My Secret Shame – or 20 things you would never believe about Chancery Stone

Honour my bravery. This is a list of the weird and wonderful and atypical things I love that any self-respecting, controversial, maverick, ‘crazy bitch’ author such as myself should never admit to. How many of you would publish a list like this? Liar. You know you wouldn’t.

The truth is, of course, that this isn’t bravery. I just don’t care what you think of my peccadilloes, or me in general, now I come to think of it. Of course, that may well be the definition of bravery.

Or maybe I’m just strange…

1. Films with talking animals. It’s true. The more surreal the better. I saw a trailer yesterday for a Disney film about Chihuahuas that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me. Great trailer though, with dogs in headdresses and Aztec dance numbers. Doctor Doolittle – I don’t own it, but God, it’s fun. And I’m talking about the Eddie Murphy one/s. It’s a disease, I tell you.

2. Things that sparkle. Sadly, this is not diamonds, although I think they’re pretty enough, if a little dull. I’m talking about anything that sparkles, from Elizabethan court dress to glitter glue. I am completely undiscriminating. Totally. I could be four. If it sparkles, I more or less glaze over and go, “Oooooooh, pretty…” It’s tragic.

3. Chintz. I have a pair of powder blue original 1950’s curtains in my office, with cerise and acid-yellow roses. They are so beautiful I built my room décor around them, even painting the furniture to match. But it’s the only chintz I own. And I’m very fussy about it. My favourite chintz is period originals or, failing that, very expensive modern versions, but if I had my way I’d have a secret room full of the stuff: overstuffed cabbage rose sofa, aged chintz curtains and petit point cushions. God, that’s so middle class.

4. Scented candles. I spend a small fortune on them – that and fancy holders – and burn them every night – lots of them. What’s more, I don’t care. My only saving grace is I don’t burn them in the bath. Way too tacky. And I don’t like bathing at night.

5. Melon. God, I love melon. I nearly always have two sitting ripening at any one time and eat it every day. I don’t care what kind it is, as long as it’s ripe. I sincerely believe there is no food finer than melons, although they are rivalled in summer by Lengra and Alphonso mangoes, which must be bought by the box from Indian shops, complete with shredded handbills and tinsel for packing. Oh, the joy.

6. Weird reference books. I’m talking collections and miscellanies, guides to Greek swear words, how to insult in Yiddish, books defining cloud strata. I have books of historical slang, eighteen century life and histories of Greek gods. I have books of gems and crystals, Cumbrian place names and farm implements – and more books of quotations than any one person should own. The real kicker is I’ve owned some of these books several times. I buy them, I move house, I sell them. I buy them again. Unhealthy and useless. I don’t even remember the damn things to use them in conversation, but I do love ’em.

7. Fish. Fascinating, fabulous fish. I have owned a large fish tank where I kept goldfish, carp and river minnows – caught from a local river – and where they lived way past their normal life span and taught the goldfish how to shoal. But I haven’t owned a tank for many years, and I still miss them. They’re meditation in a box – that eats. But my fascination with fish is a lot older. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of underwater life – I even find myself ‘collecting’ films about it. One of my earliest memories is of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Oh, how I wanted to be her. I have had several collections of fish ornaments, sold them, re-bought new ones. Are you seeing a pattern here?

8. Jewellery. Yes, my regular readers know this one, and you may think it’s hardly unconventional. But do you have any idea how deep mine goes? I have a four foot shelf with five (or six – not sure) cup trees on it. Every branch is laden with bangles. Not only that, but I tie sets up with ribbon and hang them by the ribbon so I can get multiple sets on each branch. On top of that, I have four more trees on the bureau, also laden. On top of that, I have two full-size drawers full of them, and a jewellery box drawer full of bracelets and more ‘precious’ bangles. Then I have a shoe-box under my dining room table with wooden bangles. And that’s just bangles. Let’s not start on earrings and necklaces – or brooches, or rings. What’s more, this collection is only a few years old. Previously I’ve owned many vintage and new collections – particularly of earrings. Bought them, sold them again, bought new. I wear jewellery every day and ‘can’t’ go out without it. Absolutely none of it is made of precious metals, which are boring, banal and strictly for the chavs. This unhealthy need is, of course, tied up with the sparkly addiction. It’s totally out of control and I don’t give a good goddamn.

