Vignettes from the hospital

My grandparents at their 60th wedding anniversary; 2012. Le Touquet, France.

Below is a piece of writing I submitted in the second year of my BA at the University of East Anglia.

For a few years around that time I worked at a hospital during the holidays, serving tea and coffee to patients and plating up their dinners. I wrote the following based on my experiences with the patients on those wards. At the time, I was fascinated by the realisation that at the end of life, we all start looking and acting the same. We come in to the world as identikit yowling babies and we go out  of it as identikit OAPs in hospital gowns. More or less. It was a pretty tragic realisation.

Even worse: I realised that as identity appears to fade with age, so does everybody else’s memory that we were ever anything other than grey, wrinkled and probably a little confused. When my granddad developed Alzheimer’s and his personality changed quite drastically, we all found it hard to remember what a hero he had been to the whole family for all those years previous. When he died, all of those memories came back. But imagine how much harder that must be for a nurse working 12 hour shifts, never having known the younger versions of their patients. But life must go on.

I haven’t edited the story at all after re-reading it just now, so although the recollections still seem interesting to me I think the construction of it is a bit lacking. I’d like to clarify that I’ve since learned to use a semi-colon and start less of my sentences with pronouns. Thanks, 90’s Labour government for your grammar-sparse curriculum which resulted in me learning these things as a teacher in my twenties.

Emily x

P.S. I got a first for this. Bitches.

Tomato Sandwiches

It was a Monday evening in August that I first met Sarah. The sticky warmth of the day lingered in the cramped hospital air so that my pinstripe bib and waist high work trousers clung uncomfortably. It was a race as usual to find my clock-in card as the little dial flickered from 16:59 to 17:00, but I stamped it in time, absentmindedly pulling a green mop head from the bucket marked ‘clean’ in the corner of the office. “Ward Nine, ‘Elderly Medicine’!” My supervisor barked at me, ticking my name off on her clipboard.

Six shifts this week. I emptied sachets of custard powder, gravy powder and soup mix into plastic jugs. I’d perfected the technique a long time ago; an inch or so of cold water, whisk out the lumps, top it up with boiling water, whisk until it’s a little too thin. The custard especially seems to thicken and clog in the serving jug as it sits on the cold trolley, being poured in school dinner lumps over strawberry whips and slabs of jelly. Six shifts. One hundred and eighty patients. One hundred and eighty dinners and puddings. One hundred and eighty lots of “would you like a cup of tea Basil/Ivy/Edna/Joseph?” That’s one funny thing about the hospital; it’s populated by a different generation, a testament to a pocket of fashion that’s long expired, when Jeans and Marys were the height of vogue. Another thing is the food. ‘Liver and onions’ is probably the most popular meal on the menu but ‘lamb balti’ always goes untouched, left to be furtively prodded at by hungry nurses as they complain about it threatening their bikini diets.

I wheeled my cold trolley into the corridor and an auxiliary nurse came to help, belting on a plastic green apron. “What’s the first pudding then love? I’ll plate it up for you.” I read the name on the menu, ‘Jean Patterson’, neatly printed in block capitals. I asked the nurse for a yoghurt as I ladled soggy cauliflower cheese onto a heated plate, a spoonful of greying peas, a scoop of mashed potato. I piled it onto a plastic tray with a menu and a cutlery set.

“Mrs Patterson?” I called, and stepped into the bay. Four women were lying in portable beds, all wearing the same thin white nightdress, ‘PROPERTY OF GOOD HOPE HOSPITAL’ printed at the neckline. They all lay tucked to their necks under matching blue blankets, silent and milky eyed. They stared into space, out of the window, at their blankets. I looked at the white boards strapped to the foot of each bed. Sylvia, Bertha, Hilda, Joan. “Hi Joan I’ve got your dinner for you here!” I chimed brightly. The visitor at her side looked up and reached for the tray with a conservative smile. “Thank you nurse.” She had the prim tone of a private school headmistress. I might have corrected her on my job title but she carried on. “Nurse, do you think that you could get us an extra side plate please? We’ll have a go with this hot meal but she is ever so stubborn with her eating and I’m hoping to try her on some tomato sandwiches, we seem to have more luck with those.” I didn’t think people like Sarah existed, I’d always presumed that they were a fictional construct reserved for 1950’s piano teachers and horse breeders. It made me wonder what Joan had been like as a mother, if she’d been as stern and proper as Sarah before she’d become the meekly mute, confused little woman that lay in bed four, bay twelve.

