Creative Writing

On an afternoon in April, Cate saw a man who had been dead for two months.

She seldom spent her lunch hour in anywhere other than the same run down, nineteen-forties style cafe on a crumbling dead end street a few minutes’ walk from the office. She liked to pretend it was a kind of quiet humility which kept her from the chain coffee shops of her vibrant colleagues, yet in actuality she was anything but furtive. She liked the the separation. To her mind, it represented her difference from them: her Russell Group degree, her vocabulary, her manner of dressing… quite out of place, both at work and in this cheap, bleach infused faux-american diner.

The cafe was a typical intensified replica from the perspective of a Brit; it was heavily accented with a bar a mile long, a fleet of circular stools nailed into the floor, tables set out in booths. It always gave Cate the impression of an ideal spot for secret lovers. She always wondered if other patrons would catch one glimpse of her outfit, her fresh coat of lipstick and suspect she was meeting a married man.

That afternoon – the afternoon she saw her dead friend – she’d been thinking about something he’d told her once. They were lying face to face on one of the infrequent and greatly anticipated occasions which they were truly alone, isolated in a world of their own making – or was she just romanticising? In truth, they were always clumsy with each other. She liked to think they conversed freely and for long periods of time; she often wished they could sit up all night, cross-legged with a torch, just talking. In reality, not a great deal was ever said, yet much was implicit. Once, after a silence, he’d told her: “You’re like a mirror.” Now, in the diner, Cate frowned. She considered the image of himself he must have seen cast in her dark iris. Then there was the distaste for minuscule portions of who he was that she’d never quite been able to hide. Cate knew exactly what he’d meant.

He’d crashed his car late at night on February 13th. She’d been unable to sleep but she wasn’t superstitious; she’d chalked it down to the connotations of the following day. Of course she’d been upset (she’d cried, which to her equated to a kind emotional distress which may have been sorrow) but she was angry with him. He could’ve done it in twenty, thirty years, more. But it wasn’t suicide. It wasn’t suicide.

There was a was bell fixed just above the door of the cafe which jingled on opening and closing to remind customers, Cate thought, that they were in fact still in England. She occupied the same booth every time, the penultimate one from the door; she never liked to venture too far in. There was a man seated at the bar facing away from her with neatly cut hair, a mole below the right ear. Discreet, but recognisable.

She quickly looked down at her table.

They’d found alcohol in his blood and he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. He’d hit the oak at over seventy. It was unlike him. The bridge of his nose had collided with the wheel, smashing bone structure, forcing an eye from its socket, shredding the skin. The mole was the only distinguishing feature, the only way Cate had known it was him.

Presently, the man, ridiculously yet possibly Nick, sprang from the stool and strode the length of the bar; towards her, past her, out the door. His stride was bold and confident – familiar. His pace disturbed the salt seller on Cate’s table. She hadn’t seen his face, not quite, but the chin, the angle of the jaw…

And the mole.

She’d never brought him here.

Cate righted the salt seller. Then she ordered a latte.

Aside
Personal, Rants

It’s okay to have counselling.

I think mental health is often very stigmatised and trivialised. It’s the one ailment that nobody can visually discern (depending on how someone’s emotional turmoil manifests itself), hence, I think people are liable to be sceptical about its severity, let alone its existence.

It is casual human cynicism like this that makes people reluctant to recognise that their emotional state is at risk. I think it holds true to the age old facet of the British “stiff upper lip”, which is openly contemptuous of psychological discomfort, particularly in women.

Post natal depression? PAH. Good sir, this is what one calls a mere trifling case of “the weepies”; a jolly good slap to the cheek should sort her out in a jiffy. 

However, this attitude affects boys in that to let their emotions rule them is a sign of weakness; anti-bravado, boys don’t cry, etc.

To make sure this wasn’t just an excessive speculation on my part, I casually wove my next visit to my mental health worker into the thread of conversation with a couple of peers a few weeks back. An uncomfortable silence ensued.

“I don’t think you should talk about it”, one of my friends wisely, and decidedly, interjected.

No reason followed this, which somewhat befuddled me. I personally had no qualms about, so I asked her why.

“I just think it’s a bit… personal. I wouldn’t talk about it.”

“It seems a little indulgent to me”, another friend piped up. I asked her how so.

“Well, it’s not there for ‘just anyone’, is it?” she replied, with a frank yet fidgety expression which hid nothing.

I found, and still find, this conversation a little haunting. For one thing, it was clear to me that my friends saw no symptom for my mental imbalance; my home was not broken, I hadn’t lost a parent, I wasn’t in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend/girlfriend/relative. In their eyes I was just typical, which I am, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have access to the NHS. Furthermore, not wishing to discuss it is a symbol of their incredulousness: why should what I feel be more serious than what they do? Why did it warrant a counsellor? Surely I must only be talking about it for attention, to boast?

