Love

Chapter 6. I think I took for granted love was in the bag. 

Back to Polly and the plate of chicken. So there is this plate of chicken. It is 10 years ago, actually, possibly, 2009. And she is eating the good bits. And I am eating the shit bits. And I know. And she didn’t. Or did she? And she didn’t fucking care. Now this is the question really. Did she, and she didn’t fucking care? Is she, is she experiencing the right to eat the good bits of chicken? It’s a good fucking question. Has she earned the right to eat the good bits of chicken? There is validation in that. I validate myself like that too. As an exercise in how to feel entitled. And exercise in feeling that I matter. I press the point, often, that I have worth. Our project has worth. Here is an example. For a long time in our Whitworth exhibition I have been checking the headphones everyday. Well, Monday to Friday. I do an extra check on Friday in the hope that the headphones’ volume last at that setting over the weekend. And anxiously on Monday I check that they did. Then a few weeks ago, I thought, what the fuck am I doing? So I wrote an email to the head of the visitor team, a nice email, because I like him, and I explained that the headphones inexplicably go up and down on their own, and asked would he keep an eye on them for me. Then one day I came in and the volume of the speaker was really low. The night before, Thursday night, the visitor team person said he had turned it down because he had a headache. Being reasonable me, I thought okay. That’s okay. ‘But please remember to turn it up again when you’re going home?’ But when I got in on Friday morning he hadn’t remembered. Now I felt mad. But instead of swallowing my madness and never trusting anyone ever again which is my way, I wrote another email to the head of the visitor team. It was a bit sharper this time. I said what had happened. But I also said this wouldn’t happen in the Elizabeth Price exhibition downstairs, their official exhibition. No way on earth would anyone dare to turn the sound down. He wrote a lovely email back saying he was sorry. He would make sure that all was right in the future, for the rest of our gig. I had added a little proviso: because our exhibition is about equality after all. I knew he would understand me. He’s a working class lad. Our exhibition has been real good ever since. All the visitor team check our headphones and music system all the time. I am able to build on this. I build on my feeling of entitlement every day. These little things are tiny volcanoes building a mountain. I am learning that there are certain times when I must say I am entitled to this. I have to tell myself I am entitled to this. Even though, I always expect to be slapped, to be challenged at the very least.

Back to the question: was Polly taking the chicken, not sharing the good chicken, because she needs to validate herself as the head of an organisation, and she has to believe that she is top in order to get what she needs done? I get that. There has to be a pecking order. People have to be a little afraid of your status. I am becoming more aware of my status because my status is useful to me, to us. If we want to feel entitled, we must act entitled. Although in truth, of course, we are actually entitled. But I’m beginning to understand you have to play a little game with yourself until it becomes second nature to you. We must emancipate ourselves from feeling like we are not entitled. And until that entitled feeling becomes normal, we have to insist on being registered as entitled. Or has she, does she, has she never had to think of it at all? Is her entitlement like salt in water? Is her entitlement indistinguishable? Does she never have to think? Does she just feel that the world is her oyster? She’s just an example. She was my clearest example. The chicken was my clearest illustration. I spent all night on the balcony, on Louise’s balcony, the balcony we shared, thinking about it. Sat at the bottom of the spiral staircase. My head was spiralling. I was underwater. Drowning in Polly’s saltwater: in the saltwater of all the Pollys that have ever lived. How will I know what fresh water feels like? What does it taste like? The arts is nothing but saltwater. They are used to their saltwater.

I did my mind maps, brainstorming with pictures. I didn’t even know how to look at it. What was I looking for? All I kept drawing was images of slavery. This is the new slavery. We are no longer in the field. We are the field. They are reaping us for their mortgage. They are actually cutting us down with their scythe. Who is doing the cutting? They are too lazy to do the cutting. Some of us are cutting the rest of us down. But I still had to write the play. I still had my half of the bills to pay.

‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ I said on the phone to Polly the next day. ‘I’ll dramatize the Silent Twins, the play about June and Jennifer Gibbons who burnt down their school because they were also drowning in saltwater.’

To her it was just a clever artistic line. She didn’t have to think about it.

I’m buzzing. Karen’s had a great idea that we should all come to our Whitworth exhibition on Valentine’s Day, next Friday the 14th between 1 and 4, and write messages of love to the passed, the living, the Reno, and Old Moss Side, postcards we decorate, then stick them on our wall. It’s a great idea.

