Chapter Ten: A Manchester Christmas

Christmas has crept up on me this year.  I used to get so excited about it when I was little, I would spring out of bed on Christmas morning, long before sunrise, and run down the stairs to open my presents, only to be thwarted by my mother who, knowing what I was like, had hidden the presents the night before.  I would pester her unremittingly for hours until she would give in and get up, then, I would help her make Christmas dinner, and we would eat it off trays in front of the telly; afterwards, we would open our presents.

  This Christmas Day, I got up around nine o’clock and made my way sleepily down the stairs to the kitchen, where my mother was already washing and preparing potatoes for roasting.  The radio was on, and a selection of Christmas records was playing.

  “Merry Christmas,” she said, jollily, as she passed me a handful of carrots to wash, scrape, and chop.

  “Merry Christmas,” I replied, equally cheerfully, as I set to work.

  The day was typically cold, yet fairly bright, with not a flake of snow in sight.  Later, as it grew dark, we lit candles and outside, house after house set off fireworks, and the noise grew until it drowned out every other sound.  No carol singers walked along our streets, no snow fell.  My mother put down her glass of brandy and bowl of Christmas pudding, walked over to the T.V, and turned up the volume.

  On Boxing Day, I went to see Tony in Mottram, and, as usual, came home wondering why I’d bothered.  It’s not even a case of whether I love him or not, how can you love someone you never knew?

  Lise, my pretty and precocious blonde thirteen-year-old half sister let me in.  She was wearing low rider jeans, a hot pink tight t-shirt, emblazoned with the message ‘Porn Star’, and an expression of studious boredom, which contrasted sharply with the harassed tones of Emily, her mother, who could be heard all the way from the kitchen.  Inside the living room, Andrew and Tony were playing Nintendo, whilst Jay, an uncannily angelic six year old, watched them from the sofa, stuffing down the contents of a Thorntons selection box at an impressive rate.  The curtains were still drawn, and Jay and Andrew were both still in their pyjamas.  Suddenly, Emily barged past me and Lise, relieved Jay of what was left of the chocolates, and turned off the Nintendo, to much protestation.  “You two!” she roared, “Upstairs, now! Get dressed!” and with much sulky muttering, they obeyed.  Tony got to his feet, and stretched luxuriously.  We share very little physical resemblance; about the only thing I get from him is the height.  He followed Emily through to the kitchen, and, ignored and forgotten, Lise and I settled down on the sofa.  She picked up the selection tray and offered it to me, I selected a praline, and we settled in for the long haul.

  Lise wants to meet my mum, she says.  She says that when her dad talks about her she sounds “totally wild.”

  “What does he say about her?” I asked, curious.

  “He always goes on about being a punk for ages, and how all my music is shite, then he starts talking about your mum, and how she was, like, this mad, sexy actress woman… then my mum gets this evil expression on her face and makes him shut up.  I want to be an actress…”

  Since Lise has wanted to be something different every Christmas since I’ve known her, I didn’t take this latest career decision too seriously: The previous Christmas she had wanted to be a pole dancer.

  “How’s your mother?” asked Tony, gruffly, as I waited for my taxi home that evening.

  “Fine,” I replied automatically.

  “Good.”

  We had been reciting this particular series of exchanges for the past five years.

  “It’s your birthday next month, isn’t it?” he said.

  “Yes, that’s right.”

  “And you’ll be, what, nineteen is it now?”

  “Twenty.”

  He shook his head, “Twenty… you all grow up so fast these days.”

  “How was he then?” asked mum, indifferently, when I arrived back that evening.

  “Oh, you know…” I replied vaguely, “the same.”

  She nodded sadly, “I’m sure he tries…”

  “I know he tries,” I found myself echoing her emphasis on the word, “but it was never going to be normal, was it?”

  “No,” she agreed quietly, “it wasn’t.”

  Katy, amidst much complaining, and definitely against her better judgement, had gone home to the Cotswolds for Christmas, taking Fliss with her.  The plan was for Katy to spend the 22nd, 23rd, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day with her parents, after which she would decamp to Fliss’ family’s house.  The pair of them are due to return on the second of January, just in time for our first interview with ‘NME’, which is due to take place on the third.  It’s to be part of a feature about “The New Manchester Scene,” apparently; whatever that is.

  Flora, like me, had stayed in Manchester for Christmas.  She’s been temping and doing phone work, plus working on assignments for University.  Her parents have gone abroad for Christmas and, fearing that she might be lonely, I arranged to meet her for a pre-Christmas drink.

  We met up at Hardpop on the 22nd.  The One Way Or Another Christmas party had happened only days before, yet you wouldn’t have known it; the tinsel was still there, complimented now by fairy lights, but the glitter had been swept from the floor and although the crowd was equally boisterous, the atmosphere was somehow different.  The D.J alternated between playing electroclash and new Detroit punk, presumably unsure as to which side he ought to come down on.  Flora and I sipped our drinks sceptically. 

  “This is nice,” she said at last.

  “Yeah”

  There was an awkward pause, during which we took it in turns to stare at the floor and ceiling.

  “I hope Katy isn’t having too terrible a time at home,” she remarked, before adding, “I wish that you two could learn to get on.”

  “Katy hates me,” I stated.

  “No she doesn’t,” sighed Flora, “she just doesn’t understand you.”

  “Well, I don’t understand her,” I snapped, “but I tolerate her.”

  “You scare her,” said Flora, quietly.

  “I scare her?”

  “You’re very cold, very casual… very… distant and evasive.  She doesn’t like that.”

  There was a long silence between us; ‘Seven Nation Army’ blared out.

  “I’m not cold.” I said at last.

  “Maybe not intentionally cold,” replied Flora gently, “but that’s how it comes across… Fliss says you’re different at home, so does your mum.”

  “What, are you psychoanalysing me now or something?” I snapped, angrily, “This isn’t what I came out for, Flora; I came out to enjoy myself.”

