An Idiot’s Guide to Planning

img_736533780_482

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”
Winston Churchill

 

 

I am notoriously indecisive in my personal life. Surprisingly I am highly organised at work, bordering on neurotic – with a love of to do lists (today’s was one A4 page) and spreadsheets – but for some reason this just doesn’t translate to my every day existence. I’ll quite happily go along with the general consensus – not because my friends are bossy or I’m a pushover – but because I’m never really sure what it is that I want – for dinner, to watch on the tellybox, to drink. I like to think that I am getting better as I get older but I still find it incredibly difficult. There’s so much choice! I am that annoying person who looks around the table clutching a menu, asking what everyone else is having. The one who chooses three or four potential dishes, and then randomly changes her mind when it’s time to place an order. So I’m a little concerned about my ability to plan this once in a lifetime trip.

After what can only be described as a massive amount of fannying around, I finally took the plunge and decided to go it alone. That’s right, world. I’m a-coming. Lock up your sons and breakables. Only kidding. About the sons, that is. If I’m staying with you its best to lock up anything I can bang into and smash because I am the epitome of a bull in a china shop. But seriously, this alone took up the majority of my decision making capability. My brain aches with the task, it’s probably thinking about packing its bags and sodding off out of my noggin.

Who knew there would be whole new levels of faffing for me to reach? I wish someone had warned me. I am now left with the daunting prospect of deciding where I want to go, and more importantly, where it is feasible for me to travel to/from and how much time I should spend in each place. I wish the itinerary fairies would scribble a tour and some wise words down as I slumber **closes eyes and wishes for fairy dust**

Failing the intervention of mythical creatures, does anyone have any advice for me? Countries and places that are not to be missed? I’m enjoying reading about them all and am having some pretty vivid daydreams about temples and markets, huge cities and sandy beaches, while I’m sat at my desk. This part I can get on board with. This part doesn’t scare me. I can’t wait to travel, I’m a little impatient that I’ve got to wait.

But all these countries seem pretty freaking awesome to me and I’m finding it hard to narrow down a route. My must see countries – places I’ve always wanted to visit – include:

  • New Zealand
  • North America
  • India
  • Nepal

I am also taking part in The Great Debate of Round the World vs. choosing a couple of countries and spending a few months in each. Do I want to pack in as much as I can, or do I want to stop and experience living life in another culture? I don’t want to feel like a tourist, that’s for sure. I want to push myself. I don’t want to be in my comfort zone. This trip is about meeting new people and living within another culture, and at the risk of sounding like stilton, cheddar AND gorgonzola on toast, I want to learn things about myself **rolls eyes**

Bah!

Excuse me while I tear my hair out.

New Writing: Chapter Seventeen

Manchester_bus_192

Seventeen. 

Mum’s taking ages to discover I’m missing. I wish she’d figure it out soon, and then I can stop sitting here with my knackered old mobile on the plastic table in front of me. I’m freaking out every five minutes because of the way the sunlight catches the screen and makes me think that I’ve got a call. I rest my head against the grubby window, watch the countryside blur green into brown, and it makes my eyes go out of focus.

‘Twenty-five left in cash,’ Kyle says, placing the last couple of coins on the table. ‘But we’ve still got the credit card too, remember.’

Through the corner of my eye I see the concern etched on his face. He keeps glancing at Spike who’s sprawled across the two seats opposite ours and happily snoring away underneath our coats. When Kyle was waiting in line at ticket machine, I’d seen Spike’s eyelids drooping under the pressure of exhaustion. It was like watching one of those Vines where a meerkat or puppy or something was fighting sleep, head bobbing to the side and jerking up straight again. Except this wasn’t funny. We shouldn’t have taken Spike from the house. I’m thinking about what happens to kids who take younger kids without permission and if we’ll go to prison. That’s making me think of orange jumpsuits, and how people sleep with razor blades underneath their pillows for protection. I’m frowning at my own stupid thoughts when I hear Kyle say, ‘He’s only five and he’s knackered,’ to this old woman who’s staring over at our table and giving us disapproving looks because Spike’s got his feet poking out and into the aisle, he twitches them now and again like a dog does when its dreaming.

‘It’s against the law to have feet up on the seats,’ the old woman snaps.

‘Well, it’s a good thing his feet aren’t actually on the bloody seat then, isn’t it?’ Kyle shoots back.