Sarah’s olive skirt was heavy tweed that reached her ankles when she stood to take the plate that I’d fetched. She was as grey as her mother, assuming Joan was her mother. But while Sarah’s hair was coarse and neatly trimmed into a bob, Joan’s formed sparse cotton wool like tufts that seemed to cushion her fragile head on the stiff hospital pillow. Sarah never actually told me her name. I only know now because I saw a note on Joan’s bedside table one day, a brief line on crisp letter writing paper in the same tidy print as on Joan’s menus. ‘I’ve a dentist’s appointment this evening so I shan’t be in until around seven. See you then, Sarah.’ I listened to her as I plated up meals for the other three women in the bay, stiffly recounting everything she’d done that day while unwrapping the cling film bound sandwiches, cutting them diagonally into quarters. “Come on now” I heard her say as I pushed my trolley back down the corridor, “let’s see if we can have some tomato sandwiches. It’s the bread you used to use so you should like them. Come on then, hey?”

Tuesday, and I was on ward nine again. In the kitchen I listened to music through headphones to drown out the erratic bleeping of machinery, trundling through the same routine. Apron, hair net, custard, gravy, soup. Set up the cold trolley, set up the hot trolley, check temperatures, check menus. I started on wing one and took Peter a beef and horseradish sandwich on white bread with a bowl of strawberry jelly and blancmange. He’d been sheepish the day before following a bed wetting incident but that day he winked at me and grinned as I set down his tray. “If you were my girl, I’d tell the whole world I had the prettiest doll in town!” He announced, smoothing down the starchy sleeves of his cyan hospital pyjamas. I grinned back and called him a charmer.

On the other end of the ward I heard Sarah before I saw her, that same firm tone spilling out into the corridor, forming a familiarly one sided conversation with Joan. “I got up this morning and did a little gardening to sort out those marigolds that the slugs had been at and then I had to pop down to the Co-op to fetch some flour so I could make a crumble with those blackberries Alice gave me from her garden. I cleaned the upstairs bathroom and put a wash on and then Susan called me – she’s going to Cornwall next week so I’m going to pop over and see her tomorrow afternoon on the way here and lend her a couple of Eric’s walking guides. So then I made you some tomato sandwiches and drove over here. You can have them in a minute when the lady makes you your tea, now let’s see if we can get some of this cooked dinner down you. Shepherd’s pie today, now let’s have a few mouthfuls, hey? Come on now don’t be silly, you’ll have one more mouthful. Here we go then let’s try you on a tomato sandwich. It’s your favourite isn’t it? Come on then, good girl, well done.” For some reason I wanted to impress Sarah, with her smart blazer and bossy tone, so I made Joan a milky tea in a lidless beaker and without sugar, hoping that Sarah would appreciate my remembering. “Thank you nurse.” She said, with a measured tone. I didn’t like to correct her by then.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Ward Nine had become my regular ward. I started to look forward to hearing Irene talk about something she’d seen on the news, and to seeing Walter in bay three. He’d struggled to pronounce words since his second stroke, but always clapped me, wild eyed and wide grinned, when I brought him his sugary black coffee in a beaker. In bay one the stench of urine flamed in my nostrils, and I tried to breathe through my mouth as I stood by Roy’s bed. One spoonful of thickener Roy?” I asked him brightly as I stirred his tea to the consistency of custard. He didn’t answer, but I hadn’t expected him to. I’d never heard Roy speak. He stared at me, expressionless, hand outstretched. On his arm I saw a tapestry of tattoo’s, indecipherable beneath his wrinkled flesh. I tried to imagine Roy as a young man, having tattoos inked across taut young arms, having passion enough to want something indelibly marked on his person. I wished Roy could remember it, as he mechanically sucked the thickened tea through a straw.

I signed myself up for seven shifts the next week. A few patients had gone home. Hilda in bay twelve with the permanently wan smile and a German lilt to her accent that reminded me of a grandmother from a Roald Dahl story. Jasper in bay three, who couldn’t bear to be clothed. He’d moved to another ward. Joan was still there though, still quiet and confused, murmuring shy questions about where she was and what she’d done wrong. When she asked me and the nurses we awkwardly pretended not to hear, but Sarah would answer her like a primary school teacher, patronising but patient. “Now you know that, you’re here to get better. None of this silliness about doing something wrong, it’s just the way, hey?”

