Monday, 30 May 2016

A barista's fascination with customers.

I am a barista. I make coffee for a living. Most of my living, anyway. When I'm not writing. 
You will all know from previous blog posts that I absolutely adore my profession, for a myriad of reasons; I find coffee as fascinating as it is delicious, I feel that a coffee date is the most perfect meeting with anyone and everyone, I am excited to have this skill under my belt and string in my bow, and...I am a people watcher. 

Oh yes, a people watcher. A character creator - that's how I write, remember?
I love nothing more than sitting in a cafe or on a train (these seem to be my two default locations nowadays), peering over my book now and again to observe some folks sitting across the way from me or passing by the window. 
I'd never eavesdrop, oh no. I just enjoy watching. I create stories for people, sometimes – you know, like in Date Night when Steve & Tina ask each other 'what's the story?', nodding to a couple at the table next to them.
I have some friends in my life who are excellent at this game. Truly marvellous at creating scenarios and profiles – my Grandad, for one, once gave me a detailed description of the relationship between the male and female at the table next to us in ASK, saying 'she'll never do any better than him, he's a sweetheart and yet stupidly thinks he's punching'. One of my oldest besties is the same, but he takes it upon himself to actually read people, from cover to cover almost, before giving an evaluation – and he's always spot on.

I do this with customers, too. I create Coffee Customer Profiles, if you will.
I often already have an idea of what they're like when they walk in the door, because I can often predict what they'll order. Or I'll have no clue, and when they order their drink I'll spend the time it takes to froth the milk or grab the teabag inventing a back story for them, or putting them in a shoebox with their peers (e.g. the cappuccino orderers, with their sensible coats and excitement when I offer them the chocolate dust on top of the milk/the latte girls, all of whom have lanyards round their necks and stir in endless packets of sugar).

I have written about customers in the past, in fact. Based on things I knew for certain, and things I'd heard. Sometimes they get nicknames, and blog posts. E.g. The Thieving Sleeper, Soya Girl, and Stressed-Out Mama

This is ever so slightly different, because I am mostly gathering info and then making up the rest myself. Some regulars I will know everything about, though (e.g. Helen* has two sons and works from home, walks her dog Rex* at 7am each day and gets her mocha when she's en route home) and that's nice, too, that they share their lives with the people who make their coffee each day. But I do enjoy absolute strangers whose lives are a mystery to me; all I know about them is that they like it extra hot, or with an extra shot...

What interests me is other people's perspectives – my colleagues, for instance, might not see the 'just a black americano' fellas the same way I do (marriage material). My mum has said that she'd see 'double espresso drinkers' as 'classy people, with a refined taste', whereas I see them as busy individuals with the world on their shoulders and no time to indulge. Isn't that funny?

Am I the only one who does this? I can't be.

* Obvs, names are changed to protect the innocent coffee lovers. Hell, Helen isn't even real. She's just an example. Much like Ian and Sophia. All made up. Like they're my imaginary I joke, my imaginary friend was always Toby/Tobias, stolen from Prue in Jaqueline Wilson's Love Lessons. I digress. Shh. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Plastic Saga II : A Consult Occurs.

I've written about my need for plastic surgery before. The other day I saw the surgeon and he ran us through the procedure; the necessity for it, the specifics of it, the errors that are present in my face. I will attempt to fill you all in on the facts, in super basic terms...
For both my operations I had to have my head sliced open. The cut was a question mark shape – from my hairline towards the back of my head, then back in on itself, then it ended just in front of my ear. You can just about see the scar if I push my fringe back; there's a fine line where hair won't grow and the skin surface is a little glossy. Then beside my left ear there's a little line of bubbles, a short stretch of shiny skin, but that's it. Doctors love to look at the scar, each bit of it, and comment on how neat it is. That's the word. Neat. They're amazed I got to keep the majority of my hair, that it is well concealed, nicely healed. 

