to have to sign up before a doctor can even look at my shoulder. I look over to the queue of seven or eight people waiting to sign up. Individually it seems to take people about ten minutes to get fully signed up.

I decide that this receptionist isn’t my favourite person in the world, and try to negotiate something. I’ve still got the ‘it can kill in hours’ thing swarming round my head. After a minor and very English dispute, I wait in line, occasionally eyeing the receptionist with mild resentment. I almost want to drop dead to teach her a lesson.

Eventually I get registered and an ‘emergency appointment’ is made for me. I have to wait an hour or so. This isn’t ideal, but I’ve learnt not to piss off the person who organises these appointments. I go back to my room and dither around in my flat for a while. Then I return.

The appointment, in the end, is about half an hour later than scheduled. I get called in to see a nurse, who frowns as she presses the rash on my shoulder. ‘Hmm,’ she says.

Then she looks at me. ‘Have you carried anything heavy on your shoulder in the past few days?’ It’s at this moment that I remember just how heavy that bag was I was carrying up to my flat on the very first day. That bag right there on my left shoulder. I tell her this. ‘You’ve just burst some blood vessels,’ she says. ‘That’s all. It must have been a heavy bag.’

I laugh in relief before apologising for wasting her time. I walk away feeling both incredibly relieved and monumentally stupid – a combination that is very strange and borders on the euphoric. I haven’t got meningitis! I signed up to the medical centre early! Then, at the back of my mind, the lower voice: you carried a bag that was too heavy and burst some of your blood vessels. You thought it was meningitis. You’re a fucking idiot.

I leave it a day or two before telling my flatmates, who find it quite funny. Then, nearly eight months later, as I write it up in a blog post, I still feel like an idiot. It’s like I was an incredibly minor C-plot on a poor episode of Casualty.

Reading, Recalling, Returning

I was back home from Thursday to Friday for my sister’s sixteenth birthday – it’s an unfortunate time to have a birthday, mid May, when you’re in the centre of GCSEs. I’m a lucky February person. Sometimes at school I’d strike lucky and have my birthday during half term. Once it fell on pancake day. That was a good day.

I don’t remember GCSEs all that well. I remember not going to one of my maths exams and somehow getting away with it (it was a pointless and forced retake). I also remember the food technology paper being insultingly easy in the opening pages. Pictures of a ladle with questions like ‘what is this?’ hoping that someone out there would write ‘big spoon’ or ‘hamster umbrella’ or something. I also remember walking with one of my closest friends down a hill I had to walk down for seven years to get to school, except this time it wasn’t at eight o’clock in the morning but around noon. It was his birthday, and another of our friends rang him up to apologise for the lack of a present. His reason? He thought it was April, not June. That is to say he thought he was currently in the month of April. That’s fair, as explanations go.

I came back to Norwich via train yesterday. I finished Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question on the Peterborough to Norwich train. It’s nicely written – very funny and warm. Now I’m about to start Jim Crace’s Harvest, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize. I’ve never heard of Crace before, so Colum McCann’s front cover quote, calling him ‘one of the greatest writers of our time’, is perhaps encouraging.

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I’m also listening to Coldplay’s sixth album, Ghost Stories, on iTunes as a free stream. I like it. I might really like it. The lyrics are, by and large, weak – which is a shame, because I’m one of those people who considers lyrics to be really quite important. But all of that can be spewed out in another post. I wouldn’t inject too much Coldplay into a normal blog post – they’re quite scathingly hated by a fair few people and I wouldn’t want those people to think I take any sort of pleasure in inadvertently raising their blood pressure to dangerous levels.

In more pressing news, I returned home yesterday to find a discarded bra lying outside my window. I certainly don’t remember putting it there (and it’s not really my kind of colour). It’s still there this morning, folded over on itself like it’s giving itself a melancholy, boob-less hug. I feel a bit sorry for it.