I went and spoke to Matilda in bay five, who was excited about some teabags her husband had left her. She read out the labels, seemingly amused by the exotic flavours. “Look at this then, lemon and ginger! Can I try that?” I dispensed hot water into a cup while she giggled, lifting each box in turn. “Peppermint! Well that’s not so bad. Would you look at this nurse? Blackcurrant Zinger! Well now I’ve heard it all.” I’d got on well with Matilda at first. Her extensive vocabulary and newsreader diction had reminded me of my favourite teacher at school. It had also led me to assume that Matilda’s ailment was physical, but the week before she’d surprised me. As I took her her tea she’d beckoned me down and muttered, “nurse, are you aware of this conspiracy?” I’d laughed at first but she stared at me stonily, waiting for my response. “I know most of the nurses are in on it but I’m not sure about you, what do you make of it?” I laughed again nervously, and told her I was sure she’d got it wrong. As I pushed the trolley out, she called to me “just give it some thought, nurse!” One of the auxiliaries pulled me aside later and told me that Matilda had dementia, and was deteriorating rapidly. “She’s a little upset today chick, best to just humour her”. She’d been her normal self ever since, perfectly lucid. But I could never bring myself to talk to her properly again.

That Thursday I brushed past Sarah as I walked onto the ward. She gave me a flustered nod as we passed, stuffing cling filmed tomato sandwiches into a heavy looking linen bag on her shoulder. It was maybe half an hour later that I reached Joan’s menu, but before I could check it the auxiliary took it from my hands. “She’s gone love.” She said, stuffing it into the bin. My mind went blank for a moment. “Gone?” “Yeah sorry love I should have gone through and checked. Oh and Elsie’s nil-by-mouth now so chuck hers while I’m thinking about it.” I peered into the bay and there it was. Joan’s bed, empty and remade. Her name board had been wiped clean and the usual pile of empty tablet cups and unused swabs had been tidied from her bedside table. “Oh.” I couldn’t bring myself to ask what ‘gone’ meant, and I couldn’t detect anything in the nurse’s voice. I heard myself making an excuse about having forgotten Bertha’s soup beaker – she wouldn’t eat it out of a bowl – and ran to the kitchen.

As I pushed through the heavy double doors a dry sob escaped from my throat and my face started to burn. Gone. Had Sarah looked sad? She’d been flustered but maybe she was just hurrying to another ward, or helping Joan to get her things home. But Joan wasn’t ready to go home. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to recall the image of Sarah walking past me. Was there a tear in her eye? Had they been glistening a little more than usual? I was sure her cheeks had been a little redder but perhaps not. What about the tomato sandwiches? Why was she holding them? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. After a minute or so I opened my eyes and took a deep breath. I picked up a beaker from the tea trolley and walked back into the corridor. With my most cheerful sing-song voice and my hospital smile, I said “right then! Here’s Bertha’s soup, shall we see if she’ll have a bit of jelly too?” And we carried on.

Mind Control

Mandala Painting
Peace and contentment: Kathmandu, Nepal. February 2015.

Everybody wants to be able to control their emotions. There are all kinds of methods ranging from self help books and yoga to nightclubs and Class A drugs… but however we choose to go about it, we all like to think we can build up walls against sadness and heartbreak and conjure happiness out of productive days and well planned leisure time.  The only person who seems to disagree is Eckhart Tolle, who suggests that we stop thinking we are our mind and instead recognise it as an organ. He suggests we should watch our minds from an external vantage point, observing the ebb and flow of our emotions without associating too heavily with them. But if we’re stepping out of our mind to watch it, what are we watching our mind with? 

In fiction we seem to recognise that regulated, controlled emotions would be dangerous. Think ‘Soma’ in Brave New World or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. So why are we so obsessed with achieving that equilibrium in real life?

I suppose the (two part) question is: why are we so obsessed with the pursuit of contentment, and what would we do if we ever got it?

With this in mind, I drafted this poem today.

Emily x

A Parallel Universe

One day I’ll wake up and things will be different.

I’ll rise and shine
on the right side of the bed
and, beaming, burst out of the front door
like a girl from a Special K advert.
But with birdsong.
And trumpets.