  “And to keep me company,” she said quietly.

  I looked away.

  “It’s alright, quite flattering really, but I’m not lonely,” her brown eyes showed that she was at pains to get this across, “I just like my own company, still,” her tone became more business like, “I did figure that I had a chance to talk to you about Katy, because I really don’t want this band to fall apart when we’ve barely even started…”

  I nodded.

  “Good.”

  I saw Fergus briefly at The Twilight Studios Christmas party; he accosted me whilst I was there, and extracted a promise from me to go and see ‘Ghost World’ with him at The Filmworks on the second of January.  Fliss hadn’t arrived home before Fergus picked me up, so I left her a note, telling her where I’d gone.

  As we walked through the dark, echoing, noise-fuelled, crowded arcade that was the Printworks, he asked, “Have you eaten?” I hadn’t, so after we’d bought our tickets we decided to dodge our way back through the crowds, already spilling out of the bars, and find somewhere to eat.  We went to a restaurant next door to the cinema, where the décor had a Mexican theme, and indie rock made up the soundtrack.  It was quite dark inside, so each table was lit by candlelight.  We ordered penne pasta with tomatoes, olives, and cheese, and then shared a huge chocolate ice-cream sundae.

  I waited at the table as he went to pay the bill.  It seemed to be taking him a long time, and when I looked over to see what was taking so long, I saw the woman at the till hand back his card.  She was frowning and shaking her head.  I saw him take the card back and count the cash in his wallet; there was some hesitation there and, sensing some kind of difficulty, I joined him by the till.  “What’s up?” I asked, sotto voce.

  I sensed his embarrassment as he said, equally quietly, “I don’t seem to have quite enough cash…”

  “What about your cards?” he shook his head and I decided not to pursue the matter, “how much do you need?”

  “Ten pounds twenty seven pence.”

  I paid up.

  As we travelled up the escalator to cinema five in the airy, carpeted Filmworks, he said quietly, “I’m so sorry, I will pay you back, just as soon as I can.”

  “You don’t have to” I shrugged, “that’s what friends are for.”

  “Yes,” he said dully, “friends.”

  We had arrived at the top of the escalator then, and as we walked along the thick, plush carpets, past the fast food stops, past the screen showing trailers, to the sweet shop, I asked, “Do you want anything?”

  He shook his head each time, seemingly preoccupied.  He didn’t speak to me once all evening after that.

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Chapter Nine: Identity Crisis

Tonight was the One Way Or Another Christmas party, and we took no prisoners in the glamour stakes: all stops were pulled, and everything was permissible, turbo-charged, full on; blitz fucking reig.

  Fliss and I got ready at the flat after work.  I decided to wear my PVC mini skirt with black stay ups (I hate tights) and a black chiffon shirt; the shirt was transparent, so I wore my best black bra. (To be honest, I could have gone without the bra, but I had to wear something under the shirt or risk getting arrested.)  I wore my Docs, as I couldn’t be faffed with heels, and then pinned up my hair and began to apply my make-up.  First powder (ivory), and then eye shadow and eyeliner (black), then lastly the lipstick (scarlet.)  I was done.  I like doing the vamp look because it’s fairly easy to do, and I can put it on without really thinking about it; there was never going to be any point in wearing anything cleavage-y or cute because it would look as though I was trying to be something I’m not, whereas you know where you are with the vamp look; it says hands off as much as it says sex.

  Fliss was still trying to decide what to wear when I made my way through to her room.  Clothes were scattered all over the floor in a mass of colour, along with rejected records and magazine clippings, and I felt a hair slide crunch under my boots as I made my way in.  Fliss was standing at the centre of the storm in her bra and knickers, her right hand rested on her hip as an Atari Teenage Riot tape blared out; she was evidently having an identity crisis.

  I waded through a pile of dirty washing to her (as ever) unmade bed and sat down.  “It’s not that I don’t have anything to wear,” she said, “but I just can’t decide on the look I want tonight.  It feels as though we’re on show, and that I should look the part, but I don’t know what part…” she turned to examine my own outfit, and remarked brightly “You look nice.”  “Thanks,” I turned my mind to her problem, “Wear what you’ll be most comfortable in.”

  “I don’t think I can be comfortable in anything tonight.”

  I shrugged, “Then pick an image and run with it.”

  “I can’t!” it emerged as a drawn out wail, “I’m too nervous! I can’t get it right!” She threw herself down next to me on the bed, and leant her head against my side. She smelt vaguely of milk and biscuits. “I’m worried about what people will think,” her voice was muffled slightly, “and if any journalists will be there, and Violet, what if she doesn’t like…”

  “Shhh…” I gave her what I hoped was a comforting squeeze.  I’d never seen her like this before, she was so nervous and wound up, and I knew that I would have to calm her down if we were to get anywhere.  There was still plenty of time until we had to go out though, so I took charge of the situation.

  I began by picking all the clothes up off the floor, smoothing them, and hanging them back up on Fliss’ clothes rack.  Then, I turned the Atari Teenage Riot tape off, and looked through her music collection for something more soothing.  I settled on a Sandie Shaw best of in the end, and as it played, I picked up the records and magazine clippings, and stacked them in neat piles on Fliss’ chest of drawers.

  From the bed, a rather woeful Fliss watched as I began to rifle through her rack of tightly packed, brightly coloured clothes, and located a short, princess line, light blue satin effect dress with spaghetti straps.  “Put this one on,” I passed it to her, “let’s see how it looks.”

  I heard her stand up; and there was a rustle of fabric as she slid the dress over her head.  I turned around to see what it looked like, and found Fliss slouching unhappily, as she protested, “I look like a little girl.”  I thought she looked sweet.  The blue brought out the blue in her eyes, and the line suited her.

  “You are a little girl,” I pointed out as she scowled at me, “and, like it or not, you have little girl looks, so you might as well make the most of them.”

