Mars Bars

Dear Lucy, 

I’ve got a serious Mars Bar problem. 

I’m trying to cut down on Mars bars, amongst other things, and I’m doing really, really well. The only problem is, that I’m rewarding myself with Mars bars, because I love Mars bars. 

I tried rewarding myself with Snickers as I love those too, but then I ended up eating Mars bars and Snickers. This led to the inevitable Bounty because when I have Celebrations I have to have a Snickers, Bounty, Mars trio, in that order. Saving the best until last of course. 

I’ve often thought that I could eat only mars bars and just cut out all the boring stuff, fruit, vegetables.

There used to be that advert didn’t there. “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”! I find that Mars during work, rest and play are best. Then there’s no need for normal food. 

Mars bars have several advantages over fresh food. One is that they don’t go off, at least not quickly. Mars bars come in their own perfectly sized packaging. Mars bars can fit in your pocket, though it’s not recommended to keep one there – and honestly, who would (or could) wait to eat one? Mars bars can be made very cold and then cut into slices, which I used to do when I was young. Perhaps sharing a Mars bar amongst friends? I can’t imagine I’d ever share a Mars bar with anyone but I suppose it’s possible I did before I realised I didn’t have to. 

Now you can get a Mars duo, and people say there is no God.

I’ve now reminded myself all of the reasons Mars bars are best, so I’ll stop trying to give them up, and then I’ll probably not eat so many.

Letting it all go… at least for today

Dear Lucy,

This morning – watching the beautiful snow fall – I am overcome with a feeling of contentment I’ve never before experienced. I wondered if I’d drifted back to sleep and was
dreaming or if I was even still alive. I’m still not sure, but hey ho.

It feels like I’ve let it all go – all the striving to ‘do’ better, for my life to ‘be’ better. It is what it is, and it’s all ok, at least for today.

It’s not resignation, rather a feeling that I’ve really ‘got’ something about life. That life really is short and I don’t want to waste another minute wondering whether I’ll ever develop a good relationship with sugar, alcohol, exercise, food, and more.

Whether I’ll find love and be able to find the strength and determination to hold onto it. Whether I’ll ever have the perfect lounge with a fireplace and perfectly placed lighting. If I’ll ever develop better habits, find my ‘thing’ and experience deep satisfaction.

Whether or not I’ll have time to discover all the authors, people, music, films that bring me joy. Whether I’ll ever write the book (or seven) I have within me, or even find the right time/energy/space to do the writing in the first place.

Will I ever find the perfect holiday destination, pasta portion, pair of shoes, coffee? Will I ever fully let go of all my regrets before I die? I could go on.

It could all happen, but I accept that it might not (and it feels really real to say it, not a platitude) and that that’s ok too.

Maybe its age, maybe I’ve run out of my worry quota (I actually think this could be a possibility). Maybe it’s my home-coming that’s brought me to this moment, maybe it was the meditative quality of watching the snow, or maybe the snow is just making me feel sentimental.

I may forget all this tomorrow and try to find a new way to gamify eating my five a day, but that’s ok too, at least for today.

My Christmas Carol

Dear Lucy,

My favourite story of all time is A Christmas Carol, and this year, I’ve had my very own ‘Ebeneezer moment’, though without the ghosts and spirits, thankfully.

I was always intrigued by the theme of redemption. To know that it’s never too late to live your life differently, to live your life at all. That’s what always got me choked up about Ebeneezer. He inspired me to hold on tight to the notion that my life could be better, fuller, more joyful.

For a long time I hadn’t realised that Ebeneezer was once a happy young man, and that life and its tribulations had led to a loss of himself. It’s easy to blink and miss this. He didn’t magically turn into a new person, he returned to who he was.

This was the second layer of meaning that started to touch me even more deeply, relevant as it was during my last few years living in London.

Hoping to find myself, I’d searched all over London. From Cornhill to Camden Town (just like Bob Cratchit’s commute), from Vauxhall to Old Street (my commute), and everywhere in between. But of course, I was here in my home town all along. I knew the theory but believed it to be Humbug. I would find a new, shinier, improved me somewhere else, but of course, I didn’t.