For the past year or so, the year since my second op, I've had a somewhat problematic face. I had CSF escape through a hole of sorts between my bone and skin, so I essentially had a water balloon attached to my forehead for a few months post-op. I didn't mind. Much. It was quirky. Unfortunately it delayed my further treatment – for radiotherapy I needed a mask fitted to my exact facial specifications, and so I needed to wait for the fluid to dissipate. Very frustrating.

Long story short, when the CSF finally retreated after it was scared enough with an aspiration procedure and my general impatient hatred, I was left with a radio-ready face and...a dip.
A depression. A cavern. A hole. A defect. A dent. 
I have a cheeky heap of chub in the left side of my face, and then a hole above it, on my forehead, under my fringe. This is because there's no muscle where that hole is. Not any more. It's just skin over bone. It feels a little empty up there.
A little empty, but not that much of a bother to me. No, I am bothered far far more by the chub.
The heap. The jut. The lump. The wall. 
It makes my face uneven. Makes it wider. It moves when I chew, or clench my jaw. My clicky jaw. It sticks out in photos when I'm not prepared and don't do my carefully planned pose – that still doesn't hide it but makes me look a tiny bit less odd. It sticks out in photos when I'm genuinely smiling and don't care...until I see them later on. The only good point, really, is that it's made my left eyebrow curl in slightly more stylishly. 

It all made sense at the consult the other day. The muscle, the temporalis, is this huge fan-shaped mass that had to be cut through when I was operated on, twice. I've had compliments on the strength of that muscle from my surgeon. I blame my constant talking. One of my many surgery-related jokes.
So anyway, the temporalis has had to be 'peeled back' (consultant's words) a couple of times and the second time it was done it wasn't quite put back the right way. It's still folded over a little, under my skin, hence the jutting lumps. It needs to be 'hoisted up' (consultant's words).

The plastic surgeon wants to operate with my neurosurgeon at his side, in case anything goes wrong. He claims his part will be easy, however there could be complications what with the fluid and the hole in my skull, etc. etc.
I picture the two surgeons side by side in the pristine operating theatre, pulling on their plastic gloves and prepping for a team effort. Singing duets throughout, no doubt, and high-fiving when one of them aces a move. No no, I joke, I bet they'd be painfully serious throughout. They'd out-serious one another over and over. 

I have to be cut the same way as before, almost. Along the same scar. Now isn't it funny how we don't remember the exact feeling of pain, a pain we had once, we simply remember it hurting like hell. 
I remember being reclined in the passenger seat on my way home, eyes tightly shut, world spinning. I remember being readmitted to hospital at 6am after the ambulance had to come round the night before. I remember jerking in my sleep. I remember the private room. I remember retching constantly, the cardboard bowls in my hands filling up with next to nothing and the nurses observing. I remember the headaches, the inescapable pain, although I cannot remember the feel of them I remember the effect they had. I remember relying on oral morphine every two hours, I remember leaving hospital the second time with a bag of prescribed painkillers and a pat on the shoulder, I remember the overwhelming feeling that has been present ever since – if I have to go through this pain again, if someone tells me it needs to happen, I will quit. I won't do it. I cry when I think about it; when I imagine the prospect, the promise of pain. But I don't remember the actual feel of the pain.

So yes, I've lost control. Almost. Yet again. Once again my life is in the hands of medical professionals – maybe not as much, not as seriously, as it has been before, but...
A surgeon will have to help me out again, a hospital will have to put me up again, nurses will have to take care of me again, my friends will have to check in on me again, my family will have to be brave again, my blog will serve as my outlet again (oh no wait, that's the norm) life will have to be put on hold again.
Not as badly. But still. It will happen. I'll have to press pause. I'm out of it.
I'm applying for jobs now, easing myself back in, making long-term plans. I'm hoping to travel, to visit people and places I love. I don't want to delay that again, put things off for another year.
But...I want my face sorted.

I want to look in a mirror and be satisfied – maybe even delighted. I want this, I want to look like me again, and I want to be me again. This thing I have has taken so much of me away over the past two years, it's instilled so much fear in my heart as well as pain in my head, and now it's time to get me back. But to do that I suppose I have to go back. To being a patient. A perfectly polite and positive patient. A hopeful patient. A brave patient. I can do that. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

Just putting it (or them) out there...

