Memories

Memories are curious things, one song or smell and we are taken back to a time or event that is just a something from our past. I sit writing this in Aberdeen, at the campus of the university I attended for degree and first masters and finished almost fifteen years ago, but it is like a different world from my time at the university as now based by the River Dee as a very modern single site campus not spread out over the city. I have have visited twice briefly since my time living here, once for a job interview eleven years ago and seven years ago for a gig, making memories of the city mostly from when I lived here before.

Upon arrival by coach, just as I had when I first visited Aberdeen to an university open day in early 1997 the city’s grey stood out, it is not nicknamed the ‘granite city’ for nothing, one could say it had fifty shades of grey before it was cool! I wandered briefly around before taking the bus to my current destination with a mix of memories that flooded back and new ones being made. Sites like the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre that brought back music to my ears from concerts to musicals I attended there and others that had been the soundtrack to my days living there. Street names jumped out in my memory of the events that took place on them, Market and Union Streets and others such as South Silver Street I finally knew the name of. I laughed upon seeing a bar called The Grill on Union Street that famously did not have a woman’s toilet until 1998 (it did not allow women at all until 1975) and smiled on remembering my project management lecturer saying he’d be propping up the bar if needed help with his course.

Shops and bars that were like friends but now had changed but not gone either; Ottakers bookshop where I sat many a Saturday afternoon with a tea and book is now Waterstones, and Triple Kirks the pub which was a firm favourite of many studying at Schoolhill and St Andrew’s Street without its pew seats. This in turn reminded me of an event forever ingrained in my memory – my friends doing a pub crawl with a 6ft inflatable alien called Hilary, who did it all from karaoke with Fraser to Iain’s attempts to keep it blown up before either Ewan or Rich put their cigarette out on it until they were no more. Nobody knew if Hilary was meant to be male or female, perhaps they were truly gender fluid before we mentioned such things as do now. There are also many statues in the city centre such as Edward VII and William Wallace but it is the lion war memorial that is the one I remember most as forever an almost unspoken right of passage by students in the near by Woolmanhill halls of residence to ride the lion during their fresher’s year when drunk (no reader I never did).

I come back to the university and sat in what is now where students would go to learn similar to I had in my day. One friend from my student days remained here and is now a lecturer. I had seen the library, which in my time had been a subject specific one in my part of the campus and remembered someone sneaking in fish and chips to it! I usually hid among the journal section so not to be disturb, but later Alex and MC joined me with MC’s pile of biscuits and donuts that never got even a tut from the librarians! Computers around everywhere for students to use where as we had a few open access rooms in the building and one specifically for us within Applied Sciences; giggling at the thought of a lecturer searching for water sports but got the wrong kind, which led to a firm talk at the start of every year on being careful when surfing the internet. I thought of people I had known then and those I have contact with now, how life had panned out for us and what we expected it to.

Recently I read something that said our past is just stories we tell ourselves in the present, and being back in Aberdeen made that statement feel so very true. All the memories I have sat writing about are just stories of the five years I lived here, the city has changed but so had I in so many positive ways, equally there are many parts that remained just the same and can say the same of myself. The past may make us who we are now but the present is all we truly ever have, for the future is a whisper and not a promise. We do not skip to the end of a book to see what happens in the end, we take it page by page just as life is a page in the book of our life. Finally, life should be led like a piece of music, it can only be truly enjoyed in one direction with all that it brings with it, and dancing the rhythm of our life not anyone else.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Circle

Sat alone but deep in thought by an old open fire,
As my palms go red from the tickling of its heat.
Hypnotically watching timbers turn into embers,
Shredding my thoughts with a bright orange cackle.
One by one they burn until they are nothing but dust,
That floats up the chimney to meet the evening air.
Which whistles along through streets and lanes,
Merging with the dawn chorus that awakens me.
Thoughts and memories will now be written afresh,
Until evening comes again with me sat by the fire.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Being sorry

From our youngest of days we learn right from wrong,  please and thank you, and to acknowledge when wrong with I’m sorry. Despite this some never learn these lessons, and can make life a living hell for others as a result as do not see any reason to be polite or show respect to another human being. Bullying to abuse as hurt and humiliate to mock and tease someone for daring to be different to us, and therefore must be the one in the wrong not us!

