John. Forever.

It’s been a decade since my grandad passed away. He was the first person in my life to die and, perhaps because I actually saw his remains, the death that has stuck with me most.

He was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of my exam period and died shortly after the end of that same academic year. He also died just before I left Luxembourg and moved to the UK and, even though much of it is a hazy memory now, his death gave me a profound sense of loneliness during my first few months in this country.

It didn’t help that the people I shared a flat with in that first year were all people I really didn’t get along with. It didn’t help that I was unhappily in love at the time. But most of all, his death left a void that I’ve since come to accept will never be filled yet back then had me crying in my room on more than one occasion.

A decade is a really long time in a human life. Arguably, the past decade has been the most transformative in mine so far: I moved to a new country where I didn’t know anyone, I fell in and out of love a few times (though that happened in my teens as well), I graduated, I achieved a postgrad degree in London and I moved back to Cardiff first to work as a self-employed writer and later as a full-time journalist, which I still am now. I met and fell in love with my partner (though we danced around each other for a really long time), we moved in together and now we’re saving towards our first house.

My life is profoundly different from what it was ten years ago in every single regard. That’s a good thing not because I hated who I was back then but because change and progress is an important part of the human experience. I like who I am now all the while looking forward to what I might become in another ten years’ time.

However, the existential sadness I feel about not being able to share who I have become with my grandad is undescribable.

One of the last things my grandad said to me (it may very well have been the last thing but all of those weeks have since merged into one really long day) was: take every experience you can get with you.

The truth is, as much as I’ve tried to live by that mantra, it’s not something I’ve always been able to achieve – something I am still working on and probably will for the rest of my life.

He wasn’t perfect. Who is? But he was a good man. He cared about us and he cared about the world around him. He was a great animal lover and even managed to befriend a crow that came to visit time and again (I have since learned that crows do indeed remember humans so this isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might have seemed at the time).

He loved his music, even if he still needed sheets for the same songs after years of playing them. He loved collecting coins and stamps, much of it worthless though the monetary value shouldn’t be a reason for a passion anyway. He was an avid lottery player so much so that when he died, the newsagent’s where he’d always bought his ticket sent their condolences.

He took my brother and me swimming twice a week when we were younger and stayed with my grandparents over the summer. That pool has since been torn down in another sign that nothing remains forever. He spent countless hours playing football with my brother.

He worked hard, strenuous outdoor jobs for the council to feed his family. He gritted roads at a time when that meant standing on the back of a truck and shovelling salt onto the road while the wind was biting into your skin.

He bought his childhood home and lived there until being moved into the hospital. The house belongs to a new family now, who quickly made exterior changes (perhaps interior too) that almost felt disrespectful at first but really, that’s how the world works and it’s their home now.

He touched so many people’s lives that at his funeral the church was literally too small to fit in everyone who came to pay their respects. You can never envy the dead, but what a legacy to have.

I haven’t been to his grave in many years – not since my grandmother passed away and was put to rest next to him. But that grave always felt strange – there is nothing about him there save for his ashes, no memories, no echoes of the past. I prefer visiting him in my thoughts instead. He’s there not every day but many of them.

He cared. He wasn’t perfect, but he cared. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is what I remember about him and what I want to be myself: not perfect, but caring.

I love you.

Liebster Award

Joël, the world’s most renowned/infamous captain of the soulzeppelin, has given me a “Liebster Award” – it’s one of those chain thingies that you might remember from ye olden days of blogging, but because it’s an award for your favourites (that’s what “liebster” means) and I get to make up my own questions by the end of this, I’m giving it a go.

It’s not like I’ve been throwing out content here anyway, so it’s as good an incentive as any (despite the fact that he nominated me a month ago).

The deal is this: I answer 11 questions that Joël has asked me (and two other bloggers) and then I come up with 11 new ones and nominate three bloggers of my own. Cool? Cool.

Up until which number do you spell it out?
The style guide in work forces me to spell the numbers out from zero to nine, and then switch to 10, 11 and so on. So that’s what I do most days. I don’t exactly have a personal preference, I switch around fairly randomly.

What memory would you want to relive again and again?
About eleven years ago, I sat on a balcony at a hotel, in one of those hot Southern countries where you can sit outside all night, with an ex-girlfriend. The night had come to a relatively shitty end thanks to someone else’s actions, so we decided to keep each other company because neither of us particularly felt like sleeping. We didn’t talk much and stayed up until dawn, before deciding to go have breakfast.
We hadn’t been dating for a while at that point and we were both interested in other people, and I liked that safety. I also liked how we somehow managed to be closer as friends. I realised then that I loved her in a platonic way, something I’d not felt for anyone before.
I don’t see her nearly enough anymore these days, thanks to living about ten timezones apart. But I think about her often.
It was a bad night that turned into a fond memory. I’d like to revisit those hours, make all the same choices but with the benefit of knowing what was to come.