One woman: 'I mustn't wear that – it'll give me cleavage!'
Another woman: 'That top is perfect, maximum cleavage!' 

I've been feeling recently that there is a strong divide when it comes to the issue of cleavage. Wait, issue? Is it an issue? Some seem to think it is while others see it as an excellent feat of clothing, an opportunity, just a happy and lovely thing! 
Right now it's a topic; of this blog post, and some recent discussions.

Now, I had a very brief relationship of sorts with cleavage. When I was 17 I woke up one morning and I had breasts. Seriously, it was an overnight thing I swear. Suddenly the days of wearing the flimsy (and empty) T-shirt bras to school on PE days purely to look like I was developing when the other girls saw me unbutton my blouse were GONE, folks! To celebrate I indulged in the absolute finest in New Look and La Senza lingerie – super lacey, plunge fit and padding galore. The straps were rather itchy, mind you, and the bras left a burning line across my ribs every day but damn it, it was worth it for the confidence I felt and the unsubtle ogles I received from the other side of the Sociology classroom. 

I never had the traditional cleavage, mind you. Not the sweet bubbles pushed together with the unmistakable deep line between them, y'know? I had the other kind, the gentle hint of cleavage that is two separate breasts sitting alongside one another with the light sitting atop them just so...yeah, that was my deal.
I think every woman's cleavage is different depending firstly on how it's actually physically and genetically formed, and then how it's dressed. 

These days I am not such a fan of my cleavage. Not since first year of uni when I wore a bikini under a vest on a night out and just felt...ugly. It's not me making a statement, I cannot say that enough guys, this is just me and my personal feelings about my body.
Y'all know I love my body and appreciate it in all its weirdness – I just don't like showing much of my chest these days. It's not a 'leave things to the imagination' situation, either. Because hiya, I don't dress for anyone else. It's just me. Just how I feel. I feel that my strongest features can be exhibited in a scoop neck shirt (collar bones), a skater skirt/dress (waist) and a pair of high-waisted jeans (butt). I know what works for me. 

I must interrupt the intenseness of this post here with a charming anecdote and quote that may have set the ball rolling for this whole post – from my 3 year-old best pal Dexter Williams, that his mama was kind enough to share with the world:

I totally appreciate that there are thousands of women out there in the world who feel differently, if not the complete opposite, to me. Some ladies love their cleavage, as well they should! If you're proud of it, if you want to work it day-to-day and plan outfits around it, then do! I am slightly envious of your pride and love for that part of you, you utter babes.
I asked a few of my female friends for their thoughts on this – I honestly just said 'How do you feel about cleavage?', nothing specific, just a general wondering. I loved the responses! 


'OK cleavage: FUN TO LOOK DOWN ON (that was how it first popped into my head but that came out wrong -- I don't mean like 'look down your nose at' I mean literally looking down and seeing your own boobs is fun!)' 
- Emma Oulton,

'First off, I hate the word! Something about the word always makes me cringe and I have no idea why! 
...I think it's awesome. But very conflicting in my head. I think - if someone has boobage and feels comfortable accentuating it then they should go for it! Doesn't matter if it's an A cup or a DD. I don't necessarily think it's something that should be expected or commented on. We don't make a point of saying to someone wearing a t-shirt 'Ohhh look your arms are out!' So there isn't a need to comment when another body part is on show.' 
- Amy Whitear,

'I love cleavage. That's my answer.' 
- Louise Jones,

'Don't like it. I don't like squashed boobies - I don't mind a cleavage if they're spread nicely, and look a healthy shape. When they're squished it's not so pretty. I really don't like cleavage on me!' 
- my mama,

'I have enormous boobs. So if I wear anything that gives me cleavage - or rather, if I ever try anything on that gives me cleavage - I feel it looks a bit...rude. I can appreciate it on other women, but it doesn't really feel comfortable for me.' 
- Keris Stainton, author of 'Della Says OMG', 'Counting Stars' and many more! 

