End of a Century

Tomorrow is June. That means that, once these blog posts are done, it is time to take down the old calendars and begin the process of planning what happens next. This part of the process has refined considerably since the start of this year, probably more than anything else I’ve learnt since the journey began. So much so, that the whole shebang’s gonna get an upgrade starting on Monday.

It is high time the rest of my life got the treatment writing does in terms of organisation.

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I’ve been trying to stick more exercise into the game-plan, the effect it is having on body and mind has become noticeable. That means, starting tomorrow (and no, does not matter it’s a Saturday), we try and stick to the ‘something, every day’ mantra when it comes to keeping fit. Yes, I still have rest days factored, but that means that every day that isn’t had to have summat in it…

With two exercise classes per week (Wednesday and Thursday) Friday is still the preferred recovery point, because of the amount of work that gets done during those two evenings: anything between 700 and 1000 calories depending on how my body co-operates. What OUGHT to happen is a comparable amount on the other four days: 600 calories is my notional baseline to start with.

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There also needs to be a balance of cardio and weights, which has lapsed somewhat since my exercise classes took preference. So, there’s a scribbled plan from yesterday’s lone lunch at the sushi restaurant: what I do when, how it covers the areas that need work, and then crucially whether I am capable of keeping it up for the two to three months required to make this routine a habit.

I fixed my writing shortcomings with organisation, and without it there’d not be the ability to give myself the vital forward motion required to feel as if progress is possible. Let’s see if that can also work wonders on my body. It can’t be that hard, surely…

The Shape I’m In

For #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, let me tell you a story about my perception of self.

It began with a man, at my front door, just after we moved into this house, making the moment over 20 years ago. He was collecting data for the Office of National Statistics, and I was in a delicate place, recovering from a miscarriage. Having weighed and measured both me and my husband, I was presented with a green card that stated I was 10 stone 6 pounds and absolutely the right weight for my height and waist size.

I’d felt unhappy and tired that day but this made everything better. When I finally did get pregnant, this would be a benchmark to return to. I knew what was ideal; that would be my aim. For the next 17 years however there’d be a battle with weight that, when combined with Postnatal Depression after the birth of my daughter almost destroyed me for good.

I could not reconcile person before with irreversible changes pregnancy brought to my body.

Keeping weight off became impossible, simply not enough motivation or energy to work hard enough to do so. Dieting, specifically Keto, was responsible for my gallbladder finally failing two years ago and me requiring an operation to remove it. After a decade of trying literally everything to lose weight, it was the introduction of a bio-metric scale to my life that altered perception.

It was Science that freed mind from misguided preconceptions of what ‘looked’ healthy.

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The concept of bioelectric impedance was staggering: it was possible to see how my body was composed, what took place inside it. As it transpires, I was (and still am) incredibly efficient at building muscle to replace what was fat, a process that was taking place as I embarked on a serious, focused exercise routine with a Personal Trainer. In fact the harder things got, the fitter I became. Body shape has radically altered, and instead of being obsessed with thin, what matters more is strong.

This is officially the heaviest I’ve been since the weight loss journey was begun, with the least amount of fat. I am happier than was ever the case when the man gave me his card, on reflection: this form may not be my final one, but it’s a brilliant template that doesn’t expect ‘thin’ to be an answer. Weight loss is not essential to be healthy in my case. If all the remaining fat gets converted to muscle, I’ll be beyond happy, especially on my legs.

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Going back to ‘thin’ was an unrealistic idea considering the physical changes pregnancy wrought on me: I could go try and return to being the woman I was in 1998, but she couldn’t bench press 40kg, or complete a 46 mile bike ride. I like being this person, with true stamina for the first time in my life, who won’t get get tired walking for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

This is what I really am, not what societal norms suggest I need to be.

To find that true body continues to be a tough ask, which makes it even more amazing. It asks a lot from physical and mental toughness, and so far I’m managing to meet most of my challenges head-on. There will be days when it does get too much, but they are fewer and further in-between each time. This is undoubtedly the best my body has ever been, and it will only get better as more effort’s placed into improvement.