9. Pens. God, I love pens. I used to love the way they looked, as in their external appearance. It stems from my grandfather’s ‘collection’, accrued from auction house lots and made of real tortoiseshell and enamel with real gold nibs, all kept in a (now very valuable) roll-top desk. They fascinated me: the smell, the black, black ink, the delicately engraved and curiously named nibs. In my own pen addicted past, I’d buy some outrageously expensive rolled-gold object of desire while I was wearing shoes with holes in them. I’d only write with that pen, loving the look of the expensive ink flowing over the page. But of recent years I’ve taken to falling in love with the cheap and bizarre. My most recent acquisitions are sets of sparkly gel pens (see? there’s sparkly again) bought out of Poundland. Every night I do the diary in brilliant glittery cerise or sparkling bronze. Sheer poetry.

10. Fur. There isn’t a fur coat I don’t love. Except for the badly cut, cheap nasty ones, of course. Sadly, being a big softie, I couldn’t buy new furs, even if I could afford them. Just can’t get my head around breeding something only for its fur – too wasteful for me. But I own, and have owned, many, many vintage fur coats. I’ve also had to leave many behind just because they didn’t fit. I once had to pass up a 1970’s fur jacket in lilac fur. It was just dyed rabbit, of course, and it looked rather like an old dear with a blue rinse but, God, I wanted that coat. Fake furs are just as good. During the 80’s I lived in a big boxy fur in neon pink. I even had ear muffs to match. Brilliant.

11. Fabric. If I had been any other kind of artist, other than a writing one or a dancing one, I’d have been a costume/fashion designer. But, much as I love clothes, I love fabric more. I have boxes of old fabric that I’m “keeping for when I get a big house” and when I left Orkney I had to sell loads of it because I simply couldn’t store it. I love patterned and unusual fabric. There is no greater delight on God’s earth than finding old, unused tea towels decorated with Spanish dancers, or playing cards, or dice. I own a lot of old headscarves with great designs on them. I had a huge collection of antique silk handkerchiefs on Orkney and gave them away to an annoying gay boy. Regret it every day…

12.Tree houses. I mean real houses, up trees, that people live in. This isn’t some throwback to my childhood. I never had a tree house, or wanted one particularly. But I was big on ‘dens’. Built them all the time, usually in undergrowth, and then I had sex in them. But I was a tree in a previous life (honestly) and when I see people living in actual – usually architect built, for obvious reasons – tree houses I pine (ooh, a pun) like nobody’s business. Of course, I love any unconventional house, especially ones very high in the sky. Someday…

13. Insects and bees. This is an addiction I’ve never really focussed, but it sneaks out in odd little ways. I have a (very small collection) of bee honey pots. I have a sizeable amount of insect jewellery. I have butterfly fabric and clothes. I don’t like the ‘cute’ variety – not interested – I like them to look like the real thing. It’s my ambition to own a Victorian real beetle jewellery set. A girl can dream…

14. Religious iconography. If I had my way, and I could afford it, I’d have life-size Jesus’ all over the damn house, lighting up Marys and a gold and cherubim-strewn ceiling in every room. There is no religious excess to which I would not pay obeisance. Not bad for a wooden atheist. (That’s someone who says they don’t believe, but who starts every deepest wish with ‘Please, God, I’ll be good if you only…)

15. Crystals, mirrors, mirror balls, any combination of same. No, not ‘healing’ crystals – please. I’m talking about things that refract the light. Yes, it’s sparkly a new way. No surprises there then.

