48 of the most significant hours of my life so far. A bold statement perhaps, and one I make tentatively given that it is only just June 2016 and the hours in question are barely behind me. I can still taste them at the back of my tongue. All I know is: they taste incredible. Sweet. Nostalgic. Nourishing. Let’s examine the facts:
I Turned 30
I’ve never got too hung up on ages and milestones so I felt no terror or trepidation about stepping out of my twenties, firmly and finally out of my childhood, into this new terrain of…well so far exactly the same as it was when I was 29, and very similar to what it was when I was 28. Aging is a gradual, stop-start process that cracks outwards in filigree lines from our birth epicentres. It feels much more like a web to me than some kind of linear tightrope. I can scuttle around at will feeling young or mature, silly or serious, forward-planning or nostalgic. Time spools out behind and my web grows bigger. I think we all do this, but some of us only see the line and not the pattern. Always look for patterns.
I didn’t mark my 30th in any particular significant or large way because this year it had been somewhat (and purposefully) overridden. But I found myself, in a curious meander, back in the arms of my childhood cradle. I spent the afternoon in the garden at my parents’ house in Preston, the same garden that had grown me and my siblings up. I watched birds flitter about on the feeder which hangs from the apple tree I used to climb, while a family of mice shot in and out of the long grass below to collect the fallen seed. It was as if nature was frantically trying to construct me a metaphor.
That night I slept in my old bedroom. Mum had even taken it upon herself to dig out my favourite childhood toy – this rather jaundiced Mickey Mouse who used to accompany me everywhere. Despite the excitements awaiting me on the 28th, my sleep that night was remarkably peaceful – Mickey had acted his talismanic role perfectly.
The next morning my brother arrived bearing a peculiar gift; a tattered old notebook filled with my own handwriting. A piece of writing I had thought long lost: my Legend of Zelda fan fiction. The actual place where my thoughts of becoming a writer had started. I can remember sitting in the garden one summer holiday – sitting in the same spot where I had been that last afternoon – and scribbling away at this wayward tale of Link, his apprentice Chain (how clever) and Princess Zelda starting their new battle against the rising forces of evil. The prose is spirited, lively, reflective, faithful - riddled with errors, derivative, plagued with adjectives, but they were my ideas, my mistakes and I was so very glad that brother Rick had recovered them. But this nostalgic trip was a mere side-quest. There were bigger matters at hand.
Spiderseed Came 2nd at the Saboteur Awards
While I was twenty hours deep into my 30s, the ceremony of the 5th annual Saboteur Awards was well underway down in London town. As you may have noticed from my previous posts, my latest book Spiderseed was up for the Best Short Story Collection Award alongside some illustrious company. At the start of May, we were all lined up for public vote and I garnered enough support to come runner-up in my category. Of course, it would have been stupendous to win, but runner-up will do very nicely indeed and I’m delighted that the book has made it this far.
I have since received an email with some of the comments from the voters, including such gems as:
“Brilliant design, befitting the material. Ink sketches to match the dark, creeping - yet also irreverent and humorous - nature of the content”
“Fabulous writing, surreal ideas that mess with your imagination. Important topics explored, important messages portrayed. Representing the North West!”
“a very compelling read and very different from any previous short story collections that I've read”
“A brilliant, haunting and surprising collection, beautifully illustrated.”
“Made me think of spiders cum. It never crossed my mind before.”
Very nice, of course. It’s strange to read the reflections of others on your own work. You get funny feelings of fraudulence and embarrassment and a sudden affliction of muteness as you struggle to say anything other than a mumbled ‘thanks’. So mumbled thanks to everyone who voted, everyone who said these nice things, and everyone who ever supported Spiderseed, me, my writing, or any form of storytelling ever. Yeah. Thanks to everyone who ever read a book. You know who you are.
But despite turning 30, and despite the excitement of the Saboteurs, it was all just background hubbub behind the big song and dance routine that was about to tap its first real beat.
My brother hadn’t just brought me my Zelda fan fiction. He’d also brought me my wedding suit.
I Got Married
On the 26th May, someone on Facebook had shared this snarky Guardian video of why marriage can never be a feminist thing which basically read as: why marriage is no longer a good thing. I forlornly watched about half the video with the sound off and got the gist. Marriage is a patriarchal institution wholly designed to oppress women and control the mass populace into willing subservience to said patriarchy. And hey, maybe it is.
So on the 28th of May, I got married. Not in direct response to that video I hasten to add – my wife and I had been planning it for a good 18 months. We wedded in a fashion that fused some elements of tradition with many more elements of doing things how we damn well wanted, and the fusion worked exceptionally well. We’d planned the whole thing ourselves with very little outside involvement from friends or family, except where we needed the expertise or advice. The detail of the day was kept secret allowing us to take 55 of our closest family and friends on a fun-filled mystery tour packed with surprises.
We were quickly bonded in the gentle, legal fashion at the Manchester Register Office and then we packed our guests into a vintage double-decker bus and took them to the Teahive Cafe in the pavilion in Alexandra Park for afternoon tea and cocktails. Two hours later, we were back on the bus which took us back to the city centre where we picked up our second batch of revellers. Then the bus took us all to the Salford Museum and Art Gallery where we led guests into a preserved Victorian street, complete with a functioning sweet shop and a pair of cheeky buskers in the shape of aforementioned brother and my bestest buddy Thom. A lump raised in my throat when they opened with Zelda’s Lullaby. That brother of mine, I tell ya.
For the rest of the evening we spread everyone out into one of the gallery spaces upstairs, ate fine vegan food, held an art competition and listened to three blistering speeches, and then my own where I used the word ‘belligerent’ wrongly three times.
Despite my own lexical belligerence, I had that day experienced the exceptional heightened aura of becoming wedlocked to the human I love more than any other. Packaged around that, we had created a day which celebrated many of the things we both love most about life, and about our life together: surprise, variety, art, colour, animals, music, positivity, good food and great company. We had borrowed from tradition but not manacled ourselves to it, we had innovated but not to abstraction, we had dangled the symbolism of marriage to attract our loved ones and fed them a vegan version instead. Turns out it tasted just as good.
I came away exceptionally proud of the pair of us and found myself suffused with gushing affection not only for my bride but for everyone, even the flipping bus driver. And I’ve checked and I think my feminism is still intact. So maybe marriage is a much more socially complex thing than a five minute infographic can convey. Maybe.
So what can be learned from this weighty 48 hours of rapid-fire milestones? Happiness in life comes from happiness with others. Collaborate in happiness. Throw your stories at others and let them sculpt. They will see the things you have overlooked. New paths are built on old way-lines dictated by long set myths. But they create complex spreading webs not monotone, singular lines, and we can use the patterns of the past to forge new layouts for the future. We can’t just cut away traditions and expect new monoliths to magically arise. We improve with age, with practice, and with determination, and it does happen, it just happens slowly. We will always encounter frustrations, major and minor, but there is always something bigger and better nearby which will shrink frustrations to the tiniest fragments of nothingness where they are soon forgotten.
Zelda still makes me cry. Nature still beats everything. I wanted my wife to be my wife not out of patriarchy, but out of love. People can be glorious. The word belligerence is largely negative and ‘determination’ would have been infinitely better.
We always continue to learn, and so we should.