We are in trouble.  The biggest trouble either of us has ever been in, in our whole lives. I’m wondering what it would take for them to find us. I imagine the horrible noise Kyle’s Dad will make when he gets home from work and realises his youngest son is missing. I mentally watch him going through all the rooms in the house looking for him, checking under the beds and in the wardrobes just in case Spike’s playing a silly game. Hoping that’s what he’s doing. There’ll be police cars, and investigations. Our parents will be sat in a room together, and they’ll be accusing each other, playing the game of whose child is the most at fault, the most likely to come up with such a terrible idea. Mum will have to go to the police station – she’s terrified of the police – and answer questions, a piece of my clothing or my old stuffed rabbit from when I was a baby clutched to her chest like a safety blanket. I push my face closer to the glass, close my eyes. I’m trying to hide my face from the old woman so she can’t identify me if she’s questioned, and I’m starting to panic because I can’t remember if trains have CCTV, when a man comes up to the table and says ‘tickets please’ and I open my eyes to find his face glaring down at me and I give a little jump, Kyle shoots me a look and puts on this big fake smile.

‘I’ve got them,’ he says, passing the man a handful of orange and yellow tickets that the ticket machine spewed out.

The man clips three of them with something a bit like a hole-punch and says. ‘These are your return tickets. I don’t need the others,’ and hands them back to Kyle.

‘Thanks,’ he says, and stashes them in the front pocket of his bag. He checks it’s zipped up, the tickets cost way more than anticipated and we’re both terrified we’ll lose them.

‘Aren’t you going to tell that boy to take his feet off the seat?’ the old woman interjects, leaning across the aisle. She’s got silvery-grey hair styled into short soft girls and a loop of pearls swing from around her neck with each movement. I bet she was beautiful when she was younger.

The man looks at the old woman, then Spike in his batman costume, then Kyle, clacks his tongue against the roof of his mouth and says, ‘well, his feet aren’t actually touching the upholstery and I don’t think it’s necessary to wake the poor lad.’

‘That’s what I said,’ shouts Kyle, and it’s so loud that I put my finger to my lips and shush him because I don’t want Spike to wake up and ruin everything with his incessant jabbering. ‘Oh, fuck,’ Kyle whispers.

‘Absolutely disgraceful!’ the old woman snaps.

 

We get a bus to the flat. It takes us ages to figure out which number because there are so many stops and when we do find the right one the maps are all coloured routes snaking their way across the page, criss-crossing and making my brain hurt. I read out the strange sounding place name from a piece of paper I tore out of Mum’s address book and Kyle locates it on the map, picks the service number, and the whole time I’m thinking how glad I am that he came. I even forget about The Spike Problem for a while, that is until he starts whooshing around in his batman outfit, blue cape billowing in the wind, two eyes peering from underneath a stretch of black, and everyone starts staring at us.

We go to the back of the bus like we’re on a school trip. Kyle flops down and puts his feet on the seat in front of him, gives me a big grin. I sit next to him, don’t say anything. Spike comes straight up to me and climbs in my lap, loops an arm around my neck and shoves a thumb into his mouth like it’s a dummy. I can hear the gentle tuck-tuck sounds of the flesh against the roof of his mouth, and I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do with my arms. I let one rest around his middle so that he won’t fall off or break my neck from hanging on so tightly.

Kyle nudges me with his elbow. ‘You’re a natural,’ he says. ‘He usually hates other people. Especially girls,’ and he frowns, starts trying to remove a piece of crumbling chewing gum from the seat with the underside of his trainer.

I watch him for a bit; watch the way his eyes scrunch a bit at the corners because he’s thinking about something serious, and I want to ask him a question. I want to ask him where his mum is, and if she’s still alive, because I’m starting to get the feeling that she’s not in the picture. Spike never mentions a ‘mummy’ and it’s my impression that all little kids need reassuring that their mother is nearby.

But she might not be dead. She might not be around. And then I think what if Kyle and Spike are like me? Like Ryan. What if they are just other members of The Great Abandoned? And the more I think about it, the more likely it seems. I think about how annoyed he was when I complained about my mum, how he said ‘at least she cares,’ and I’d just assumed he was talking about his Dad. When a parent dies on Eastenders or Coronation Street or something like that – the mother in particular – the house is always like this super creepy shrine to the dead parent. Like a quiet, dusty tomb full of flowers and effigies. But Kyle’s house is empty, devoid of any sentimentality or memories. I’ve never seen a picture of a woman. I’ve never seen a picture of anyone in that show-home.