  “I want to look sexy,” she moaned.

  I shrugged, “alright then.”

  She took off the dress and handed it back to me, and I began to rifle through the clothes on the rack in search of something sexy.  The problem, I quickly discovered, was that Fliss lives almost entirely in slip dresses or mini skirts and t-shirts, and that the kind of clothes on the rack were therefore girly rather than sexy.  An image of Violet sprang to mind, and I took in the knee-high boots, tight, cropped t-shirt, and tight, slit skirt.  “What does Violet like you in?” I asked casually.

  I could almost feel Fliss tense, “What do you mean?” she asked, warily.

  “Simple question I’d’ve thought,” I calmly continued to flick through her clothes.  There really were some nice outfits there; it was a pity that Fliss couldn’t see it.  I had ideas as to how to dress her, but I couldn’t make her wear what I picked out.

  She was silent for so long that I went over to the bed and sat down beside her once more.  She stared glumly at her knees as she said in a voice barely above a whisper, “I’m not like you, I don’t have that confidence, that sophistication, but I need to have it, if I’m going to keep her.”

  “Fliss,” I said, equally quietly, “she wouldn’t be with you if she didn’t like you as you were.  If she wants you to change…”

  “No, no, it’s not…”

  “…Then she isn’t really interested in you.”

  I sensed that she was thinking about this, and eventually, she nodded, “You’re right.”

  “About what?”

  “All of it,” she grew pensive, “and, besides, it wouldn’t work… I can’t look sexy; I’ve tried…” she burst into tears.

  “Shh…” I awkwardly clasped her to my non-existent bosom; it felt like the right thing to do, although I did feel vaguely ridiculous.

  “Why couldn’t I look older?” she sobbed, “why couldn’t I be tall, and thin, and…”

  “Don’t go too fast,” I said as I self consciously patted her on the back, “don’t try to do everything at once,” I was turning into my mother, I decided, what with the patting and everything, “things’ll happen fast enough…” yes, definitely my mother… It was unnerving, but Fliss seemed to find it comforting.  She nodded and snuffled a little.  Marmalade, her ginger and white kitten had appeared in the doorway, so I scooped her up and presented her to Fliss to stroke.  Whilst she was occupied with the little cat, I fished out the blue dress I had picked out before and searched for other items to go with it.

  In the end, Fliss wore the blue dress with black tights and black stilettos, which seemed to boost her confidence as well as her height.  I wouldn’t do her make-up as I had done my own, but I pinned up her fair hair and applied some lip-gloss and blue eye shadow to her unblemished face; she doesn’t really need make-up.  Then, I hunted out a blue velvet choker of mine for her, and lent her my elbow length blue velvet gloves; I thought that they were a bit much, but Fliss wouldn’t take them off, so I indulged her.  She doesn’t have pierced ears or anything, so that was that.  She was done, and we were ready at last.

  We met up with Flora and Katy at Vanilla, off Sackville Street.  They were engrossed in cocktails and an episode of ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ on the big screen when we arrived, which made a change from ‘Bad Girls,’ their usual viewing passion. I got lemonades for Fliss and me, and we walked up the twisting staircase, past the glitter ball and huge, pink sign for woman, and joined them at their small, round table.  I could see the bar and tables downstairs from our corner, and could just make out Violet, over the balcony, swaggering her way into the pale pink, Vanilla domain, through the crowd, to the bar.

  ‘Ab.Fab.’ finished, and the T.V was switched over to pop videos.  Violet was drinking cocktails too, I noticed, and I began to feel a bit left out.  To take my mind off drinking, I asked Violet about the previous years Christmas party, which she and the other members of The Girls From Mars had attended.  “It was meant to be fancy dress,” she said, pausing for a slurp of her cocktail, “but loads of people wimped out.  I went though, I went as Xena.”

  “Pity it wasn’t this year,” said Flora, slyly, “that way you could have taken Fliss and she could have gone as Gabrielle.”

  Fliss turned a becoming shade of pink, and Violet smiled indulgently in her direction as she took hold of her hand, “Who would you have gone as, Flora?” she asked, “Boadicea?”

  Flora shook her head, “Something a little less mythological would’ve been my line, but Maggie could do a passable Willow from ‘Buffy…’”

  I refrained from answering her on this point.

  The party was at a club called Hardpop, which was situated somewhere between Piccadilly and Oxford Road (I wasn’t really paying attention.)  We arrived at about half ten, got in for free because we were on the guest list, and were promptly engulfed by a cloud of cigarette smoke as we stepped inside the gloomy club.  The darkness was lit, intermittently, by flashes of fast moving, U.V lighting, and it was all very tacky and kitsch.  A D.J was playing old sixties garage rock records when we first arrived and, once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I was able to observe that it was Aiden, the guitarist from Dew.

  Hardpop is a small, intimate club in the basement of a slightly larger pub.  It doesn’t have a proper stage (the bands set up and play in one of the corners of the club) but there’s a nice dance floor.  The atmosphere seemed friendly, albeit a little drunk, and there was lots of tinsel and glitter flying about.  I noticed that several people were wearing Santa hats and/or false Santa style beards, and that reindeer antler headbands were also a popular choice of headgear, and I began to regret my vamp look.

  Then, just as I was beginning to feel really uncomfortable and out of place, Fergus came over and sat down next to me.  “Why the long face?” he seemed genuinely concerned.

  “Oh,” I sighed, “I just feel a little over dressed, that’s all.”

  He glanced down at my shirt, “Over dressed?” he met my eyes, and we both laughed, “That’s better,” he said, “Do you want a drink?”

  I gestured to my glass of lemonade, “Got one.”

  “Proper drink.”

  “I don’t drink alcohol.”

  “Why not?”