Like Ebeneezer’s money, my time and fierce self-sufficiency had taken on a meaning of their  own. Again and again, in order to prove to myself that I could manage should I need to be alone, I chose to be alone. Keeping my time to myself, over the love and connection that was always available to me at home – a place I felt I couldn’t /didn’t want to return to.

Worst of all during this time, I turned against Christmas, a period I’d always traditionally loved. As you know, I tried escaping and even went to Vegas alone to get away from it. People thought me adventurous and exciting but really I just went there to hide from something that no longer held any joy for me.

Despite my anti-Christmas period, I kept to my yearly tradition of re-reading and seeing a production of A Christmas Carol. I trusted or perhaps hoped, that Christmas would come back to me.

Since returning to Fleet last year on a leap of faith, or perhaps desperation, I have of course spent more time alone this year than ever. But this time it wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t a defensive move, and ironically, I’ve felt more connected and joyful than ever.

I had no idea how much of myself I’d left behind when I went to live in London and am now happily reclaiming myself and those around me every day.

Though there are lots of people who form part of my story, Loo, your part in this is perhaps the most significant one. Like Ebeneezer’s nephew who never gave up on him, you’ve always tried to show me that I was, and always would be welcome, loved and wanted. I’m finally learning to allow it – occasional wobble aside. So whilst all my letters are addressed to you, this one is dedicated to you.

I have at last found both redemption and myself in my home town and in your home – in your family. And I shall be forever thankful.

God bless us, everyone.

I am not alone

Dear Lucy, 

You may be worrying about me being all alone during lockdown. Fearing that I may go slightly mad, climb the walls, start talking to myself. But I wanted to assure you that I’m really very well, and actually, not on my own at all. 

Just the other day I noticed my radiator, as if seeing it for the first time and thought ‘gosh, what a handsome radiator you are’. I asked him if he had a name – for surely radiators are male – and he said “Why yes, it’s Stanley of course!” 

We had a lovely chat about the other things in the room we both hadn’t noticed before. The bit of wall I never look at because it’s behind me, the slightly wonky nature of the lampshade, the bit of carpet that never quite gets hoovered. Stanley it turns out, is fast friends with the radio who apparently has strong views that I should be listening to Radio 4 at my age. I’ll chat to the radio later but need to think about the case for my defence first. 

I wondered, had Stanley ever wanted to explore the rest of the house, the street, even the country. He said that no, he was happy here, keeping me warm. I took a lot of comfort from that and wanted to make him comfortable in return. I asked if he’d like me to get him a nice throw – nothing fancy – something neutral. He said he’d think about it, but I think I went too far too soon. We weren’t ready for talk of soft furnishings, or any other gifts. 

Stanley and I are still friends, but there’s a tension there that can’t be undone. I think in retrospect, my offer was insulting because his job is to keep me warm and by wanting to give him something back, I took away from his purpose. I’ll give him a little space and resist messing with the temperature valve, even though it’s getting warmer each day. 

In the meantime, I’m going to talk to some of the other objects in the house I’ve neglected to get to know. I’ll start with the spare iron that I keep in case the other one breaks, even though I’ve never had a broken iron. I feel bad for the spare iron because it’ll never get used, and the main iron because I don’t have faith in it. I’ll speak to them both though it will be tough. 

I also need to apologise to my Sunday knickers. When I first brought them, I was so pleased. They are really big – a ‘full brief’ – something I’ve never purchased before, but their coverage is what made them so cosy and Sunday appropriate. Having always been a multi-pack purchaser, I was very excited by the fact they came on their own little hanger. They didn’t disappoint. I could sink right down into them and relax in a way that my other knickers just didn’t allow. But recently I’ve let their special ‘Sunday’ status slip and I’ve worn them on other days. I’ve felt bad for a while so it’s the right time to make good.  

On the subject of the bathroom bin, I’ve long refused to acknowledge it, and this is a matter that’s between us. I’m not sure I’m ready to build bridges there just yet. 