My working day will be challenging
But not so challenging
that my hair becomes ruffled
Or my shirt un-tucked.
Today will be the day
that the lofty promises of my
8 hour lipstick,
12 hour mouthwash and
24 hour antiperspirant
are finally kept.

I’ll have an efficient workout,
rich in endorphins,
which appropriately satisfies
the core muscle groups.

I’ll spend a Happy Hour
‘with the girls’
and calories will fly by
Smiles will be wide
and there’ll be no red-eye
in spontaneous selfies
which are just right.
First time.

Then in early evening
I’ll come home to my man.

Flutters seem unnecessary
in consideration of our steady history
and the warm confidence I have
in his commitment to me.

But there’ll be butterflies in my
(tanned and toned)
Because I’ll summon them.
Who’d want a romance without

For this will be the day
I get to choose how I feel.
And (what else?)
I’ll choose to be: happy.
And the Lord will see
that it is Good.

When I get into bed I’ll yawningly say
“what an absolutely, positively, perfect day.
I love it when everything goes my way!”
And my last thoughts as I gently drift away
will be: I’ve cracked it and Hooray!

So why bother coming back tomorrow?

Poetry as a snapshot / 100 days to go

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Emma’s and my London themed leaving party, July 2013.

Today marks 100 days until I leave Vietnam for good. The thought is bittersweet: I’m flying home to family and friends and flying away from a life that will never exist again. Things happen too fast.

Recently I’ve been scouring the internet for the poetry of Robert Hershon because he is lovely; his poetry never feels pretentious and always manages to capture snapshots of experience with precision and simplicity. I’ve attached two of my favourites to the bottom of this post; the latter one makes me cry every time I read it which is absurd because it’s the feelings of some old dude from Brooklyn that I’ve never met and the comparisons he makes are all to a place I’ve never been (New York). The power of words, maaan.

First though, one of my own poems, which I wrote in a VinaSun taxi around a year ago and which fits with the themes of snapshots. When I wrote the poem I was really fixated on the life that I had left behind and how far away it seemed. Now it’s coming back again. I wrote it because Pete had given me a hoody to remember him by and I could no longer smell it and remember what he smelled like.

Also, I think it is disconcerting that I get through more peanut butter than shampoo, considering the sheer volume of hair that I possess.

So the poem on the surface is about endings in the form of break ups, but really the basis of it is what I learned about endings (mainly to relationships) when I moved out here: they never have the satisfying firework finality of a BANG that we see on TV and, instead, tend to just fizzle out into non-existence.

Emily x

Goodbye London, July 2013.
Goodbye London, July 2013.

Oh, lonesome me

Today marked one full bottle of shampoo
since I last saw you.
I’m one and a half tubs of peanut butter down
and the song that was number one
is just leaving the top forty.

“The worst thing about the end” it’s said,
“is that they get inside your head.
Everything reminds you of them:
every song lyric,
a film you’d planned to see,
their favourite brand of muesli.”

He used to love that muesli!
Well I don’t think so.

That’s the kind of loneliness I can get behind.
That’s the kind of loneliness I can fill my day with.
The hopeful kind of loneliness which is never lonely.
‘Emily and your old hoodie are now in a relationship.’
It’s complicated.

That’s not the worst part.

The worst part comes
when I can’t remember
how many bottles of shampoo it’s been;
when I don’t know what you eat for breakfast
and the hoodie that used to smell of you
has begun to smell
like the back of the cupboard.


Sentimental moment or why did the baguette cross the road?

Don’t fill up on bread
I say absent-mindedly
The servings here are huge

My son, whose hair may be
receding a bit, says
Did you really just
say that to me?

What he doesn’t know
is that when we’re walking
together, when we get
to the curb
I sometimes start to reach
for his hand

Superbly Situated

you politely ask me not to die and i promise not to
right from the beginning—a relationship based on

good sense and thoughtfulness in little things

i would like to be loved for such simple attainments
as breathing regularly and not falling down too often

or because my eyes are brown or my father left-handed

and to be on the safe side i wouldn’t mind if somehow
i became entangled in your perception of admirable objects

so you might say to yourself: i have recently noticed

how superbly situated the empire state building is
how it looms up suddenly behind cemeteries and rivers

so far away you could touch it—therefore i love you

part of me fears that some moron is already plotting
to tear down the empire state building and replace it

with a block of staten island mother/daughter houses

just as part of me fears that if you love me for my cleanliness
i will grow filthy if you admire my elegant clothes

i’ll start wearing shirts with sailboats on them

but i have decided to become a public beach an opera house
a regularly scheduled flight—something that can’t help being

in the right place at the right time—come take your seat

we’ll raise the curtain fill the house start the engines
fly off into the sunrise, the spire of the empire state
the last sight on the horizon as the earth begins to curve

No Talking Please

Ubud, Bali. December 2014.

