Camera Shy

Like a lot of people, I’m not a huge fan of having my photo taken.

The sight of a camera lens pointing in my direction is enough to send a juggernaut of hyper self-conscious panic right through my heart. The words “say cheeeeeeese” are enough to make me want to sink into the ground and be eaten by worms. And opening the camera on my phone only to find my confused, freckly, selfie-unready face blinking back at me? Well, that’s enough to make me want to throw my phone into the sea pour les poissons*.

I’m both fascinated and completely repulsed by myself in photos. (Me, me, me, I, I, I, self, self, self. Sorry.)

For about ten years I barely let anyone take a photo of me. Photographic evidence of my existence in that time is minimal. As minimal as I could get away with. And the evidence that does exist is pained and reluctant, through gritted teenage teeth. I think everyone goes through a stage like this, long or short. (I’m kind of curious whether people felt like this way back in the day, sitting for a family painting? If someone could pleeeease invent time travel, because I’d like to go back and ask. Pretty please.) My stage just happened to be a very very very long stage.

So imagine my surprise when I found a photo from that time, taken a few weeks after my fourteenth birthday, where I looked… relaxed. At peace with the lens. Zen with the flash. Okay with the camera.

Granted, that’s probably because I thought the photo had already been taken and that the danger had passed.

But I’m taking it as a small victory anyway.

For me, the best things about the photo are the memories that come with it. Memories so so clear and sparkly. Devon. July. Running. Laughing. Brothers, sister, mother. Twinkling lights and a shushing, shiny sea.

I can walk right back into the blue and feel it all the way through my veins.

But there is one thing about the photo that I would change, even if that wish to change it is futile.

I would stick two fingers right-royally up at the voice hiding behind my forehead that told me I was all wrong, the voice that told me (tells me) I was (that I am) hideous, disgusting, fat, ugly, gross.

I wasn’t. I’m not.

Nobody is.

And none of that stuff matters anyway.

We are all so so so much more than our bodies and our faces, no matter what those bodies or faces happen to look like.

We are all so so so worthy of having our pictures taken and not giving a flying fuck of how we appear in that split second.

So please. If you’re out there and camera shy like me, stick up those metaphorical fingers and tell that voice to piss the fuck off. Smile and grin and laugh and don’t care. Be at peace with the flash. Stare right down the barrel of the lens. Challenge that camera to a duel.

And in the wise, wise words of Moominpappa (I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself):

‘The world is full of great and wonderful things for those who are ready for them.’

Don’t let that voice make you think you aren’t worthy, whether it’s worthy of a photo or worthy of a life well lived.

Be ready.

Because life is alway saying cheeeeeeese.

blurry

*there’s a story behind “pour les poissons” involving a ten euro note, a gust of wind, and a sweet but matter-of-fact elderly French man in Collioure. I promise I’m not just being pretentious à la Fawlty Towers.

20/10/18

The morning is darkness and mist and my bleary-eyed reflection in the kitchen window. It’s desperate sips of tea and wet hair against my neck. It’s toast and make-up, butterflies and tickets, more butterflies and a backpack filled with things I may or may not need. It’s Bournemouth station in a navy dawn and goosebumps, breaths that steam and smiles all round as the coach doors open. It’s a sunrise over the New Forest and fog puddles between orangey trees. It’s reading a book and trying to sleep, nibbling chocolate and pins and needles.

Oxford is bright and bustling and grand under a big blue sky. It’s Dr Martens and markets and bicycles that ring-a-ling. It’s pigeons that fly right at me, pigeons that stare at me, pigeons that hobble and hop and look unwell and that break my messy heart. Note to self: they don’t let unwell, or even completely well, pigeons on coaches. Note to self, note to self, note to self. No pigeons.

The Ashmolean is stone running up, up, up into the sky and banners that sway in an autumn breeze. It is Spellbound: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft. It’s glass and steps and museum maps, echoing voices, crumpled tickets and a big big door that leads into a magical dark.

Behind the big big door, I fumble for my notebook and struggle for my pen. I read and scribble, shuffle from cabinet to cabinet, ooh and aah inside my head. Backpacks bump, coats rustle, boots tap tap tap.

Witch in a bottle. Zodiac man. Nativity horoscope. Moon blood. Devil through the ears. Demon Astaroth. Love locks. Certificate of innocence. Lent doll. Poppet curse. Skeleton carriage.

A thousand lightbulbs flicker and pop in my head.

I exit through the gift shop.

