#OhCoBookClub Eli Goldstone’s Strange Heart Beating

 

Did you know we have an #ohcobookclub? Each issue, we pick a novel and invite you to read along with us. Our current choice is Eli Goldstone's debut novel Strange Heart Beating. Why don't you read along with us?

Seb's beautiful, beloved wife Leda has been killed by a swan. With a name like that, with a bizarre family history like hers, it isn't really surprising. Seb has a grip on her story and its aesthetics; he knows how it should go. Except that he doesn't. Sorting through her belongings after her death, he comes across a packet of unopened letters from a man whom Leda has never mentioned. It is a loose detail in the thread of his narrative that, when pulled, unravels the whole story of his marriage. Who is this stranger who knew her so well? Why did she flee her home village in Latvia? What happened to her as a young woman in London? Who, Seb wonders, was his wife? Floundering professionally and sunk by grief, he decides to travel to Latvia to find her. He is met, instead, with the living ghosts of her past, all of whom knew a fragment of Leda - but none of whom are willing to share their secrets with him. A darkly funny and seductive novel that confronts the black undercurrent of possession inherent in love, and the impossibility of ever truly knowing even those dearest to us, Strange Heart Beating is a breathtaking debut from an author whose vision is both acerbic and tender.

 

Read an excerpt here.

In London, we’re also hosting a real-life bookclub, so pick up the novel, and come and chat to us about it on Wednesday 13th September. You can find all of the details here.

If you’re heading to the Good Life Festival, we’ll be hosting a mini-bookclub there too, and if you’re outside of London, email us if you’d like to set up your own #OhCoBookClub group.  As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, so don’t forget to tag @ohcomelymag and #OhCoBookClub on instagram, twitter, and facebook.

Falling cat problem

words: polly dickson

illustration: maggie chiang

 

A black cat traces the passage from balcony to ground. We hear her yowls before we see her. A cat, in German, is always she, die Katze. The word for a tomcat, Kater, is also the word for a hangover — a lexical coincidence, an accidental collision, but one that sticks. Her yowls throb. A cat falling from a height of greater than six stories is less likely to sustain serious injuries than a cat falling from a height of less than six stories. At the greater height, the cat, having righted herself by virtue of her lack of collarbone and flexible spine, reaches terminal velocity, after which she stops accelerating, spreads and relaxes her body. This means that there is an optimal height range from which a cat can fall and survive. A brief passage of time and air, bookended by balcony and ground.

The black cat in front of us lopes to a low window ledge, keeling, and curls herself onto it like a comma.

When I run, no matter what else I think about, I think, too, about the passing of time. Bookending the exertion with a start and finish — knowing how far or how long I have to go — can make the difference between finishing and turning back. Once, when running up a hill with C, feeling my legs giving out, he started counting down from ten and as he counted, in brief, half-conscious thoughts, I counted with him and felt the passage of time shorten, felt its horizon curve and dip to slowly let me over. I think of races, fasts, other travails of the mind and body made bearable by the knowledge of their limited duration, the knowledge of their ending. I think of books, too, the piquancy of the short story, the slow engulfment of the novel — narratives that make sense only when they’re over, and how any pleasure I feel in reading is tied together with my feeling that it will come, inevitably, to an end. I mark my way through books, leaving a path of folded corners, examining how many volumes, chapters, pages I have left. I note the bakery at one kilometre, smelling of butter, the bridge at the third, the water fountain at the sixth, then the turning point, then the fountain, the bridge, and the rich smell of butter again, on the home stretch.

A woman emerges flushed from the ground-floor apartment door and scoops a pile of black cat into her arms. Landing on her feet, of course, doesn’t mean she goes uninjured, and with her guttural yowls circling through my head, I can’t help but think she might be dying.

Something that never fails to astound me is the range of wild and lucid thoughts I can have when reading a paper aloud to an audience. Reading aloud, for a limited portion of time, things feel unendurable. My voice, unsteady, sounds like it could be someone else’s, my face flushes, my eyes barely register the blank faces in the audience as I dutifully read one word after another. But that’s the thing: one word inevitably folds into the next, and then into a stream of others, one paragraph into another paragraph as the writing propels itself forward into an inevitable conclusion. I’ll move on, in any case. Pick myself up. From passage to passage, thinking of falling cats and hangovers and running, I read, and wait for the ending, the conclusion, the final sentence, final clause, final words, and the unknown white space that comes afterward.

 

Polly Dickson is a writer and researcher based in Berlin. She tweets at @pollyletitia.

Falling cat problem was inspired by the theme of the latest issue – Passages. Order your copy here

Issue 38 playlist: Passages

illustration: ellie walker

words: marta bausells

It takes skill to accept the passage of time with grace. Perhaps it takes a lifetime. That invisible, abstract force we hear of but don’t fully grasp as kids. "Time” seems so elastic, huge and slow during childhood, but suddenly speeds up like a slingshot that’s suddenly let go, and it can and will catch you off guard.