Like a house the foundations nobody sees but we know our flaws to weaknesses. Most only ever see the outside of a house; some may admire it, others maybe jealous of how it appears and there are those that would never give it a second glance, just as they do with us. Few do we let in the door, just as few we choose to let close to see our inner selves, know our true personalities, like how we choose to decorate our house as a way of expressing our personalities. There is no right or wrong house, just as we are all different.

Expecting an apology from someone that has hurt us can be like waiting for a bus to come using a timetable from twenty years ago and assuming all is the same now as was then. Yet would any of us years later be brave enough to acknowledge our mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and even apologise for our behaviour that seemed normal, but may have been a juvenile joke that got out of hand, believed wrongly as someone held a different belief to our own made them a figure of hate or a medical condition made them nuts or stupid.

Yet there is person in our lives that we never hear an apology from but now again and again but would be good not for ego but for them to acknowledge their mistake, just to see how far we have come to get where we are now. Who is this person? It is ourselves of course. For we never say thank you to our bodies to inner strengths for getting us through hard times but may acknowledge those that supported us while our heads were filled negatives to relief something is over, without ever apologising to ourselves for not trusting we could do it or survive when darkness howled louder than any owls.

Looking at a selfie I took when out walking on New Year’s Day I began to cry. Not for thinking I looked like an ogre or the negative thoughts of old (my own to those that hurt me) but in apology to my younger self for being so hard and judgemental I was to her, in ways I would never have done or would do to another living being. Through my tears I repeated the phrase I’m sorry, I wanted to hold myself in a huge hug and say it is okay, the patchwork doll is content in the present. We really can be our own worst enemies.

Perhaps as we start this new year instead of resolutions of what we want to change in ourselves we should stop and forgive ourselves for being unduly hard or not believing in us in the past or even now as frustrated at something or someone. Therefore, going forward remember we cannot change what has gone but can lay foundations in the future that is whispering in the wind, and take it one step at a time to get there no matter how hard it can seem today.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The strangest feeling

Last week I kept getting baby thoughts in my head, a miracle birth much like the one many were to celebrate later that week, which followed a day later by an old friend announcing the birth of her daughter after years of health issues. I was genuinely overjoyed as know how far she has come to get where she is now, achieving many things that to me still seem and are impossible for different reasons. The smile on my face however was not to last as I received a message on Facebook to tell me news of a girl I was at school with twenty years ago, she had overosed and taken her own life. Both people knew each other but one had been an off and on friend for over twenty five years and the other had been one of the bullies that reduced me to tears and suicidal thoughts throughout my teens. I felt numb. As someone that writes and campaigns for an end to the stigma on mental health as well as being naturally empathetic, I wondered what had happened to the girl I had known and had she secret torment that had no voice. It was not a sign of weakness or selfishness to take her own life,  as when the rocking chair at the edge of the cliff breaks, it takes a very strong person to fling on, I have been there and it is not a pretty view or one I ever wish to see again.

I scanned my year photographs from high school that I intended to burn years ago and sent them to the girl that told me the news. I saw people’s faces and names I had not seen in twenty years trickle down my Facebook news feed as comments came in on pictures she and others posted. I could not bring myself to ‘like’ anything as was like being back in the playground with her usual French taunt in my ringing in my ears. Was I being selfish? Feeling that my pain was important as they were my experiences and memories of this girl, but ultimately felt they shouod be secondary to her friends and family dealing with the aftermath of suicide. It all left me with the strangest of feelings; nothing in life can prepare you for it and know what is right or wrong to feel or say. It comes at a time when I am considering setting up an organisation to support, spread awareness and educate on invisible illness such as depression to fibromylagia and endometriosis as feel along with my writing I need to take it to the next level but uncertain what way just yet. Perhaps her death shows how much pain we carry with us; we may have nobody to share it with or know where to turn. Just remember dear reader someone does care and will listen without judgement, never ever give up and always rember my mantra, believe it again. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Magic of Christmas

It is that time of year again when it’s not only bells that are ringing but tills with money spent on gifts that we hope will not be returned on Boxing Day to our ears from hearing that song by Slade or The Pogues again and again. The days have become shorter and shorter as ‘to do’ lists get longer and longer only matched by the queues everywhere we turn. The excitement reaches near hysteria as we count down to that man’s arrival with his herd of reindeer to deliver gifts on the 25th, but only if we have been good of course! For some it is extra special for marks the birth of the son of their god in a stable in area of the world that today tears of joy have been replaced by grief and blood.

