The Return of Sibylla: Neurotic Rich Show Off Ladies

‘Oh darllinngggg darling how are you? How, are, you?’ The shaved head ultra career-socialite, middle aged woman hollered in the middle of a chain coffee shop right in front of Sibylla’s table. Before the man who recognised her could reply the woman bellowed ‘I’m at the Royal the Academy now, ya ya, (listen up everyone I’m richer and more successful than you!) Catering wasn’t for me I had no life. Now I work at the Royal Academy (did the whole cafe hear that, pause for jealous gasps of amazement) we have moved to the posh bit of Putney (originally built for the working classes as London’s first housing estate) four bedrooms, dogs, two bathrooms (more than you’ve got).’

‘A swimming pool and room for a pony?’ Sibylla wanted to blurt out remembering Keeping Up Appearances on TV. But instead she squinted at her laptop that still hadn’t been paid for and grumbled she had never felt so poor.

The woman spun on her heels and started snapping orders about work to colleagues on various tables. No one else seemed to be speaking. Does she know this is Pret, not a boardroom, Sibylla wondered. All she had to boast of was a decade on state benefits, a charity owned flat with no sufficient windows in the ugliest edge of Brackenbury village and a bag full of catheters and notebooks. As she spoke her accent leaked with the voice of East End working class, too many cigarettes, all glazed over with city exquisiteness. it sounded an extra vocation to keep up.

There was a deep perverse longing to stand up and in the same false accent flail her hands declaring ‘I have a half sized toilet in a cupboard and sleep on a broken futon, my head only a piece of wood away from stinking noisy traffic. It’s fabulous darrrrlllllinnnggs.] Do the splits and return to her lunch.

She kept quiet and stuffed her mouth with the chewy pickle baguette.





Of London, Now Summer

‘All cities are shitholes and this one is the biggest of the lot of them.’ A man tells his friends walking over Hungerford Bridge. ‘There’s a body, face down in the stream….’ he begins to sing as I pause on the railing.

The rain had stopped in the hot evening breeze, water lapping in green. the theme tune of captain Pugwash echoed over the water in a surreal joke. It’s source, the latest boat ride for tourists in a R.I.B boat. Maybe they get to pretend they are being rescued from the Thames. And on the opposite bank as the din of too many buskers beats louder, a big pink route master bus is selling frozen yoghurts.

I hear the crowds amazement at a ring of b-boys. Beside the Eye a hen party hollers out ‘knees up mother brown’ doing kicks in their heels and squeezed on dresses in unexpected mash up of the decades.  I walk up to Westminster bridge as the big bonging of  bongs rings eight o’clock from Parliament, wishing light evenings could go on forever, that London could edit out its winters.

Of London: Illness and Writing, Back to Uni

Tottenham Court Road looks different now the rain has stopped, emptier, not so dense or fast as I remember. I have just seen my literature course leader for the first time in half a year about the never ending Vivien Eliot and writing as a response to illness. On a bit of a literary high as I know I don’t have the technique or ability to write it academically but as a subject I think I am actually on to something that other critics seem to have turned away from. In a literary sense illness, especially mental health is still something ugly to presenting a piece of writing as ‘literature’ and always needs to circumnavigate the bromide fuelled elephant in the room. Or it has to find something more worthy to make the writing worthy.

My tutor is the only person I have had a conversation with all week that isn’t a medic or therapist or support worker dealing with post sleep deprivation me. I am back on the B12 big needles and lovely nurse after my fatigue found a whole new universe of exhaustion.

Life has become one long list of medical appointments from the supported housing that takes no responsibility, not even acknowledgement of how it damaged my health and well being through ignored sleep deprivation and neglect of the elderly upstairs. Next week I am literally having my brain tested to see if there is any damage causing the sleep paralysis and hyper-sensitivity to noise.

Echo’s of the doctors of Virginia Woolf, Vivien Eliot’s doctors blame the ‘nerves’ it’s all down to nerve damage. I write of the damage of rest cures but I never got my rest and the manager of the Thomas Pocklington Trust thinks I made up the noise shocks of my neighbours dementia, the drunk singing ten hours straight, the ceilings shaking in the new flat. Maybe screaming ‘I thought I was dying, I moved because I thought I was dying up there,’ silenced her bullying patronising tone. She did nothing. They kept telling my there is nothing we can do about a woman with dementia alone every night for two years.

‘It seems everywhere you live you claim to be disturbed by noise.’

Then they say it must be growing up in the countryside, that I am not used to noise. My countryside was a house of 6, semi detached neighbours of varying amounts and ages on a main road. The fields became cramped housing estates. There was no noise because people actually went to bed at night. I grew up with people that went to school and went to work and went to bed at night. They were not mentally ill. They would not have been ignored if thery were screaming drunk, screaming afraid, screaming angry. I then spent 7 years living next t a dual carriageway before the mistake of the blind house.

But Thomas Pocklington Trust still insist I am the problem not their dismissal of mentally ill people. I love noise- I love fireworks and music and motorbike engines. I love the birds at dawn and foxes screaming. I love roaring crowds in stadium and thunderstorms. I can only write in noisy coffee shops in the blur of voices.