The passage of time can mean ageing, or regret, wisdom or wonderment. It means Angel Olsen singing about memories, upon a love ending, wondering whether it was real at all or just a wildcard in waiting for something better. And it means the literal – but for that no less sublime – coming of age depicted in Boyhood, soundtracked so memorably by Family of the Year. The sitting inside, paralysed by your own thoughts, of Youth Lagoon. The existential Let the Mystery Be from the title credits for post-apocalyptic show The Leftovers (which we strongly recommend). The watching of someone's death, like in Death Cab’s classic I Will Follow You Into The Dark. Or, yet, asking a new city, or country, to be kind to us as we make changes and life shifts under our feet getting us ready for the new.

The playlist for issue 38 compiles artists talking about time passing in their own ways; and it is a good soundtrack, we hope, for time-passing on many a rosé-tinted summer evening.

Take your time over the playlist here.

Issue 38 of Oh Comely is on sale now! 

Sunday Reading: The Birthday

words: aimee keeble

photo: katie silvester

What an odd thing time is. Going through boxes in my parents’ garage in North Carolina the other day I found the pictures from our family holiday in Norfolk when I was 12. It’s my birthday and I am on a rise of dune, bent at the waist, grinning with eyes squinted shut, my dad’s mustard windbreaker draped over my small frame like a cloak. No trousers, no shoes. My face and body is thin with youth. My hair is patterned with thick, yellow tiger stripe highlights. There is a sign behind me alerting beachgoers to watch out for seals.

Nearly 20 years later and I am at the same beach for my 31st birthday, with friends who I’ve met in the three years I’ve spent living in Norwich. Two girls, three boys. I’m in love with one of them but he won’t know. It’s August and preciously hot for England. We pull at the tight stretch of our swimsuits, laughing when our bottom cheeks spring back from the fabric when we move, we blame chips and beer. We take photos of the boys doing handstands by the water. A group of seals pop their heads from the shallows, following us as we toss a ball back and forth. Further along the beach we come across the perfect dead body of a baby seal. Dappled and round it gently rolls with each push of the tide. The smell is shocking. That’s what they wanted! Not our ball. We debate pushing the body back into the water, to deliver it back to the sea, to the seal family. We are nervous and hot and someone suggests building sandcastles. Other people start to wander over to see what we are looking at.

Back by the towels, everyone tosses a ball except me. I lie on my back and nudge myself further into a gritty embrace of sand, scrunching it through my fingers and toes. And she didn’t know, the little me, that she would be here in the future, in love and lost, laughing at the skateboard and cheese she unwrapped earlier in her friend’s house before they all drove to the coast. If I had told her, she couldn’t have imagined it. She wouldn’t have wanted it. She wanted big hot pink lights of the West End and an urban walk and a voice hoarse from projecting Shakespeare on the banks of the Thames. Now all is quiet, country yellow and green and cobbled medieval grey. We’re drunk most nights, we hold each other’s hands a lot. And dance in kitchens, knocking over plastic chairs to get to each other’s waists. I roll cigarettes badly and shoot whiskey and worry about the length of my hair.

We go to a country pub after the beach and drank clear gold shandies that chase out the tang of salt and share bowls of chips and prawns. In the evening, back in the city, we dance at the top of a roof bar until 3am. The luminosity of strobe lights and voodoo blues songs turns us whirling as dervishes, as raging and as surefooted as mustangs. In the dark, outside in the cold that pricks my bare skin, I kiss him and laugh at him, slap his face gently and tell him never again and hold his chin and kiss him harder. The drunk bold of me; the soft tired exhaustion that booze can choke you slowly with show his eyes half blue, half there. Goodnight! We all say as we part to walk home in the electric black of pre-dawn. I support my friend, him stronger and smaller than me. We stumble over wet cobbles the size of watermelons, past graffiti loud tunnels and the slim greasy back roads to our house. Did you have a good birthday? I think of the strong taste of sea, always dark blue in my mouth, the slippery hard rush of sand against skin, my eyes closed to the wind that skitters off the North Sea. I’ll never forget it, is my reply, always. 

Aimée Keeble is currently completing her MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Take a look at her website to read more of her work.

Win! Abel & Cole recipe boxes

We’ve teamed up with Abel & Cole to offer you the chance to win a delicious box of goodness delivered to your door every week for three months. Abel & Cole recipe boxes come with seasonal organic ingredients along with a handy step-by-step recipe card. Easy, seasonal and yummy.

Click here to enter

Find the recipe for this delicious Pork Steaks with Plum Barbecue Sauce & Roast Spuds at abelandcole.co.uk

Find the recipe for this delicious Pork Steaks with Plum Barbecue Sauce & Roast Spuds at abelandcole.co.uk

Contribute your personal stories to issue 39

illustration: Jisun Lee for issue 37

illustration: Jisun Lee for issue 37

We're looking for your contributions for issue 39, out in October.  