Those that find themselves more ‘bah humbug‘ than ‘ho ho ho‘ are seen as the party poopers but we have to remember some of us may find it hard to find “that perfect gift” for family and loved ones, whereas others do not know if they can afford the cranberry sauce let alone the turkey or where they will be living tomorrow as the street may become home. There are of us those that live with hidden illness, from mental health to chronic pain, which want the feelings of sadness, darkness and/or pain to go away once and for all, not what Snapchat filter shall I use on my selfie today or which programs do I watch on my new giant TV first. There are also some of us that have nobody to celebrate with, as feel suffocated by the so called ‘magic’ not hypnotised.

When the clock strikes midnight on the 25th of December just remember it is but one day; it does not matter if we mark it or not for there is nothing to say we must celebrate, no matter what anyone may try to tell us otherwise. Do not feel guilty for not giving a physical gift because every day we give a bit of ourselves to those we love and those that appreciate, accept, and respect us for who we are, making an effort to be in our lives, remember this and know it can never be bought or sold. Finally, accepting who we are and what we have now not what we’d like to be/have or were/had, as well as accepting and respecting others irrespective of differences is the magic of Planet Earth not just on this one day or time of year, and spreading peace, light and love everywhere.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Big Issue

When I lived in Aberdeen (Scotland) in the late 90s/early 00s I regularly talked on and off to a man that sold a magazine for the homeless or those in vulnerable housing called The Big Issue outside the supermarket I would go to. To many he was invisible, not even a face in the street or another human being. He was not much older than I was so really hit home to me how life could be different, he was still someone else’s son or brother. I never learnt his name and he never learnt mine but still would stop to see how the other was. Now and again I would buy the magazine but usually I would give him the ‘free‘ from my “buy one get one free” offers in my food shopping, usually fruit such as oranges, bananas or apples, as rather give him that than money as a student I did not have and felt it was better to give him something to eat as could see how thin he was. By my final year in the city I moved away from the area, however, one evening I saw him walking along the main street, we recognised each other and to my delight he had got a home a few months previously. He was grateful for what I did, which to me was nothing but giving the time of day to another human being, which was only a couple of minutes once a month or so.

Fast forward to the present; for the last two years now I have been talking to another Big Issue seller but this time it is similar but different. For a start I know his name is Donald and we discuss his bad health, his history that made him homeless, to the world around us. When I first started to give him my ‘free’ tea from the supermarket I again saw the invisibility I had seen in Aberdeen, to which I was uncertain if was due to the upper-middle class nature of the area or that people had developed a blind spot to the homeless, and simply do not want to acknowledge such people exist. However, my actions prompted others to see us talking, which I will admit caused a few funny looks at first as not the sort of thing a Morningside lady would traditionally do (I grew up in the neighbouring Grange that has a similar reputation). However, a few regulars realised that the ‘free’ hot drink we got with a loyalty card was a way to pay to it forward as I was doing. In fact, he now has to turn down drinks or keep the cups as people are generous in their support, with many of us stopping for a good five to ten minutes to catch up with him. He also has been known to be given Easter eggs by children to other delights (sweet and savoury) from the store….he’s put on so much weight his doctor said he may need to go on a diet!

I will not give to beggars on the street for I have seen a few climb into their Mercedes cars after they have finished and some have become quite rude to me when I offered them something other than money. However, those that sell The Big Issue I understand how the selling works and the revenue they can get from it, dropping a random bar of chocolate or a bottle of water to them and catching their smile as I do is something I’ll never tire of…the gentleman who chased after me to say thank you could not understand at first as had not asked for it and that someone simply wanted to give to him. Equally I am fortunate in my city that there are places like the Social Bite that help the homeless by selling suspended drinks like teas or coffees and lunches, with one in four of their workforce formerly homeless and currently running a campaign to create a small village that will give them a home, job and the help to deal with issues they may have (details here). There are organisations such as Shelter that also help the homeless. However, what matters is we remember that these people could be any of us, our fathers or sisters, aunts to nephews, and be grateful for what we have now no matter how small it may seem compared with others as life can change in seconds. Do not judge or hate another for what they have as will never know their full story, and pay it forward because we can not for rewards (financial or otherwise).

