My dad once told me he wants I Was Only Joking,by Rod Stewart, played at his funeral.
I'll admit I was surprised, having always thought he'd go for Honky Tonk Woman.
Later, I listened to the song to see why my dad, who is so funny and wisecracking and dauntless, would choose such a dirge. Why opt for sad lyrics like "apologised and realised I'm not different after all" over the sheer poetry of "she blew my nose and then she blew my mind"?
However, these days, being horribly older and wiser, I think I understand why he'd choose that song. It's about someone full of fire and chaos and energy who, in his quiet moments, acknowledges it was all a show and that he has been left weary and regretful.
I used to have such Rod Stewarty, bleached-haired bravado! But not now.
In my younger days, I'd sneer at women who were desperate to marry. You know the irritating type who shriek and and coo at baby scan photos and want nothing more than to puff up with the self-importance of pregnancy? They're scattered all across Facebook, where they indulge in the cringing habit or renaming themselves 'Lucy's Mummy' or 'Jack's Mum'. They surrender their surname on their wedding day, only to throw away their first name too, before vanishing under a fleecy wave of romper suits and tiny socks.
But these clucking mother hens have security; they have something to tether them to life. They are solid and sturdy and real.
I have no such thing. Often I feel so insubstantial that I imagine if I cut myself no blood would well up. Instead of ties and tethers and reality, I have freedom. Buckets of it. Cascades of it. Tsunamis of the stuff. But these days, I find freedom is no longer enough. It is echoey and it is cold.
I went off to France one summer, and there was nothing to stop me. I was appallingly free. (No-one knew where I was except Gran, who'd tell everyone proudly 'The wean's in Paris.') Surely those frumpy mummies must have envied me my freedom? All I had to do was throw a toothbrush and some paperbacks into a rucksack and I was off. I had no children, no swimming lessons to re-schedule, no check-ups to re-arrange, no nursery to cancel. I had no mortgage and no car. There was nothing to stop me.
That was 10 years ago, and I still have that freedom, but these days it's useless as I'm too scared to do anything with it. For all my bravado and bleached hair, for all my talk of being a writer and 'the clever one', for all my extravagant dresses and funny stories and well-used passport, I am a coward.
I am a coward because my nervous breakdown has constricted my world. I work in a call centre and my only hope now is to get through the day without dissolving. Oh, how my 21-year-old self would despise me! She sat at her desk sketching out great plans to teach English in Buenos Aires and spend a semester at the Charles University in Prague and to publish a novel. There was certainly no room in her diary for mental illness and Citalopram, and yet here I am, too scared to get on a train in case I panic; too scared to leave my job in case I can't get another; too scared to be single, yet too scared to commit to a decent man. So much freedom, and not a thing to do with it. My bravado is false. It seems, as Rod says, I was only joking.
Years ago, when I broke up with Terry Boy, I remember getting into a taxi as I left and consoling myself with the fact that I was free again - I'll go back to France, I'll just go back to France - to be adventurous and not concern myself with things like council tax. Free to throw on the rucksack and get back on the Eurostar. As the taxi pulled away from the flat I'd shared with him for four years I was blind with tears but screamed in my head how good it was to be able to take off to Paris again. But I knew, driving down Maryhill Road, that I'd have traded all of it - the Cafe de Flore, the Sacre Couer, the way the breeze rushes through the lime trees at night, washing the air clean - just to be back in the flat with him, with the door locked and the kettle on.
So, for all my grand schemes and fancy talk, I am a coward, and lately I've been looking at the frumpy mummies and being less harsh on them. They have built a solid life. They're not constantly falling from one extreme to another: I'm desperately in love today, but tomorrow I'm off on the Eurostar! I'm going to Argentina to be a writer but now I work in a call centre! I'm brave and bold but now I can't get on a train!
But are those the options facing me? Get pregnant or get a passport? If you're a woman, must you either be the eccentric, bluestocking spinster with degrees and cats, or the tubby mummy who bores everyone with poorly-spelled Facebook updates about the latest small human she's expelled from her vagina?
I don't want either of those options so I fluctuate and dither and fret and worry I may well disappear.
Maybe I'll get a dog.
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