In Praise of Bad British Feet

I find myself the frantic city of New York and ask myself just one recurring question - why is it only possible to get a perspective on ones own habitat at a distance of over a thousand miles. For each step I take in the invasive damp heat here I take another invisible step back home on the drab grey paving stones of what used to be known as London Town. Yesterday I went to Soho House, a private members club whose originator is in London. Never having been to its London counterpart I am well aware that its bar stools and high backed armchairs are sat upon by advertising industry drones, storyliners from Eastenders and would be, could be, and could never be artists and plagarists. From the tabloid press to gossip over a dinner table I hear that the London Soho House is fuelled by white powder and over priced champagne, the air heavy and yellow with tobacco smoke and the toilets loud with arguments about whose turn it is to take the next line of a Class A named after our future king, an irony I have always enjoyed.

At 830 in the morning, the suns rays shine boastfully despite the fact that it is mid-Septmber here in New York. I enter a large room called The Library. So as not to draw attention to the intellectual capacity of any of its members this particular library has no books. At the far end of the room there is a bar. A breakfast of bagels and salmon, weak coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice is free. Or should I say complimentary as this breakfast is, in the eyes of the PR company who provide it, “an investment”

At the other end of the room a tall man in a dove grey suit talks his eager audience of well-presented twenty somethings through a powerpoint presentation on eyebrow surgery. I sit and pout and try to fashion a look of enthusiasm. All to no avail, as after the presentation the surgeon discusses his innovative techniques with my colleague and describes me as the 'silent partner'. When in truth, free clover coloured lipgloss not withstanding, I was just ever so slightly bored. Bored, as you can well appreciate, is a word only found in dictionaries on English bookshelves. I think it means I would rather be doing something else, even if that particular something was nothing at all and sometimes especially that.

They say that the UK and the US are two countries divided by a common language and yesterday evening I found myself once again at another promotion at Soho House apeing some sort of interest when I know it is unlikely that I will ever return there. After being shown around the dimly lit spa and beauty rooms we took a drink in the sparsely populated 5th floor bar. The staff are polite and reading your credit card, address you by your christian name in the same manner that telesales people do to boost their commission and your impatience.

Am I the only person here who does not have perfect nails, toes and eyebrows. Momentarily I feel ashamed for my shoddy appearance but tell myself the exuse that I am A Writer and that this adds character. Another pair of efficiently dressed nobodies enter the bar and not even I am convinced by my own protestations. A bar is a bar is a bar but in London a little down dressing has always been the order of the day.

I sip on the remains of my free champagne and am introduced to a group of people who are clearly settling in for the night. Making my exuses I leave early and on 14th street I take my reliable flip flops out of my handbag, slip off my gloriously delicate strappy sandles and run for the subway praising my bad british feet.

Monkey Circus

I remember as a schoolgirl hearing a phrase I did not understand. It described a common complaint amongst the middle class North London mothers whose husbands had left them for the Au Pair, a younger model or in one case, a younger man. They had suffered, it was whispered in the playground between puffs of underage smoking, a Nervous Breakdown. Watching Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday all I could think of was straitjackets and cruel nurses, of women stuttering incomprehensive vowels rocking themselves to sleep, and of cartoon sized hyperdermic needles driven into unwilling flesh in order to calm them down. Not once did I have any idea of what it was like to feel this way. That is I until a few months ago, hence the silence. I did not wring my hands Ophelia- style in an amateur dramatics version of Hamlet. However I did sob until my voice was hoarse and my face pockmarked with the red blotches of too many tears, and not a name for any of them. I lost sight of who I was and the only relief I was able to achieve was from crying. There was no nurse with a syringe, instead the damage I did was to myself. When the pain inside became unbearable and when words could no longer describe what it was I was going through, I reached for the scissors on my desk. I slowly and deliberately drew the blade across my right thigh making a bloody grid with each mark. I sat and watched as the blood seeped out and the pain that had been howling and voiceless inside me found a home on the surface of my skin. I fantasised about hanging myself with the belt he had given me, from the door handle. I wanted to sleep forever, but dreams were no comfort. I flushed my prescribed valium down the toilet for fear of being seduced by my desire to end it all. I smoked heavily and stayed in doors. My thoughts were the enemy, they assaulted me each morning telling me how useless I was and that it was all my My Fault and that it would only get worse, why not end it now. I believed it all. I wept more and shivered and longed to be held. I was in hell, I had broken down.