Writers, we have a challenge for you this issue. We're looking for original first person stories that take place within one room. 

We're intrigued by the possibilities and hope that you will be too. 

To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Friday 14 July. Please state 'Issue 39 contributions' in the subject header. 

Unfortunately we don't accept fiction or poetry samples. We do try and get back to everyone but we're a really small team so it might take us a while. 

We look forward to hearing your ideas! 

We're always interested in your personal writing. If you have a story that you'd like to share with us, regardless of theme, email us at the address above with your outline and samples. 

What life models think about

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

Throughout art history, the figure of the model has been a consistent but anonymous presence – both a visual reference and an inspiration for the artist. For our latest issue, we photographed four women who work as life models in their favourite poses and spoke to them about their career, motivations and what they’re really thinking when they’re nude. This is Sophie Cleaver, 27, from Glasgow: 

"I walk into a room with strangers and take my clothes off, but I’m not body confident at all. People aren’t drawing me, they’re drawing some shapes. It’s performative, like dancing or acting. I’d slouch on a couch but when I’m posing, I sit up straight. There are thousands of images of me out there but I don’t see them as me.

My mum was a life model. When I turned 16 and needed to get a job, it seemed a good option. I’d grown up around it – when mum couldn’t get childcare, I’d sit in the corner with my crayons – so I wasn’t nervous. I joke that I’ve had 11 years of art classes – I find myself repeating bits back to people. I used to do it around lots of other things, but now I can’t. I have MS and it’s completely draining. Modelling is good for that – you can recline and have a rest! But I couldn’t do it every day.

One advantage is the thinking time. In other jobs, you wouldn’t get to sit and think for 45 minutes. When I was doing my A levels, I would do my coursework in my head while I was posing and write it all down when I got home – now it’s shopping lists or knitting.

If I’m posing for shorter periods of time, like a few seconds, I do things I couldn’t hold for longer, like going right onto the tips of my toes. I always try new poses. Even if it’s similar to one you’ve done 50 times, every pose is always slightly different.

Every situation is different too. When you’re modelling for A level students, there’s always one who’s nudging his mates. I’ll make eye contact with him for the entire class – it’s a sure-fire way of dealing with it. Quite often you’re in spaces that aren’t set up for modelling. There’s a lot of changing in toilets. I had this weird situation recently with a drone with a camera hovering outside the studio where I’d been posing. That was unique, but I sometimes swap notes with my mum – you know, like, “oh, I had one of those…”

Life modelling comes and goes with fashion. At the Glasgow School of Art, where I model, only 20 years ago they had about 18 full-time models with their own staff room. We’re all part-time now. But there are groups like All the Young Nudes in Scotland, putting on evenings set to music in clubs, making it cool again.

I’ve recently become much more proud of what I do. I’ve made it work as a viable job. I couldn’t support a house on it, but it’s enough for me, with the help of my boyfriend. I want to keep on doing it for as long as I can – to become Britain’s longest serving life model."

Pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 37 to see our other three life models and to read about their experiences. 

Oh Comely loves... Cerith Wyn Evans

Cerith Wyn Evans: Forms in Space… by Light (in Time)

At Tate Britain, until 20 Aug 2017

Forms in Space…by Light (in Time) is the 2017 Tate Britain Commission in which a contemporary British artist is invited to respond to the Duveen Galleries, which sits in the heart of the building. The Duveen Galleries were the first public galleries in England, and designed specifically for the display of sculpture. 

Made from almost 2km of neon lighting, suspended from the ceiling and configured into straight lines, sweeping curves and spiralling forms, this installation by Cerith Wyn Evans is a spectacle best admired from beneath. A wonderful celebration of the space. We know where we're heading this weekend.

For more information, visit www.tate.org.uk

Sponsored by Sotheby’s

Happy birthday One Good Thing!

Selina Pearce

Selina Pearce

We're celebrating an anniversary today – a year of #onegoodthing. Every day, at 1pm, we tweet a small moment of pleasure – those fragments that bring joy, and can so easily be forgotten (you can read the full story behind #onegoodthing here). When the news appears relentlessly grim, there's some comfort to be found in celebrating the little splendid things in our lives – the way that sunblock smells exactly like summer, perhaps, or remembering that we've made a cup of tea, and finding that it's now at the perfect temperature.

One of the particular joys of this project is hearing other people's #onegoodthing. We were delighted to discover #onegoodthing had inspired an A-level project from one of our readers, Selina Pearce. Her beautiful work illustrates this piece and you can see more examples on her embroidery blog

Let us know your #onegoodthing, and don't forget to join us every day at 1pm on Twitter

Feminist late at National Army Museum

Air Assault Brigade, Operation HERRICK, Helmand, by Sgt Rupert Frere, 2011, (c) Crown 

Air Assault Brigade, Operation HERRICK, Helmand, by Sgt Rupert Frere, 2011, (c) Crown 

This evening, 14 June, the National Army Museum, London, is holding a feminist-themed late. 

