Tag Archives: Renfrew

The Last Post

  

Today is my thirty-seventh birthday and the first anniversary of my residency in England; it’s also my final post for this blog.

Right from the start, I’d always intended for Bean Love to be a year long project, so I’m really happy to have gone the distance with it, even if I did go a little off topic a lot of the time.   

Back in the summer of 2014, when I decided to chronicle my house move from Renfrew’s concrete jungle to Sudbury’s soporific pastures, I knew that I would also be embarking on an intense psychological journey that would not only catapult me, as a disabled person, into a greater state of independence, but it would push me to diversify my writing even further as well as making or breaking my relationship with Antonia. I wanted to record my journey in a way that I could share it with people back home who I was unlikely to see for a while, which is why I chose to make the blog public. I’d also just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Complete Dykes To Watch Out For’, and it reminded me of some of my friends and what I call the ‘Bean Scene’, and I was tickled by the idea of writing about queer culture and the way we gay ladies often perpetuate lesbian stereotypes ourselves.

Antonia, the wee delicate flower that she is (or was) said that moving to Glasgow was a ‘culture shock’ for her: she’d never before been exposed to the grittiness of West Coast living, nor had she encountered off-licenses with electronically-tagged Buckfast bottles; she’d also never heard anyone refer to their friend as a ‘cunt’ by way of friendly greeting and, as a result, she gained a whole new vocabulary in the three and a half years she spent there.

But was it a culture shock for me? Well, yes and no.

Sudbury is different from both Renfrew and Glasgow in lots of subtle ways: for instance, a garden here is not a garden unless it is at least half an acre, and most people talk ‘proper’ English and can’t understand half of what I say; there aren’t many buses in Sudbury either, because not many people need to use the bus – Antonia says most folk in this town wouldn’t even consider having less than two cars per household and that her family (of six) once had half a dozen cars in the driveway, and that was when two of them couldn’t even drive. Then there’s the ladies at the tennis club, who were terribly offended by the whole Scottish independence thing because they couldn’t understand why ‘but why?!’ Scottish people wouldn’t want to be in the United Kingdom. Of course, everyone is Sudbury is perfectly polite and nice to me – at least to my face – and on one of the two occasions I’ve heard someone shouting in the street here, one of the culprits sounded like they were from Govan.

Much like Renfrew, there’s not a big bean scene in Sudbury, nor is there a vegan one. But I know we’re not the only queers or meat avoiders in the village because I’ve seen a few lady-couples tramping around town in their wellies and Barbour jackets; and after recently joining the Suffolk Vegan group on Facebook, I’ve discovered there are a few fellow herbivores hiding in plain sight in Gainsborough Street’s ‘Niche Café’ behind their super salads. There’s also not much going on in terms of literary events and networks; and after my own attempt to start up the ‘Breakfast Writers’ Club’ failed, I joined the over fifty-five’s group at the library (and so far no-one has complained that I’m nearly two decades too young).

If my recent trip back to Scotland has taught me one thing it’s this: I am incredibly lucky to have lived in a place that allowed me easy access to the various diverse communities that helped shape the person I am today; and this, in turn, has prompted me to think about going back more often, as well as making me want to put more effort into venturing out into London and some of the other East Anglian towns in search of my tribe.

Overall, I’m stepping up my game in the coming year: I’ve been invited to an interview in East Acton with prison arts organisation the Koestler Trust, and I’ve posted my application for an eleven-week course aimed advanced writers in Covent Garden; I’ve also just signed the lease on my apartment for another year. And whilst, this may be my last post on this blog, I’m not saying I’ll never blog again, nor am I saying this is the last you’ll hear of Bean Love… a wise friend recently suggested that I should consider rewriting it as a work of fiction… and, you know what, I just might do that…

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Building Up My Endurance In A Literal Sense

I’ve covered a lot of ground this week in terms of both mental and physical goals: a solo trip to Ipswich on Monday; a coffee meet-up in Colchester on Tuesday; and then I jogged from my house to Long Melford and back (just over five miles) on both Wednesday and Thursday.

I thought it was about time I went to some places without Antonia that weren’t simply the co-op or the gym or Caffe Nero; because I’ve been in Sudbury for more than six months now, and even though going out for me means committing extra hours to route-planning and wandering round in circles (when I could simply stay home and write), it feels much more satisfying to do things independently.

I also wanted to re-ignite my passion for running.

A lot of people who read this blog will have seen me out pounding the Renfrew pavements many many times. Because for the best part of seventeen years I was always training for a ten mile race or a half marathon or simply trying to improve my stamina. I used to regularly do a ten kilometre round trip from Renfrew to Paisley and back (because I was scared of varying my route when I was out on my own in case I got lost) and in 2006 during my preparation for the Edinburgh marathon I did this multiple times a day. Aside from that, running helped fuel my writing because I’m a kinetic thinker, and for me there’s nothing quite like striding along with the wind in my hair and letting the ideas bounce around in my brain.

That was until a couple of years ago when I ended up with plantar fasciitis*. And the pains in my feet were so severe that I was forced to give up running for nine months. I tried swimming instead, but it just wasn’t the same. And because my running was so intrinsically linked with the the words I normally put down on paper, my ability to come up with new and exciting stories began to suffer too. As did my diet, because even though I’m one of those vegans who prefers a bowl of cherries to a bag of sweets or a lentil bake instead of a fry up, I stopped caring about what I put into my body because I thought ‘what’s the point?’.

