Posts Tagged ‘Low’


‘some girls are bright as the morning, and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind’ – Gillian Welch

Before I steal myself to face the cold and the crowds, and do my Christmas food shopping, I thought I’d pause and wish you all, my long-suffering readers and friends, a very merry Christmas.

I quite like the festive period in the UK, tat, tack, manic consumerism, cholesterol overdoses and all. I enjoy planning a meal, thinking about what presents to give, drinking alcohol as if it’s my vocation. It is a fine balance though, between genuine indulgence and – yes – joy, and forced, painful jollity. I have nearly been pushed over the edge into bah humbug mode once or twice already this year, by ridiculous  Christmas jumpers taking over London, by nearly fainting in a particularly claustrophobic shopping centre (Yes, Birmingham Bull Ring, I’m looking at you), and by the sorry sight of my bank balance, buckling under the strain.

However, I’ve rallied myself, put the tree up, wrapped gifts, played Just Like Christmas by Low to death, started drinking for real, this time. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

One thing I’ve learned over the years about myself, that Christmas puts into sharp relief, is that it’s ok not to be the jolliest, happiest, most fun person in the room. I have found I’m more able to enjoy life, even at its most tinselly, when I accept my limitations, including my slightly dour side, that I share with most of my dear family. As I have said in a recent post, I’m even getting more realistic about friendships and romantic relationships, and it’s making me – shock horror! – happier.

And even Christmas culture offers some beautifully bitter-sweet gems for us to enjoy. It’s not all jingle bells, Michael Macintyre and cheap sherry. Pondering very briefly (I really must face that shopping), I am reminded of brilliant, sad-but-happy films such as Miracle on 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life that go very well with a whisky or two late on boxing day.

As a young woman I tended to veer towards the all or nothing, Morrissey-loving miserabilist stance in relation to Christmas and possibly life in general. These days I think I’m able to embrace the good stuff, the giggles and the twinkling lights, whilst also acknowledging some poignancy, in the carols, in the faces I pass hurriedly in Asda, in my own ‘dark turn of mind’.

So Happy Christmas everyone, just be yourselves. QRG Loves You. Mine’s a G and T!


‘Boyfriends/And girlfriends/And enemies/Those upon which we rely’ – Low

When I was a child I treated friendship as sacred. If I were to attempt some clumsy psychoanalysis of myself, these many years later, I might begin to see why. My parents broke up when I was four years old, and my world collapsed. (Unconsciously then), I think I decided that in my own life people would not be so unstable, unreliable, so breakable as my parents. But of course they were.

I say ‘child’ but this dangerous belief has of course followed me round through adulthood, so that when friendships (and romantic relationships) have broken down, I have felt a loss, an inadequacy, an anger, a shame, akin to that first big break-up of my early life. It wasn’t my fault. But nobody told me that at the time. And, even today, in the complex world of adult relations, I tend to blame myself deep down, for most things that go wrong.

But there is in me, and it is getting stronger, (thanks in part to some recent and very helpful psychotherapy), an ability to step away from that ‘guilty’ child. To see life, and people (including me), as complex and unpredictable, and to accept that. Not all friendships (or romantic relationships) last forever. That doesn’t necessarily diminish them. I broke up with my ex partner over eight years ago now, but it is only very recently I have been able to feel happy and grateful that we knew each other, were very close, had some laughs, were best mates. A Buddhist might find my revelation amusing, for they know that if life itself is temporary, the things within it are hardly going to be permanent. I always was a slow learner.

I don’t think I am the only one afflicted with a perfectionist side when it comes to friendship. I can think of one or two people out there, who are probably even more ‘extremist’ (and less reflective?) than me. They hold onto this romantic notion that if someone is not utterly wonderful and nice and the kindest bestest friend in the world, they must be some kind of devil. Freud knew about this dichotomising amongst friends and even admitted to doing it himself:

‘An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable requirements for my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy coincided in the same person.’

I think if we want to keep our friends, and to make new ones, to keep open to life and love’s possibilities, we have to acknowledge that negative aspect in people and relationships. In hindsight, I think my ex understood it better than I. After a row, or an affair, or a terrible sorrow-filled night, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage, he would always treat me exactly as he had before the crisis. He didn’t seem fased by our ability to be ‘enemies’ at times, as well as lovers and friends. Maybe he had a bit of Nietzsche in him, and thought:

‘The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.’