© Fi S. J. Brown

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,
I know I have not written to you in around thirty years but felt it was about time I did again. I know you judge children if they have been ‘naughty or nice’, but what about grown ups? The world is full of people that judge us from our hair style to skin colour, mock our belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster to our chosen special loved one’s gender, and dismiss us due to disabilities but never find the abilities. They paint all in 50 shades of green, which is tainted with hate, greed and envy as they perceive or assume us to be a certain way, yet we are all one shade of red when we bleed when hurt by their ways. We also have voices are multicoloured, but others try mute or copy but never get the right shade despite the auto tune.

This year has been hard one for many, we are emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted by it all and looking forward to a break from it raining all the time. There are things that your elves just cannot make and be delivered by you, such as loved ones we would give anything to spend the day with but cannot due to health, distance, estrangement, and death. New jobs that would bring us changes that may improve circumstances, not meaning financial, to us and those we love. Improved health, physical and mental, so we can live life to the full The wisdom to accept today and make the most of it without longing for the past or wishing for the future.

This Christmas forget the iPhones and funny socks but instead bring people together with smiles and laughter. May glasses overfill with love and light not just wine or gin. Create memories to cherish over dinner not recipes that will mean disaster in years to come. To those with nobody to celebrate let someone open their door and hearts not just presents from under the tree. For some they have no home, so may they find shelter as Mary and Joseph did in the story many base this celebration on and give birth to a hope filled with love and light that lasts a lifetime.

Thank you Santa for reading my letter so far; I have now stopped with the wants to consider nobody ever asks what you or your elves want. So what do you want? Some may leave you a drink and mince pie in thanks without considering the bigger picture. Just as the elves help you, some may help us to make that dream a reality or ensure the big night goes to plan but we not always see or appreciate quite all they do. Equally, we do not always thank those that give themselves to us as we take their presence for granted, assuming they will be unchanging and there for us much like you dear Santa.

So thank you once again dear Santa and to all the elves, know even as a grown up we may make wishes for presents that you cannot wrap and put in a stocking, just like my niece asking for a pony. The Christmas magic cannot buy or bring what truly matters, the human spirit filled with love, empathy, peace, light and happiness to others, and that is my gift to you and those that read this letter. This may not sound much but it is all we need, and can be shared globally irrespective of difference, location and.address.

Love,
Fi x

© Fi S. J. Brown

The whisper of 38

I sit here writing this as my thirty eighth birthday is almost whispering in my ears, and have decided to write another of my reflective pieces considering what this year been has been like and what I would like the next one to bring. Last year after being asked what I would like the next year to bring I wrote about the jigsaw puzzle of life and hoping it would mean a key piece would fall into place, which was followed by finding a physical jigsaw piece sat on the bench at a local bus stop a few days later; I still have the piece and plan to frame it to remember this year and what it has brought.

So what has the last year brought? In the past people’s negative comments were like being shot with a loaded gun, with positive ones unable to stitch up the bullet holes and would end up being pricked by the needles of others that tried to as did not always have my best interests at heart. However, I have learnt over the last decade to deal and cope with health issues particularly with my mental health, i.e. depression and anxiety to poor body and self image, which this year although tested at times, including a tearful breakdown at Easter, I have bounced back from and have served to remind me why I nickname myself Zebedee (the Jack in the box in the Magic Roundabout) as I will bounce back from whatever life throws at me. I know now I am a strong woman despite my extreme sensitivity and I may hurt me initially but it will not stop me from saying ENOUGH I will dance in the rain as the thunder and lightning roar for they will not drown me or kill me.