   Now it’s funny, but no one has ever asked me that.  Usually when you say that you don’t drink, people back off because they assume that you’re either a recovering alcoholic or that you’re religious or straight edge, so no one normally asks why.  I was a bit stumped, so rather than tell the truth, I fudged it.  “You know me,” I smiled, but it was a false smile, “I don’t like to lose control.”

  “Why not?” His eyes searched my face for clues, “might do you good.”

  I could feel my hackles rising, “I’m quite happy here with my lemonade, thanks,” it came out a bit snappy and prissy, which hadn’t been what I’d intended at all, “I just… don’t drink.”  I couldn’t meet his eyes, “I…” I hesitated.  I considered telling him the truth, but… no.

  Nat came blundering across the floor to us then, breaking up our téte á téte.  Her blonde streaked hair hung in curls to her shoulders, a white, semi translucent, crinkle cotton shirt was covering a black vest top, and her tight, dark blue jeans had been dusted with glitter, and sparkled in the U.V lighting.  Despite her immaculate ensemble though, she was a mess.  I gathered that she and Nick, her boyfriend of four stormy months, had broken up.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough… “That bitch Jasmine’s here, with Shahina.”  Shahina was the girl that Jasmine, Nat’s partner before Nick, had left Nat for.  I could tell that she had been crying, but she didn’t seem drunk or hysterical in any way.  She was pale, and her eyes were red from crying, but her lips were fixed in a grim line.  She was determined to tough the evening out.  “I won’t leave,” she stated grimly, “I won’t give her the satisfaction.”  The determination made her seem stronger somehow, and dignified.  I think, really, that’s all you’ve got left when you’ve been rejected, dignity I mean.  A kind of icy fire was driving her on, and it prevented her from doing anything stupid.

  Fliss went home with Violet, so I took Nat home with me.  She cried a lot once we were back at the flat, and for the second time that night, I found myself cast as comforter.

  It quickly became apparent that Nat was still in love with Jasmine.  “You know what song they were playing tonight when I looked across the room and noticed her?” she wept as she lay with her head in my lap, “Electronic, ‘Getting Away With It.’”

  I nodded sympathetically, although I couldn’t see the significance myself.  “She’ll see sense,” I said, “She’s just trying to get to you.”

  “Yes,” she sobbed, “and it’s bloody working…”

  I put her to bed in my room about five-ish.  Fliss’ room was empty of course, but I couldn’t put her in there.  Its six thirty now, and I’m absolutely exhausted.  Every time I yawn, I close my eyes and sag a little deeper into the sofa.  It’s time to sign off before I nod off altogether.  I’m bedding down here tonight, but I dare say I’m so tired that I could sleep anywhere.

Wishing For Tomorrow

Today I’ve been reading ‘Wishing For Tomorrow’, Hilary McKay’s sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘A Little Princess’. I was both excited and wary about it initially because ‘A Little Princess’ is my favourite children’s book of all time, but Hilary McKay is also I’d say my favourite contemporary children’s writer, and having re-read ‘Forever Rose’ recently, I was convinced that if anyone was going to do a convincing sequel and not cock it up then it’d be her. Fortunately, I was right.

Someone, many years ago, did a sequel to to ‘The Secret Garden’, and it was dreadful. They did it as an adult book with adult age versions of the characters. This didn’t happen with ‘Wishing For Tomorrow’, it took off more or less where ‘A Little Princess’ ends, and was concerned with what happens to the girls at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary once Sara Crewe has got her happy ending.

McKay’s very good at working in backstory, as well as developing the characters in a way that’s believable in the context of the original book. This means that the horrible Lavinia becomes agreeably human and even sympathetic, without losing her edge, the Minchin’s motivations for setting up the seminary in the first place are explored, and Lottie, whilst still infuriatingly badly behaved, comes across as much more than simply a spoilt brat. I liked it a lot, and I could see strong parallels between Lottie and the young Rose Casson at a couple of points, but I think that added to its charm. The period detail, and attention to dialogue, was good as well, and Alice the maid, a renaissance woman of sorts, was a fantastic, inspired, addition to the cast.

Candy and the Broken Biscuits: A long, meandering review in three stages.

I essentially wrote this review as I was reading the book, as sometimes I think it’s the best way – depending on the book, but often it’s the best way with fiction anyhow.

So, part 1:

I have started reading Lauren Laverne’s ‘Candy Pop: Candy and the Broken Biscuits’ alongside ‘Hogarth: A life and a world’, and it’s really good. (So is Hogarth, but it’s slow going and huge) It has the same sense of the absurd as the Louise Rennison Georgia Nicolson books, but with a more likeable heroine; the eponymous Candy Caine (allegedly named after Candy Darling in ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, or JAMC’s ‘Some Candy Talking’ – her mum can’t remember which. Meaning she is, in true contradictory fashion, named after either “a sensitive transvestite” or “a song everyone thinks is about drugs”) There’s a villainous stepfather – to – be figure, putting it on a par with Chrissie Glazebrook‘s ‘The Madolescents’, rather more than Anne Fine (‘Goggle Eyes’, ‘Step By Wicked Step’) and an eccentricly boisterous best mate (Louise Rennison again), but the authentic details as regards the heroines obsession with music are very real: the bedroom furniture, still that of a much younger girl, gradually being covered up by innumerable pictures of musicians, the technical detail of the heroines first guitar lesson, the soundtracking of life (walking around lost in a David Holmes soundtrack), the discovery of random bands and albums outside of their context and time frame (Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’.)

Although it’s just entered a slightly absurd stage, with the genie-like entry of a fairy (ahem) godbrother, so I’m not sure it’ll work entirely. I shall persevere though. Possibly it’s that this unforseen element reminds me too much of ‘Drop Dead Fred’ so far, but maybe it’s also that when, say, Terry Pratchett or Linda Jaivin mixed fantasy and Sci Fi elements with music, the combination was set up very early on. (See ‘Soul Music’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll Babes From Outer Space’) It didn’t jar in the same way it has here. But I like the characters and the tone (very deadpan, funny, quite dry, pitched just right) very much, so I’ll stick with it.

