Friday, 12 February 2016

Delving Into The Memory Chest

Look at my enormous chest!  Or less pervy words to that effect.

There's a lot of stuff under my bed.  Packets of tea lights, books, old cassette tapes, shoes I don't wear very often, a fancy dress box (every adult needs one, right?!) and a whole lot of dust.  But, in amongst the chaos is a pretty chest.  And inside that chest is, when you think about it, much of my life.

It's funny how we go through our lives, squirrelling away little odds and ends for the sake of posterity.  Sometimes, I'll save something and then wonder why I thought it was worth keeping, but by the time that happens, I've usually developed some kind of bizarre attachment to it and can't quite bring myself to throw it away.  The chest is home to some strange keepsakes - a stone that sort of looks like it has my surname on it if you squint, for example - but it also preserves some far more important stuff.  

Tonight, I decided to have a little wander down Memory Lane.  And, because sharing is caring, I thought I'd take you all with me...

The handwritten letter from my Nan:

I was only fourteen when the last of my grandparents passed away.  I often wish I could have known them all as an adult.  This letter must have been written in either 1993 or '94, whilst my Nan and Paps were on holiday in Europe (this was written from Denmark) and I treasure it, because obviously, I'll never have another letter from my Nan and this one serves as a snapshot in time; a reminder of my childhood and a memory of someone I loved and lost much too young.  My favourite part is where she says how expensive it was to buy two sandwiches.  Apparently it came to £4.90 and that's not even including coffee.  Something tells me that today's prices would be a shock to her system...

The old school homework diaries and exercise books:

Why I drew a heart around the school name when I literally loathed my time there is beyond me.

Ah, there are few things more heartwarming, hilarious and utterly cringeworthy all at once than looking back at your teenage self.  My homework diary is a testament to celebrity crushes and friendships I thought would last forever.  As you can see, I took filling in the "emergency contact details" at the back of the book very seriously:

I left the parental contact details blank, but hey, I couldn't leave out my "husband."

It's hard not to laugh when you find the scribblings your fourteen year old self filled the pages of her school books with.  I mean, my classmates all thought I was a total nerd, furiously jotting down notes in lessons.  In reality, I am a total nerd, but I was doing something very important in between my note-taking - practising my future signature:

And that's why I'm so successful today, kids.

Very little of the yellow homework diary in particular is actually taken up with, well, homework.  In fact, the majority of the pages are filled with letters from my closest friends, upon hearing that I was moving to Gloucestershire and therefore changing schools (because commuting to Cornwall every day would probably have been slightly impractical...).  My favourite line from those letters?  This:

Almost as realistic as my goal of marrying Lee from 911, to be fair.

The reminder of the eclipse I only half-saw:

We were all very excited for the solar eclipse, back in 1999.  In fact, we probably wanted to party like it was 1999.  Possibly because it was.

Anyway, this is Britain.  So, of course, on the day of this most wondrous of heavenly spectacles, we should have known that it would be cloudy.  And we'd moved back to Cornwall by this point, where I swear the weather conspires to be as wet, windy and cloudy as possible, so you can have the joy of living in a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world, without actually being able to see it.  Still, we went down to the park with our protective glasses just the same and it went dark and we all went "ooh" and "aah" even more than is usual in the South West.

The countdown to my first Manics gig:

I fell in love with a band called the Manic Street Preachers when I was 16 years old.  I didn't get to see them live until I was 19 (although I've more than made up for it, since).  The first time I knew I'd be seeing them was in December 2001 and I was beside myself with excitement.  So much so, that I had to make a little calendar, to tick off the days.  Seriously, by the last week, I was doing the whole "only four more sleeps" thing, like a child waiting for Christmas.  My gig outfit had been planned several weeks in advance and even though I had beer spilt on me, struggled to breathe in the second row and had to retreat to the centre of the crowd for air (barrier girl for life, these days) and lost my beloved feather boa, that gig will always be special to me.  You never forget your first and all that...

Polaroid pictures for the win.

The good luck letter my dad gave me on the day of my 3rd driving test - and the congratulations card my instructor gave me when I passed:

I was ridiculously nervous before my third driving test, mainly because after two failed attempts, I had convinced myself that I was just never going to pass.  My dad - ever the prolific note writer (seriously, I have a lot from him in my Memory Chest) - wrote me a good luck letter, which I think I might even have taken with me in my pocket on the test itself.  If I did, it obviously did the trick, because it was a case of third time lucky.  Phil, my wonderful and incredibly lovely driving instructor was so pleased for me, that a couple of hours after I got home, a card from him dropped through the letterbox.  I still see him teaching lessons now and again when I'm driving and, despite the fact that he probably doesn't even remember me anymore, I always give him a smile.  Learning to drive completely changed my life and gave me a level of freedom I could only have dreamt of, before.  I still think it's one of the best things I've ever done.  

The first time I ever felt like I could use the word "author" to describe myself:

Full page spread.  Ooh er.

