“I will try to fix you” – Coldplay
Warning. Tales of minor halo slippage.
Hi there girls and boys. I hope you’re well.
Am I a good girl? A person from my online life asks me this, and I have to answer that I am. I try to lead a good life, apart from the swearing and theft of one article. I’ll be returning this next week, stealthily. All depends if the container it was taken from is empty, (I can’t), or full (easy). And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is. My only time of not being a good girl was for two weeks, aged 21.
I can go clubbing and not drink, and have a great time. I’ve even been on my own, I just like to dance. The loud music, others dancing, I love it. Even now I don’t know why, but I went off the rails by clubbing AND drinking, getting arrested for criminal damage to a police car, (I opened the petrol cap and tried to pour cider in it) and assaulting a police officer, ( I wanted to see if his hat fitted me). I was de-arrested by the officer concerned, as he had to attend something more important than a stupid little girl. This means I’ve no criminal record. I made a donation to the station so they could have a meal or whatever, but this still plays on my mind. However, two nights later, drunk again and this time having had a whole two drags on a joint, I urinated in the main street in Newcastle, in front of a McDonalds queue. I physically shudder when thinking about it. (The weeing, not the McDonalds…ok…that as well. Is there is any food worse than a Big Mac?). It wasn’t as if I was going through a tough period of my life, I had no worries, no drama. I would maybe understand if I’d lost someone, or had some major event happen to me. For me, this was aberrant behaviour but I see women do this every weekend, sadly. Newcastle is a party city, and it seems that every town across the UK has the same thing, women being so drunk they can’t stand. Also, let’s have none of this attitude whereby you think it’s just Fred from next door growing his “erb” in his bedroom. Organised crime growers have trafficked people into the UK and threatened them into staying in a house working and caring for the plants. From my friendly barrister.. “A gang will rent or buy some industrial space. Then bring in some “farmers” who will be locked in with food and a toilet till the crop is ready. The forced farmers have their passports taken away and will be used as slaves until their debts have been paid off.” All sounds very tree-huggy and it hurts no one. Of course not.
I mention my faults as this time last year I was mugged, rather, somebody tried to steal my handbag. This was in broad daylight, in a crowded Durham city centre. I had seen this scruffy, shifty looking lad on my way up the road, and when I came back that way he ran at me, knife in hand, but I just turned and shoved him into the window of a shop. He got up and ran, dropping the knife, but carrying my handbag. This being the North-east, I was surrounded by thirty or so concerned people instantly. The knife was a plastic imitation, although looking real enough. A couple gave chase but he was gone. I was shaken but was ok enough to walk the five minutes to my home.
My neighbours are all protective of me, and were incensed enough to want to go and hunt down the robber, (“Ah’ll skin the mothafucka alive, Anna”) but after all, I was uninjured, and a bag can be replaced. I didn’t report it to the police as I should have done. I should have been paying more attention, but this is Durham, possibly the nicest place to live in the North-east of England. (Other nice places are available). We all calmed down, reported the loss of credit cards and the like, had some coffee, sent out for a Chinese meal, and watched a movie.
The next morning I had gone for my usual run and on my return home, there he was, my mugger, over the road from my apartment block, being held by Jake. Jake, if you’ve not read about him, is my American neighbour and tenant, looks threatening, but is as camp as Christmas. He had the lad up against the wall by the throat, and was holding my missing bag. “Mothafucka says he wants to apologise, shall I throw the mothafucka in the river? Jus’ say, Anna. I came here to escape goddam mothafuckas like him”. Did I mention he’s ever so eloquent? After he let him go, the lad, Steven, croaked an apology and said he only took the bag as he had nothing, explained about his drug debts, and then crumpled up, crying.
It has been said that I am a soft touch. I lived in London for a year after leaving uni, working at a certain big government building on the banks of the Thames and thought it was the life for me, so bought a house in Richmond. It was too big for just me, being a three up one down, much like the one in Tynemouth, and needed renovation. At weekends I had friends stay to help me do it up, but as time went on I realised that London…is…terrible. Millions of tourists visit it, take pics, then go home, (“Oh wow the Cock-er-ny accent, and did you see those guys outside the palace, so charming!)… but to live there, it is a complete dump. No eye contact, no conversation, I’ve listed these problems with our capital before. I did try to change the Londoners, organised a street party, put everyone’s bins in a line for collection, didn’t swear at anyone for a whole week..no good. I came back North, leaving the house in case I ever need a place to stay.