16. Recycled stuff. I go like a dog on point at the idea of stuff made out of other stuff. I particularly love clothes made out of other clothes – or anything else for that matter. Sadly, most ‘recycled’ fashion is so fucking expensive and in such small sizes that only a billionaire gnome could wear it. I’m always threatening to make my own recycled clothes and jewellery, but I only do minor ‘recycling’ in practice. Last night I sat and repaired a shot silk Indian scarf/wrap after saving it from a thrift shop for an overpriced £2.50 and washing, sewing and ironing it, and now it looks like a £20 scarf from Monsoon, but more antique. It fulfils some hunter gatherer thing in me that I am at a loss to understand. Personally, I think it stems from childhood insecurity. I was told so often by my parents that I couldn’t fend for myself that I secretly trained myself to withstand hardship of any sort. In this instance, a chronic shortage of Indian silk accessories.

17.Survival guides. No, I have no idea why, but see 16 above. I found my first survival guide as a piece of 50’s ephemera which I think I bought for five pence, or got free with something else. It was a military jungle survival booklet and I still have it somewhere. God, I loved that little booklet. It told you how to find fresh drinking water and what was safe to eat and what wasn’t and how to light fires and, and, and… Fucking amazing. To this day, I still love them. I also love apocalyptic movies and man against the odds stories. If you can explain it, feel free. Fucked if I can.

18. Coloured glass. Whether it’s in jewellery or antique carafes, I love it. I have had to stop myself from collecting it over the years – far too bulky and fragile for house moves. I have – very occasionally – sold the odd valuable piece I’ve owned, and regretted it every time. Yeah, it’s a sparkly thing again, I know, I know… Sometimes I like to combine it with other addictions – hence my collection of fish paperweights. What can I say? My corruption got corrupted.

19. Greenhouses. Or conservatories, if you want to be posh. If I could, I’d live in one, the older, bigger and drippier the better. Is there anything more delicious than walking into that hot, humid smell of peat? That almost audible rustling of plants breathing? I swear you can get high in green houses. It’s all that oxygen they put out during the night. It’s the air purification, the sheer electrical energy. Not to mention the drip, drip, drip of water, the wet floors and tiny seedlings, the plants you’d never see otherwise, the plunge from equatorial jungle to arid desert, cactuses that look like rocks and plants that eat flies. Fabulous. I wish they’d just let me move into the botanical gardens and be done with it.

20. The unexpected. The Robin belting his lungs out in my Tesco Extra’s fruit department, everybody looking perplexed then either intrigued or indifferent (sad bastards) when they finally spot him, sitting in the oranges. Finding a note on the ground that reads, “Labour of Midwives in 20th Century Britain, fish fingers and dog biscuits.” A toad sitting in the middle of the pavement in the pitch dark two days ago, probably dug out of hibernation by the nearby building works. Finding a £10 note in the road that half a dozen people had walked over and not seen. Turning up a huge set of Russian nesting dolls for a fiver, literally days after I’d been talking about how much I’d wanted a set just like it when I was a child. Coming face to face with the ‘secret’ deer herd that lives in our local woods. Being followed home by a cat that comes into the house, sits down, has a wash, sits on our laps, purrs a lot, then comes back out with us and goes home again as if he’s done nothing strange at all. Discovering my childhood next door neighbour, and little brother of my best friend, is a published novelist. And so it goes on, day after day, a million things that tempt you not to be an atheist, but that are really probably just the universe’s way of reminding you that the world is a strange and wonderful place. After all, there’s the talking Chihuahuas that I’m putting on my film library list right now…

P.S. You know I was never really a tree, don’t you? I just have a special bond. When they hurt, I hurt. I can’t stand to see people damaging trees. I swear I’d die for a tree. Okay, I was a tree. I can’t hide it. I don’t care who knows. I WAS A TREE! Okay, happy now?

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