These mirrored the thoughts I had when I went to see my GP a little over a year ago. Because nothing particularly bad had happened to trigger the excessive anxiety and low self esteem I had, I worried that she wouldn’t believe me, or thought that I thought my case more important than it actually was. Although, I didn’t think my  case was important at all; my mother had coax me into the surgery with the promise of food. I remember being nervous – perspiring a little and clamping my arms down to conceal pitstains – and wondering “Do I have to cry? Is that protocol?”. But I just told the truth calmly and collectedly and, without hesitation, she recommended cognitive behavioural therapy  and referred me to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services). So, although I am actually ‘just anyone’, haven’t had a traumatic childhood and yes, I suffer from “the weepies”, my GP thought it prudent that I was put on a waiting list for a counsellor. And since I warranted one, I think tonnes of people who would never even consider it would benefit from the service.

Anxiety, low self esteem and a lack of self worth or purpose are, in my opinion, pretty feckin’ common, but people don’t realise it’s not something you have to hide and deal with alone. Nor should we accept that it’s just our duty to feel that way. CAMHS is on the NHS – it’s free there for us as a nation. It’s not exclusive or indulgent; when you think about modern life, modern relationships, issues with families, increasing stress and pressure in schools then it’s no wonder that so many people under 18 get depressed. It’s quite shocking that these services are losing funding (there are only three mental health workers for the majority of Lincolnshire, each see 40-70 people fortnightly) since it is core to stimulating simple positivity and progress in people.

My final session with my counsellor is later this month – since I turn 18 next week and have finished school the service doesn’t cater for me anymore. But you know what? I’m going to start paying for monthly sessions with a private therapist. Because having someone on the outside to talk to, to offload my anxieties in a non-judgemental environment, to help me cope, gain perspective and become rational again has been the best thing for me and thousands of other unhappy ‘just anyones’ in the whole of the UK.

Yes, I do think counselling is okay. I think it’s something we should talk about; it’s okay to feel feels, it’s okay to seek help, it’s not okay to judge those who want to be open about their predicament. It shows a kind of strength; they’re dealing with it head on and they don’t care who knows it. Which is good.

HoldingHandsShadow

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Reviews

Three Blind Mice.

With its impressive non-stop run of 60 years, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is indisputably the Maggie Smith of London Theatre. Jolly good, The Mousetrap. I take off my metaphorical hat to you. To celebrate its 60th anniversary in the West End, The Mousetrap popped off on a six month UK tour to allow others to experience its 20th century scandal, morality and overuse of the word “rather”. Happily, my visit to Dublin coincided with its brief run at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre so my father and I were able to go and bear witness to the spectacle.

(FYI, this post shall be spoiler-free since at the close of each performance the audience is sworn to secrecy by the cast. I am afraid to announce that the age old “whodunnit?” will indeed remain a mystery. *disappears into mist*)

On arriving at the theatre I was slightly disappointed that the production lacked an orchestra and instead offered the eager-eared audience a tired old recording; nonetheless I was squirming in my seat for some scandalous 1900s sexy bits and affairs and stockings and whatnot. Sadly, aside from the heinous murders and court case involving cruel treatment of children, the only real saucy bit was the fact that the owners of Monkswell Manor Guest House had the nerve to run their establishment “without a proper staff”. These criticisms were delivered by Elizabeth Power as Mrs Boyle – the snooty, racist, ageist, homophobic granny-figure that we all somehow learn to love. Power’s Boyle was typical, but brilliant; she stood out, particularly since some of the acting was a little fluffy. Woolley, if you like. Cottony. It had the quality of inexpensive material.

Power, on the other hand, was pure cashmere

.The-cast-of-The-Mousetrap-Tour-2012.-Photo-by-Helen-Maybanks.-300x200

Steven France as Christopher Wren – a young, eccentric, mustard-yellow-cords-wearing fellow – was also quite fantastic; his stage presence was fab-u-lous, as he pranced around the stage with enthusiastic hand gesture, the occasional giggle and a wonderful knitted vest. One to watch, methinks.

I was, however, disappointed with the lack of sexy content. I was a little excited by Clare Wilkie sweeping onto stage as Miss Casewell; with her boyish haircut and sharp trouser suit I was sure that she was going to be a lesbian and that romance would blossom between her and Mrs Ralston, guesthouse owner, but it wasn’t to be. Perhaps that plot twist would’ve been a little too much for Aggie.

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