If you have a newspaper or magazine subscription, which page do you open first?
I only have one, Scientific American. It’s a digital subscription on my iPad, so it automatically opens on the first page. I usually read the cover story first, though.

Which drink makes you properly happy?
It really depends on the mood I’m in. I love the first cup of tea of the day. I also love a glass of Yamazaki 10yrs or a nice cocktail. Sometimes it’s just a glass of coke or a nice beer.
Last weekend, it was a latte from Brodie’s Coffee Camper, because they’re a really lovely couple who know how to brew a mean cup and I hadn’t seen them in a while so it was nice to catch up. It’s also a coffee shop in a VW Camper van and how freaking awesome is that?!

If you were a supervillain, what would be swimming in your giant aquarium?
Easy: a little clownfish called Nemo who could never go home again.

What is the last song you listened to on repeat?
Paper Girl by July Talk

How do you motivate yourself to write?
I don’t. That’s pretty much my problem at the moment. I tried my hand at NaPoWriMo this year but I stopped after 15 days because… I don’t even remember what the excuse was. My creative drive is pretty dead at the moment and I’m not entirely sure how to get it back. It’s driving me nuts.

What is the last thing that really broadened your horizon?
I went to Blaencamel Farm last week, which is the place where I buy much of my fruit and vegetables from. It’s a carbon-neutral, organic farm that’s been going for about 40 years and it was amazing being shown around by the farmer and being told about all the cool stuff that happens on such a farm: I never thought about, for example, the process of removing weeds when you can’t use herbicides.
How many people these days can genuinely say they know where their food comes from? I couldn’t until a few days ago and it’s definitely opened my eyes and reinforced my views that local, organic produce is the way forward – not even so much for the “I only eat organic kale from Whole Foods because it’s a superfood” bullshit, but because organic food is really about respecting and preserving an entire ecosystem that you may not consciously see but that definitely impacts all of us.

What would you protest for/against, even if you were the only person on the streets?
I’ve only ever protested political causes. I remember protesting the Iraq war in 2003 as my first demonstration. Privacy is something I care about very deeply and the Tories’ absolute nightmare of a civil liberties destroying Snooper’s Charter might just make me go protest.
Saying that, I lost all of my political energy post-Brexit and am just filled with utter despair, so I might just bugger off onto my own little island. Not much left worth saving here.

Do you have a routine to fall asleep?
I usually listen to an audio drama or a panel show on iPlayer to drown out all my stupid thoughts that have this tendency of appearing as soon as I lie down. Right now on my list are shows like Polyoaks, Heresy, The Leak and The Now Show, among others.

Who should draw the comic adaptation of your blog?
I jokingly told my OH that I wouldn’t choose her but obviously it would have to be her. We’re already doing a webcomic together, in case you didn’t know: Flëpp & Greg.

Time to come up with questions myself and nominate a few people.

  1. What is your favourite line from a novel and why?
  2. Would you rather put up an impressionist or an expressionist painting in your home?
  3. What is your favourite cheese?
  4. What would you do with $10,000?
  5. You swap places with your alter ego in a parallel universe and have to pretend you’re them. What are they like?
  6. Humanity finally invents a time-machine but the only possible destinations are 1866 and 2166 – which period do you choose?
  7. Which time period do you choose if it’s a one-way trip?
  8. What’s your go-to breakfast?
  9. What does your perfect weekend look like?
  10. DC or Marvel?
  11. If you could find out when and how you are going to die, would you?

Nominations:

  • Jenna, because out of all the Jennas I know (one), she’s pretty okay.
  • Joël, because Luxembourg is big enough for two bloggers called Joël.
  • Lee, because she doesn’t blog much but when she does it’s worth the wait.

113

Look at us now: splinters on the ground,
we look the same but we’re parts broken
off two different wholes.
A crack in the mirror chips your face,
reminds me of your injured beauty thence:
a porcelain doll with a thousand stories to tell.
Look at us now: you spin me around,
jolt this tired heart, wake this wrecked soul,
and you in perpetuum…
it will always be you I regret.

Not here, now

Brecon Beacons forest road

There are worlds inside of me that I don’t know. They’ve been there for a while, but I’ve been too busy looking for a map instead of getting lost.

I’ve always liked mountains, perhaps more than the sea. They’re both majestic and awe-inspiring in their own way, but that peculiar mixture of claustrophobia of valleys and agoraphobia of summits draws me in like the ocean just cannot.

