The joy of…penpals


As a child I was a penpal collector. There’s something satisfying about the indulgence of telling someone about your life, leaving out the boring details and spinning a delicious web with your pen. Back then, everything was done by snail mail and adding a personal touch to your envelope or letter with drawings and glitter was part of the fun of the process. Whenever I went on holiday, even with my family, I seemed to collect a group of friends who I would correspond with over a year or so, telling them which horses I was in love with or writing about ‘lush’ boys in my class. The exotic joy of sending a letter to Beckinham, Swansea or even Europe was undeniable.

15 years later, my friends are all moving abroad and I’m re-discovering the art of the penpal. I recently lost one of my best friends to the bright lights of Los Angeles. Quaking with jealousy and sadness, I decided to start writing long letters to her, helping her through those first anxious weeks and she, in return helped me with my insecurities and uncertainties about the next few months of my life. Writing long letters helps to put your life in to perspective much more than instant message or even talking on the telephone. Sometimes I look back through my messages from years past and savour the feelings I was feeling at the time. At a point where fun seems to have dried up and the dark side of life is threatening to capsize HMS Rhiannon, these letters inject a little bit of happiness and bittersweet nostalgia.

Letters take time, thought and effort; most of which are in short supply in our busy lives, but once you pick up that pen or start that message it’s difficult to stop. The key is to find someone you are emotionally connected with, who understands your ramblings aren’t self indulgent or neurotic and who is prepared to give back the same amount as you. The truth is, I’m so proud of my friend in LA who has picked up her life and decided to give it a go on the other side of the world that the letters give me a small piece of sunshine as I imagine inhaling the American air or cycling down the promenade on a second hand bicycle.

Someone recently said to me, when thinking about the great unknown ‘it’s the difference between seeing a holiday in a brochure and actually travelling there’. Penpals help you taste the unknown, muse on your own situation or cement a decision that’s been playing on your mind for months. If I had no-one in this world, I would send letters to strangers to find out about their lives and re-assure myself that nobody really knows what this life is all about.

In the end, when we wonder what life is all about, it’s re-assuring to know there is someone out there in the great wide world sharing our insecurities.


Through the looking glass…

I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!- Lewis Carroll 

Imagine walking in to the bedroom you’ve slept in for the past  6 months. Everything is there in substance, the sewing machine table you lovingly restored, trinkets and pictures you carefully picked and placed, the clothes you discarded only hours before. Everything is the same, yet when you look around the room it is as if you have never been there before- things look different, brighter, bigger, moved around. You’ve not taken any mind altering drugs, but your brain is suffering a massive internal disturbance; stretching and distorting what you know until you don’t recognise it anymore.

On first reading, you’d be forgiven for thinking Alice in Wonderland is a rare look in to the mind of a genius, drug addicted writer who has spilled his visions out on to paper. Certainly, that was my initial thought- it mirrored The Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’- cellophane flowers, a hookah smoking caterpillar and tablets which change your size and shape. It wasn’t until I discovered that Lewis Carroll suffered with migraine that it all started to make sense. Take the first hypothetical situation I put forward and then consider that this actually happened to me only a few days ago. It is clear that Carroll was riding on the back of these visual disturbances and distortions to feed his work- and how fantastic the result was.


Lewis Carroll isn’t the only gifted artist to have suffered with the affliction of migraine with visual aura. There has been much speculation that Picasso’s work was largely based on the visual disturbances he suffered through migraine. Perhaps if he had found a cure we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of viewing his extraordinary artworks.

The list goes on, it’s clear that people who are afflicted with this terrible problem have, through history, gained some sort of equilibrium with the disease- channeling it to their own benefit. Quite a number of the sufferers I have uncovered were, however,tortured souls who struggled with daily life. Perhaps the affliction is a gift and a curse; we just have to understand it and learn how to live with it.

The Hospital

Have you ever been in to the core of a hospital? I mean really gone to the heart of a hospital?

Have you ever walked past the entrance, which is littered with sadly sucked cigarette ends, waiting taxis and ne’er-do-wells in hanging hospital gowns? Have you braced yourself for that smell, those walls, the floors? Have you stepped through the inevitable revolving door, into a reception which is littered with the bereaved and overjoyed, the remains of those who have left the world and joined it?