I guess tgetting reminded of a time when their mum was alive would be kind of horrible, but there’s nothing that I’ve seen, no sign that a woman was ever around, in the house or in the lives of the Evans’ brothers. The house is stark white, the furniture heavy and clunky. Boy’s stuff. Leather sofas like boulders on a too-shiny wooden floor, stainless steel fixings like you see on the tubs in IKEA. Proper posh stuff and none of that manky green gunge that clings to the taps in our bathroom, the stuff Ryan has to scrape off with a knife. The only signs of life in that house are Kyle’s sea of clothes and the odd flour explosion in the kitchen.

I miss the shabby two-seater and threadbare carpet in our front room, and I want to change the rules of our club to include Kyle’s crappy Mum because that has got to be the suckiest thing in the world because even though my mum is crazy, and apparently has a problem with telling the truth, she’s still my mum and she loves me. She’s never left us, no matter how hard things have got.

But I don’t, instead I just say, ‘I’ve never really been around little kids,’ and look down at Spike who has curled his head into the nape of my neck and shut his eyes. His eyelids flutter against his cheeks like wings and they tickle when the kiss my skin.

‘You’d never know it. Some people just have it, I guess.’

I want to smile at him, to let him know I know, but for some reason I can’t look at him and then it’s too late anyway because the moment has popped like a bubble in mid-air, and people start flooding the bus, milling in like ants; all making their way towards empty seats, world-weary and giving off that vibe that seems to cling to city commuters like a bad smell.

‘Can you move your feet,’ a red-headed woman barks. It isn’t a request.

‘Yeah. Of course. Sorry.’ Kyle immediately removes his feet and the red-head thumps down into the seat opposite him, pops in a pair of headphones and closes her eyes. ‘What is it with people and seats today?’ he whispers but he needn’t have bothered lowering his voice because the woman’s listening to some god-awful metal music like Ryan listens to at a really high volume. I reckon Kyle could probably lean over and shout in her face and she probably wouldn’t even stir.

 

‘Are we theeeeeeeeeeeeere yet?’

‘No,’ Kyle growls because I think he lost patience somewhere between us getting off the bus and having to chase Spike around the park for five minutes after he saw a fox dart across the road and decided that it would be fun to leg after it.

‘Yes,’ I shout. ‘Yes, I think this might actually be it.’

The buildings not much to look at because the orangey brickwork is old and chipped in places, and the big iron gates that separate the car park form the main road are in serious need of repair and rust spreads across the bars like a rash.

‘Is that it?’ Spike asks with his grubby fists wrapped around the railings, nose wrinkled in distaste. ‘Are we staying there?’

‘So the map says,’ Kyle sighs, clutching his mobile in one hand because we’d used the map app for directions.

‘No-one said it was The Ritz,’ I say in this kind of snarky way because their dad is rich and mine isn’t and I’m embarrassed for myself and uncharacteristically protective of my dad all at the same time and it makes me angry.

Irritation creeps across me like a shadow. Kyle doesn’t know what it’s like to have to wear his brother’s hand-me-downs, or go the same crappy sea-side town on holiday every year because their mum didn’t work and their dad drank too much to be of any real use. They had nannies and posh clothes that fit properly. He wasn’t made to have the free school dinners which usually consisted of some unidentified meat-based lump plopped on a plastic tray and a huge dollop of humiliation at the till when Mrs Patmore, the dinner lady, ticked your name off the register and asked you for your voucher. I began asking mum to make me sandwiches when I became friends with Beth because I could no longer stomach queuing up behind Annabelle Grey and watching the nits crawl around in her hair. ‘Urrrrgh,’ Beth would say when I went to find her after I’d eaten. ‘You’ve been with fucking Nitty Knickers,’ and then she’d pretend to spray with me Flea Spray before she’d let me sit with her, making this big song and dance about spraying the air, the seat, the door handle – and everyone would laugh.

‘Bloody hell!’ Kyle snaps because he’s tired and then I remember that I’m the one who has dragged him all the way here with no information about where we’d be staying – I hadn’t known either, but that’s beside the point – and he never moaned. Not once.