I’d forgotten.

I’d forgotten it until today, driving through fifty miles of valley surrounded by the possibility to watch the world from up above, surrounded by humbling, crushing monuments of nature.

I’m sitting in a small pub with a selection of single malts behind the bar that would make any Scotsman proud. I imagine it would, at any rate. It makes me happy. Or perhaps that is the wrong word: it lets me imagine what it would be like to be a weary traveller, a novelist or a poet, who drinks his whisky and writes about the worlds inside of him.

There’s a bookshop around the corner, filled with poetry, so there might be money in it yet, if not in mine.

“Do a thing you love at least some of the time,” I was told last night. It might lead to money.

But if it doesn’t, I’m starting to realise – remember, rather – it might at least lead to happiness. I’ve not had that in spades recently, arguably because of exactly this.

Something is different in between mountains. I could be free here. I could be myself, whoever that is. Something is better. Here, I write. Here, I dream.

I could live here, like I could have lived in Stockholm, or Berne, or Dublin: not at all. Forever.

Ten

Today, this blog turns ten years old. I hesitate to claim that I’ve been blogging for ten years; it’s not exactly been busy here recently.

Ten years is a long time. Enough time to find a lot of the posts from back then cringeworthy (admittedly, sometimes ten minutes is enough for that to happen). When I first launched this blog, I had a co-author, Serge, who left shortly afterwards to write his own, separate blog. I still lived in Luxembourg – I’d only just finished school and joined University of Luxembourg. My grandparents were still alive, though that wasn’t true for much longer for my granddad, who lost a quick but brutal fight against cancer less than a year later.

I hadn’t met any of the people yet who are my closest friends now. I hadn’t met my other half yet (don’t tell her, but I am quite fond of her).

I hadn’t lost any of my closest friends yet. Most of the people I spent my days with ten years ago I haven’t seen in about just as many. I don’t really know why, apart from the significant distance that is between us but you’d think technology would solve that. It’s a natural part of life to leave people behind and to be left behind, I suppose, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

Ten years is a long time. Perhaps too long to sum up in a simple blog post without cranking out 10,000 words – and nobody wants that.

The important thing is: I’ve come out the other end lucky and happy in love, friendships, work and the place I call home. And I’ll keep stumbling, meandering, running, laughing and crying my way through this damned thing we call life because, wow, isn’t it amazing.

Thank you all for being part of the journey.

Postcards From the Edge

Norwegian Church

A group of children run like an improv group unrehearsed
and guide your heart out with candour:
there is a sense of wonder in this dark rye sandwich
in a paper bag on a public square
as you eat it like the last supper, or the first,
while tourists around you breathe the light air,
an old couple walks across without a care.
Hints of anguish still meander
but today you shall not pander.

pin sharp view on something fuzzy (or backwards)

the discolouration of your smile occurred
inconspicuously as if controlled by evil coterie,
altering memories – this bad blurred,
dripped retrospectively on lines of poetry

penned in your name, running down canvases
like oil from a brush, ink from a feather,
eroding the iridescent love of then.

and you,

you vanished and threw off all balances,
left heart and mind no longer strung together.
i tried to hold on to your eyes like they were when

my heart first roistered and my fingers burned.
all i see now is a stranger dance, notably
beyond black and blue as if transferred
to a past now containing only me, hopelessly,

while your mind stopped crying.

ن

Part your ways,
quarantine your compassions away for you will be
regents without mercy, agents of destruction
sent from god to free us all from the terror of
them, they, invaders of our homes,
usurpers of our homeland,
veritably powerful only in weapons but not in heart,
xenogenous and parasitical,
you will annihilate
zion.

א

Before we begin again,
cast the last shadow of
doubt away into the sun, suffer vicariously,
emphatically amd honestly
for all those souls we burned and saved, for all the
gentle spirits we vanquished with our
heads held high
intensely staring into their darkening eyes
just for a few seconds, or a few more,
keeping them silent with one hand
like a lover shushing their loved
martyring all pain.

Threshold

to S & T

You’re a journey with speed bumps in place to appreciate this town,
you’re a Sunday with a reminding hangover not weighing me down,
you’re a multitude of imperfect perfections,
you’re a galaxy of future photographic collections.
Our souls were forged in a collapsing star
billions of years ago, I for you, I for you.
My life, alone, a pastiche that seemed so noir,
our days, together, will always be too few.
To have and to hold, to never forget, to never regret
that January day we met:
six years a fairytale
guiding each other down the trail
to here, now, where I take thee,
and I take thee
on this longest day of the year,
the brightest day of my life,
hovering in a celestial sphere,
to be my husband. To be my wife.