Graves of glass

March 31, 2021 § Leave a comment

I walk with my eyes on the hedgerows and edges. I’m a scavenger, a mudlarker, a bottledigger and a hedgewitch. My eyes dart to anything that shines, a habit that’s filled my house with the detritus of many lives.

But one day – the third-best day of my life! – I discovered the village dump. Just across the road, right under my nose, an acre of household trash dating back a hundred and fifty years. Older than my house, older than my grandparents, older than anyone alive.

There it was: the glint. My eye caught, I plunged into the thicket. And as I walked, I saw glass. Glass everywhere. Any way I turned, the glitter of glass.

I picked up bottle after bottle, stunned and elated. This was my Sutton Hoo, my hoard, my grail.

Over the next days, I climbed further and further in, through thorns and brambles. On hands and knees sometimes, scrambling through bracken tunnels and over gnarled roots. I came across caches of treasure, the bottles changing as I went back in time. Bubbles bloomed where previously all had been smooth and perfect. When I began to dig, I could date the depth by flaws in the glass, manufacturer marks.

It’s amazing to think that little more than a hundred years ago, we simply didn’t have the technology to keep bottles closed. Screw tops weren’t common until the early twentieth century. Before that, manufacturers tried rubber, pottery lids held on with wire – and the bizarrely ingenious Codd bottle that had a glass marble in its throat, suctioned tight and then pushed in for drinking. Kids would smash the bottle to retrieve the marble, so I have yet to find one whole.

Poisons and tinctures. Pills, cordials, honey. Perfume. Brylcream, milk of magensia, Horlick’s Malted Milk Lunch Tablets. Forgotten things, once vital.

And the colours: clear, aqua, green, cobalt, amber. Ridged to show poison in darkness. Embossed with men’s names, men’s lineages. I see Chichester, Petersfield, Midhurst. Surrounding villages, filled with people both employed and supplied by these men. How galling, to see the name of your master in your cupboard.

Such workmanship, to be thrown away. But when I look inside my fridge, I see echoes of this need we have, to make the mundane beautiful. To stand out among the jam jars. Lineages are still marching in our cupboards, but few will march to the grave. We’ll melt them, turn them into new bottles. They won’t be buried for some bold ghoul to find in the next century.  

Graves, always in my mind. If I stop for a moment, branches closing above me, the silence is oppressive. The feeling of digging up bodies can reach up with its damp embrace, threatening to pull me in.

All these lives. Messages in bottles, a story from the dead. A hand fumbling for the right bottle as a baby cried in the night, a cough that was soothed. This art deco uranium glass in a lady’s toilette, her precious ration of perfume small because it was the most she could afford.

I bring them home, empty out the grave dirt. My house is a mausoleum to the commonplace because that’s life itself. The things we touch every day and the problems we choose to treat with someone else’s solution. We buy answers. Perhaps that’s what I’m really looking for. 

So, I dig.

What is brand?

January 12, 2021 § Leave a comment

Hey, I never posted this! Me chuntering on about what brand is!

Why the US election keeps me up at night

November 3, 2020 § Leave a comment

On election day, 2016, I woke up every two hours as America’s votes were counted. Not on purpose, and with very little hope. After the referendum, I was grim in my expectations.

I didn’t cry. But the foreboding feeling that would stay with me for the next four years began.

You see, America is our bellwether. We watch them do the most bizarre things and think huh, America. Then, we start to see ‘Pregnancy Crisis Centres’ popping up across the UK (spoiler: these are undercover outposts of religious organisations against abortion) and hear the beliefs of certain UK politicians, like Jacob Rees-Mogg.

And we realise, if we’re not too blinkered, that it can happen to us. Because the people in charge have common interests and goals: to make money, maintain power, suppress change and stifle the voices of those who do not look like them.

We have no real measure of the power at play, quietly, behind the scenes. I’m not an Illuminati guy, but the very, VERY rich don’t shout about it. They exist – with many layers of power beneath them to ensure they continue to do so – in the dark.

When the bad things happen in America, I imagine they are largely approved (and, most likely, funded) by these behind-the-scenes people. Progress is the enemy of long-standing institutions of patriarchal power. Why wouldn’t they want to maintain their generational positions by preventing change?

Money can achieve the unbelievable. So, the unbelievable can happen anywhere.

That’s why US politics keep me awake.

The bellwether is sounding.

A new analogy

November 2, 2020 § Leave a comment

Sewing. A humbling experience. You do a bold, brave line and you double back on yourself to make sure the stitching is strong.

Then you realise you’ve sewn an arm to a leg, or to yourself. You have to unpick and start again. That’s sewing.

And that’s life. You want the lovely jumpsuit? You’ve got to be prepared to unpick a lot of stitches and try again. With practice, you’ll spend less time correcting your mistakes – but unpicking will remain a fact of life, however many years you put in.