'Hahaha what a weird question, you are a strange fellow. I feel about cleavage probably how I feel about most body parts e.g. elbows i.e. no strong feelings. I don't have one to speak of, but good luck to those who do. (A cleavage, that is. I have two fine elbows). 
- Jess Vallance, author of 'Birdy' and 'The Yellow Room'
(She later added 'I love boobs') 

'Cleavage? I LOVE IT. It makes me feel sexy and womanly to have a little on show and I think most of the time I probably do!
That's the first thought that popped into my head...' 

- Kathy B,

I considered asking some fellas I know how they feel about cleavage, whether they find it attractive or not, and then I realised that's not only kinda evil but also completely irrelevant. I'll say it again – we do not dress for men. *growls* 

Well, I'm not totally sure what this post is but I think it's a blend of 
body positivity and an exploration of a concept; it's been such fun to write and research, and I'm hoping something else will present itself to be explored soon...yes, that sounded odd, but I'm sticking with it. 
Love yourself, people. That's always my overarching message. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Just a glance.

Hey, it's you! I think. 
At first I can't help but see the seven year-old girl with wild long brown hair, glasses, skinny legs and an awkward smile. She always seemed a little nervy, but also away with the fairies. Her parents wore farm fleeces and jeans. She was a Rainbow. 

But it's not you. Not that you, anyway. Not the you I knew. No, that's not you. 
You're him, now. He wears snappy suits and brogues, a leather satchel slung over one shoulder. His hair is cut close to the scalp, a slight curl hinting through it, shaved at the back on the neck. 
His smile is unreal - it's huge...genuine...comfortable. 
I catch your eye and smile in acknowledgement - yes, it's me, we knew each other back then. 
I swear I receive a smile back, a sparkle in the eyes, and I detect a sense of pride in there. No fear. 
Seeing you this morning while we wait for a train has made my day. You're with friends, all going somewhere. School? College? How old must you be now? 
Old enough to know who you are, and be yourself. 
I could burst with joy. 
You're you, now. You're him, and you're you. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

My intense love of book signings, and signed books.

A while ago I wrote about my experiences and thoughts on meeting your heroes – or just people you like a whole lot – and the immense excitement/pressure/terror/joy involved in that. This post will be somewhat similar, although more specific. I want to explore the wonder of book signings! 

Ever since I was very, very young and I attended a Jaqueline Wilson event at a local theatre type place, the De La Warr Pavillion, I have been officially obsessed with my books being signed by their authors. I met Jaqueline Wilson after her speeches (plus TV's Tracey Beaker, Dani Harmer!) and she signed my copy of 'The Illustrated Mum' and 'The Dare Game (Tracey Beaker #2)'. I remember being so nervous and so thrilled, seeing this author I so admired at the time scribbling her name in the inside page of my hardback. I still treasure that copy to this day. It's when I realised how amazing it could be to get a book signed.

Nowadays, I frequent book events. I'm that loud chattering idiot in the corner of Daunt Books, or in a front row seat at Waterstones Piccadilly. I love launch parties, author panels, publishers' highlights events, all of it. I get swept away in the bookish excitement – and I always bring books aplenty for potential signings.

I always find it so perfect when an author signs your copy of their brilliant brain offspring with a little message or personal quip. These are a few of my favourite signing experiences in the last few months...

The delightful Chris Russell signed my proof copy of 'Songs About A Girl' (due out in July!) with lyrics – he took the time to chat with me beforehand, saying he liked to get to know folks before he signed anything so he could gauge which lyrics they'd most appreciate written with his signature. I told him I was a die hard Swiftie, and got some lyrics from 'I Knew You Were Trouble' scribbled in above his signature.
Lauren James sent me an annotated copy of 'The Next Together' after we became Twitter besties and she'd generously donated to my Little Princess Trust fundraiser. I will treasure it always. I feel like I possess a sacred item – containing all manner of author secrets! 
At 'The Girl of Ink & Stars' launch party at Daunt Books, the gorgeous Kiran signed my proof copy of her magnificent debut with the cutest phrase: 'with inky and starry wishes'. 