It's the first 'late' event held at the museum, which re-opened earlier this year following a three-year redevelopment

The late looks at the impact feminism has had in shaping women’s role within the army, with 2017 marking the centenary of women being able to enlist. This will also be the year when the first female soldiers finish their training and take up role in the infantry for the first time in the army’s history

Among the events will be a panel discussion with the writer Sarah Ditum, Sam Smethers (Chief Executive of The Fawcett Society), Lucy Noakes (senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth & author) and the military historian Elisabeth Shipton. 

West Indies Auxiliary Territorial Service, c.1943. (c) National Army Museum

West Indies Auxiliary Territorial Service, c.1943. (c) National Army Museum

There will also be a talk by the author Elizabeth Crawford, exploring the impact of the First World War on women winning the right to vote, as well as the chance to hear about the first-hand experiences from women in the army.

Find out more about the event at the National Army Museum site

2nd Lt Hannah Bedford, aken by Cpl Mike Fletcher, 5 Apr 2006, (c) Crown

2nd Lt Hannah Bedford, aken by Cpl Mike Fletcher, 5 Apr 2006, (c) Crown

 

 

Issue 37 playlist: Touch

words: Marta Bausells

illustration: Jisun Lee

 

Quite a few of these tracks are songs of the effects of human touch on human skin – understandably a popular subject among songwriters – expressed in all styles and periods, from funk to electronic. From the brilliantly straightforward ode to self-love and pleasure in I Touch Myself to the invigorating Obedear, where Purity Ring sing of walking barefoot on mountains and the touch of the shale on the toes, we are in a sensual mood.

And, because it’s summer, we’re throwing in Tal Bachman’s “touch smell sight taste and sound” and songs of beaches and pools, though they aren’t always what they seem. It’s 2017 and even summer tunes have a bit of a dark side. Join us in celebrating touch – from that of a loved one, to that of the sky, the sun, or the water – as well as the absence of it (in Solange’s weary vindication) and the longing for it (we couldn’t help ourselves and we included Mariah). Have a great summer, full of all the right touches!

Take a listen to the playlist here

Oh Comely loves... Manchester International Festival

True Faith

© Slater B. Bradley

© Slater B. Bradley

Curated by Matthew Higgs and Jon Savage

Johan Kugelberg Archivist

 

Bringing together work by some of the world’s most notable artists, True Faith explores the ongoing significance and legacy of New Order and Joy Division through the wealth of visual art their music has inspired.

Curated by Matthew Higgs and Jon Savage with archivist Johan KugelbergTrue Faith is centred on four decades’ worth of extraordinary contemporary works from artists such as Julian SchnabelJeremy DellerLiam GillickMark Leckey and Slater Bradley, all directly inspired by the two groups. 

Also featuring Peter Saville’s seminal cover designs, plus performance films, music videos and posters from the likes of John BaldessariBarbara KrugerLawrence WeinerJonathan DemmeRobert Longo and Kathryn BigelowTrue Faith provides a unique perspective on these two most iconic and influential Manchester bands.

 

Free exhibition - Manchester Art Gallery
Fri 30 June – Sun 16 July
Daily 10am–5pm, except Thur 10am–9pm
Exhibition continues after MIF17 until Sun 3 September

mif.co.uk   #truefaith

 

 

Image: Slater B. Bradley, Factory Icon, 2000/2017

Courtesy Slater Bradley Studio, Berlin and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo

© Slater B. Bradley

What We're Reading: Forever by Judy Blume

words: Terri-Jane Dow

When I was ten, my mother innocently bought me a copy of Judy Blume’s Forever. Voracious young reader that I was, I was working my way through Blume’s back catalogue, and it was one I didn’t have. In case you’ve never heard of it, Forever is Blume’s foray out of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and into what can only be described as soft erotica for the Young Adult market. I don’t think ten year olds were Judy’s target audience. It’s a coming-of-age novel about two 18 year olds, Katherine and Michael (and, let’s be honest, Michael’s penis, affectionately named “Ralph”, which might be the least sexy name ever).

With regard to the naughty parts, I obviously took it to school and read them aloud to wide-eyed girls in the playground. I’m certain that none of us had a clue what was actually going on, or why we just innately knew that we needed to keep it a secret. I then lent it to a friend who was already at secondary school, where it was confiscated after she sat at the back of the classroom and passed it around to all the other girls.  

As an adult — and as a woman who went to an all-girls’ school, and still finds teenage boys utterly terrifying — I have hilariously fond memories of that book. Re-reading it now, it’s far tamer than I remembered, and far cheesier, but I’m actually impressed at how little Blume shies away from. The issues the novel deals with – Katherine and Michael’s fumbling first sexual experiences, Katherine going on the Pill, their friend Artie’s depression and suicide attempt – are confronted head-on, evidenced by the fact that the book has seen varying levels of scrutiny from censorship advisors since its publication in 1975.

I’m still not sure if my mum knew what it was about, or if she was just super savvy in my sex education, and decided that Ralph was the least embarrassing way to go about it.