The afternoon is wandering and wondering, lost. It’s dreaming spires and falling leaves, crowds and cameras. It’s the Oxford Botanic Gardens and a strange peace burning in my chest. It’s warm conservatories and brick walls with pretty gates, dying petals and glittering trees, skittering squirrels and a man falling from a punt. It’s splashes, laughs, and smiles. It’s a pot of tea and a slice of cake and buying stationery I don’t need. More Dr Martens, more pigeons.

Dreaming spires of Oxford. Autumn view from the Oxford Botanic Garden.
Fairytale view from the Oxford Botanic Gardens.
Gateway in the Oxford Botanic Garden.
Gate goals.

Leaves, wall and path in the Oxford Botanic Gardens. Autumn in Oxford.

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The evening is Google Maps and eyes glued to my phone. It’s relief as things look familiar and tired legs grateful for a seat. It’s fortune telling fish that predict I will fall in love and it’s confusion because that doesn’t sound like me. It’s my head pressed against a window and a bright three-quarters moon, eyes closed and music. It’s messages, ping ping ping, and deciding to go out and get drunk with friends even though it’s late. It’s realising I’m not a proper grown-up.

The night is rum and giggles and stars.

20/10/18

It’s a date I won’t forget.

Bestival Skies

It’s been over a month, and I still dream of the sky. It was all fire and bruising purples, peachy pinks and electric blues. It was the deepest navy pinpricked with the shiniest stars. It was never-ending shards of multi-coloured light severing through the dark. It was glittering fireworks, and it was a sun so bright it burned the tops of my ears purple and my scalp a furious red. It was a sky speckled with tight-rope walkers and flying trapeze artists. It was a sky filled with dust that whipped into eyes and flags streaming in the breeze and a ferris wheel with rickety seats. It was confetti and it was the moon. And it was butterflies, so delicate and quiet in the middle of all the chaos and noise.

It was, most of all, a sky of magic.

Sunset sky and helter skelter at Bestival 2018, Lulworth Estate, Dorset. Bestival circus 2018. Vintage funfair ride.

Memory Books

It’s funny how some things bring back very specific memories.

I get it, maybe weirdly, with shampoo. If I go back to using a shampoo after months/years (basically, whenever discounts and empty bottles align) the smell on the first couple of washes will always send a flood of memories rushing through my head from around the time I was using it before.

It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to time travel – which is kinda disappointing, but you have to work with what you’ve got I guess.

I got this whole memory-time-travel thing again the other day, except this time it was triggered by a book cover. I didn’t travel back in time very far – ahem, March – but in the middle of the longest heatwave of my lifetime it does feel a little like another world away.

And there were a couple of others that brought back some unusually clear memories.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton book cover.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton – the book that started it all. The cover took me straight back to the “beast from the East” at the beginning of March. Two days curled up in front of the woodburner, cocooned in giant woolly jumpers, the world outside made quiet with thick snow and freezing rain. The book was brilliant but claustrophobic by the end, just like the weather.

Old boots in ice and snow. The beast from the East, March 2018.
Cold toes in old boots.

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry – my first driving lesson, May 2017. Sat in the garden, sunshine falling on my back, and waves of scaredy-cat butterflies blooming in my belly. Focussing on this book basically stopped me from ringing my instructor to call the whole me + driving thing off. And it’s a good thing I didn’t ring to cancel, because it turns out that driving is actually quite useful. Who even knew?

The Essex Serpent book cover
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien – 2003 Easter holidays, Spain. Aged 10, lounging on the tiles of a balcony on a blue-grey Mediterranean day, the sound of the sea lulling in the background. I was a bit unsure what was going on plot-wise but pretty darn sure I would at least finish the book before the final film came out at Christmas. I decided afterwards it was best to wait a few years before attempting The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. (Now I want to read them all over again.)

TROTKbook
The return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Most books bring back hazy memories from around the time I read them, but these ones just seemed to bring back strangely strong ones. Maybe ones that don’t trigger anything now will in the future? Brains are definitely weird and full of surprises.

Is it just me, or do you get memories popping out of your head like a bright lightbulb moment with some books too? I’d love to know what they are if you do.

Green

If you look too long into the green the green will eat you up. It will wind its way around your heart and its splintered roots will lodge inside your bones. Underneath your skull, a whole forest will unfurl and make your thoughts a muddle. You’ll try to leave it, try to live beyond it, but you’ll find your soul ensnared, find it calling you back, pulling you back, painting your blood and staining you through.

Smoky light beams in a woodland, Dorset.

Paddling

Antique Edwardian photograph, inpsiration for a short story. Paddling at Mudstone.
Antique photograph captioned “Paddling at Mudstone” found in an old album from a flea market.

The water is cold between Esme’s toes and the shingle is prickly against her skin.