Part 2:

Actually, once you take the fairy godbrother onside, it’s really, really good. And realistic as well, in a way that ‘Guitar Girl’ just wasn’t. It has the lunacy of Louise Rennison and Chrissie Glazebrook at their best, the sweetness of Hilary McKay or Meg Cabot at the height of their powers (the kind of sweetness that is sweet but not sticky), and an authenticity and attention to detail of its very own.

Part 3:

Finished it!

Says on the inside back cover that part 2 is out next summer, so I shall look forward to that. If anyone was going to write a great novel for teenage girls about girls and music, I’m glad it’s Lauren Laverne. God knows, I’ve spent a ridiculously large chunk of my life trying to do the same, and I’m very pleased that someone else has accomplished it.

It’s probably really weird to feel like that, but I feel great about it – I’ve felt great since I started putting Screaming In Public up here actually, it made it all feel fun again, as opposed to doing lit agent submissions, which was just paralysingly horrible and depressing (increasingly). I kind of feel like I did when I heard the Sara Marcus book on Riot Grrrl was due out soon – only even better in this case. In both cases it’s the sense of ‘At last! Someone else is doing it!’ It removes the responsibility for doing it right from my already fragile (increasingly so) shoulders, for which I’m always insanely grateful.

I suspect this would be construed by many as a key personality flaw, much in the same way that doing all the necessary but unprestigious jobs on my team at work is, but in both cases I’ve always seen it as a virtue. I’m not the spotlight type, I’m very much a behind the scenes person. I think this is why I still feel very freaked out by the success of the punk women series on the F-Word, and the terrible responsibility (that I never planned for) that has come with it.

I am taking a break from the punk women series at the moment though, and am pleased to be doing so, especially as I checked Helen McCookerybook’s blog the other week, and saw she was hard at work at the paperback edition (next year?) of The Lost Women Of Rock Musicwhich I hope will be cheap enough for me and others to buy. I have had a very punk women soundtrack kind of day though, in that I woke up craving Laura Nyro. I resisted putting ‘Eli and the 13th Confession’ on for a bit because it’s my crisis record (or one of) and I was feeling woeful all week because of work related trauma (which I won’t go into…) and thought it would make me feel maudlin and tearful, but it didn’t, it got me smiling and packing up my bedding to take with the rest of my laundry to the launderette in no time at all. When I came back, I was a bit knackered (it’s a bit of a trek…) and bunged Florence and the Machine (‘Lungs’, all of it) on, and followed it up with ‘Hounds Of Love’ almost unthinkingly, as the three albums kind of go together, and I lived on them and the Santogold album for most of the second half of last year.. I have a taped soundtrack to the punk series, and whilst Laura didn’t make it, as she was the soundtrack to my pre-punk women piece meltdown circa May/June, she very much fits.

I also have strong memories of typing it up amidst blizzards in late December/early January to Sara and David’s mix cd’s, and particularly remember the songs I danced to to warm myself up: Architecture in Helsinki (‘Heart It Races’), and The Flirtations (‘Nothing But A Heartache’) The launderette is good for music too: Dub reggae usually, Alanis Morrisette (bleurgh!) the first time, Lily Allen once (good for a little bit, then it got tiresome) I live in hope of hearing Viv Goldman’s ‘Launderette’ one day, but it hasn’t happened yet. I was going to listen to the Blow Monkey’s and Carmel when I put my washing away again, but ended up doing so to Kate Bush instead.

Chapter Eight: No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands

It was only six o’clock when we arrived in Manchester on the Monday, but it was already dark.  The pavement was crowded with commuters waiting for buses to take them home, and the streetlights shone all the way to the corner of Newton Street.  It was going to rain, but by the time we reached The Gates and began to soundcheck, it was still just thinking about it.

  The gig itself was great, much better than the last gig we played there.  It probably helped that we were playing with two excellent bands, The Girls From Mars and another One Way Or Another band, Dew, and, not only that, but also two bands that seem to be on the same wavelength as us musically.  This time when I looked out across the room, I saw a sea of heads and heard the hum of chatter that you get with a venue that is well and truly full.  Fergus said that the extra interest has come about because we’ve had a bit of press (locally) now, whereas before we hadn’t, but I think the size of the crowd had a lot to do with The Girls From Mars though, because they have a big local following.

  There were a lot of girls clustered together around the stage, including Nat.  Mum also came, although she was further back; she had dug out her Banshees t-shirt and leather jacket for the occasion.  Fergus was luckier than mum, crowd wise; he had found a niche by the side of the stage and clung onto it with grim determination.

  The Girls From Mars were on good form, and Fliss made sure that she was right at the front for their set.  There is something almost hypnotic about them when they’re at their best, something dark yet very listenable.  Dew played a good set too, although they were hindered a little by technical difficulties.

  The only nerve-wracking moment for use Rose girls (as Violet calls us) was premiering our version of The Divinyls ‘I Touch Myself’.  We don’t really go in for doing cover versions, and we weren’t sure of how the crowd would react.  We had considered doing The Waitresses ‘I Know What Boys Like’ but decided against it.  As it was, ‘I Touch Myself’ went down a storm.  Fliss had great fun singing it and flirting with the audience.  Tonight she wore a pale pink slip dress with a marabou trim, and the fabric glistened like a liquid when it caught the light, like her hair, which, as usual, was up in bunches.

  Flora and Katy had been playing around with websites at an internet café in Piccadilly before the gig and much to their amusement, they had located a hobbit site that provides the user with a secret hobbit name for each name they key in; sometimes it also provides you with the area of Middle Earth that you hail from.  They had done everyone who was to accompany us on the tourbus, but I can only remember the Titanium Rose ones, and Fergus’.