Eve Ainsworth hugged me hard after scribbling in my proof of the beautiful 'Crush'. I think we were both tipsy. 
Sara Barnard paused before signing 'Beautiful Broken Things' and asked if I'd prefer she made it out to Grace or Gracie, and it made me question my identity a few times before I said 'you choose!' 
Lisa Williamson signed my copy of 'The Art of Being Normal' when I was just over halfway through it, saying 'hope you enjoy the rest!' and then writing something sweet wishing me well with my mad health journey. 
Louise O'Neill did something similar, signing 'Only Ever Yours' with 'rocking that headscarf!'
At that Faber event I blogged about before, Alwyn Hamilton wrote the cutest words in my copy of 'Rebel of the Sands'
Jandy Nelson patiently listened (with the whole world shining perfectly in her eyes the entire time, I swear) as I unloaded on her about how much I loved 'I'll Give You The Sun' and how I'd finished 'The Sky Is Everywhere' en route to the signing, and I was madly in love with her writing/her. She then thanked me and I shuffled away, mesmerised. 
David Owen signed 'Panther' some months ago after I bought it at the Young Adult Literature Weekender event in Southbank, adding 'Winchester FTW' as we are both dazzling products of the same super-cool university. 

I like to think if I was an author (/when I become one – positive thinking, Grace!), I'd always make the effort to learn each fan's name and write something unique for each of them in their copies of my book. However, I know that at a lot of book events these days it's so so busy and to save the excited readers an eternity queueing sometimes it's best to just write their name and then yours.
Oh, I'd also have to learn how to maintain a conversation while simultaneously signing things. I cannot write and speak. Well, I can type something on my phone without looking while talking to a pal without any problems, but that's about it.

Authors, advise me please. On that and everything else. Starting with 'how the hell do I make a book?' 

Friday, 6 May 2016

Not so baby any more.....!

'We're thinking of calling her Fleur,' they'd said. In all the weeks preceding this announcement she'd been Florence. Or George, as the parents decided they wanted to be surprised as they were when I was born. Fleur seemed rather beautiful and I was immediately on board (even though I had originally misheard 'fur'...). 

It had never really sunk in properly that a baby was actually on the way. I was in constant awe of the hugeness of mum's bump; I listened to the thumps within and felt the movements beneath my hands. I would say 'my mummy is going to have a baby!' in the 'news' portion of the morning carpet time in reception class, but still it wasn't registering that I was about to be an older sister. 
A big sis. I'd always wanted one, for most of the 5 years of my life, but funnily enough I'd never gotten one. When that role fell upon me, though, I was determined to take it on immediately and be the best I could be. 

I remember so clearly the day my dad broke all the rules and just walked into my school playground at break time, interrupting me as I play-acted Peter Pan with my pals; he had to explain himself to the dinner ladies and once he had he leant in and grinned at me, said 'do you want to come and meet your baby sister?'
I squealed and hugged him, and we raced to the hospital where my dear mama (knackered out but still fresh-faced and fabulous) waited with this new bundle of fluffiness in her arms. I sat carefully next to the bed, in the sticky plastic/leather chair, and shyly took this thing from her. This cute little thing. So tiny. 

It's safe to say I became obsessed immediately. Every day for the next few years I was sitting staring at her, cooing into her pram and giggling while playing with her teeny fingers. I let her blow out my birthday cake candles with me. I'd rush straight to her side when I got home from stupid boring school. 
I'm told her first smile was for me. 
I frequently could be found in her little bedroom in the morning, sitting in her cot chatting to her or reading her a story. I would joke as much as possible - I loved hearing those giggles. This bedroom had walls partially coated with Hey Diddle Diddle wallpaper with pictures of a dish running away with a spoon, a cow jumping over the a good 80% of the walls are covered in Taylor Swift printouts and magazine shoots. 