I’ve never experienced as much love as I did with Louise. She totally got me, flaws and all. In fact she loved my flaws. She encouraged my flaws. My petty jealousies. My cruelties. That’s how we met.

 

‘Sit down bitch.’

How dare she. She doesn’t even know me.

She’s known me as a friend for 2 years.

 

“Sit down here bitch.’

I am proper laughing.

She pulls out a chair.

I walk over and sit down.

I have just come from Eclipse. Where they tried to save my black ass with a full week of indoctrination about what my story should be. Remember. For free breakfast and 5 nights in a Travelodge.  We are in a party at Contact Theatre. I have enjoyed my anarchy so much, even the bit where I get ostracised by the rest, I am flirting with everyone. And I know Louise is watching me. 2003. I’m only 43. I’m still alive. I’m still beautiful. Without any crows’ feet. Oh the guy I really fancy, the guy who really fancies me is 23. I think I am the dog’s bollocks. He is beautiful. Too beautiful to mess with. Look at him in the centre of those 4 women. I don’t want my fucking heart broken. He will most definitely break my heart. Look at him now in the little gang of 3 who are trying to get in his underpants.

‘I’m 43.’

“You’re amazing for 43.’ that's the beautiful fucker talking. 

‘Don’t I fucking know it?’

‘I love your skirt.’

The way to my heart this, always the way to my heart is to compliment my dress, big thing to me at this moment, in this time, my linen period.

 

‘Congratulations.’ 2 years before. 2001.

I’ve accepted my award. The linen is black. A pinafore. Mother of pearl buttons down both sides. And a Whistle’s white t-shirt. My head is shaved. Black Doc Martens. Highly polished. And when the BBC calls out my name I am too cool to go on Contact’s stage to accept it. In truth I’m probably just shitting myself.

There’s a party on the 1st floor. Buffet. Drink. My so-called theatre friends hate me. ‘You never said.’

‘I didn’t know.’

It’s a dog-eat-dog world. It’s also dog eat the fucking buffet world. We’re all broke. They’ve given up hating me, and my £1000 prize, to demolish the buffet and wine.

‘Congratulations.’ Someone pulls my black linen pinafore’s skirt. ‘Congratulations.’ She’s sat on the ring of the pole. Behind me. I look down. It’s my poster girl. Good fucking God it is my poster girl. I have seen her picture across town for the last 2 years since 1999. Never sure if it is a boy or a girl. The winner of 1999 Manchester Airport Award for Low Flying Aircraft where she stands on the wing of a Shackleton in the Science and Industry to deliver her poetry about going back into care. I didn’t see it. I may have died if I had seen it. She looks so beautiful now. So sexy. So anarchic. So rebellious. ‘Congratulations.’ I hold her off. She holds me off. For the next 2 years.

 

2003.

‘Sit down here bitch.’

I sit down.

2003. The line is broken. That line being said, that line being accepted, means the line is broken. We are no longer just friends. It will take another year for us to have sex. I told you I don’t want my heart broken.

 

August 2003. I meet her exactly 6 hours after my dad’s death, at Piccadilly Train station. We laugh all the way to Edinburgh Festival about our Pam chasing our Elaine around my Dad’s deathbed. Louise holds my hand. She refuses to go to the press night party because it is too much for me. We walk through the Edinburgh streets in the dead of night. The sky is large like I am tripping. My dad is dead overwhelms. The next night we run up the steps of church to see The Cabin. Russian priests in crowns of candles walk towards us as vines creep across the walls. In our apartment we smoke weed. She drinks wine. We sleep in the same bed. When we are finally a real couple 8 months later Mother’s Day 2004 I ask, ‘why did you not fuck me that night?’ She replies, ‘it would have been taking advantage of you.’

 

I watched the cruelty and kindness in her. She watched the cruelty and kindness in me. Both of us relieved that at long last someone sees us and accepts us for who we are. Completely entitled to be loved.

And when I look back I realise I had accidentally began to leave her the night I was sat on the balcony at the foot of the spiral staircase, the night I became obsessed with why I did not feel entitled to what Pollys had. I think I took for granted love was in the bag. 

Join us in the Reno at The Whitworth Friday 14th Valentines 2020 1 till 4 to write your message of love. 

To listen to our resident philosopher Philip Collins Snr articulate 'Me kids get me now' and how the exhibition enhanced his family's love tune into our podcast One Conversation Please. 

https://anchor.fm/oneconversationplease

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