  The morning after the Sheffield gig, I woke up on the bus with the sun shining in my eyes and Fliss and Flora curled up on the seats immediately in front and behind me, both still fast asleep.  My back was hurting, so I eased myself into an upright position, climbed out of my seat, walked down the aisle, and opened the door.

  Fergus was already up and was leaning against the bus, smoking.  He glanced up as I joined him, “Morning, Tigerlily.”

  “Morning, Bodo”

  He smiled, “Tigerlily suits you.”

  “I thought Fliss’ was good,” I admitted as I surveyed the misty view of the distant Pennines, “Dolly; that was quite apt.”  I reached into my pockets for my cigarettes, but failed to locate them; I must have left them in my coat.

  “Here,” he lit one of his own and passed it to me.

  “Thanks, I owe you.”

  “Forget it,” he waved his hand dismissively.

  We were quiet for a few minutes, before he dropped his cigarette butt and ground it into the tarmac with his boot, and asked me, “How old are you?

  “Nineteen: why?”

  He shrugged and scuffed the rough gravel of the makeshift car park with his boots, “You look older with make-up; I thought you were about twenty five or something…” He looked up, and met my eyes; “You look prettier without make-up, without all that black stuff round your eyes.”

  I sighed, “You were doing so well until then…” But I wasn’t really angry with him, not like I have been.  I like him, but as a friend, I know that he still wants more from me than that, but he should know by now that he isn’t going to get more.

  After the Leeds gig that night, after the others had fallen asleep, he drove and I sat across the aisle from him, talking to him, and keeping him awake.  We talked about all kinds of things, beginning with music, but then moving onto so much more. As we drove into the night, I felt myself begin to trust him for the first time.  He was easy to talk to, easy to banter with, laugh with, and I knew that I could talk to him about almost anything.  “I was going to be a ballet dancer,” I told him.  He laughed as I continued, “seriously, I was going to study at the Northern Ballet School and be a principal dancer one day somewhere and tour the world.”

  He saw that I was being serious, and stopped laughing, “So what happened then? What made you choose music instead?”

  I shrugged, “Stuff happened…”

  He nodded sagely as he added quietly, “Nat mentioned that you dropped out of the ballet school, she said you had a place, but it didn’t work out.”

  “I got very ill,” I said, equally quietly, “I was asked to leave, maybe come back when I was better, but that didn’t happen… By then, I’d lost my chance.”

  The conversation died as I gazed out of the window into the darkness.  The rain pelted the windows as we travelled along the dark, deserted, never ending motorway, towards Newcastle.

  The Girls From Mars turned out to be great fun to tour with, both energetic and generous; we had agreed beforehand that we would take it in turns to headline, and that we would split any profits 50/50, an arrangement that everyone seemed happy with.

  Despite their legendary drinking habits, they were generally amiable and easy to get along with.  Thayla, the drummer, slept in every day and generally rose around 2pm with bloodshot eyes and a shaky, staggering gait, acquired by means both legal and illegal.  Jack Daniels and hash were her main preferences, but in practice, she would take whatever she could pick up at gigs.  I saw Fergus frown reproachfully in her direction a few times, particularly on the nights when Katy also indulged in whatever happened to be going, but he never said anything: It would have been pointless really if he had.  Moyra and Violet tended to be the most active during the day, but all four Girls From Mars were on overdrive at night.  Violet tended to be surrounded by adoring young fans after the gigs, some adored her for the music, some adored her for more physical reasons, and some were infatuated in both senses.  Most nights she would bring along a selection of fans to the increasingly wild after show parties that Moyra and Katy initiated, and would disappear with one or more of them for several hours, re-appearing just as we were about to leave, her clothes awry, her hair mussed, her make-up smudged, covered in lovebites and looking almost smug.  She had masses of energy, and was usually the first up in the morning, and the last to go to bed.

  We had stopped in a coach park somewhere in the midlands one night, and I watched from my seat near the back as outside on the lush, damp grass Violet and Fliss, the only other people awake, gazed up at the clear, dark blue night sky.  The stars were out, and the moon was whole and shining silvery bright.   Fliss was pointing to something in the sky, but I couldn’t see her face because she was too far away.  In the darkness, I saw Violet take hold of her hand as Fliss continued to point things out in the sky, and Violet followed her gaze.  She had forsaken a night of groupie entertainment in order to star gaze with Fliss, which seemed strange to me.

  By the time they got back to the coach, Fliss was shivering in her white cotton strappy dress and, from my vantage point near the back I saw Violet reach for one of her shirts and drape it around her.  Nearby, Thayla was snoring and Jane stirred, sighed, then turned over and went back to sleep.  I crouched lower in my seat, unwilling to be noticed now that Fliss and Violet were back on board.  Through the gap in the seats, I saw Violet lean towards Fliss.  Fliss had been looking out of the window, but just then she turned her head, and I saw Violet slowly kiss her.  I held my breath as Fliss returned the kiss, she seemed hesitant at first, and a little shy, but after a while she seemed to relax.  As they continued to kiss, I began to feel uncomfortable; I realised that I shouldn’t be watching something as intensely private as this.  I lay down on my seat and closed my eyes, feeling guilty yet… pleased for Fliss.

  It was after the gig in Cambridge that things began to change.  A sullen note began to creep onto the bus as we travelled further into the tour.  Little things that had once seemed insignificant, or even amusing once, began to grate.  It’s very difficult to put into words just how boring it can be, being cooped up with eight other people for nineteen hours a day.  Even when you’ve arrived at a venue, and you’ve soundchecked, and are about to perform, it’s still not great, because even if you play a great set, meet lots of cool people, and have a fantastic time, at the end of the night, the music stops, the lights are switched on, the audience leaves, and all you’re left with are the staff of that particular venue, who are going home soon, and eight people by the door, who you will have to spend another nineteen hours of boredom with.