But it’s not all bad. There are clothes I’ve brought from charity shops that have stories to tell of their previous lives, so I’m looking forward to hearing those. The mirror – Dave – has also given me a hint that he holds all the secrets to life, if only I’d ask. How about that! 

So, dear Lucy, don’t you worry about me, I’m just fine. 

Spider Funeral

Dear Lucy,

A dead spider lay on my window sill. Legs shrivelled into an octopus like bundle, dead body at the top still holding them all together. I thought about throwing it in the bin or using my Dyson handheld to hoover it up so I don’t have to make any contact, but I can’t bring myself to tackle either option. This isn’t a bit of stray crisp packet or a few scraps of thread from a piece of clothing. It was a living thing and now it is dead. I wanted to honour it’s tiny life and so I decided to give it a funeral.

I’m considering training as a Celebrant, so this would be my chance to try out conducting a service. I’d probably opt for weddings, not funerals. Not because I’m fearful about addressing death – it could even be an outlet for my obsessive thoughts on the subject. It’s more that I can’t quite face the idea of the crematorium being my place of work. Also, I doubt I’d be able to keep my composure and an overly emotional celebrant wouldn’t do, but for the spider I’ll make an exception.

The first draft of my service went as follows: Dear Fellow wildlife, here we are, ready to say farewell to this spider. This spider, who may or may not have had a spider name, now lays here to rest. I can’t say what kind of life it lived, or for how long. I can’t say if it gave birth to or fathered children. We can’t know how this spider came to pass on somewhere between 20-26 January 2020, and we need to let go of any hope of ever really knowing. May you rest in peace little spider.

Not bad for a first go. But maybe something a bit snappier would be more appropriate given the scale of the service. Something like ‘Hey Lady Nature, incoming!’. It was at this point I noticed that I had lost the spider.

I’d blown it away with my hairdryer, which shoots through my hair and directly onto the window sill. For a while I couldn’t seem to risk looking and not finding it, but when I finally did, I spotted it straight away. It was as if it wanted to found, keen to have this farewell – keen to not end up in a hoover.  

I decided on a small Tupperware pot to transport the spider to its resting place. I didn’t  decorate the pot, it just seemed a step too far. I felt incredibly sad, but wasn’t sure if I hadn’t woken feeling this way.

So l took the spider to Fleet Pond – a beautiful place of nature not far from my home. A place where it may have had a happier and better life. Perhaps it originally lived at the pond and lost its way, ending up on my window sill.

I picked a leaf to lay it on so I could place it in the pond rather than to tip it straight in. I put the leaf in the ground and tapped the spider out from the Tupperware (it stuck a little at first which brought me back to my non-Celebrant status and a cringy shudder escaped me). I’d chosen a picturesque jetty to release the spider, but there were lots of ducks, birds and swans milling around – it’s a regular feeding spot and my presence signals food. But I didn’t want one of them to immediately eat the spider, not because it’d spoil anything but if I see it, I’ll imagine what it’s like to eat the spider. Of course now I’ve said it I’ve imagined it and you may have too, sorry.

Nature intervened and a sudden breeze blew the spider off the leaf and into the pond. I watched as it drifted under the jetty instead of out into the vast pond, wanting desperately to waft it back out so it’s final journey could be an idyllic and poignant one. Slipping under the jetty even at a ceremony felt unceremonious. But maybe it suited the spider, perhaps it was an introvert and was a little embarrassed by all the fuss. I felt disappointed but realised – and it won’t be the last time – that this wasn’t about me. As I walked away I realised I’d forgotten to conduct the service. 

“Dear Mother Nature” I said to myself as I walked away. “I return this spider to your care, may you receive it back into the circle of life and may you – tiny spider – rest in peace.” 

I’m happier with this brief but respectful selection of words, and I conduct my first funeral tear-free which is a promising start.