Have you ever stumbled, bewildered through the corridors- avoiding doped up dummies on trolleys as they are rushed to their fate? Walked past the bereavement suite and peered in to see a charming head shaking perilously as an uncaring attendant tiredly pats an aching back?  Have you clutched at a letter in your hand, so tightly that your knuckles feel they will explode through their fleshy sheath, blindly running up prison like steps, through throngs of laughing hospital workers- wondering how they function in this jail- like hell.

Have you been directed, flirtatiously to your appointment and told to venture into the heart of the hospital; the bowels of the beast? Things are quieter down there, and that smell is pungent; what is that smell? A mixture between death and vegetables, a silent acknowledgement. The wards all have names.  Have you pressed your face against the glass? Seen rows and rows of bodies come to die in this morbid sanctuary? Felt your heart ache and sear as you realise this might be you, and hoped that you never have to come to this particular place.

Have you ever considered going private?

Revenge: best served on ice

The end of a relationship is never a pleasant battlefield to negotiate- shared possessions, shared memories, shared friends; the death of any union means a fight to the end over who owns these artefacts. All the more difficult is when one party is aggrieved, wronged or hurt and blames the partner- then there is the age old game of revenge.

Revenge is defined as “a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived. Although many aspects of revenge resemble justice, revenge is usually depicted as more injurious and punitive as opposed to being harmonious and restorative”. But let’s be honest, revenge is the deep desire to make the other person feel as hurt as they made you feel, and although it may seem that the karmic balance has been restored, nothing will ever truly satisfy this particular longing.

I started thinking about the break-up ‘hurt cycle’ a while ago, when I was overpowered by it but even more when I read about Jude and Sienna splitting again. Jude cheated on Sienna in 2005 with his children’s nanny and made a public apology to Sienna but the bitterness drove them apart only to re-unite in 2010. Part of me thought ‘this is nice, they belong together’ and when I heard about their recent breakup I casually thought he must have fucked it up again- but I was wrong. In fact, it was Sienna who ended the relationship, leaving Jude in a state of shock. And there you have it, the age old revenge factor strikes again.

I’m not saying that revenge doesn’t feel good, sitting and plotting the downfall of someone you once loved and now hate seems to fill a hole in your life which was once filled by couple- happiness but in the long term the best revenge is to continue living and moving on. In the words of new idol Francis Bacon- in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.

Although, I do still think Jude and Sienna are destined to be together… but that’s the heart on my sleeve talking.

Face Time, Facebook- What ever happened to facing the music?

“Berger broke up with me. On a Post-It.”- Carrie Bradshaw; Season 6 Episode 7

There was a period when the term ‘Face Time’ actually meant something, and wasn’t simply a creation of the all-mighty Apple empire.

Face time was those moments of joy spent with friends, an awkward conversation with a lover or bitter tears shed for the end of a relationship, essentially it was the painfully wonderful feeling of being alive and human, a communication of the complicated feelings and processes making us tick and react to each other.

Face time as we knew it began to die out long before Apple coined the term.

First came the text message, the wonderful sound of someone who cares about you. I remember sitting around staring violently at my oversized Nokia many years ago, waiting for that boy to reply to me and confirm that I was wanted and valid. Back then it was all light hearted, after all I was only 13,14,15 but now as we reach our mid 20’s it seems there are a huge amount of people who haven’t learnt the appropriate time to reach for the front door key rather than the keyboard.

Disturbing trends arising include:

1) The ‘Face-up’ (formerly known as the breakup)

When there were no mobile phones, no computers and no landlines the end of a relationship could simply be signified by the disappearance of the other half.

Over drinks last night a friend was talking about how her grandmother was engaged back in the war, when her other half simply disappeared one day, never to be seen again. Now, despite having multiple forms of transport and technology at our fingertips, ludicrously it seems there are a shocking number of breakups happening in our favourite public forum – Facebook. Yes, believe me when I say it there really are people out there who will end a long term relationship over this forum, rather than having the guts to afford their other half the decency of a face to face meeting. Ouch.

This method has fallout- who should delete the relationship first, should you remove your newly single status from your page? What if people comment on the fact that you have ended your relationship on your page? Will you suddenly receive offers of romance? Should you delete the heartless ex? All in all, any reasonable person would be advised against ending a relationship in this way…right?