I’m not quite there yet. I still have a slightly rose-tinted view of friendship. And I still get crushed by messy imperfect reality on a regular basis. But I am learning to accept, much more than that heartbroken four year old could at least, that humans have frailties and that’s ok.

Places, Loved Ones

By Philip Larkin (1954)

No, I have never found
The place where I could say
This is my proper ground,
Here I shall stay;
Nor met that special one
Who has an instant claim
On everything I own
Down to my name;

To find such seems to prove
You want no choice in where
To build, or whom to love;
You ask them to bear
You off irrevocably,
So that it’s not your fault
Should the town turn dreary,
The girl a dolt.

Yet, having missed them, you’re
Bound, none the less, to act
As if what you settled for
Mashed you, in fact;
And wiser to keep away
From thinking you still might trace
Uncalled-for to this day
Your person, your place.


Yesterday, on the way home from a weekend in Manchester, I went to what is possibly my favourite place in the whole wide world:  Edale in the Peak District. I got to know this beautiful spot in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire, when I lived in Sheffield for quite a few years. The little stopping train cuts a line in between the hills that prevent Sheffield and Manchester merging into one and becoming a giant northern connobation. Getting off at Edale makes me catch my breath. It is SO QUIET!

It was a rainy, misty day when I went this time, so my photos may not do its beauty justice. But the beauty of Edale with the valley between the two hulking peaks of Kinder Scout and Mam Tor is better because it is imperfect. If it is muddy or cold or dark or raining it just adds to the atmosphere and the sense of nature at its finest and most raw.

I walked up to Kinder Scout on the brow of a hill to the side of it. Many of the pathways in the High Peak are reinforced with slabs of stone, brought down via helicopter. The stone pavings help preserve the ground and the hillsides from all the thousands of walkers who tread it. As well as the ancient history of the rock, Kinder Scout has a more recent history. It is the site of a Mass Tresspass in 1932, when local people had had enough of the landowners’ restrictions on their access to the area of natural beauty, and they marched up the hill en masse, which led to the more ‘open access’ we have to the countryside today.

Halfway up the hill I stopped and looked back over the valley to Mam Tor. I thought of my stepdad, who died 18 months ago, and how much he enjoyed walking in the countryside. It is a mixture of emotions, grief, not all of them sad  as such. I felt very lucky to still be here to do this walk myself.

Kinder Scout itself, is a peak which forms part of a long ridge, that you can walk along in a horseshoe shape, bringing you round and back where you started in Edale Village. The day I went it was awe-inspiring, as the rocks at the top loomed out of the mist and rain. It felt moon-like.

Edale is so special to me because it is somewhere I feel truly calm. I try and carry that feeling with me when I get back to city life and all my preoccupations. Currently I have a lot on my mind, and the power and stillness of that amazing spot in the middle of our island was just what I needed.

Like Philip Larkin says in the poem above, I don’t have a particular place (or person) that I would say is meant for me. One of the things I love so much about Edale is that it is always there for me to visit, and to be newly overwhelmed. If I did actually live there I expect the magic might fade. And so it has been for me with people too, especially in romantic relationships. It seems kind of crazy to me, to tie yourself to one single individual and expect them to provide you with everything you need, emotionally and sexually for your whole life.

So as with people, I am happy to share Edale with whoever else wants it. And I do go to other places and enjoy them just as – almost as – much.

To get the train back home I walked from Edale to Hope station. A friend of mine and I, when we used to meet in the Peak District (she came from Manchester me from Sheffield) used to joke wryly about how we’d like to ‘live in hope’.

In one of those little coincidences that echo through our lives, my favourite band (in the same, non-possessive, open-relationship way that Edale is my favourite place!) Low, have an album called ‘I Could Live In Hope’.

And suddenly, after getting back from my trip and listening to Low, I realised they remind me a bit of how I feel when I am in Edale. Their music is incredibly atmospheric, ethereal, and, like those rocks in the mist at the top of Kinder Scout, sometimes it seems like it comes from another world.

This song, ‘Words’ is particularly resonant to me today. Back in the city and online, where I deal in words and not much else, I am remembering that quiet and stillness of where I have just been. And I am at peace.