In 2017 there was a fire in a block of flats in London, the Grenfell Tower. 72 people died because a company cut corners with external cladding, and also a few weeks earlier the station officer sat in the fire appliance, letting his officers do the safety inspection, rather than actually inspect the place himself. Many people were made homeless, lost everything, and the council was very slow to react to their housing needs. I had, along with many other charities, gone down with a container-load of clothing and household goods, to see if we could ease the residents suffering slightly. We were on our second day and I was speaking to a woman and her three teenaged boys, all from the tower, homeless, left with absolutely nothing in the world. That night they were in my London house, and the following month I signed it over to them. It was sitting empty, of no use to me, but of massive use for them. They’re happy, I’m happy. Does that make me a soft touch? Does donating to the likes of Medecins Sans Frontier mean the same? I’d volunteer, but my medical knowledge is sadly lacking. If you need someone to pull you from the water, I’m your girl. If you need somebody to apply first aid, I’m here. If you want someone to perform heart surgery in a desert though…
While we’re on the subject, one or two readers have commented on my inheritance and what I do with it. Apparently, and thankfully they are in the minority, I should NOT be donating to charities and the like. Why? “Well spend it on yourself, make yourself happy”. That might do it for you, but for me it’s not a nice thing to do. I realise that I can’t give to every cause I see, as well as the sad fact that charities tend to want more and more from you, once they know you donate. Doing it anonymously is always the best way.
So there was the scruffy Steven, cowering from Jake. He told me he had looked in the bag for my address, and he had taken nothing but the cash. Indeed, nothing was missing. (I did have the locks changed though). He just wanted to say sorry and this was the first time he’d done this.
Oh my heart. I took him round the corner to my usual cafe and ordered three breakfasts. Phillip the owner raised both eyebrows as we sat down with this walking stain. He had his meal eaten before we were halfway though ours. He explained that he was in debt to drug dealers, and had a drink problem as well. His clothes were filthy, I mean as in they could have stood up on his own. I’ve seen tra…errr…homeless people living on the streets for months that weren’t as dirty as he was. His parents kicked him out after he stole and sold their tv to buy drugs. We finished up and I took him to the charity shop I help out in, got him some clothes, all the while Jake growling at me for being so soft. This increased when I took us back to my place and told Steven to get a shower, change into the clothes, and we would bin the others.
I’m not stupid, girls and boys, Jake was there for my protection. You don’t poke a dog too many times. The plastic knife could just as easily be a forerunner of using a real one. The boy that emerged from the shower was a revelation. The manky black hair was blond, and he was stick-thin. Through my contacts we were able to get him into a hostel, and in the following days on a drug rehab course, but there was still the matter of the money owed to the drug dealer. If only I knew somebody who was threatening and had experience of gangs, drugs, and the manner in which to deal with them? Jake visited and paid him off. I’ve not asked but I suspect he did more. Drug dealers are scum, you can argue that they supply a demand, but they are enabling misery. My socialist leanings are tested by the fact that I’d like the severest of penalties for them.
Fast forward a year. Shy Steven is now working with me, halfway through his lifeguard certs. He’s never missed a day, is always there before his time, and living back with his parents. He bought them a tv with his first ever wage packet. AND he has his first girlfriend, an equally shy young lady that is so pretty it hurts to look at her. They make an outstanding couple.
Steven will say that he came to return the handbag as he had seen the keyring of Padre Pio, and thought I must be a good person. I don’t know. As the much missed George Michael sang in Battlestations, “I don’t think you’d appreciate the things that I hide”. But then some might!
At the end of the last post, I mentioned I was going to church. I did this as writing about the subject matter had got to me. I’ve had a lot of comments about it, all of them positive, like the one from the rabbi from Poland who wrote to say thank you for raising the matter of the idiots with selfies.
I posted that at about ten pm..good luck finding a church open in the UK at that time on any night, never mind a Sunday. What I did was visit Father Dave, who lives five minutes from me. He’s a bit of a night owl and was very happy to let me into the house. I must have looked bad, as he made me sit down and got his ever-grumpy housekeeper to make me a coffee. “Hmph, lady callers at this time of night”, she said as she went to the kitchen. She likes me really, she must do as I’m the first one she asks for money for the poor at Christmas… I explained to Father Dave what I had been writing about. We talked for a while and I had a few tears. He asked me if I wanted to pray, which I declined, but he did so quietly as we sat there. Now you all know my thoughts on the supernatural. If it brings you comfort and doesn’t affect anybody by scamming money from them, fill your boots, but it isn’t for me. It’s strange then that I should choose to see a priest. After all, Ellie would have been wide awake, it being only 5 or 6 pm in Texas, Abby lives ten minutes away… I just had to.