2) The Text

I would argue worse than the Facebook message. At least a Facebook message has a photo attached to it, has the potential to be several pages long and allows the recipient to click and scroll through photos of said individual, lamenting how they ever found them attractive. The Facebook message is like a stabbing, the text is akin to being shot repeatedly by an inexperienced marksman. Arguably the least personal form of contact, a text message fails on many levels; it is too short to convey any sort of explanation (usually there is a pressure to get the message across in as few syllables as possible’ ‘It’s over, don’t hate me’ etc), it makes the receiver really and truly feel like…well… shit, because who really wants to be 14 again- how can you accept this sort of contact from someone you thought loved you just minutes before? The text, like the Facebook message also throws up all sorts of dilemmas, how do you respond to the text? When is too soon? Is it pathetic to beg over text? Should you follow up with a phonecall and whilst we’re there, why didn’t they just call?… It’s also a sterling reminder, perfectly preserved in the inbox, of your inadequacy. Nice.

3) You’ve got (no) Male

The final trending method of cutting those ties is one of the more comical in my opinion- an email. Ahh the email, MSN Messenger’s less appealing brother. The joy of seeing those fatal words pop up in the corner of your screen as you plod through the day to day, the hours of analysis and disbelief as you crowd around the receiver’s computer. And don’t be fooled, if you have ever broken up with a girl via email it is likely it was forwarded to all female friends, transcribed into a Facebook message and re-hashed in any way possible with the subject line ‘WTF!?’

I’m not saying the Ladies of the world are any different. Sure, if I was done with a relationship it would be heavenly to send a quick telegram to the affected party informing them that they would no longer be seeing me (and don’t bother replying)- what careless relief! Sadly, in order to learn in love and life, Face Time is still as important as ever, after all, without seeing someone cry for you how will you ever learn what it is to cry?

– Rhiannon

Things that make you go…ooh

Its been a while since my last post. In that time I have been through a film and a book as well as a two day headache, perhaps processing these.

Watched Inception at the Ritzy in Brixton, which is apparently the new place to hang out for the Bourgeoisie; seriously. A man with the world’s longest neck sat in front of me so I threw a real strop until I was able to move seats. The film was one of those that keeps you up all night wondering about what the ending means and imagining the sort of person who could come up with that sort of genius (I hear it was ten years in the making).

Read ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ by Douglas Coupland, which was pretty thought provoking as well. One thing I thought about over and over was the idea that everyone should have at least one ‘Great Event’ in their lives. This does not necessarily mean it should be a happy or fantastic one, but something that changes the way you look at the world, almost demolishing the world as you know it and re-building it in Technicolour.

Amongst all this, I also shopped for leather shorts. I’m pretty much obsessed with finding the perfect pair.

Don’t DIS the jumpsuit

DIS Magazine

DIS Magazine recently published a series of provoking photographs, showing a topsy-turvy view of office attire, and suggesting it might not always be possible to express yourself in the work-place. This was perfectly timed for me, right now, today.

A friend came over a few hours ago and over numerous cups of tea we discussed the do’s and don’ts of office dressing; she works in a corporate law office, I work in an entirely more fashion-liberal environment. Whilst she was trying on a full-length floral jumpsuit I had hanging out of my wardrobe ready for Glastonbury, she asked whether I would be able to wear such an item to work. ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘though there would be some comments’. In reality, I would be more likely to cause a mini volcanic ash cloud if I turned up to work decked out in a full suit than if I strode in wearing said jumpsuit. Obviously it would not be possible for my friend to roll into the partner’s office in such wild attire, but does this inability to express ones-self through dressing have a wider impact on your career, or personal life?

The Jumpsuit

My parents have always taught me that it is important to be well dressed and well groomed, ‘appearance is everything’. They taught me that if I turn up to a job interview, the employer will have decided within those few initial seconds whether they want to employ me or not. Whilst I can see their point, this surely depends on the opinion of the employer as to what constitutes being well dressed- a corporate lawyer probably wouldn’t appreciate a sailor dress, white tights and brogues, whereas a more creative or fashion focused job would applaud the spirit in which the outfit had been put together. I’d like to believe that appearance is only a part of what makes you employable- I know people who are not smartly dressed but any means, but are bloody good at their jobs.

Anyone who has had the guilty pleasure of watching Lord Sugar and his young apprentices will have noticed that most of them had the same idea- turn up looking like a manchild in a suit. This all makes for quite uncomfortable viewing, especially when the boys start crying in the boardroom. There is one girl – 16 year old Zoe- who has great style, and actually seems quite good (if a little self- important). She’s like a young Lucinda, the berets have started coming out in a multitude of colours- now I just want to see if she can deliver what the Lord wants.

I am not a Zoe-bot