I turn my head so I can smile at him, let him know that I’m sorry and I’m just tired because I wanted to sleep on the train but once Spike woke up it was like dealing with the cartoon version of the Tasmanian Devil. But he’s got his head down, eyes locked on his mobile, so he doesn’t see my half-arsed attempt at an apology and I’m too ashamed to say it aloud. Sometimes I feel like two different people.

Spike sees me and pokes out his tongue. I poke mine out in reply. He giggles and says, ‘ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,’ like you do when someone’s being all sarky and I laugh because it’s impossible not to.

Kyle looks up, catches the two of us messing about and says, ‘why do I always miss the fun stuff?’ He beams at me and then at Spike and it makes my stomach do cartwheels and I feel awful for thinking badly of him. Sometimes it’s like I have no control over my own thoughts.

He stashes his mobile in his jacket pocket. ‘We’re defo in the right place. The little blue dot says so.’

‘Oh, if the little blue dot says so,’ I joke.

‘Shut up and push the buzzer, smart arse,’ he quips. ‘Or did you bring us all this way just to hang around this dump?’

I go to shout at him but he smiles, raises an eyebrow in that way of his, and I realise he’s winding me up. ‘OK,’ I say and roll my eyes. I wish I got it when people made jokes. I wish I wasn’t the one left on my own all the time, being angry when everyone else is having a laugh.

‘Fuck,’ he says. ‘Wait.’

‘What now?’ I wail, grab my hair in my hand. Sometime this boy is infuriating. Doesn’t he get that I’m really nervous and I need to just push the buzzer to get it over with? I don’t understand why he’s stopping me.

Kyle’s looking at me when I turn round, my hand suspended in mid-air. I give him my best WTF face but he just frowns in this apologetic way and says: ‘I think I might need a fag before I meet your dad for the first time.’

Learning How To Be Self(ish): An UnApology

me-selfish

“Being self-sufficient is not selfish; it is a need.”― Elizabeth Cartwright

I am not a selfish person. At least I like to think that I’m not. In fact, I’ve been accused of being sat nonchalantly at the other end of the selfish spectrum with my own mother (and there was no malice intended in her comment) referring to me as having behaved in a particularly door-mat-manner in the past. It took me a long time to understand what she meant, and at first I thought she was just being judgmental – as many daughter’s tend to do when their mothers prod and poke at the frayed edges of something they are trying desperately to hold onto – but we fail to see that our mothers have this wonderful sixth sense. That they know us better than we know ourselves. Our father’s even more so. My Dad once told me that he didn’t know who I was anymore. Not in a horrible, shouty disappointed manner, but in more of a sad, head to one side ‘where have you gone?’ sort of observation. It wasn’t until years later that I realised exactly how much weight his words held. My father is not an overly emotional man but when he says something, its something worth saying. My parents, like most, are my biggest champions. They are the people who loves me at my most bizarre and offensive. They’d much rather I be opinionated and loud and fearless, than meek and frightened and wary, because that is not the girl they raised. I had never stopped to think that, however terrible it is to feel like you’re drowning in the world, it’s far more terrifying for The Rents to have to watch from the sidelines as you constantly bat away their offer of a lifebelt (my advice is to grab hold of this with both hands, and sooner rather than later, because there’s only so much treading water you can do before you sink).

I am a people-pleaser but I am the worst kind of people-pleaser. I can be cowardly in my decision making. I mull things over too often, too much, until they become blurred and other people’s opinions and reactions become completely skewed and taken out of context. I’ve done this to the point of not knowing or forgetting my own opinion, my own needs, wants, desires. I’ve done this to the point of making myself unwell.

Its the worst kind of behaviour because in trying to be altruistic and inoffensive, you are being selfish because you don’t want anyone to view you as a “bad person.” This is where the fear stems from. It nestles in your brain like a hidden seed, crushing your personality with newly grown, snaking roots, tendrils, stems. Its beautiful flowers are fake, like those manky bunches of plastic roses you can buy to stick in your front room. You are not doing “good” by pushing your needs aside in this way, but rather you’re causing serious damage. To everyone around you, not only yourself. “They” – the ones you care about – will have to watch you wilt when it all becomes too much. They are also the ones that have to bear the brunt of your late-night-vodka-induced-where-is-my-life-going-I-just-fell-in-a-bush phone calls when you’re making the stumble back from the pub.