Yes, I have tried my best over the years to be a good big sis. A totally cool and down-to-earth big sis. A gently guiding big sis, helping the duckling spread her wings and fly places (with a tag on her ankle so I can track her, of course). I think I've done alright. I'm nowhere near done yet, of course, but when the little one reaches legal drinking age and is having driving lessons and doing A hands-on duties have diminished ever so slightly, but my heart is still in it and I am always here - in my bedroom, usually, or up in London but just a text away. 
I'm still gonna sister the heck out of you, kiddo. 

Happy 18th, Floop. Please understand that although you are now a good few inches taller than me, in my head you're still a baby and I will protect and love you as such forever. xo 

Monday, 2 May 2016

#AskGracie 1.

I often use Twitter for writing type purposes; I ask my lovely friends what I should be writing about, I run polls on which blog post everyone wants to read next. I also enjoy seeing what other writers are up to and so when I saw a blogger pal running a hashtag-ask thing I thought I may as well give that a go, too. 

I let the hashtag #AskGracie run over one weekend (not just my hashtag obvs, it's been used by others before), and had such fun seeing friends' and followers' curious enquiries. I ended up screen shotting them, not just saving them in my likes.

We'll start with gorgeous @Jo_Scribbles, who was quick off the mark with her question.

'What feminist non-fic would you recommend (other than those by Caitlin Moran :P)?'

Caitlin is my go-to for feminist non-fiction, it's true. She is an oracle. However, looking elsewhere we are currently spoiled for choice in this genre. Orion sent me 'Girls Will Be Girls' by Emer O'Toole recently, and I lapped that up like you wouldn't believe. So interesting. Also lovely Leena sent me 'Eat Sweat Play' by Anna Kessel which isn't exactly hardcore feminism lit but is so so important as it discusses the obstacles and restrictions that are still in place for women in sport. And I have a copy of 'Do It Like A Woman...and Change the World' by Caroline Criado-Perez that I totally stole from an office somewhere. That excites me! 

Then of course my good pal @MatttSpencerr (aka Spence, the keeno Journo I know from uni) brought Queen B into this...

'Make like Beyonce and tell us: What you'd do if you were a boy – even just for one day?'

*sings* I'd roll out of bed in the mornin', and throw on what I wanted and go...wait no...
I'd have a wank, obviously. What girl wouldn't? I'm just so damn curious as to what it's like for a guy. Every other film and TV show contains male-centred wank jokes – if not a scene of an actual bloke wank – so I'd want to get on that and see what's what. Obvs.
Then after that portion of my morning, I'd dress up in a stunning suit and strut down the street to see how it feels to be utterly invincible and admired by all. I might do that in the later hours as well, to see what it's like feeling completely safe in the street when it's dark. That would be, of course, after I take a lovely consenting girl home and give her the night of her life.
Also, could I grow a beard in one day? I've always wanted to grow a beard.

'What has been a dream you have made happen & what dreams are you still trying to make happen?'

It's so lame and cheesy, but...I graduated. I went to uni and I did a course and I got a degree. That's not to say that should be everyone's dream, because higher ed really isn't for everyone and that's cool, but it was a big deal to me. Especially since it was a little touch and go right after I handed in my diss and final assignments. Walking up on the stage in the cathedral on grad day and hearing the big cheer that went up as my name was read out was perfection.
I recently went back to my uni to give a talk in a lecture about blogging; that was a dream come true, and has made me realise that I'd love more than anything to make that a career type thing. It's been a dream to do well at blogging (and someday actually EARN for my blog posts) since I was 16. It would be so cool to have that happen and also get to teach others and pass on my tips.

'Q1. Can we be friends because you're awesome / Q2 if you could be any mythological creature, what would you be and why?' 
- @alicaitrin.

Q1. Yes, sorted.
Q2. I love Medusa. We studied her in Year 7 Classics class, and I got obsessed. I know it's dark af, but I'd love to be able to turn my enemies – or even just someone who looked at me the wrong way – into stone forever. I'd love to incite fear into others, just a little. I'd rock the grey skin and cropped snake hair do, too.

(I really enjoyed this #AskGracie thing. Maybe I'll do it again sometime. Maybe I won't. You'll have to wait and see!)
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