 

Terri-Jane is a publishing assistant and writer. She lives in London, where she alternates writing short stories and drinking gin. Follow her on Twitter

 

We explore more coming of age books in issue 36, Awake. Pick up your copy here

Contribute to our 'Passage' issue

Photo: Liz Seabrook for Oh Comely issue 32, showing the collection of Julia of Choosing Keeping

Photo: Liz Seabrook for Oh Comely issue 32, showing the collection of Julia of Choosing Keeping

Issue 38 - out in August - will be themed 'Passage' and we're looking for your contributions. 

For this issue, we're especially interested in your first person tales of 'September stories' - although it’s a while since we’ve been in school yet September still seems to always mark major events and transitions in our lives.

Whether back to school, a new beginning, or another life-shifting event, we’d love to hear stories based on significant experiences in your life that just so happen to have taken place in September… 

To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Friday 26 May. Please state 'Issue 38 contributions' in the subject header. 

Unfortunately we don't accept fiction or poetry samples. We do try and get back to everyone but we're a really small team so it might take us a while. 

We look forward to hearing your ideas! 

Women who changed the world: Kathrine Switzer

Illustration: Will Jarvis

Illustration: Will Jarvis

“Running always made me feel powerful, free and fearless,” says Kathrine Switzer, a woman who has devoted her life to making other women feel the same. The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon – a race that changed her life forever – defeated presumptions about the limits of female strength.

As anyone who has attempted it knows, the marathon tests will as much as endurance. For female runners in the 1960s, however, there was an additional challenge – it was generally believed they simply couldn’t run that far, that they would hurt themselves or become too ‘masculine’. So, when Kathrine entered the 1967 Boston Marathon (using her gender-neutral pen-name ‘K.W. Switzer’ on the form), she was breaking unwritten protocol, rather than anything in the official rules. Even her University coach had suggested that women were too ‘fragile’ to undertake that distance – she proved him wrong by running 31 miles in training.

However, rather than Kathrine finishing the Marathon, it was an infuriated official forcibly trying to remove her from the race that became the catalyst for change. With the intervention of her then boyfriend, Kathrine escaped and kept running. Captured on camera, the incident was circulated around the world, and later named one of Time-Life’s ‘100 Photos that Changed the World’. But the photograph alone didn’t change the world, it’s what Kathrine did next. Over her subsequent 24 miles, Kathrine realised she now had a mission. By the time she limped across the line at 4hrs 20, she had vowed to “become a better athlete” and to “create opportunities for other women in running”.

True to her vow, Kathrine created a circuit of women’s only races, spanning 27 countries and including over a million participants, debunking myths about running’s negative effect on women’s health. Thanks to her campaigning, the women’s marathon was finally introduced into the Olympics in 1984. To date, Kathrine has run 39 marathons – including, in 1972, the Boston Marathon, the first year women were officially admitted.

This year, 50 years after the event changed her life, Kathrine will be running it again, this time alongside women from her ‘261 Fearless’ project. Named after the bib number she wore that day, it promotes women’s running as a route to social change.

Today, that women can run alongside men, push our bodies, our will, feel the elation of crossing the finish line – but don’t have to fight simply to participate – is thanks, in part, to Kathrine. Little wonder that when she goes to the Boston marathon now, she describes how women approach her, crying: “They’re weeping for joy because running has changed their lives. They feel they can do anything”.

 

Further reading

Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports by Kathrine Switzer

kathrineswitzer.com

 

We include a 'Woman who changed the world' in every issue of Oh Comely. Pick up your back issues here

Sunday Reading: Awakening

words: Katie Antoniou

photo: Aloha Bonser Shaw

 

 

In the 20 years I’ve had narcolepsy, I’ve tried everything you can imagine to stay awake. Caffeine, prescription drugs, acupuncture; you name it, I’ve tried it.

But when people talk about awakenings, it’s what my mother said to me soon after I was diagnosed that comes to mind.

“We’re not going to let this change your life.”

As a frightened 14 year old, this was probably exactly what I needed to hear. But, over the coming years, I would experience a gradual awakening; a realisation that actually, I would never really be the same again.

The first symptom I experienced was extreme sleepiness. I had trouble getting up in the mornings, found myself nodding off in class and fell asleep the second I got in a car. But it wasn’t until I started exhibiting symptoms of cataplexy, the sister illness most narcoleptics also suffer from, that my parents became really worried. Cataplexy involves your muscles going into a state of sleep whenever you feel any strong emotion – prime triggers are laughter, crying or any real adrenaline rush. I started to feel my legs give way beneath me whenever I found something funny; sometimes it was only so bad that I’d get double vision, or wouldn’t be able to hold my head up; other times I’d hit the floor and it would look like I’d fallen asleep or fainted. I was, however, still completely awake and able to hear everything that was going on, but unable to move a muscle. It’s kind of like sleep paralysis, when you wake up unable to move, which I also began to experience, along with horrific night terrors and waking hallucinations. In a way I was lucky because my symptoms were so severe that I was diagnosed almost immediately – many narcoleptics go years without treatment, often being misdiagnosed with ME, iron deficiencies or simply labelled lazy.