The others giggle all around her, but she is silent.

Something isn’t right.

She can feel it in her feet, feel it tangling up her calves, growing over her knees. The sea is bleeding into her, melting to her flesh. Soon, she will not be able to leave.

She stumbles back and the others stop giggling. They ask what’s wrong.

She stumbles back and saltwater sloshes against her skirt. Worst of all, it sloshes in her heart. She feels the weight of it swim left and right inside her chest, feels it splash against her lungs.

She stumbles back and suddenly the cold is all around her. She closes her eyes and holds her breath – sinking and sinking, baptised.

Everything under is quiet. Everything under is calm.

Only her and her fuzzy heartbeat.

Before she feels them, she hears them – their shouts, their screams. And then their hands come – grasping, pulling, dragging her up until she is drowning in air.

Before she feels the sand, she hears the sand. It crunches against her ear and suckers to her face. Voices babble all around her but she cannot understand what they say.

Before she feels it, she sees it. She holds a leg up in the air and watches as her skin shimmers in the light and flashes in the sun. Blue and purple and green and silver. Scales.

She must get back to the water.

Land is not enough.

Camellia Stars

The day was silver; cloud flooded and icy cold.

The ground was speckled white with snowdrops, sometimes pink with cyclamen, sometimes even yellow with daffodils. A great big shiny promise of spring.

Soon. One last winter-soaked breath.

We escaped away from the crowds, away from the drops of snow, away from accidentally photobombing people’s flowery snaps, and wandered into the woods.

Wandering into the woods is always a good idea, despite what the fairytales tell you.

We found no wolves or witches.

Only petals fallen to the path and camellia stars stuck to the sky.

Pink camellias and tree silhouettes in winter.
Camellia stars + naked trees + silver skies

The Light Circus

Roll up, roll up!

Come and walk where the trees burn with rainbows! Join us in a land of magic and wonder, where colours bleed into the sky and claw their way towards the stars, where darkness is made bright! Ladies and gentlemen, follow us to a place where the air is so cold your lungs will turn it white, a place so cold your skin will bump with gooses!

Roll up, roll up, and keep your eyes wide open!

And please, ladies and gentlemen, remember to stay with us on the paths!

For we cannot help you beyond the lights. We cannot help you in the dark.

And who knows what’s waiting for you there?

Christmas lights in Dorset. Colourful illuminated trees in December. Rainbow colours. Christmas illumination in a country garden, England.

Cobwebs

You know the saying “blow the cobwebs away”? After walking at Durdle Door today, I’m pretty sure I’m sorted on the cobwebs front for life.

It was so – so, so, so – windy. My face hurt. My ears hurt. My eyes hurt. My eyelashes even hurt, as the air tried its best to burrow into my eye sockets and brain.

Between the steps down to Man O’ War beach and the steps to Durdle Door, the air funnelled through so hard it was like being battered in the face and chest. I thought, at one point, my shirt and jacket might sink through my skin, tear through my ribs, and rip out through my spine, leaving a tangly mess of me and my clothes in the churning sea below.

Luckily, that didn’t happen. Which is good, because it means I can go again sometime.

Maybe when it’s a little less windy, though.

Man of War Bay, Durdle Door, Dorset, November 2017.

Sky Painter

Some nights she found it hard to paint the sky – matching it just so to how everyone had come to think it should look. Some nights she didn’t have to paint it at all – those nights were hard too, hard on her itching painter’s hands. She would stare at the top of the clouds and wonder what to do. Sometimes she would doodle across them, patterns of all different colours and shapes, patterns only she could see. Sometimes she would burst with anger and boredom and tear great, bright gashes through the air. She always regretted those and erased them as fast as she had made them, roaring with all the air in her lungs. And sometimes she would paint it just the same as on a clear and crystal night, because practise makes perfect and perfect was how people thought it should be.

There were nights, however, that she could paint the sky just how she wanted to, nights when no-one would notice the stars were missing.

Those nights, she would pour her whole soul into the moon, big and bright and shining. She would swirl the glowing, glossy emulsion round and round until she was dizzy and heartless and soulless, and when there was nothing left to paint with she would fall, swoop, glide to the ground and walk until her feet were sore – which happens quickly when you hardly use them – glancing up at her whole life, hoping, when the time came, it would fit back in under her ribs and skull.

Mostly, it did fit.

Some nights, there were pieces of it that didn’t.

And on those nights, she would scoop up the pieces of her life and soul and heart she had no room for any more and scatter them across the ground, hoping, when the time came, they would brighten someone’s dark.

Always, they did.

Full moon on a misty, foggy night in Dorset, England.