Hearing an elderly woman calling to be let out in the night, knowing you can help, can’t even get her to here you to get in and help, when it leaves you paralysed in the morning, inert in the afternoon, when you are then told the problem is in your head, in your preferences. That is when I don’t like noise.

The new flat lets me sleep more and the other flat tenants are nice. I wake early to the traffic and people in the street and it sounds as though I am outside but it doesn’t shock my like slamming doors and the thump thump of a walking stick against the ceiling, beating the radiator it thought was a door. So I am hopeful it will become o.k.

I ate chocolate for breakfast while phoning the council, the doctors and changing information. The streets were drying out walking the back way to Hammersmith bus station where the houses make me think of the 1930’s and people take their happy toddlers to nursery the bigger little ones to the primary school.

The glass elevator never works, always gives up on itself after I step in. I watched a man in the mall below hand out free cup cakes and I went the other way thinking there must be something truly significant in refusing cup cakes. In the bus que a police man, I thought was checking tickets for an unknown reason, was handing out leaflets on terrorism and a number to call if I suspect anything strange. Halfway across the Thames on the bus, saying my Wasteland T S Eliot lucky stanza in my head, the man opposite hollered ‘you son of a bitch.’ He was deeply lost to reality in whatever was on his phone screen.

My plan to get to uni early and get a knew card, write in that depressing purple basement of humming ventilation, ended in becoming soaked. I ate a Pret lunch with a backside like cold soup on a wet bench in Cavendish street. The route between campuses has always been guesswork but an old brick and sash cord window route of nostalgic city.

Every day since I moved from the suburbs I feel like I am in the first day on The Devil Wears Prada. I wake into the city pace that started the day long before me and calls me out into it. It needs energy and swiftness, a new walk weave through the intent bustle of everyone else trying to move the same. I feel I am living somebody else life yet still with no real reason to be in London, no proper income.

Before the grey mirrored block of uni two boys perched on a low window sill under the cusp of a windowsill above to share a cigarette in the rain. I pulled my coat around me with the missing buttons and climbed steps to shelter in the doorway of a mansion block. Sometimes it is forever a movie scene here.

Hot Sunday

As usual the entirety of Summer has decended on London. I have neither tiny shorts, tiny children or tiny dogs but headed back to Chiswick house. Despite the odd snooty comments from snooty ones, it is the most gorgeously peaceful park and gardens of peaceful lazy afternoons in London. 

If you love the film Atonement or books like The Thirteenth Tale then this location evokes a similar setting. It is a plaace full of pic-nicers and family ball games, winding paths and secluded spots to relax. 

The hot weather is heavy with the smells of car seats, outside meals, sweat and sunscreen and purfumed by intoxicating flowers and blossom. 

For a while I read Zelda Fitzgerald bare foot on the grass then decided to walk to the river without a map. 

The pathless road was blocked with parked cars and traffic squashing me between them. The Thames path was flooded. I walked the scorching motorway and got the first bus to Richmond. The accordionist at the station played the Amelie soundtrack. 

i think by then the sun hand got me as I got a bus to Hammersmith, panicked at Kew it was the wrong way and headed to Kew station. The district line broke. So I got a bus, a 30 min wait back to Richmond. Then another bus back to Hammersmith.this all took about three hours. So tiring and hot and with no one to chat to. No one talks to strangers in London except for directiond. 

The City That Never Sleeps (and why it really should go to bed)

The futon, after much dizzyness and heaving of lungs and matress, is now in my living room. I have begun to realise there is no such thing as a quiet night in London especially with my thin ceiling and bustling street. Sometimes, if the sleep paralysis kicks in I become convinced I will die from another noisy night. 

And no, earplugs don’t work- they make tinitus louder and muffled sounds more fretful of the source. 

The ‘this is all different/I’m so busy/doesn’t this scatter cushion obsession look good’ new home thing is getting it’s reality checks. 

So after waking at 3am to more voices and stomping I made it through the morning rush hour like an explorer of a new civilisation in the May sunshine. It is all heels, bare legs and lattes and suited men on teenagers scooters making me think of street scenes in Sex and the City. 

The nurse at Moorfields had to force in anesthesia and dilating drops to my clamped eyelids. As the ward blurred I tried to  guess what was on ITV’s This Morning and not fall back to sleep. The consultant said I don’t need eye surgery to remove life-long flickering lights in my vision. She says it’s nerves being damaged from Retinitis Pigmentosa. Nerves are the answer to all my health probs lately. Next week I am literally having my head tested to check my brain and nerves. 

At what point did I morph into Vivienne Eliot? Bring on the bromides…

It is a bit of a bastard diagnosis getting to avoid the fear of cutting my eyeballs open and general anesthetic only to know I am stuck with the private pyrotechnics in my eyes. 

The staff were lovely though and gave me free tinted glasses which, although I look like a hasbeen rock star, make me finally see in sunshine. The effect is almost biblical. 

The real miracle would be deep, uninterrupted sleep…

Here is my pretty pink walk home from the thames.