At first I was told there was medication that would treat my illness and everything should get back to normal. However, over the coming months and years I began to realise it wasn’t quite that simple. The drugs definitely improved my symptoms, but my life was a far cry from what it once was and my teenage years were very difficult – sleeping through my GCSEs and only slightly better A Levels at a more understanding school that let me nap in the medical centre during free periods. What was harder to control was the cataplexy attacks, which were still triggered largely by laughter and nerves. I went from being an outgoing joker, a keen actress and member of my school debating team to a shell of my former self. I could no longer play any competitive sport, and this lack of exercise led to extreme weight gain. I stopped taking leadership positions in anything really, and just struggled to get by, delivering the bare minimum in terms of academic output. My dreams of becoming an actress were no longer viable – for a while, I found it hard to imagine how I’d ever even hold down a job, or have a family of my own.

Luckily, a few things changed when I was around 19. A new drug arrived in the UK from the US which worked much better. I also saw a cranial osteopath which really helped my cataplexy.  I went to university, which was wonderful. For the first time in ages, I didn’t feel like an outsider. Yes, I still fell asleep in lectures, but I was hardly ever the only one. Able to sleep in late, take naps whenever I needed them and work at night meant a student’s schedule suited me perfectly. Little did I know this would predict my career as a freelance writer. Before that though, came a series of internships, essential for this industry and highly competitive, where I had to hide my condition. I napped everyday on the floor of a toilet cubicle during lunch breaks at one particular women’s glossy HQ. After a few years of complete exhaustion – constantly falling asleep in meetings or at my computer – I realised that a 9 to 5 couldn’t work for me.

I took a leap of faith and went freelance. That way, I could nap before scheduled meetings with clients or interviewees. I could work remotely, able to sleep when I needed to at home and still deliver work on time, so that editors got to know my work as a writer before they even found out about my condition. It’s a lot easier to get people to take you seriously if they’ve never seen you slumped over at your desk or nodding off during a meeting.

My condition has also improved as I’ve got older. How much of this is just me learning to manage it better and how much is my body actually changing, I can’t be sure, but whatever it is, three years ago I was brave enough to try coming off my medication with a view to starting a family. I’d tried coming off my pills many times before, but the hallucinations and night terrors had always come back within days. This time, they didn’t.

I was lucky enough to conceive very quickly, and as soon as the pregnancy hormones kicked in, most of my remaining symptoms dissipated. After my daughter was born, I kept those hormones going by breastfeeding until she was just over a year, but even when I stopped, fearful that my cataplexy would come back with a vengeance, I was pleasantly surprised to find how mild my symptoms were. Having said that, I’m still experiencing the odd ‘awakening.’

Narcoleptics typically have very disturbed nights – sleeping for only three or four hours at at time before waking. So, in a way, I was ideally prepared for motherhood. My daughter is nearly two now and still has a lunchtime nap; the second she’s down, I’m in bed, napping too. I still couldn’t get through the day without a nap, which means that as my friends are starting to plan their second child, I’m coming to terms with the fact that this is probably it for me, that I don’t think I can manage more than one.

Even now, when I think of all the years I’ve had to come to terms with how this illness has changed my life, I’m still surprised by the odd realisation that I’m never going to be the person my 13-year-old self imagined I’d be. From simple things like not being able to drive; (much more of a nuisance now I’m a mother and no longer live in London), to my lack of ambition, which I’ve only really acknowledged in recent years. I used to want fame, success, wealth; the whole package. But what a life changing medical condition will teach you is, you can do without all of that. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to achieve what I have, largely thanks to the support of my parents when I was younger and my husband later in life. And as I see my fellow mothers planning their growing families or my former colleagues getting book deals, it may be hard not to feel at all envious, but I’m mostly just grateful for how my life has turned out and proud that I’m still here, still staying awake.

 

Katie Antoniou is a freelance writer currently living in California, connect with her on twitter @katieantoniou

 

There are more stories of Awakening in Oh Comely issue 36, out 13 April.  

 

Issue 36 playlist: first songs on first albums

words: marta bausells

First times are often idealised — but they can also be tremendously awkward, disappointing or just weird. We're not going to go into clichés about first loves, but will instead invite you to cherish first songs in all their glory and imperfection. For musicians, the first track of the first album is like their cover letter to all of us — these songs are not always the best in the albums they sit in, but they play the very tricky role of setting the mood.

These 24 tracks once introduced artists we now cherish to millions of listeners. They were at the same level as anyone starting out: they could go on to become stars, respected musicians, girl bands that would influence a generation; or they could just flop. From Blondie to Haim, via Alanis, Weezer, Christina Aguilera and more, we loved going back and listening to these artists as they first presented themselves to the world. Whatever they went on to do later, these songs are little time capsules of the 00s, 90s and 80s. What must it have felt like to scratch Madonna's first record? Join us in imagining. 