But my injuries eventually healed. And when they did it was my confidence that stopped me from getting back up on my feet, so to speak. I tentatively tried running again for fifteen or twenty minutes and I realised I’d put on weight – not huge amounts, but I wobbled in places I previously didn’t and I felt sluggish and, well, sweaty – and this made it hard for me to get motivated.

And this went on for several months. Until I moved house. That’s when I made a decision to start again from scratch, to forget about races and medals and fitness targets and simply get up out of bed and do SOMETHING. Within two weeks of living in Sudbury, I joined the local gym and I started going to karate and yoga and jogging for a few kilometres on the treadmill twice a week. (I also went along to a running club but that didn’t work out because on week one I stopped to tie my shoelace and the others left me eating their dust; the second week they abandoned a sixteen-year-old newbie at night in a secluded woodland area who had no clue where she was going – I was one of two people who ran back for her and after that, I decided it was the wrong club for me.)

Last week I did fourteen miles on the treadmill whilst watching the entirety of eighties’ movie ‘Inner Space’. It’s the longest time I’ve ever spent on a treadmill and the furthest I’ve run in about three years. And although I was pleased I’d managed it, there was also a feeling of anti-climax, because at the end of the day I was still in the same place. And I knew that if my writing was ever going to go anywhere again, because it has been stuttering along recently, then I had to put myself back out into the world.

I chose Long Melford as my fledgling destination because I’d been there a few times, and because it’s pretty difficult (even for me) to get lost, seeing as I only have to walk to the end of my street and cross the road and keep running in a straight line. And I simply woke up on Wednesday morning, got my trainers on and just went for it; no procrastination, no stopping, no looking back.

Antonia says she might come running with me some time. She’s been getting back into her tennis and wants to sign up to the gym too. It feels nice getting fit together, and I’ve been manically reading lots of superfood and wholefood recipes so that we can cook tasty healthy things – I’m not going overboard with it though, and no way am I going without my cherry pie from Co-op!

 

*Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining or tearing the ligament that supports the arch

Good Writing

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Yesterday I finished a piece of writing that had been eluding me for months, a piece of writing that I first drafted almost a decade ago.

‘Good Pals’ is a short story about a fifteen-year-old girl and her ‘best boy pal’; it’s a story about friendship and family values and the changing attitudes towards relationships and sexuality in modern-day Scotland. It is also number thirty-two in a series of sixty-five short stories (collectively known as ‘Duck Feet’), which are all told in a Renfrewshire vernacular from the point of view of a lone Scottish schoolgirl as she traverses through six years of (often angst-filled) secondary education.

I started writing ‘Duck Feet’ back in 2004, in response to a call for submissions in Mslexia magazine. The brief was to write something about shoes: a poem, a piece of prose, something original; and I remember sitting in my parents’ living room, pen behind ear, racking my brains to come up with a list of all the different footwear you could get. My father had just finished a hard day’s graft working for the council’s cleansing department that day, and as I stared at him bathing his tired feet in a basin of warm soapy water, suddenly a little girl’s voice skipped into my head out of nowhere: ‘Ma da’s got bad feet,’ she crowed. ‘He says it’s cause when he wis wee his mother made him wear shoes that didnae fit him…’ An on and on she lamented in her sing-songy brogue. It’s unusual for me to get an idea for a story out all in a ‘oner’ as Kirsty Campbell (the narrator) would say, but that’s what happened. And it kept on happening for the best part of a year.

Kirsty started off as a precocious twelve-year-old, an ordinary wee girl worried about losing the attentions of Charlene, her life-long best friend, who had recently discovered boys and Buckfast, and trying hard to avoid ‘puni’s for not paying attention in class. My mum thought I’d based the character on myself because I was writing about a wee girl from a working class background who had a younger sister and two parents who were still married and whose relationship was not blighted by drugs or alcohol. I didn’t. In truth, Kirsty is more like my younger sister, she’s more like what I’d like to have been like at school: more ballsy, more capable of standing up for the things that she wanted or believed in. Guest editor, Julia Darling described Kirsty as an ‘earnest, fierce narrator’ in that first ever Duck Feet story that was published back in January 2005, but whilst I’ll take all the compliments I can get, I think it took another thirty or so installments before Kirsty gradually gained confidence and came into her own.

I interviewed several people about their high school experiences for this book: some were my age, some older; most were a little younger though, including the then thirteen-year-old daughter of a writer friend of mine. The things that people said over and over again could be summed up in the phrase ‘nothing much has changed’: according to my interviewees school certainly hadn’t, because there had always been the teacher you loved and the teacher you hated; the class clown, the brains, the bad boy, the wee person who smelled, and the popular crowd; there was also the person who everyone thought was destined for loserville who managed to somehow turn their life around at the eleventh hour and prove them all wrong; and lastly, the fool who threw away a glittering future. With this thought in mind, I knew by the tenth story exactly how my characters were going to end up: I knew who was going to be pregnant by the time they were fifteen, who was going to become hooked on drugs and who was destined to come out as gay.

I also decided that pop culture should play a large part in the development of the characters, but instead of dating it by mentioning real live boy bands and fashion fads, I invented my own. And I honestly believe it was that dash of imagination – rather than the reality they were based on – that brought Kirsty and her pals to life.