In April 2011, I achieved one of the biggest dreams of my entire life:  I became a published author.  In the months that followed, I did things that I had only ever fantasised about; being interviewed on the radio and in magazines, having an official book launch, visiting schools as a local author...  Whilst I might not be the biggest success story in the world of literature, I am so proud that I never gave up on my passion for writing and that I can hold those first three books in my hand and say "I wrote these."  I'm also proud that I made the decision to self-publish my next children's book (Seven Days With The Cherry Tree Gang) and that I stuck with self-publishing for my debut adult novel (Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections).  The adult novel was only released in December, but it's getting four and five star reviews already and I'm so grateful to the people who've bought it and said such amazing things about it.  One thing I've learnt is that you can't just have a book published and expect to be able to give up the day job and bathe in £50 notes for the rest of your life.  For a start, you wouldn't be very clean and I suspect you'd get a lot of paper cuts.  But, if you never give up, you can create something that touches people and makes them think.  That knowledge might not pay the bills, but it's worth its weight in gold.

The letters I received whilst I was putting my life back together after leaving an abusive partner:

The thing that always gets me about these two letters is how very different they are.  One was written by my dad just a month or two after I left my abusive ex.  At that time, I was still very much manipulated by my ex into thinking everything that happened between us was my fault and that I deserved it all.  "Abuse" was not a word I would ever have used for what he did to me.    I was also still keeping much of the worst stuff he said and did to myself and was mainly just mourning the loss of someone I had loved, being unable to understand why he'd changed so much and why I hadn't been able to "fix" him (as I thought was my responsibility).  As such, Dad's letter focuses on the pain of a relationship ending and in it, he promises me that I'll find someone else and that my broken heart will heal, given time.  Fast forward six months and my best friend sent me a book called "Stalking The Soul," which was about emotional abuse.  By that point, I was in counselling and I was beginning to realise that what my ex put me through was not healthy or my fault.  It would be several months before I could confidently label what happened to me as "abuse" (actually being put in touch with an abuse charity and being given a dedicated support worker was what finally forced the penny to drop), but that letter from my friend - along with the book she sent - was one of the first, vital steps towards recovery.  I would never have made it through what happened and the long journey towards being me again, had it not been for the love and help my friends and family showed me.  It might seem a little masochistic to keep letters about something so painful, but these represent that the people who loved me never wavered in their support.  They also remind me that no matter how awful what I experienced was, I survived.

The vetinary card and Kennel Club registration certificate for my late, much-missed cocker spaniel, Cal:

When I was 12, I made a collage of pictures of dogs, with the words "PLEASE CAN I HAVE A DOG?" in the middle.  I stuck it on my parents' bedroom door, along with a handwritten letter, further expressing my desire to have another canine in my life (we'd had a golden retriever called Sally when I was little, but we lived not far from a very busy road and she kept escaping, so she went to live with my grandparents and, once they passed away, with my uncle).  A couple of weeks later, my parents told me we were going to do the weekly shop at a different supermarket than usual.  My sister and I climbed into the back of the car and we ended up at some kennels.  Mum and Dad got out and told us to wait.  A little while later, Dad returned and told us to follow him.  We went into a little kennel, where my mum was standing with a beautiful little cocker spaniel puppy in her arms.  If I wanted him, he was mine.  And obviously, I wanted him.

I named him Cal (short for Callington St. Emma - well, come on, he was a pedigree, he had to have a ridiculous sounding Kennel Club name...) and he was more than just my 13th birthday present.  He was my baby and my best friend.  Loyal, loving, hilariously discerning and - as my dad likes to say - regal, Cal was by my side throughout my adolescence and into adulthood.  He was there when I came home from my first date with my first boyfriend.  He was there when I passed my driving test, when I got my first full time job and when I published my first books.  I'm not going to lie to you, just writing about him is making my eyes a little bit leaky.

I was with my boy at the end.  He had just turned 16 (I was 29 and I cried like a baby).  I hope he knew how loved he was, because he was one heck of a special dog.  A week or so after he died, I had a paw print tattooed onto my right shoulder.  It makes me feel as though he's always walking behind me - my little hound-shaped angel, trotting along with his tail wagging.

Of course, now we have another fur-ball in the house.  Rusty is a very different dog, but he's loved just as much.  

The only Valentine's card I've ever had:

Yep.  I've only ever had one (that wasn't from my mum or one of the kids I work with) and it took me until I was 30 to get that (if I remember rightly; I think it was three years ago).  With Valentine's Day being just around the corner, I figured I'd share this depressing fact with you all, in case there's anyone thinking they're alone in being... well, alone, haha!  

Still, this photo proves that whilst I may have only had one Valentine's card in my life, I have an epic shoe collection in the background.

Besides which, there's nothing wrong with being single - a subject I'll be discussing in greater detail in Sunday's final blog in my How To... series, How To... Be Happy Being Single.

So, that concludes my little trip down Memory Lane.  If any of you have your own memory boxes or chests, maybe this has inspired you to open them up and take your own journey into the past.  Let me know how it goes!

For the time being, I'm off to cuddle the dog and raise a glass to the past.

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