  It started when Thayla, hung over one afternoon, objected to the tape that Katy had just put on the bus stereo (Sonic Youth’s ‘Goo’).  Katy refused to take it off because, after all, it was her turn.  She had to put up with everyone else’s shite taste in music, she yelled down the bus, so Thayla could put up with hers.  Thayla didn’t argue after that, but she and Katy didn’t speak for the rest of the tour.

  Next it was Moyra’s turn.  She wanted The Girls From Mars to headline that nights gig, even though it was Titanium Rose’ turn, and an argument broke out between her and Flora as to who was bringing in the most fans each night and, consequently, the most revenue.  Soon Katy had joined in, then Jane, then me, then Fergus.  Violet and Fliss refused to take sides, and the argument ended with Moyra branding Violet a “traitor” and Titanium Rose headlining as originally planned.

  Then Katy homed in on me.  We had played a terrible gig in Ipswich, and both bands had filed onto the coach afterwards in silence.  Fliss and Violet sought refuge at the back of the bus, leaving Thayla to pass out on the seat in front.  Moyra sat, tight-lipped, next to Fergus, whilst Jane tried to sleep.  Flora was wearily sketching designs for clothes, and had cut herself off from the rest of us by plugging herself into her discman.  The coach zoomed down the dark, empty motorway; the lampposts and neon signs lit our way as the rain lashed the windows.  In the strong, claustrophobic silence, Katy watched me, and I watched Katy.

  It was still pouring down when we turned off the motorway into the dark, wet, eerily quiet service station car park.  The temperature had dropped, and I found myself shivering as I climbed out and ran, arms folded over my chest in an attempt to keep warm, towards the toilets.

  Katy was the first back to the bus.  She was leaning against the chassis, glowering, when I returned.  We glared at each other in the stony silence.  Eventually, I snapped, “I know you don’t like me,” a small part of me cautioned me as to the folly of continuing, but I was angry and fed up, and so ignored it, “but there was no need for you to fuck about with my kit when we were loading up.”

  “So don’t drop my fucking guitar,”

  I scowled, “If you’ve got something to say, say it.”

  “Oh plenty,” she glowered, “but I’m not interested in words.”  The punch caught me by surprise, somewhere between my right eye and my nose, and I didn’t even think about it, I punched her back with equal force, hitting her right between the eyes, so hard she fell back against the bus with a crash.  With a snarl of rage, she threw herself at me, and we fell onto the wet, grimy, gritty tarmac.

  I had her by the hair and was thumping her, repeatedly, in the chest when someone grabbed me from behind and hauled me off her.  We had been fighting for a while by then.  They held me in a vice like grip as I watched Fergus pull Katy to her feet, and then grab her as my captor had done when she tried to throw herself at me again.  She was glaring with an almost psychotic rage, her eyes glinting furiously in the night.  Her right eye was puffy, and blood was dripping from her nose.  My eye began to throb in sympathy.

  Still, our fight was a turning point of sorts.  We all grew quieter, more wary.  We seemed to accept the job in hand, and we were learning to simply get on with it.

  A few nights later, after the nights gig, Fliss sat at the front of the bus and talked to Fergus.  Further back, about halfway down the bus, I leant back against the window and put my feet up on the seats.  Across the aisle, Flora had adopted a similar position and was busily sketching designs for clothes in her sketchbook.  Everybody else was asleep, so for all intents and purposes, the pair of us were alone.  It had been Flora’s turn to pick the tape for the bus stereo, and she had chosen an old Natasha Atlas CD; dance beats weaved their way in and out of the melody as the Arabic vocals soared, and it was all very soothing as we bumped along in the dimly lit bus.

  Flora took a break to rest her hand, and I took the opportunity to peruse her designs.  As I was doing so, I heard Fergus ask Fliss who had written the lyrics to ‘The Battle You Cannot Win.’ I froze as I heard Fliss reply, “Maggie did.”

  “Just Maggie?” he asked.

  “Yes,” Fliss seemed puzzled, “why do you ask?”

  “Oh, no reason,” he concluded lamely, “just wondered,” he didn’t say anymore, but I sensed that he was troubled by something.

  We went onto a club after the London gig, with some members of the other two bands on the bill, Avenge and Witch Tree.  It was a modest sized venue, and the DJ’s were playing surf and northern soul records.  I danced for a little while, but I was very tired by then, so I soon made my excuses and sat down to watch.  Fergus joined me not long after, and we watched as Flora and Katy danced with Moyra and Jane.  Thayla had chosen to sit that song out, and Violet and Fliss were snogging in the opposite corner.  I was so tired that I rested my head on his shoulder.  As I closed my eyes, I could sense him, gently stroking my hair.

Sarah and Emily

I’ve been reading Emily’s blog and marvelling at her stamina. It takes a lot of time to read, digest, and review books, and it’s good that she takes so much time over it, and discusses even the bad ones intelligently and in detail.

Last night I read Sarah Dessen’s ‘Lock And Key’ which I loved. It’s very different, in some ways, to ‘Just Listen’ (which I also loved) in that the initial premise of ‘Just Listen’ is a girl who appears to have everything, but who in fact doesn’t. The heroine, Ruby, in ‘Lock And Key’ starts off with nothing, and is thrown into a life of privilage that she really doesn’t want, so she goes from extreme poverty to extreme wealth via very traumatic circumstances. But there are similarities in terms of questions of identity, disrupted lives, and how things that often look perfect aren’t really when you scratch the surface.

I don’t want to say too much more, because I don’t want to ruin the plot of either book, but I very much respect Sarah Dessen as a writer. There’s always lots of interesting, multi faceted, quirky characters beyond the main cast, and nice little details, like the view into other peoples lives Ruby and Nate gain through working on his dad’s business – which is one of those businesess where they run around doing all the mundane tasks (shopping, picking up prescriptions, taking animals to and from vets…) that the very rich don’t have time to do: The quantity of xanex and other anti-depressant drugs being collected and delivered each time is remarked on….