It was only my admission of this fact that allowed me to turn away from the gutter and to look at the stars once more, that, and the persistence of my friends and family that allowed me access to the unbroken world again. And love too, a part of me was still alive enough to feel it. I still hug myself to sleep at nights but at last something in me has shifted. Last night I was lucky enough to go to a poetry festival where I met what can only be described of as my kindred writing spirits. New friends who not only spill over the sides, they actually turn their frayed edges in to an art form.

Walking back home past midnight along the bedtime streets of Highbury I realised that my madness, if that's the right term, was a calling in me to belong to something. Initially I was tempted to entitle this piece "If people evolved from apes why are there still apes ?". I am still angry you see, the sort of anger that paralyses me when I don't know who to blame first, when my body is a clenched fist looking for a fight.

There may be still be apes and for all I know I may be one of them. I do know, however, that my circus will be full of performers who fall from their horses, their make-up smudged, and yesterdays sequins littering the sawdust floor. In my circus the monkeys will out smart the men and clowns will make the straight man slip on the banana skin. Who knows the guy in the suit and tie may even cry in public, lose a button, lose face and not care. And in my circus, my nervous-breakdown-to-hell-with-it-we're-alive-circus, the applause will be all the louder for getting up.

Mourning Made Permanent

I first came to NYC when I was 22 years old, with hair bleached the colour of dry sand on a hot day and dressed entirely in black. I wore pillar box red lipstick and was excited by everything. The world seemed so broad and inviting in its possibilities. I stayed in an over heated apartment in Brooklyn where even in the sub zero temperatures of that winter the windows were kept open to cool the place down. It was in stark contrast to my rented calor gas heated flat in damp north London. Twenty years ago the city was different and so was I. Even Manhattan, which for the most part resembles an enormous shopping mall with better architecture today, then had a certain edginess that I loved. I played at being the native New Yorker, striding on and off the subway with a faux confidence that was largely manufactured in front of the mirror. I played Trivial Pursuits on Christmas Eve in a tiny apartment in Alphabet City and lost as my team mate was Swiss, and being English myself we had no chance of winning the all American version of the game.

Things change. Always. On Sunday I found myself walking through the meat packers district on the west of this busy island. On one side of the street blood marks the sidewalk and the smell of animal flesh hangs in the air. On the other top fashion designers tout for business, their stores looking and feeling more like refrigerated museums than anywhere you would actually want to shop. I was enjoying the intentional irony in this contrast when I saw something that made me think. Ahead of me two tanned, gymed, mannicured, pedicured men were walking side by side. Their demenour, sharp dress and the hurried way in which they walked, as if on the run but not wanting anyone to know, told me that they were gay. Struggling to keep up in my rubber flip flops I noticed that one of the men had a tatoo on his tanned and muscled forearm. A black stripe, 3 inches thick circled his arm. It did not take me long to realise that he was wearing a black armband, his mourning made permanent by the tatooists ink. At first I thought that this was in homage to a dead lover from AIDS, but in truth I will never know. In a city where the permanent mauseleum of 9/11 is in the heart of the financial district I wanted to ask ‘what is it you are mourning exactly?’ The loss of a life, or lives, or the candor of somewhere that used to be angry enough to be a little bit dangerous.

I wonder what my armband is ? The lipstick, the urgent cobbled together confidence or the fact that I have to search deeper within myself to find an enthusiasm and a sense of adventure for what lies outside.