Listen to the playlist here.

Sunday Reading: Moments for us

rachelsmekalova

words: Ráchel Smekalova
photo: Daniela Malá

Curing the restless mind with self-navigated breathing is one of the things I do when my mind all of a sudden starts screaming in waves of uncategorised thoughts about nothing and everything. It is late at night and even distant street lights look dark through generic Swedish curtains. My boyfriend's heavy breath and sweaty naked back leans against my pale Slavic shapes. I think about my friends with whom I've lost contact. About how much of a hypochondriac my grandmother can be. Will I be the same? Maybe I should have asked about how to do taxes before I'd signed that job contract last year? What do I potentially owe now to the Czech government, one year later? Also, why has my Christmas gift never arrived? Did it get lost? Who wears my classy dioptre glasses, if it's not me? And do those people even need glasses to see? I wonder about the Syrian kids and their drowned siblings. Will Tom Ford dress Mélania Trump? I hope not, honestly. But what do I care. I start thinking about all the women that inspired me in the past and how hard they must have worked to be where they are. It is a true spiral of nonsensical thoughts.

Breathe! Take it slow, calm your mind. I can feel the oxygen going from my frozen toes up to shivering thighs and arriving to my soft belly. It seems much easier going from the bottom upwards. The mind is a powerful tool. One, two, three. Four hundred. I am slowly drifting away from the chaos to a synchronised sleep. It's almost like a night performance, an underwater dance aquabelles would do. I am now breathing heavily with him next to me and living in a new reality under the umbrella of my dreams.

When I wake up, it's Saturday and we're going on a road trip. Mind is clear as the blue sky. I can see through the train window. We have three hours to just sit back and relax. I am only hoping my mind doesn't get so out of control like yesterday night. I could read, but I always feel sick after a while.

Letters start jumping on a paper and it gives me a headache. Boyfriend sleeps again, dropping saliva on his linen shirt as if the world around didn't exist. He allows me to be alone with my thoughts. But this time, I'm in control.

We're back in Berlin, having an early beer and the best kebab in town. The night is still waiting for us. Dominika wears a yellow fluffy jumper and tells me about her unfinished dissertation, boy troubles, future prospects and amazing bands she's seen live. We're going to see one tonight. We're standing in a crowded venue, and colourful sparkles fall on our dancing bodies. Somebody spilled a beer on my suede jacket, but I didn't care. And as the night ends, we give each other a promise of endless friendship.

How did we get so far from each other? I am now living thousands of kilometres away and we barely talk. Is her bachelor thesis finished now and what happened to the guy she really wanted to date? I am suddenly just feeling empty and distant. My thoughts are taking over again. I will try to read a bit. Not the book, it's too Russian and too heavy. I grab a magazine I'd bought, funnily, for the first time with Dominika back in Berlin. Suddenly every story reminds me of our once so vibrant and true friendship. So I make notes throughout every page I see. Connecting my life back to hers, gluing my new memories to the ones we've made together. It starts making sense. This is the best letter and gift I can send her. So I draw, write, laugh silently and feel very much as if we were the only people on the train. Having another adventurous day filled with stories and promises. When she reads this, she feels the warmth of my words and hears the sound of my voice as if distance and time never existed.

Dominika sits back in her childhood room, facing an inspirational teenage wall with rainbow stickers, a photo of young Kate Moss torn out from an old issue of French Vogue, favourite handwritten quotes from Letters to a Young Poet, naked new born baby sister polaroid pic from 1996 and a couple of letters I've sent her since the day I went to the countryside. She reads the newest one. I am telling her I got a new job. It's an editorial job in the magazine that brought us back together. Her still dry lips suddenly shape into the form of a long U and a silent sigh comes out. She is always going to be a part of my story and I will be part of hers.

Ráchel is a freelance journalist and editor, seeking out new adventures in London. She loves the feeling of time slowing down, tastes of undiscovered places and the weight of print magazines in her hands. She keeps Instagram as her everyday visual diary and shares memories of the past on her website

 Issue 35 of Oh Comely explores strength in all its forms. Pick up a copy here

 

 

Recipe: Tiramisu Pancakes

Though we're big fans of the classic lemon and sugar combo, we can definitely save a bit of room for these Tiramisu Pancakes. The recipe comes from Alex Head, founder of Social Pantry, an eclectic catering company in London with a cafe on Lavender Hill. Ready to get stuck in? Here's what you need to pick up:

Pancake ingredients
280g plain flour
450ml whole milk
4 tbsp butter, melted
3 large, free-range eggs
3 tbsp good quality cocoa powder
3 tbsp instant coffee
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch sea salt

Cream filling
240ml double cream
115g mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp Tia Maria
2 tbsp maple syrup