I think what I really like about Sarah Dessen’s books is that she is capable of writing about very serious, often very dark, unpleasant aspects of life and human behaviour, without doing so gratuitiously or trivialising the issues, or using them in a gimmicky way. And her characters are always complex, compelling, and believable, with layers of backstory and plots, and twists.

I think Emily would like these two books…

Chapter Seven: Tension

I write this whilst lying in bed; there are things on my mind that I need to write down and get out of my head before I get up.  It is four days now since he took my hand in his and told me he liked me, and I can’t stop thinking about it; the way he looked at me, his closeness to me, how he looked at that moment…  I need to clear my head of this crap, or I’ll never be able to think clearly again.  Maybe if I write down in here how I feel about him, and how I think he feels about me… maybe things will feel better.

  O.K, item one: How do I feel about Fergus Lowry? Thinking about him saying he finds me attractive… I didn’t like that because… I just didn’t.  This isn’t helping, try again, and be honest… I didn’t like it because I don’t fancy him… Simple really… He is physically attractive, but… nothing stirs within.  Item two: How does Fergus Lowry feel about me? Well, I don’t think he loves me… I think he likes teasing me.

  I feel a little better for having written that.  There is possibly more that I could say, but I need to get up because the phone is ringing and Fliss has gone out.

  (Later)

It was Flora on the phone; she has the beginnings of a song that she needs lyrics for, and is going to drop off a tape later on, I have some ideas for it myself in terms of drums, but right now I need to get dressed; our single is to be released next week, and we are going on tour soon, so now seems to be the best time to get my Christmas shopping done.

  (Later)

This really isn’t my week, first that embarrassing mess with Fergus, now this.  Oh, I shouldn’t have gone shopping today… But I’m rushing ahead; I need to calm down…

  O.K, I am calm, composed, and ready to start from the beginning now.  Here goes…

  It was about two p.m when the bus pulled into the bus station.  I had planned to get an earlier bus, and so avoid the Christmas rush of frantic shoppers as they hunted in herds for mini scooters, cyber dogs, and whatever else the kids are meant to want this year, but – as you may have gathered – I was preoccupied.  Sunday shopping in Stockport is usually less stressful than the traffic congestion and maddeningly slow-moving crowds that you are forced to contend with on the average Saturday, but it’s so close to Christmas now that it doesn’t matter what day of the week you go.

  I paused to admire the Christmas tree and festive roof hangings in the glassed over part of Merseyway; they were neat, and nicely done, not too tacky.  The floor beneath my feet was shiny and slippery, polished until it was like glass.  As I stepped backwards, still admiring the tree, I collided with someone… someone I knew, and a sensation of sheer naked fear began to twist, horribly, at the pit of my stomach.

  I must have winded him, for he was bent double when I turned around, but even though I couldn’t see him in profile, I knew… I began to weave my way through the crowd, slowly at first, then faster and faster, my heart pounding in my throat, but some damned toddler go in my way, and when I turned to go the other way, I found some woman with a buggy blocking my path.  I was trapped.  He walked over to me, and nodded in a surly kind of way, “Alright.”

  My throat felt too tight to speak as I stared at him.  I could only nod.  As the crowds continued to charge past us, I got shoved aside, and in the melee, I lost sight of him.  There was a gap in the crowd and, before he could stop me, I had cut through it and was on my way through Merseyway, my eyes blinded by the tears that had sprung suddenly to my eyes.  Terry Marlowe, I thought as I ran, why oh why did I have to see you now?

  Flora had posted the tape through the letterbox by the time I arrived home.  Fliss still wasn’t back, so I took the tape and had a listen to it.  It was just one of the rough demos that Flora makes when she has an idea for a song, but it was clear enough to work from.

  As I listened to the track, memories of Terry and of the two miserable years I spent with him, came flooding back.  They mingled with my memory of Fergus, of him taking hold of my hand and telling me he found me attractive, and all the pain and anger came streaming out as I began to write lyrics to Flora’s music.  I was so furious then that the lyrics seemed to come from the darkest part of my heart and soul, they seemed to take over me, and when I was done my hand ached and I felt emotionally exhausted.  I called it ‘The Battle You Cannot Win’, because none of us can win; least of all me.

  Later, Flora came round with some clothes for Fliss and me for the tour, and I took the opportunity to show her the lyrics that I had written.  She liked them, and to my relief, didn’t question me about the subject matter.  “I want you two to try on your outfits before I go,” she told us both, “that way I can make any adjustments whilst I’m here.”

  Whilst Fliss opened the bulging bin bag that Flora had deposited at her feet, I picked up my own un-opened and much smaller bag and took it off to my bedroom.  Once inside, I emptied the contents out onto my bed and discovered shirts, t-shirts, and trousers for drumming in, and a couple of mini skirts and dresses for when I’m off duty.  You can’t drum in short skirts, not without trousers, leggings, or really thick tights underneath anyway.  If you do, the audience’s gaze has a tendency to divert itself to your crotch.

  It didn’t take me long to model my outfits for Flora, and once I had finished I returned to my bedroom and hung my new clothes up in my wardrobe. Flora came in as I was doing so, “Maggie?” I heard her ask from the doorway.

  “Yes?”

  “What’s going on between you and Fergus?”

  I stiffened, “Nothing,” I concentrated on hanging my new clothes.

  “Yeah, right,” when I closed the doors and turned around, I found her sat at my desk, lolling cockily on the chair, a faint smirk on her face.

  “O.K,” I tried to stay calm, but my voice gave me away, “what do you think is going on?”

  “Did he try to pull you?”

  I blushed, and she laughed, gleefully and delightfully.

  “I never asked him to!” I protested.

  “So you’re not interested then?”

  “No!”

  I sensed her relief as she got to her feet once more, “Then it’s O.K”

  But as she left, I knew it wasn’t O.K; things are very far from O.K.