This weekend I had my bag snatched when I was a few metres from my apartment. Two men went past on a motorbike and grabbed it. I held on but they sped past and got my bag, leaving me in a pile on the road. Besides from the fact that no one in my life has ever intentionally tried to hurt me before, this was upsetting for three reasons:

  • My credit card was in there which expires in 5 months; if I had kept it until then it would have been my first card to reach its expiry date before I’d managed to lose it
  • My kindle was in there and I was two chapters from ‘The Red Wedding’ in  A Storm Of Swords
  • My pink thermos was in there, which I use to ingest approximately 4 times the recommended daily dosage of caffeine

Screw my phone and the money. I’ve had to learn not to get too attached to phones.

Anyway, I spent the rest of the weekend with Kim.  I have never yet been married but Kim and I have basically perfected the marriage model that I hope to one day achieve with a human male (Pete – but I’m not supposed to mention that or he won’t ask). She does a lot of cheering up without being asked, understanding without being told and we have a no judgement policy on dessert binges. Most of all, she enjoys endless talking.

The bag snatching left me feeling homesick on Friday and Kim hung out with me for a solid 50 hours afterwards. So I wrote this in celebration of her sick friendship skills.

Emily x

For My Conversational Soulmate

When I was nine
My brother tired
Of being ‘pointlessly interrogated’
Of being asked
(for the eleventh time)
If he’d be buried
Or cremated.

It’d be a lie to say
that at twenty-five
The questioning has ceased.
He wasn’t the first
(nor was he the last)
To ask for five minutes peace.

So I’m glad that you
Never seem to get tired
of endless prattle
and squawking;
that you never seem to question
‘what’s the point’?

Because the point is:
we are talking.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #9

Has there ever been a better time and place to be than in sunny London in the summer of the Olympics? View from the Southbank, London, 2012.

In Which Erica Experiences Some Firsts

By 8pm Erica and Lee had been talking together in the bar for two hours. This was the longest Erica had spoken to anyone besides her mother for years. Talking was impractical and, although she often spent time socialising with friends and family, it was generally considered unwise to spend too long doing something so unproductive as to sit and talk for hours. Time with friends was, it was felt, better spent swimming lengths or practicing musical instruments together. As positive as The Team attempted to be about the collaboration process, there was no escaping the fact that it left one with a third of the time to pursue personal projects.

But Erica was enjoying sitting and talking without purpose. More importantly, Erica was what you and I might call shit faced. Erica had never been more than slightly tipsy before and was not yet aware of the warm, fuzzy feeling that red wine can give to a person. She attributed her new found sense that everything was alright entirely to Lee. Erica was shit faced and feeling romantically inclined. It was a night of firsts.

“This is a night of firsts.” Erica declared. “This is the first time that I have drunk more than 6 units of red wine. This is the first time I have talked to a man for 2 hours. I would like to ingest more alcohol please and to discuss novel and engaging ideas. We shall be like Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in Breakfast At Tiffanys, in our dogged and irreverent pursuit of novel experiences.” Her mind was reaching for complex vocabulary to compensate for her compromised clarity of thought. The result was, she believed, most satisfactory. Lee smiled, seemingly endeared to her. He is probably seduced by my complex vocabulary, deduced Erica.

“A fine idea madam. However, as a regular consumer of double digit units of alcohol i must inform you that our purchases will be noted and may ring alarms bells if reviewed. Would you like to make this your first bar crawl, young Erica?” Lee rose from the cosyness of the alcove and led Erica by the hand towards the front door.  As he did so she noticed a small, plain white box tucked in his jacket pocket. The box was more distinctive from anti-smoking propaganda than real life but she recognised it nonetheless. As they stepped outside into the cool night Lee caught the line of her gaze. “I spun a good lie to my doctor. Physical addiction and the avoidance of anxiety attacks”, he explained. “Have you ever tried a cigarette Erica?”