Did I find that key piece of jigsaw? Yes is the shortest answer but it is far from simple. I started the year by reflecting back to my teenage years, as realised I needed to learn from my mistakes from then to the present to truly be in the present and dream the impossible dream of the future not yet written. By the age of around 15 I knew what mattered to me and the path I felt drawn to, yet let myself be swept in a series of waves without remembering I could swim and could do alone if necessary. Others made recommendations which I followed almost blindly, but that only lead me up dead ends, as I did not question them and thought they knew better than I did. The truth is only we know ourselves as only we walk this life with our knowledges, skills and experiences, thus walking another’s path is like wearing our neighbour’s high heels for ten miles and wondering why we have blisters all over our feet.

I have interests and passions that I no longer hide from as thought others would bully and/or hate me for more as well as accept me as a ragdoll made up of all my many experiences and adventures in life so far not an ogreous beast my head had painted. Through the clarity of the ragdoll now in my head I saw she was also symbolic of the support and help I give others and what I learnt from them, which is stiched together not with needles that will hurt me but with love from my closest of friends. For those that try to fire bullets now do so out of jealousy, envy and greed as do not like that another stands up for themselves and that of others; putting the voice of the abuser or bully to mute and turning up those that deserve to be heard. For this is my key piece, this is what and who I am to others and must do for myself too.

So what would I like the next year to bring? Well I knew a long time ago I would never have children of my own but my youngest niece reminds me of the magical innocence and imagination we can have in this world and exploring it at times together will keep me seeing it afresh and perhaps a touch less cynical (if that’s possible); her big sister I gave a copy of my favourite book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), which I hope she learns to love as much as I do in time and the messages it contains. Life as well as a path, journey and jigsaw puzzle is also a maze, which I am near to finding the centre of mine as now know I am on the right path and after finding that key piece in the jigsaw I am certain it is.

I no longer want to build a wall to protect myself from the world, but breakdown them down all over the world and use the bricks to lay new paths for those stuck behind them through discrimination and prejudice. There are some that wallow in the pond of self pity but do not realise it takes part of their soul every time they do, which I try not to do as know my wings would be singed again and this phoenix is ready to fly far and wide this coming year. So watch out, watch me fly without fearing my wings will being clipped or hitting glass doors and I will soar further than I can ever dreamed I could.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

Endless

Standing at the edge of the trench,
Like a hound waiting for the hunt,
And the whistle that begins it all.

Stepping blind as go over the top,
Gunfire ringing from ear to ear,
As Armageddon calls the shots.

Turning the poppy fields to red,
With rivers of blood and tears,
All in freedom’s tasteless name.

Telling tales to remember today,
Of fallen soldiers from the past,
With most in their thankful praise.

Forgetting the traumatised ones,
Those returned forever changed,
Forever at war with their demons.

Learning answers but never learnt,
As history continues to repeat itself,
And the innocent lives lost continues.

Dreaming in the west wind of peace,
While the eastern embers burn on,
And a south just wants to be heard.

Imaging with the words of Lennon,
But know lamenting is no solution,
When hate and fear sing louder.

Pondering if there is another way,
Filled with colour, love and empathy,
And one day Planet Earth will smile.

© Fi S. J. Brown

If

If life feels like you are trapped in someone else’s maze,
Remove their blindfold from your eyes letting in the light.
If you find yourself among the ragged men and plastic women,
Keep your individuality without a surgeon’s knives or needles.
Do not follow the monotone sound of the pied piper’s pipe,
Keep to the rhythm of your heart with its multicoloured tune.

If you feel lost in a forest surrounded by endless trees,
Tackle the roots first don’t try cut them down at the middle.
If something looks or sounds far to good to ever be true,
Listen to that instinctive reaction to run and never return.
Do not look back with painful regret if bitten on the bum,
For that creature will only return to attack again and again.

If you have friends you can trust with secrets that do not tell,
Do not stab them in the back with the knife they gave you.
If you can stop to help others without wanting fame or gain,
As others post on Facebook or Instagram to look at them.
Jealousy is filled with a bitter green liquid that envy loves,
Which spreads from outside to inside until burns you alive.

If your dreams seems to have all turned to rust or in ruin,
Use their foundations to create something even better.
If the world around you rages with thunder and lightning,
Learn to dance in the rain and jump in every puddle.
Getting wet is a simply reminder that you are alive today,
Even if the water is tears that roll down from your eyes.

© Fi S. J. Brown