Rebel Yell, a word to my younger self

I’ve always been ‘weird’; that’s what my parents and siblings called me growing up. My father told my mother I would ‘calm down’, that the love of good man would quieten me and calm me and make me OK (meaning more feminine), but none of that has happened. 

If anything I have gotten more rebellious as I have gotten older. I have always loved rebellious people, those who jump outside society’s ‘normality’ boxes, those hard lines that define our lives every minute of every day. 

I meet rebels (whether they be quiet grandfathers, old ladies at bus-stops, secret rebels who clothe themselves in the conventional outfit of ‘normal’ life) and they become instant and life-long friends. 

To my younger self I say, life is a bloody roller-coaster but the rebel is still in you, and you’ve gotta live that type of rebel life until the end. 

That rebel life is saying: no, I am not going to accept this or that, I am not going to stop challenging this or that, I am not going to stop being curious and young at heart and determined to make a difference. 

My nine-year-old self wanted to run away and be a gypsy. Decades on, I still want to run away and be a gypsy, and a laptop and social media is my megaphone to the world, so I’ve gotta get this social media thing down, and quit the overwhelm of it all. 



Turrets and inner-city apartment living

I’ve got a serious addiction and it’s not cheap to service. I’m not addicted to shoes, handbags, or expensive make-up (well not much), botox or surgery (don’t believe in that stuff), designer clothes or holidays (not really). I’m addicted to houses.

I’m not some slum landlord, or mega-rich property mogul, nor do I own any of these objects of my desire. My love affair with grand houses – always way, way, way out of my price-range, started very young, and now – in my early 50s – it’s as insane-inducing as ever.

I blame Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and Thornfield Hall, a main ‘house’ character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Manderley, the house so prominent in Daphne du Maurier’s gothic thriller, Rebecca.

How painful it is to have to accept – like some lovelorn groupie – that I’ll never own a Manderley or a Wuthering Heights or a Villa San Antonio on the Italian Lakes or a mansion a la My House in Umbria or a Portofino castle a la Enchanted April or a mini-Downton Abbey or a Bamburgh and Alnwick Castle. I will never be able to swoon around a Scottish turreted estate a la Monarch of the Glen, and run my hands over the thousand-year-old thick brick walls and breathe in the scent of yesterday and know that I possess all that, that it is all mine.

I just love the romantic notion of grand houses, their structural cheekbones, their scent, the silken curtains moving in the breeze against beautiful bay windows open to stormy skies, the heavy wood furniture that speaks of solidity, security and self.

I’m nuts for online house perving. I stand outside estate agents windows in my city and stare at those photos – you know the ones – where the sky is always azure-blue, and the sea never far away.

I am one of those weirdos who loiters on pavements beaming with pleasure, saying over and over – god, that’s beautiful, look at that, that’s just stunning, look at that turret, that tower, those windows, I wonder who owns that, it’s huge, god I love it.

Edinburgh, my city, is the perfect place for house-lust, for perving at physical brick-flesh. In my neighbourhood the streets are lined with these thick brick historic structures, and so the high – my addiction high – occurs daily.

Ironically though, I know I could never do the country thing. The country and I do not get on, never have and probably never will. I tried it once and it didn’t pan out well.

I couldn’t deal with the panic I felt at the distance between myself and the nearest Italian cafe and a strong cappuccino, the anxiety at the void of fashionable people, men in stylish suits, with designer beards, women with leather laptop bags and bright red lipstick, the emptiness of a country town’s high street after dark, the fact that there were no hidden restaurants down secret alleyways, where dangerous liaisons could potentially start and end. There was also the scramble to get a decent phone signal and the long, long drive to the train station.

So I returned to the inner city and small flats in search of good Italian coffee and a strong phone signal, forever secretly addicted to bricks and mortar, echoing corridors and big skies with indigo horizons above chimney pots.

And as I grow older I have to face facts square on, that my addiction is ridiculous, because I have to view it as that, a nonsensical flirtation with a past fantasy that in practical terms would be downright dangerous to the health of one’s mind and bank account if it were ever to come true.

Back in the real world I’m a dab hand at dealing with tiny spaces, mini bathrooms and kitchens in cupboards. This state of smallness or drabness comes to me as a challenge, to be reinvented with richly-coloured velvet throws and dashes of Indian exoticism, and gleaming neon white walls that magnifies space, decorated with my favourite artwork.

Think positive, I tell myself everyday. Flat life is not all bad. It provides endless comic material for my writing.

There’s Godzilla, the stomper who lives in the flat above me, Mr Peabody, the mathematician at the university, who lives opposite, who slams his front door – never closes it gently; there’s Miss Thames Estuary, the woman on the ground floor, so named, because she never smiles – not ever and has features the colour of damp mud, so grey and unfriendly that this was the only thing to call her.