It’s almost better for the mistakes: for the feeling of pride when you look, tired and sore-fingered, at your finished piece that took you twice as long as you thought it would. It may be untidy and homely, but you made it. YOU did that.

There’s a healthy vulnerability in trying, isn’t there? In saying to the world, ‘I am not good at this but I will try.’ It’s good practice for any perfectionist, to try your hand at something new. Rollerskating did that for me this year and, for second (wintery) lockdown, I have clothes-making.

Find something totally absorbing that doesn’t matter, with zero stakes. Practise for the joy of slowly gaining a new skill. A glow of pride is so good for the soul.

Remember: no one sees the messy stitches but you

Thoughts, feelings and behaviours

October 27, 2020 § Leave a comment

This makes up your cycle or pattern in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Different beasts, all feeding and feeding off each other.

Certain thoughts can make us feel physical things. Those feelings can make us behave in a certain way.

Instinctive behaviours can reinforce thoughts and trigger feelings.

Feelings, unnoticed, can make us think in a set way and act out behavioural patterns.

What a mess. To get a handle on our doom spirals, we have to first try to dissect what each of these things are.

Thoughts

You might experience thoughts as words or pictures or emotions. They may be active or they may come unbidden and uncontrolled – intrusive thoughts.

A thought can be triggered consciously (though some argue that thought can never be truly concious), for example, choosing to return to a memory or work through a problem. Or a thought can be triggered unconsciously by our brains seeing, remembering or in some other way sensing something.

My dude, even neuroscientists are still trying to wrap their heads around what a thought is.

Most importantly for us is being aware of negative thoughts. Not so we can switch them off and turn on our positivity pump – no, avoidance ain’t the thing. Just recognising and accepting, rather than running from or reacting to it.

Turn the thought over

  • If it’s a question, try to answer it
  • If it’s a memory, explore it
  • If it has a negative effect on you, share it
  • If it’s useful, save it

Feelings

Feelings – dread, fear, sadness – are even more elusive than thoughts, because we don’t really even put them into pictures or words. The point of emotions is to make us do something, whether that’s running away from something scary or sexing with someone we love.

We also give the label ‘feelings’ to physical symptoms, like pain, nausea and shortness of breath. These can also be prompts from our body (ouch! don’t touch that!) but they may just be side-effects of an automatic process our body is already following.

Feelings can often be addressed with physical techniques to redirect our negative patterns.

Examining our feelings

  • What emotions am I feeling? Why?
  • What am I feeling in my body? Why?
  • What are my feelings prompting me to do?
  • Can I sit with my feelings and not push them away or react?

Behaviours

Behaviour can mean action or lack of action. Fight, flight or freeze.

Faced with conflict, I’m a ‘freeze’ kinda guy. In the moment, I shut down, my thoughts are paused and my face is a sulky mask. That prospect makes me choose flight before anything has even happened.

Recently I found myself, five minutes before a Thing, with a whole bunch of physical feelings that were making me long to act out my usual behaviour: avoidance.

The tight chest, raised heart rate and sweating hands were all begging for a reprieve from this upcoming Thing. Hoping for a cancellation – classic anxiety.

Sometimes our coping behaviours protect us; sometimes they do more harm than good. When we know we’re reacting in a way that doesn’t fit the facts, a process for resetting our behaviour is useful.

Reprogramming behaviours

  1. Notice your typical anxiety behaviours like avoidance or over-prep
  2. Next time you feel the emotional or physical clues to your stress, intervene before acting out your usual cycle
  3. Decide to enact a different behaviour: that can be something distracting (going for a run), calming (breathing exercise) or opposite (bit more extreme – like running towards your fear instead of away)
  4. If that helps with your anxiety, draw out your new behaviour cycle: when I think X and feel Y, I can do Z

Here’s what I did:

Instead of prep-prep-prepping right down to the wire, as I usually do (fake control!), I spent my remaining five minutes with my cats. Physical grounding and positivity. Opposite of stress-working.

I told someone how I was feeling. Darkness retreats from light.

I programmed my vibe to a casual, bright breeziness for the first few minutes of the Thing. That set the tone for the Thing, tricking everyone involved (including me) into feeling breezy about the Thing.

Why CBT now?

I’ve been doing therapy for years. I’m as well-adjusted as I’ve ever been, but I’m left with these remnants of anxiety that are triggered by things I’ve pathologised.

That’s shit but it’s also possible to deal with. I – a fairly settled and stable person – can look at this little pile of negativity and think through ways to deal with it.

It’s like someone who gets a lot of nosebleeds. You’re like ugh, ffs but you know what to do and you do it. I’m someone who gets dumb panic feelings. Ugh, ffs but let’s get on with it.

I still have work to do, to help my brain stop triggering my patterns. But in the meantime, I have some tools to get me through the bad feels.

  • Honor Clement-Hayes of Arch Copy
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