Sometimes, it is important to really understand what you see when looking in the mirror. Do you perceive what it is you really are, or are there other things clouding your judgement? For a long time I couldn’t really see what I was, but all that has changed.

I understand now what it is I am.

Moving Right Along

The hardest part of this week’s Project goals is now completed. The beginning of #EndOfTheFear had a rough idea of locations, vague grasp of titles: there are now fragments of poems to insert onto spaces. I can create a working document where everything lives and can be referred to. There’s also the vaguest ideas of how we do the web side of things (and space in which to place it) which means next up it’s the photography element of proceedings to consider.

A couple of places already have pictures taken, selection of images to choose from. Next week, there’s a plan in place on my wall where we’ll be putting together geographically-close locations, getting to them early each day to take pictures. The plan is to have completed photos by lunchtime (travelling to places with a liquid breakfast after the School run) and then write poetry inspired by both places and pictures.

Writing the poems is happening in pieces every day. There’s already a tenable narrative thread front and centre, feelings to explore and expand upon, with proof that working in the locations gives a real sense of what matters and feels right at this point. I’ve taken a break today to write some poems for the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Body Image’ week starting on the 12th, which was a lovely change of pace.

All that needs to happen now is an awful lot of legwork.

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I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few weeks staring inwards, at places that previously were difficult to even get close to. An awful lot of these are inextricably linked to long form works which, it is now apparent, served purpose not simply as narratives. Amongst these, amazingly, was a selection of work which I thought only existed as A4 documents. This weekend I was able to find saved versions of everything, which means the paper versions can finally be consigned to recycling.

I wonder, should the files also get deleted?

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It is great to think that sometimes, the answer to everything is just pretending that the bad stuff does not exist. There are undoubtedly moments when doing so is useful, but in other cases, ignoring the past is unhelpful. These bits of writing show up some major shortcomings in my processes, that’s for damn sure, but they are undoubtedly useful demonstrations of what is done best. For every negative there is also undoubtedly a positive.

Deleting them frees up hard disk space, sure. Re-writing them is a waste of time and effort, undoubtedly. However, and probably most importantly, acknowledging what they represent in a personal chronology is absolutely vital. So, I’ve gone back and re-read them all, returning brain to a time where everything changed forever: my fist pregnancy and the birth of my son. On reflection, I wasn’t ready for any of it, and this probably has a lot to do with what happened subsequently.

I’ll be discussing this undoubtedly in counselling going forward.

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Maybe one day, if the urge strikes me, these stories will be shared again: that’s the irony in all of this, of course. Once upon a time everything existed on the Internet. I even have the self-designed webpages where all these things were housed. However, that was a lifetime ago. Maybe, if you are really smart, you can find the places where some of these stories still remain.

We all have to start somewhere.

April Short Story: Altered

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during April 2019 via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Altered


This is why airports have chapels.

Outside is chaos and noise, fire blazing thanks to aviation fuel. Only faint smell pervades, behind large oak double doors. Sitting under God’s benevolent gaze, Virgin Mary’s statue, no evil will flourish. Terrorism cannot exist alongside love. Such acts of mindless violence will be explained away as aberrations. The aircraft should have exploded on runway Two-Niner exactly twenty-three minutes ago. She should have died with the bomb. Instead, at last minute, Noomi called the police, begged them to immediately evacuate.

Exactly when explosives that had been carried in her luggage were due to detonate, no-one was even close to the aircraft. Everyone was in buses, being driven away, as bomb disposal teams considered their opening moves: damage to property alone, airport travel disruption complete. Perhaps she should be running away now, escaping her moment created, but by doing so guilt will not shift. Leaving it here, in a Christian God’s forgiving house, seems more sensible. At least for a time she will be at peace. Then, she’ll leave by the badly damaged emergency exit.

This is why they should never have picked a coward.



WPC Griffiths has no idea what she is supposed to do.