I know this may all sound a tad mad. According to popular belief, I’ve probably unknowingly  killed and even eaten a few dozen insects in my life, so why make a fuss over one spider. Funerals after all are about us saying farewell to someone, the ceremony more about us coming to terms with our loss. I didn’t feel any loss over the spider and I doubt anyone else did – but maybe that’s reason enough.

Lifeline pen – parts 2 and 3 – The long goodbye

Dear Lucy,

Shit’s getting real. That pen I wrote to you about recently – the green lifeline one (where I had the feeling, when it ends, so will I) – is literally hanging on by a pale, inky thread.

Whilst I don’t think of myself as superstitious, I’m getting a bit concerned. I’m taking extra care crossing the road and thinking twice about taking the tube. I’ve created my own monster, which I’ve always been jolly good at.

So this morning I’ve decided to let that pen represent an ending, but not mine.

I’m going to let it represent to the part of me that has always tried not to die so that my parents wouldn’t have to lose another child. Only this week it occurred to me that by trying not to die, I’ve never really tried to live. That woke me up on a Monday morning.

So I’m going to take that pen, writing with its last bits of life the words to describe what it is that I’m saying goodbye to. There probably won’t be enough ink to say all that needs to be said, but I’ll have a new pen at the ready to take over the job, so it knows that things won’t be left unfinished.

It always fascinates me how things like this come together at what seems like just the right time. The pen, the thought about dying and living, the desperate need for something else for that pen to represent. Fortuitous, serendipitous, spooky, whatever the word, I can’t explain it, but it feels just like the click of a lid on a nice new, juicy pen.

Part 3

It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve been busy writing with the green pen – the lifeline pen. Turns out, it wasn’t running out of ink, it just had a dicky nib. But this morning, it finally ran out.

As you know, I’d wanted to write a goodbye to the life I’ve not lived. Turns out that neither of us were ready to say goodbye.

At first, the pen had a slightly despairing tone. It grew weary of my wanting it to end. It knowing it wasn’t ready yet, me frantically writing away trying to make this symbolic ceremony happen. I have the tissues! I have the new juicy pen (to continue writing with)! Bla.  

The pen wrote on.

More and more the pen’s tone was becoming obnoxious and superior. I could feel it’s intrusion starting to silence me.

It reminded me of those arrogant alpha male types who invade your space on the bus – legs wide, elbows out. They take other people’s space because – like everything else – it never occurs to them that it doesn’t belong to them.

I didn’t like this bloody pen. I wanted to throw it deep down into the bin. Throwing back with it my anger and the weakness that had never been mine.

But somehow I couldn’t throw the pen away, not before its natural end. I knew it was old and wouldn’t last long, but it wasn’t taking me with it. Oh no.

So I asserted my will and I took back the life force of the pen. I am Claire, and this is my pen, hear it fucking roar! Point made.

It turned out that this was what the pen had been for – to find my will, to reclaim some power. Instead of saying a sentimental goodbye, I unleashed my wrath and got a bit biblical. I even killed some people off, but my compassion, with the help of the pen, gave them a reprieve.

I gave myself a reprieve too. I’d done my best with what I had. I had been alone. The blame for a life not lived, didn’t lie entirely at my door.

So I am done with the past, and whilst I sense the past hasn’t quite done with me (is it ever?), at least I have its attention.

The ink by now, really was running dry and I knew it was the end, the pen and I were ready. In its last words it gave me the gift of a new voice. My sister, who, from beyond the grave assured me, “Claire, everything’s going to be alright.”

Lifeline pen

Dear Lucy,

I had the weirdest feeling about my green pen last Thursday.

It’s hard to describe what happened. It was like a crack of lightning in my brain, in an instant, I knew.

When the pen runs out, so will I.

As you can imagine, this was a slightly alarming moment. I was holding my life in my hands, quite literally.

After a moment’s pause, I began to think of some options. First I thought that I could just keep it and not use the last bits of ink. I could put it in a special box at a good temperature for a pen (?) with padding, which sounds eerily like a pen coffin. But I guess it would dry out eventually wherever I kept it? Would that be sooner than if I used it? I simply don’t know and I don’t have time to experiment for the pen is already running out of ink and the nib has become ‘slightly scratchy’.