The pair glanced around furtively before stepping into a quiet, cobbled side street. Lee shielded a cigarette from the fine mist of rain which had begun to fall and inhaled deeply. He passed it to Erica and she pressed the butt to her lips with affected confidence, the first flush of mischief she had felt since, at nine, she and a school friend had sampled the liqueurs in her parents drinks cabinet. Predictably, Erica coughed and spluttered. If anybody had been able to watch over two time periods at once, they might have noticed uncanny similarities between this action of Erica’s and the exact same action of Erica’s mother 35 years ago. Both had spluttered; both giggled as they returned the unwanted cigarette; both hoped to be kissed by the person who had supplied it.

“Perhaps it is my turn to suggest some firsts sir. Do you like to run?” Erica asked the question but didn’t wait for an answer. She tore past Lee and out of the alley, pelting at full speed along the pavement. The Thames streamed past a few metres below her as her inebriated mind elatedly converted the rythmic drumming of her heels on the cobbles into the hooves of galloping horses. She was a jousting knight plunging toward his opponent; she was Ghengis Khan storming into battle with the Turks; she was Erica the athlete and for once she was not, not, not Pretty Jenny.

 By the time Lee had caught up with her she was leaning against a wall outside the bar for which she had been headed; her hair was wild from the wind as she ran but her breath had returned to a steady rate. Lee’s had not.

“No, I do not like to run.” He panted. And then he kissed her. It was exactly what she had hoped would happen.

Erica let herself savour the moment for as long as a member of the frantic generation reasonably could. It was nearly nine o’clock after all, and little more than three hours until her evening would be over. She reviewed the line she’d been planning and spoke it, before doubt could creep in and intercept.

“Lee, this has been a night of firsts and I feel that this may be what is known as a hero’s call to adventure for me.”

“That may be the wine.”

“Possibly. But seeing as I have never been drunk or experienced a call to adventure before, how can I know?”

“A valid point madam.”

“In light of this I would like to propose that the adventure that I have been called to is sex with a human man, and that you may be that man.”

“Have you had sex with something or someone other than a human or a man?”

“No, I was just nervous and thought it would be funny to say human man. It is perhaps this social awkwardness that is at the root of my current virginal status. This would be my first experience of sex, full stop.”

Lee’s gaze remained fixed and suggested a combination of excitement and hesitance. Despite her lack of experience in the field, Erica felt confident that this was a sub-optimal reaction to the suggestion. She had been pleased with her assertive directness thus far: it was exactly the approach that she encouraged in her readers. So she decided to continue with it.

“I have gauged that your hesitant reaction is sub-optimal, comrade.”

“Erica… This is an excellent suggestion. I appreciate your directness and I can think of no better way to spend my Friday evening than by assisting you in your hero’s call to adventure. But it wouldn’t be right if, in light of your directness, I didn’t treat you with directness in return. I would also like to apologise for my overuse of the word ‘direct’ in this uncharacteristically long dialogue. I rarely put myself in situations where synonyms are required.”

Erica could not think of anything funny to say so she said nothing. Instead she compiled a quick mental list of all the awful things that may be wrong with her that may lead a plain, drunk man to reject her for sex on a Friday night.

“We… If… If we do… If I do come home with you… It won’t be the first time for me.” Lee was spouting various syntactically inaccurate sentences from which it was difficult to ascertain meaning. The experience was clearly uncomfortable for him.

“What I mean is… I mean it won’t be the first time for me with you. I… We… have had sex before. Only last time… When we last… Last time your name was Jennifer.”

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #8

This episode will probably come later in the story but I want to write it now and fuck it, MY BLOG, MY RULES.

Emily x

Maybe one day I’ll be famous and have Nepali fans and someone will look at this and be able to tell me what wisdom is coming out of this guy’s pipe. Pokhara, Nepal. 2015

In Which Erica Experiences Some Firsts

Erica – not unusually for an average earthling – had no first hand knowledge of the world before her own existence. If she had done, her perspective may have been much broader and one of the things that she perhaps would have noticed was that her ancestors were generally a lot more still than her contemporaries. Her parents generation believed their children had a far more frenzied demeanor, and were generally of the opinion that this habitual mania stemmed from a sense that time was short; that their poor offspring felt the pressure to achieve before their chips were subdued at midnight, and their lives jumped forward another two days. Erica’s parents could not fathom how it might feel to fall asleep on Monday night and wake up on Thursday, with half the week already done. Erica could not fathom anything else.