She’d seen the woman at the payphone, caught snatch of conversation, watched her run. Only as blast wave hit had it all made sense. She was warning them about the bomb. Her training had kicked in: look for the signs. Unusual, suspicious behaviour. When she’d first spotted this teenager, the first thought was trafficking: maybe she was trying to run away. Something was wrong here: Griffiths immediately compelled to shadow her panicked movements.

It took a while to grasp what she’d heard on the phone, too: Arabic, as her grandfather spoke when Griffiths’ family arrived in the UK. Words fractured, context garbled: she hadn’t been telling someone to get away from her. She’d been urging them to get away from something else. Then, as girl almost ran into the Airport Chapel, the entire Terminal had shuddered. Windows shattered, people literally blown off their feet. Time had stood still, until Griffiths turned, looking out of the remaining, intact windows. Across the runway, a lone plane was burning.

Not just a small, engine fire, but an entire aircraft, savagely consumed in a massive fireball that threw flames into the bright, blue morning sky. A 747 laden with fuel, but abandoned, emergency chutes deployed. Nobody there outside, or in. She had warned them all, get away NOW. Griffiths was afraid: had she allowed a player to slip through justice’s hands… but no, the girl’s there, praying perhaps for intervention. Does it matter her God doesn’t belong here, their religion is seen as the enemy of so many? It is time to find out, hoping she is unarmed.

As she approaches the woman stands, but doesn’t bolt. Instead, her demeanour changes.


Noomi should be running, looking at this female policewoman staring, but not threatening. She is armed, that weapon is not yet drawn: does she know what her part in these events has become?

Her English is minimal at best: trying to work out how to start a conversation, it’s a surprise when policewoman addresses her in Arabic:

“I heard your phone conversation. Did they threaten you to carry the bomb?”

Noomi thinks of her mother, hostage for over a year, and cries.


Griffiths wonders how things might have played out if her colleagues had found this girl: would they have threatened her with guns first? Perhaps she would have run, and they might have opened fire when she did. These consequences do not bear thinking about, so she won’t bother. She was assigned to the Terminal for precisely this reason: spy in plain sight, listening into conversations, looking between the cracks where people’s true personalities and motivations might lie. Griffiths’ worth had finally been highlighted, in the most serious of situations.

It is therefore a surprise when young girl holds out both hands, waiting for handcuffs. She knows there is nowhere else to run; perhaps this is an understanding that by surrendering to someone who grasps her plight, there might be chance to explain why all those lives were saved. The WPC has nothing formally to arrest her on, however: all that was heard was part of a conversation. She takes the girl’s hand, motioning for both to sit on the front pew. Time is of the essence: how much can now be learnt concerning both motives and whereabouts of the bombers?

This initial call to Dispatch will be vital: what she reports, who is asked for, what happens next. Before all that, she needs this girl’s name and address, who sent her here and what or who might be being used under duress to push an obvious innocent to give life as a detonator.

As it transpires, this young girl is surprisingly willing to talk.


Noomi is happy to tell the policewoman everything that is asked for, without fear or concern. Nobody will hurt her as much as those who imprison and torture her mother. It is high time to mete out vengeance. When other officers finally arrive, neither are in uniform: both are women. They don’t handcuff her, are not cruel. The WPC travels in the back of the van with her but it is not to a police station, first of countless surprises Noomi was not expecting for such an open rebellion.

Sitting in a white, anonymous room in what is most definitely not a police station, the first man she meets asks for an explanation why the phone call was made from the airport. He does so in Arabic without threat or menace. Under normal circumstances she should ask for a lawyer. These are not normal circumstances however: Noomi knows it is time to use her intelligence, what is known as leverage. She asks what the WPC has already divulged, politely requesting a chance her mother and sisters can be spared wrath of lawmakers in exchange for information…

The man smiles, first time since entering the room, moves from standing to sitting. She is, albeit briefly, a powerful force: the control it provides is galvanising, briefly brilliant. There is a deal to be brokered, possibilities indeed.

These people understand what she offers.