But Lucy, I feel great! I’ve never been healthier. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t have irresponsible sex, I don’t climb mountains or jump off them. I eat pretty healthily. Have I done damage from all the times I did do all those things? (except the mountain stuff, I’ve never done that).

I could use the pen with gusto, live my life so to speak, through my pen. But for certain it will go quickly and I don’t want that either, there’s so much still left to do. I want to love and be loved in return (though if someone is slightly more grateful than the other, I don’t want that to be me). I also want to stand up for myself in the moment, discover my life purpose, and go to a proper fashion show. I need time for these things.

I Google’d to see what other people do in this situation. Do other people even know? Is it just green pens? Is it just middle aged women? Is it just me?

Google comes up with a few discussion threads about how to avoid buying cheap pens that run out (the main headline being ‘avoid pound shops’), but nothing more.

I’ve had these flashes before where I’ve just known things. Other times I’ve dreamed things that turned out to be real. I am also convinced that I have healing hands, though it’s only occurring to me now that if that were true, why haven’t I ever tried to heal anyone?

Maybe if I’d healed people I would have more ink in my pen. Maybe I can make it fill up again if I do more good works? But no, once a pen becomes ‘slightly scratchy’ there’s no going back.

Even though I don’t gamble, I decide to now. I’ll leave the pen in a pot at work. People always steal other people’s pens. Maybe someone will use it too much, too quickly. Maybe someone will throw it in the bin, deciding that ‘slightly scratchy’ means ‘no good’, and I’ll end up in landfill waiting it out.

Either way, I’m certain I don’t want to know, so like the rest of my life, I’ll leave it to chance.

Kelsey Grammer

Dear Lucy,

Did I ever tell you about when I bumped into Kelsey Grammer?

He was in London starring in the musical Big Fish. I wanted to see him, but didn’t much care for the film Big Fish so assumed the musical wouldn’t be any good either. As I’d only go and see the show to see him anyway, I thought, why not hang about the theatre on the off chance that I might bump into him and save myself a few quid?

I’d once seen Jeff Goldblum in the audience at a show. He was alone and I wanted to offer him myself as a guide for his visit around London. I thought, ‘what if no-one ever talks to him because they’re too star-struck? Wouldn’t that be tragic?’ I however, was too star-struck as I’d always had a huge crush on Jeff so didn’t speak to him and felt we’d both lost out on something as he walked – alone – out of the theatre, brochure in hand. The brochure made him look a little sad. I imagined him in his hotel room flicking through it and smiling at his favourite pictures.

Kelsey didn’t like this story as it made him jealous. He never liked Goldblum anyway and would get upset at the thought that I never had a crush on him, as I did on Goldblum. I wish I’d lied when I first met him, but I can’t undo it now.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice, so I started hanging around the theatre and the local area. It was winter so this was a commitment on my part.

Eventually I bumped into him in a nearby Pret a Manger. I was in the queue and Kelsey literally walked into the back of me. He was reading a review (not a favourable one) and wasn’t paying attention. I believe he was just dying to talk to someone about the review and get a chance to rubbish it.

I, of course, forgave him for rear-ending me, all the while pretending to be really cool and not star-struck (I’d practiced in the mirror having learned from the Goldblum episode). We got chatting and he invited me to join him. I said I would and insisted he try the pumpkin seeds, which he did. We got along famously and agreed to meet again. By the end of that week, we were inseparable.

Suddenly we were squeezing in dinner and lunch dates between performances. I can’t deny that I took every opportunity to drop his name into conversation. “Oh yes, Frasi… I mean Kelsey and I prefer Pizza Hut to the Ivy!” and how we’d laugh at how incongruent and non-show-bizzy we were.

He just adored me and my English accent and didn’t mind that I sometimes called him the wrong name. He even forgave me when I’d forget, as I often did, that Niles wasn’t really his brother, but I so wanted to meet him. Niles was always my favourite. Kelsey knew that Niles was everyone’s favourite. He said he’d learned to live with it, but I wasn’t so sure.