Something that Erica was slightly more aware of was that her generation was much more attractive than her parents generation. This was a natural consequence of culling the bottom two thirds of the population based primarily on physical traits. This phenomena did not present itself as an issue often since, for most of history, younger people have generally been perceived as more aesthetically pleasing than their older counterparts. The only time that the general handsomeness of her contemporaries was brought to her attention was when she saw a young person that was unattractive. As is the way with most rare and unusual things, being unattractive had taken on a ‘hip’ and exotic quality and had, of late, become a very attractive thing indeed.

Erica was sitting alone in a bar near Embankment station. The bar was famous for cheese and red wine and Erica was enjoying 80% of her daily fat recommendation and 25% of her weekly alcohol ration on her first Friday evening in three weeks. Her attention was caught by a man sat in an alcove a few metres away from her. He was extremely plain and this was, naturally, what had caught her attention. But he was also very still and this was what held it. Careful as she was, one glass of red wine was enough to embolden Erica. She had not drunk any since last Friday – three weeks past – and it took her approximately 140ml of table red to summon the courage to broach conversation.

Erica was, as has been previously stated, very attractive. She had blonde hair which communicated a sense of warmth and youthful innocence, her abs were visible on most days and her body fat had recently been measured with calipers at just over 18%. Erica took little pride in these statistics since they were, in her view, the statistics of Pretty Jenny. It had been a while since Erica had experienced resentment, angst or indeed any heightened state of emotion about this fact. Instead, her teenage sense of injustice had translated in early adulthood to a faint detachment; an anxiety to keep things tidy and not to use anything without permission, as though she were a guest at the home of an old, revered aunt.

But today had been a hard day, and the man in the alcove was looking at her. Erica was tired of playing the role of wallflower.

She rose and walked toward him. She knew that she was attractive and she knew that his looking at her was a subtle social code that it was acceptable for her to initiate conversation. She decided that she would take the plunge and trust that something intelligent and alluring would come to her as she sat down. It didn’t. She lowered herself onto the sofa next to the plain man, smiled politely and looked at the bottle of wine on the table in front of him. There were approximately ten seconds of silence, which her companion seemed to find far less alarming than Erica did. Eventually the chasm became too big and she had to fill it.

“You’ve got a whole 75cl bottle of red wine in front of you but you don’t look like you’re waiting for anybody.”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

Erica waited for him to add a question; a statement of his own; anything to move things forward. Instead he returned to silence. His nose was crooked in the middle and his eyes were sunken and lined beneath a heavy brow.

“It’s just, I happen to know that there are 9 units of alcohol in that bottle of wine. And so I was wondering how you were managing the 6 unit limit with… If you’re drinking it all to yourself.”

The man laughed. There was another uncomfortable silence and Erica was just reaching to fill it when he spoke.

“What’s your name?”

Erica smiled a smile of relief and told him.

“I’m Lee. Can I tell you a secret Erica?”

Erica confirmed that he could. Her role as agony aunt had taught her to respond to personal admissions with warm sincerity.

“This is… This is not my first bottle of wine this evening. It may not be my last. I am throwing caution to the proverbial wind with regards to units of alcohol consumption tonight. Would you like a glass of this finest table red, Erica?”

It was rare, in a society of easy promiscuity and frantic busyness, to meet someone with such a present manner and playful sense of humour.

“Yes but first I must tell you something. Anakin I – I’m your father.” Confusing Star Wars and real life had been her favourite joke as a child.

“Erica… I’m pretty sure Anakin is the father.”

Erica laughed and poured herself a glass of wine. She had never had a second glass of wine before, but tonight felt like a night of firsts.

Not Another Love Poem

Here is a bitter and twisted poem to demonstrate that I do experience a healthy range of human emotions, as opposed to constantly staring out of a window and thinking about how much I love Pete. I actually only do that about 80% of the time.

Happy Saturday! I’m hoping to publish some more of How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow this weekend.

Emily x

Dog and Bone
Still not fully sure what I was photographing, Cornwall, 2012.

The heart is a lonely hunter

Do you view romantic love as common ground?
Oh no, my dear. Observe: the lover your love found.
Is the very predator from whom you wished to flee:
Your lover, dear, is sleeping with the enemy.

Love is two hyenas hacking at raw meat,
And gnawing frantically to numb the tribal beat.

*This title is stolen from Carson McCullers