Aisha Griffiths has an unimpeded view of the police station as convoy comes around corner and into full view. Inside are three men responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, masterminds of a massive and frightening trail of terror across three continents, now in custody. It has been an incredible three months, all told. One young woman’s strength and determination, growing up in a world of terror and idolatry had turned everything on its head, exposed hypocrisy. Noomi considered herself a coward, not worthy. Nothing was further from the truth.

Without her she’d still be on foot patrol in the airport, considered of minor importance. Instead now, she’s in training to become something far more significant and vital. Today is her last day in London, before being sent to Scotland where preparation for the future commences. Their convoy is heavily guarded, surrounded by outriders. Armed guards stand outside the police station entrance, incongruous against red Victorian brickwork. All of this doesn’t seem nearly enough when placed alongside atrocities this trio of brothers had wrought over a decade.

No-one had assumed a sister would turn against them. Family was intractable, loyalty until the very end. These men might be accomplished soldiers and terrorists but their weaknesses were easily exposed. They had failed to grasp the importance of love and devotion for other means. Griffiths trains sniper rifle’s sight on the area close to the police station’s car park entrance, as vehicles slowly rumble into the courtyard. Her shooting skills had been instrumental in MI5 approaching her: she was wasted in a uniform. There were better use for her abilities.

It will be great to see Noomi again too Aisha thinks, an opportunity to talk and catch up on what had happened since she’d seen the young woman in Whitehall. The deal she negotiated in order to capture her family will never be publicly known or acknowledged, for very good reason. How different things could have been that day, in house of a Christian god, if two women had not placed kindness before hatred. How much has altered, not just for the better. There will be consequences, there always are…

The lead vehicle suddenly explodes into a ball of flame.

Goodbye

This weekend, I tore up an application form. I’d picked it up in February, from the Poetry Cafe, fully intending to create an entry for the May 1st deadline… except other stuff kept getting in the way. A brilliant run with fiction over the last few weeks has meant that poetry (other than scheduled) really hasn’t happened for most of April. On reflection, that’s no bad thing, because there’s about to be an awful lot of poetry in May.

It’s also becoming tough to financially afford to enter everything I come across that uses such events as pseudo-fundraisers. After a while, you have to start making serious choices over what matters most, and ultimately, sitting looking at the next six weeks, there just isn’t any more spare cash left. It was easier therefore to admit defeat and try again when not only more cash exists, but when more time is available.

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It can be quite easy to get caught up in your own ‘bubble’ of things that look really important, but ultimately do not help you allow to grow as a writer. For me, at this point in the development process, there is more worth in being out in the Real World, gaining experience and talking to people than will ever happen being at home, and not focusing on anything except my work. Introspection is no longer useful.

What is needed is a shift in perspective and outlook: I’ll be editing a fiction piece this month, writing some poetry for Mental Health Week, but all of my focus is now on the major project forcing me not only to spend time outside, but to interact with those people for whom this town is their job and their home. That’s the input that’s been missing for a while, and I’m already looking forward to the possibilities.

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You can follow my daily progress starting May 1st. I hope we can both let go of the past, and use May to change outlook on the World in general.

F.E.A.R

Friday was my ‘soft-launch’ day for this project, which has been in planning, it must be said, since January. We’ve already discussed that daily poetry will vanish as a result, because let’s be honest, this requires a lot of thought, and not an inconsiderable amount of legwork. We’ll be doing the proper launch on Wednesday, where I’ll be at the local Library, starting a bit of essential historical background research.

All will be shared via Twitter, Instagram and blog, because that’s how these things work.

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You can also expect a reduction in the amount of floral pictures and of the sky. It’s time to find favourite architecture, of which there is an awful lot in the borough, plus landscapes and estuary views. I get to go down the pier for utterly legitimate business reasons and there will be some personal history revealed along the way. I’ve lived here since I was 22, after all. This town is very much in my blood.

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For my regular readers, many of these images will be familiar. These are places you’ll have seen before. What will be new is the poetry that accompanies them.

I’ll see you on Monday as months of planning finally comes to fruition.