Unfortunately I tired of him quickly. We just didn’t have that special chemistry and I knew he never really liked the pumpkin seeds. In turn, I think he knew I never went to see the show, even though he’d given me free tickets on more than one occasion. There were just too many lies between us.

So we ended on good terms. I didn’t miss him, but never got over not meeting Niles.

Early flight

Dear Lucy,

I’ve always wanted to need to catch an early flight, to have something important enough to need to leave first thing in the morning for. I’ve been on early flights before, but I haven’t ‘had to’ be on them.

People in films and on the TV are always catching early flights. Never late-morning or mid-afternoon ones, only early morning ones. These people are always successful, ambitious and generally good looking. The less attractive ones get to stay behind (and save the planet by the way, by not taking flights at all).

Successful people always get up early. Planning their goals for the day, doing power yoga whilst chairing a video conference, preparing superfoods in a Bullet, providing endless activities for people that like to tell us about the ‘top ten things successful people do’.

And all this no doubt, wearing stylish lounge wear, and all of course, before breakfast.

Knowing that getting up early is key to being successful kind of makes me feel better though. I’ve always been pre-disposed to an average of 9 hours sleep a night, so even if I wanted to be successful, my body simply wouldn’t allow it.

So the question is – can an unsuccessful person ever have the need to take an early flight?

I’m not taking any chances, so instead I’m going to pretend I have some ‘early’ things I have to do. A Thai Chi class, a meeting with my bank manager (can you have those if you’re with a building society?), a Lacrosse lesson. And yes, even an early flight.

And then perhaps people will be impressed with me and think, “Ooh, isn’t she successful and ambitious, she has ‘early’ things to get to!” I expect they’ll start treating me differently, eager to hold open doors, to get me a coffee, or to join my conversation over someone who just does normal things at normal times. I suspect I would also appear to be better looking too.

And then what?

The reality is that whether or not I have early things to do, I’ll just keep hitting my snooze button. So then I’ll be a liar who doesn’t have to get an early flight. Worse still, a lazy liar who doesn’t have to get an early flight. But at least I’ll be a bit more windswept and interesting, which after all, is much more important than being successful. Maybe I’ll do a top ten list.

I meant “Neanderthal”

Dear Lucy,

I called a man a Palestine the other day. Well, I almost did. I actually wanted to call him a philistine which, turns out, wasn’t even the right word anyway.

It got me thinking though, about the reason that I wanted to shout at him at all, especially as I’m really not one to shout at people in the street.

I was walking to Tesco with my young colleague at lunchtime. A gentleman walked passed us, looked my colleague up and down and said, “mmm nice shape, yeah!” with a big grin on his face.

Feeling she’d been Weinstein’d, I became incensed and said “excuse me?!” as he passed. He then repeated it, eager to ensure the compliment was received, missing my tone completely.

I said “That’s not acceptable anymore you know… it never really was!”, if I was quicker off the mark, I’d have said “’Time’s up’ buster!” Honestly though, he looked bewildered. That’s when “you Palestine!” popped into my head.

But was it so wrong, what he said? People admire people all the time. If people tell me they like my hair I’m not offended.

But to comment on someone’s body, with such a sexual overtone (the “yeah!” punctuating his desire) It’s just not on. I wouldn’t go “corrrr, nice arse!” to a passing cyclist. I might think it (and I’m not going to lie, I regularly do), but I wouldn’t say it. Also, it did make my colleague feel uncomfortable, but was it my place to make the comment? Not really.

If I’m being really honest, I think I may have been annoyed because the gentleman concerned seemed more like someone who would be in my limited fan base. So maybe I was just put out that he complimented her and not me. This, my friend, is hard to admit.

So whilst I conclude that he didn’t behave well and was a bit of a Neanderthal (finally, the right word), I find that I’m more at fault than him.

Thank goodness though that I didn’t call him a Palestine, or a philistine! Being judgemental and passive aggressive is one thing (actually, it’s two), but incorrect use of English is unforgivable.