I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone, as I don’t understand what happened, and up until Sunday had placed no great importance on. Bear with me. In 2015 I visited Rome, again. I’ll tell you more about Rome one day, it’s lovely. Colosseum, Pantheon, Vatican, (yes yes pedants, I know that’s another country), my hero Bruno, and Maria, oh Maria! There is a place called Orvieto, up in the hills, which you get to by a train ride then a funicular railway, which is this…
It’s quite the stunning place, a view for miles, the locals are nice, the food was superb, and they have their fair share of churches. As I’ve stated previously, I’ll sit in a church for hours, through three masses in one case. This one was small, not at all ornate, and had an embalmed body in it…not seen that before! My usual thing is to sit at the back in the middle of a pew, so that actual worshippers can come and go without having to ask the charlatan to move. I like to be invisible. This doesn’t always work in Rome, as you’ll find people coming from the front of the church to you at the back during the part of the mass that includes having to say “peace be with you”, “Che la pace sia con te“. I was invited to a very nice Sunday lunch because of that on one occasion.
So here I am, happily watching the few tourists and awaiting the mass, when I felt a slight pressure on my back, like a pair of hands just below my shoulders. It was so real that I turned around, but there was just the wall there. It continued as a warmth spread through my chest, and I felt, well you know the feeling when you first fall in love? Not the searing pain in your chest that is caused by adolescent longing for someone, not the elation of that first kiss, not the heart rending feeling you have when asking your question of whether of not, perhaps, maybe, she’ll go out with you, but just a massively contented happiness. This lasted for a full five minutes, in which I couldn’t raise my head, but didn’t want to. Then it passed, and I was back to normal. I looked around again and asked a man along the pew, in faltering Italian, if there had been anybody behind us. He answered no.
I didn’t have an explanation, but then it was hot, I’d been walking for miles, and had just finished a nice lunch with a glass of wine. I don’t normally drink wine, but the exceptionally sweet waiter explained that it was Sunday in Orvieto, so it’s nearly the law.
On leaving the church I once again turned to the bare concrete wall, but nobody could have been stood there, the gap was too small. I thought no more about that experience, until last Sunday night, in Father Dave’s study, when the same thing happened. The same slight pressure, the same feeling of love. This time there had been no walking, no heat, no food. I was as fully conscious as I had been the previous time, I could hear Father Dave praying softly, but couldn’t and didn’t want to lift my head. When it passed I told him what had happened, but not about the time in Orvieto. He just smiled and in that infuriatingly nice tone of his, said that it’s just god’s love, and that maybe it was time to come back to the church. I then blurted out that it had occurred previously, like a ten year old in confession. He had Mrs Blake supply more tea, and wanted to hear ALL the details. I wondered how many young women and men he had in this study over the years, and was that how he never seems at all bothered by what he hears? Thankfully he didn’t refer me to the bishop, or advise I went on a tour of nunneries in Ireland, but just did as ever, as I was leaving, put his hand on my head and blessed me. He’s done that for 22 years. It doesn’t seem to be working!
So what is it? Both you and I know I’m not going to accept his take on it. If you have faith in your particular skyfairy then good on you. Each to their own. I think however you’d be surprised at the amount of religious stuff I have. Rosary beads blessed by the Pope, small crucifixes in each of my bedrooms, which are covered by Ellie when we kiss. “Shhh, he doesn’t need to see us”, she’ll whisper. I have a Madonnelle, an image of the Virgin Mary which was painted for me by a street artist in Rome, hanging in my Durham home. A Madonnelle is one of these,
and used to be found on most Roman street corners. The story is that before street lighting, the Madonna looking down on you would dissuade you from committing crime. There are still hundreds of them, some in worse condition that others even though these days they are supposed to be looked after by the building’s owners. There’s even a four foot statue of the Virgin Mary in my Tynemouth hallway that was left by a previous owner. It’s meant for holy water to be in the small bowl at her feet, with which to anoint the sign of the cross on oneself…but it’s just the right size to contain my keys and change. Heresy. Strangely I never leave the house without touching her face. I didn’t know I did that until Abby and I were leaving one day. “Why do you do that?” “Do what?”. “Touch Mary’s face?” I still have no idea. I may yet go back to the church..decades from now. Sister Anna sounds nice, Sister Saoirse better! The thought of someone having to navigate “Sister Shersa” tickles me.
It’s just been announced that my area will be going into tier three of lockdown, meaning the gym and pool will have to close. The manager had said that if it happened, then there would be job losses. So I’ve just learned that for the first time, I am unemployed! For now, until we open again. The owners are superb, as well as rich. Tonight I’m staying with Ellie’s parents for a change, we’ve had a Skype with her to discuss the happenings both here and in Texas, her plans for coming home for Christmas, we’ve had our fish and chips and now I’m off to bed, Ellie’s bed. The memories I have in this room are so nice. If unreportable.
As ever, thanks for reading
29th of November, 2020