Here comes the world’s most boring man, I say to myself when I leave my building, seeing the stooping greying creature I’ve nicknamed W.M.B.M. Those letters slip off the tongue and whenever I see him I groan inwardly and invent some meeting I have to attend.

W.M.B.M loves to tell me about his collection of train timetable almanacs, his wife’s shingles and the newsletter he’s writing for his club – Train Timetable Almanac’s Weekly (I made that up, not sure if one exists).

Maybe W.M.B.M was once an interesting handsome young man, but he left that persona in the waiting room at Carlisle Station.

Would I ever have met any of these characters if I had been separated from life by acres and acres of grounds, and high walls and fields and countryside. No.

There’s also a sense of security in an inner-city block of flats, that no real harm will eventuate, that high off the ground you’re away from possible burglars or criminals, and that in a city you’re never far from possible burglars or criminals, and that in a city you’re never far from someone to talk to, a hospital if you need one, a late night cafe or bar or a helping hand.

But I’ve had to teach myself to love flat-life, and generally I’m a terrible student. There are big sacrifices you have to swallow on a daily basis. Forget a garden – I have weaned myself off ever being a gardener; forget spacious rooms and multiple bedrooms and outhouses and porches. I try (unsuccessfully) to meditate myself out of wanting any of those on an almost daily basis.

My sweet little flat with its tiny bathroom, mini cupboard kitchen and strange neighbours, how I love you, I try to tell myself. You protect me, but who am I kidding, you’ll never be enough.

Red Black Slow


I’ve never understood consumerism, the buying and adoration of ‘stuff’. I feel nothing for possessions, except a few favourite bits and pieces – books, prints etc, but I never want to buy much at all.

The above mosaic of photos sums me up. There’s a notebook I bought for myself to write in, wrapped up in lovely paper, then the gorgeous soft cover of it, in red, with a sort of Japanese design; there’s my bike, a soft beautiful mode of transport, perfect for escape into nature, requiring not much looking after at all. There’s a favourite Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel and there’s my bare feet on sand (I’m a barefoot person, always have been, always will be).

The above provides a recipe for a perfect day, complete in all its serenity and anti-consumerist desire.

I want to share my passion for a no-stuff existence more with you as the days and weeks go by because the time is fast approaching when I’m going to be off travelling, living out of a small rucksack with few possessions other than a compact bit of tech, some face cream, lipstick and underwear.

My books will go into storage and it will be just me and my passport and my bag and my tech and curiosity.

A no-stuff life is of paramount importance to me, and so is eating holistically and simply, eating fruits and vegetables and ethically sourced meats from local places, no plastic anywhere to be seen on my person and eating smaller portions and eating more mindfully.

Red Black Slow is my motto, and it’s a motto I apply to my daily life. Red is for passion, Black is a beautiful colour (full of colours in its own right) and Slow is what I want my life to become; slow eating, slow travel, slow experiences (rich experiences). Red and Black to me are the colours of the most beautiful sunset after a calm and serene day, fully focused on the depth of human experience, not focused on stuff, acquisition, consumption and all that crap.

I hope you’ll join me on my travels and I can inspire you to become an anti-consumer. I’d appreciate any tips you have to offer on travelling this way, so please comment below. I’ll always respond.

Jo xx


Press down, give up, breathe

Dear Life, today you’re pressing down on me. All I want to do is sit quietly in my flat and stare. There you are pressing down on me, on my heart. I have thoughts of giving up, of finally admitting that I don’t have what it takes to be a player in this world. I don’t even know what that means.

What does giving up mean? Perhaps, if the cold, raw truth is uttered, it means this: that I am tired of trying, tired of trying to fit myself – the square peg – into the round hole; that I never ever fit and that my edges are sore from trying.

So giving up means what? Does it mean never writing another word again? Does it mean never writing another story, never publishing anything, never speaking again, never feeling any passion? Does it mean selling all my beloved books and never, ever holding them in my hands again? That’s the pressing down on me.

I don’t know what this life wants from me? There’s the horrific Empire Windrush story in the news, the denying of rights of our beloved friends from Caribbean countries who built Britain to become the place it is today, and yet here is a government who cares nothing for them and pays only lip service to past wrongs with falsity smeared all over their faces.

There’s the chemical attacks in Syria and the insanity of people in power. There is in me a desire to do damage to names like Assad, Trump, Putin and May. But I am powerless. I am nothing. I write little novels and so, the fuck, what.

We talk about our worlds, our lives – make good in your own little world and that’s about all you can do. But then all I can think of today is powerlessness and giving up. My voice is getting weaker and weaker. Surely that must be a reason to get angry, that I am voiceless but a big voice needs a stage and people who want to listen, otherwise it’s just a big voice in a desert.

The characters in my novels are often voiceless, until they find their voices and bring about change. They are never pressed down upon, they never want to give up, they always breathe.