Topping
Cocoa powder
Handful toasted almonds

Method:
1. Firstly, make the cream filling. Beat all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whip until you have soft peaks. Set aside in the fridge while you prepare the pancakes.
2. In a large bowl, sift the flour and cocoa powder.
3. Add the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. In a separate bowl, mix the milk and instant coffee powder until fully dissolved. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter and vanilla.
5. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing gently until you have a batter without any large clumps of flour. If the batter is too runny, add a tablespoon of flour.
6. Cook the pancakes on a hot, greased griddle pan. When bubble appear and the edges easily come away from the pan, flip and cook the other side.
7. Once the pancakes are cooked, transfer to a plate. While they're warm, layer the pancakes with a generous amount of the cream filling and dust with sifted cocoa powder. 
8. Add a handful of toasted flaked almonds for a delicious crunch finish and serve on a beautiful plate.

For more great recipes (including charcoal pancakes), head to the Social Pantry blog.

How to help a friend

Drowning out sorrows, the gift of hindsight and ways to be a better friend

words: Sophie Brown
photo: Laura Ward

While going through the toughest year of my life, it became clear that taking someone out to get them trollied is often the automatic reaction when you express your innermost feelings and concerns. Going through a breakup? You need a gin. Landlord kicked you out? Get a pint down you. Been made redundant? 16 jagerbombs immediately. 

But remember – there’s not enough wine in the world to give the same warm, fuzzy feeling that you get when you know that someone genuinely cares. Your presence could have the power to make the sun shine in a place that’s been dark for a little too long.

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The winter was particularly cruel in 2012 and between the frosty mornings and crystal clear nights, I found myself stuck in somewhat of predicament. 

I was living in a rural area I didn’t know with someone who I no longer loved, working a job that I didn’t connect with, and my friends were all back in the city where my heart was firmly lodged. The disconnect between my mind and my soul created a void that stretched 100 miles across the country, and it was when I was isolated that bitterly cold winter that I lost my mind. 

When the little digital clock in the right-hand corner of my computer screen flicked to 5:30 on a Friday, I would sprint to the station with a bag full of cans of gin and tonic and a handful of bad magazines and catch the first train to London where I expected my head and heart to reunite when I saw the faces of the people who I thought cared about me. 

I’d get the overground to South London and sit in my friends’ house drinking too much cheap wine and chain smoking, before heading somewhere dark and dingy with a sticky dance floor. I’d wake up in a foreign bed in a room so cold that the single-glazed windows were slick with condensation and wonder why after all that drinking and dancing and laughing, I was still having a breakdown.  

In the five years that have passed since then, I’ve realised that none of the friends whose beds I shared that year had the foggiest idea of how they could possibly have helped me. Giving tequila to someone who’s having a nervous breakdown is like lighting a match in a petrol station. The problem is that no one wants to be around when the match inevitably drops. 

While guzzling shots in late-night bars might seem like a viable option for helping a friend who’s going through a hard time, I speak from experience when I say that that is exactly what you do not need. 

What I needed was for someone to book me an appointment with the doctor and drag me there while I bashfully refused, saying “I’m really ok, honestly, just fine” over and over again. I needed for someone to run me a bath and make me a toad in the hole and tell me that I don’t need to drink the whole bottle of wine. 

And eventually, that’s what someone did. The doctor signed me off work and prescribed me some drugs that made me head feel like it was in the clouds – in a good way. The scalding hot bath helped me to soak away all those feelings of embarrassment and resentment that the vodka-filled nights had granted me. And to be honest – a good toad in the hole can help to soothe even the most fractured of souls. 

So knowing that a good friend is all it takes to make things that little bit brighter, how can you help a friend regain their strength and get back to their best self when things have all gone a bit pear-shaped? 

Emily Reynolds, author of A Beginners Guide to Losing Your Mind (out 23 February 2017), was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and says that the most supportive things people have done for her during a down period have been deeply practical. 

“When I had a breakdown two years ago, one particular friend would come to my flat to help me do things like go through mail, wash up and clean my bathroom: simple things that I was just really struggling to do. 

“We talked about my problems, but in terms of actual useful help, the best things she did were hands-on.”

Emily’s advice to someone who wants to support a friend is to lend a helping hand. Whether they’re living with a long-term problem or going through a short-term crisis, let your friend know that you’re there for them both emotionally and practically. 

Talk frankly about their problems, avoiding statements that could be considering patronising or judgemental. “Saying ‘you’ll be ok’ might seem like it’s encouraging, and it’s actually probably true, but when someone feels so low they can’t get out of bed it’s not particularly helpful,” says Emily. 

A friend in need is a friend indeed, and if someone you love is feeling blue, it’s not only time to talk, but it’s also time to do. Head over to their flat and do their laundry, take out their bins and change their sheets. Cook a big batch of soul-soothing and nutritious food and sit down together and put the world to rights. Ask open-ended questions and be non-judgemental in your replies. Sit in silence watching trashy TV or reading last weekend’s newspapers.

Just be with them.