Revisiting the Past

1995: I’m standing in a bar near The Sunday Times's London HQ, where I've worked for the past five years. The place is filled with cigarette smoke – the smoking ban still lies in the future.

Dammit. My hands are cradling a glass that refuses to behave. Instead the orange juice has a mind of its own, sloshing about and spilling onto me. So embarrassing! Must be nerves…

Even getting into the place meant passing security on the door. Print workers are angry about job losses resulting from Murdoch’s flit there from Fleet Street.

As I stand there in the pub, my mind drifts back to a few months earlier. An angry print worker threatened me in the canteen one lunch time. I was on my own, of course – a suitable target. He laid into me in no uncertain terms, swearing and insulting me. I was still in my early twenties – not then battle-hardened; I started crying.

Me and those print workers – we’ve got stuff in common now. I'm out of a job too.

I’m standing here at somebody else’s leaving do, I’ve been culled too - the latest of an on-going round of redundancies at the paper where I was working. I stopped working on the paper a few weeks earlier but my self-esteem has drifted so low, I don’t even dare to try and have a leaving do of my own. Instead, I’m standing here feeling awkward at someone else’s “party”.

Someone quips loudly that the redundancies are about “cutting away the dead wood”. Oh, we journalists pride ourselves on having a way with words.

Christ, what’s happening now? My hands are refusing to stay still, like they’ve got a life of their own. Probably just nerves, I tell myself again.

Don’t want to add hypochondria to my woes.

The orange juice I’ve spilt over myself seeps into my cotton beige-coloured summer dress. It’s a sleeveless number, purchased from Nicole Farhi with some of my redundancy money.

Pouring orange juice over myself is seriously uncool. I worked at a paper where people liked to boast about staying calm under gun fire.

“Look at you, you’re a disgrace,” says one former colleague, puffing out his chest as he speaks. He pauses to inspect the silk handkerchief sprouting out of his jacket pocket. His red braces are just visible. It's summer time, but he's sporting Chelsea ankle boots. Ankle boots made of snakeskin.

I hate myself; coruscating self-loathing is seeping into my veins just like the orange juice bleeding into my new dress.

It’s made of linen – not something I can stuff into the washing machine. The feelings of shame and self-hatred will prove just as hard to erase.

Twenty years later…

I’ve no idea what happened to that Farhi dress.

The feelings have been harder to forget.

I’m sat in an appointment room at the Anne Rowling Clinic at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. I’m here to see my consultant after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few months ago.

“Past starting to look a bit different?” asks the doctor, after tapping my legs with some kind of metal pole. She’s got a practised efficiency as she wields her weapon of choice.

The past? I’m still processing everything that’s happening in the present – going (temporarily) blind, becoming unable to walk more than a couple of steps, finding out I’m unsure of my husband’s name.

But after the meeting, my mind drifts back to the awful, frightening and shameful episodes from the past.

That time in the pub… It wasn’t anxiety that made me spill juice over myself.

1 Comment

  • Will Hood said

    What a brilliant, graphic and extremely moving piece of writing Helen. xxxxx

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