I know this all sounds very dramatic but I think its important. There’s such a stigma around people – men and women – going after what they want and becoming exactly who they want to be. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked why I don’t have a boyfriend/husband/child in recent months, and when I’ve replied that I’m happy Just As I Am Thank You Very Much, and have lots of pant- wettingly exciting plans in the pipeline, they look at me like I’m making excuses. ‘Oh, good for you,’ they say with THE FACE.

Yeah. Good for me. Actually.

I want those things, I think. Eventually. Just not right now. I’m not ready. Stick me back in the oven a bit longer.

I know I want to be so much more, do so much more, and I am OK with saying this. I am not ashamed to say I WANT and I support all those wonderfully bright and funny people I know and love – and those I haven’t met yet – who want the same things. Or not the same things, but just something else for them, be it a new job, house, ending a relationship, whatever. All of these wants and needs are important if it will eventually make you happy.

This blog post is not the product of too many glasses of wine (I’ve had one) and a self-indulgent few minutes listening to the “Self-Flagellation” playlist you and your housemate concocted (Yes. This is a real thing, usually followed by “taking it to the Kitchen Floor”) but a slightly hostile outcry after A Week Where People Have Questioned Or Tried to Alter My Decisions. It has actually been one of those weeks where Haters have crawled out of the woodwork getting all mean and hurtful up in my grill (That MIC quote from Lucy NEVER gets old. NEVER).

I wont go into the details – I’m not that kind of person. Lets just say the new and improved Emma does not enjoy the sort of making-me-feel-in-the-wrong BS, but she’s also happy to let that shit lay to rest. As I said to my friend: ‘That ship has sailed, been ransacked by pirates, set on fire and sank to the bottom of ocean where it belongs.’ Nuff said.

Instead I’m going to write my SELF(ish) MANIFESTO and lay it out for all y’all to see. I am not ashamed to say these are The Things That I Want, and I am not afraid to go after them anymore.

  • I want to be a Writer. Yes its a real thing. Yes I want to write for teenagers. No I will not be writing Twilight or anything where vampires snog in the woods. When you’re a teenager, snogging in the woods is not glamorous. It usually occurs in the rain where you resemble a drowned rat, and he is not a diamond-bodied Adonis like Edward – oh no – but that boy in year 10 that smells like B&H Silver and has a wonky eye. Yes, it would be nice to be JK Rowling with all her money hahahaha. SERIOUSLY PEOPLE ITS GETTING OLD. I am not reckless nor am I delusional. I am ambitious and somewhat of a dreamer. I intend to stay that way.
  • I want to go Travelling. On my own. I might even go to India. On my own. God forbid. I’m going in January. I’m saving like a machine and I’ve got a date and itinerary in mind. Aren’t you proud of me? I’m going to see the world and make lots of mistakes and enjoy myself as much as I can because LIFE IS FUCKING SHORT and in some countries the sun actually shines! I’m so excited.
  • I want to be Fearless. I refuse to stay away from places I once loved to avoid conflict/make other’s lives easier. I have just as much right to do the things I want to and go to the places I love. I have been the great-avoider these past few years but I’m done.
  • I want to be Happy. Life can suck and be incredibly cruel. People are taken away from us too soon and we are left to make sense of the world. But it can also be beautiful, full of laughter and ridiculousness and possibilities. A job is just a job. If it sucks, leave it, get a different one. There’s a whole wide world out there that’s full of amazing things.

The contrast between self-affirmation and selfishness has become a conflictual arena. There’s a very fine line between how we perceive someone as putting themselves first and that person actually lacking empathy for our situation/feelings etc. We’ve all been there. Find me a person who has never been mad at a friend/spouse for doing something they wanted to do rather than doing something we want them to do.

I like to look at it like this: I am not a bad person. I am not infallible. I am not an angel. I make mistakes. Lots of them. Some of them hilarious. Some of them not so much. I am a person. I am a person who loves my friends and family. Very much. Sometimes I will be bad tempered. Sometimes I will be afraid. Sometimes I will be stark-raving-cray.

Because I am complex and I am OK with that.

I am SELF(ish).

Time to write your manifesto!