Good Times, Bad Times: On Having Our House Burgled

So I recently experienced my first burglary.

I’d been in town having a drink with friends when my house mate called to say that her key wasn’t working in the front door. I listened as she went round to the garden gate to try the back and heard her breath catch as she said, “The back door is open.”

“Do you mean it’s unlocked or actually hanging open?” I asked, though he distress in her voice was answer enough.

“Someone’s been in our house.” she said.

I like to think I’m a relatively cool and collected person, that I’d be calm and helpful in a crisis but of course things are almost always different in real life.

“Okay. Alright. Okay. Have you got a weapon? Can you get a pan or something? I don’t know, have you got something heavy? Try shouting. Wait, don’t. Call the police. What about the kettle? That’s pretty heavy.”

I listened, unable to help at all, as she made her way around our house, recently occupied by strangers with most likely poor intentions – for all we knew at the time, they could have still been inside. I couldn’t do anything but tell her that I would be home as soon as possible.

I jumped into an Uber and had a bemusingly boring conversation about the traffic chaos caused by roadworks in the city centre with Radu, the driver. I was there in eleven minutes.

It’s a strange thing, knowing that there have been intruders in your house, a place where you spend your time cooking and sleeping and generally feeling at ease, relieved to be out of sight of the world and in your own secret bubble. Home is where your things are, your clothes and pictures and DVDs. There are take away leaflets stuck to the fridge with magnets that you bought while on holiday, there’s washing left in the machine, there are birthday cards on the mantle piece and about ten toothbrushes packed into a holder in the bathroom despite there being only four resident mouths to clean. I stepped across the threshold and for a moment couldn’t see anything particularly amiss.

The sitting room was the first sign that something wasn’t right. A friend of mine (bless her) has been crashing on our sofa while she looks for a new place to live. Her luggage was strewn across the carpet: clothes scattered, boxes torn open, films, toiletries. I mean, that’s shit luck, right? On seeing this initial state, I began to panic as I dreaded what carnage might have taken place in my own bedroom.

Bedrooms are pretty sacred places if you ask me. I often refer to my own as a haven; I’ve always taken pride in the way I decorate a room. Anyone who’s ever seen the inside of any of my bedrooms will know what I mean by this; I take great care and attention to detail in making it an expression of my character, my inner thoughts, my interests and passions. When I was a teenager, I developed a habit of cutting photos and headlines out of magazines that I liked and blu-tacking them to my walls, resulting in huge collages of music, poetry, photography, film, theatre. I hand-write quotes from artists and authors and place them systematically where I will be able to see them every day and remain inspired. I copy out segments of my writing that I like to remind myself that I can create something beautiful out of nothing. Posters and tapestries hang from the walls, candles and trinkets and flower garlands adorn the surfaces of bookshelves and desks. When I close my bedroom door and look however briefly upon the work I’ve put into making the four walls surrounding me a place of sanctuary, I always feel a little more at peace. I feel safe.

The door was gaping open, every light was on and my things, all of my things, were everywhere.

I do understand that they are just things at the end of the day, I really do. But all of my worldly possessions were just scattered, thrown around, piled into mountains of what someone else had deemed to be of no value. Thankfully, my laptop had been left untouched. They hadn’t attempted to take it, nor was it damaged in any way which brought me a modicum of relief. My books too were unscathed; I have so many writing and sketch pads, journals, not to count my reading collection. There is a wicker box on my bookshelf housing all of my note books, dozens of archives of things I have written over god knows how many years. In fact, they were the only things left untouched in the whole room, probably because they appeared to be of no financial value. In a shitty way, I’d been lucky again.

Then there was my jewellery. I wear a lot of effects almost everywhere I go. I don’t care much for price tags, it’s sentimental value that matters to me. I won’t be seen dead without my ring collection on full display, a mixed bag of cheap bands, souvenirs from abroad, birthday gifts and precious family heirlooms. When I had left the house earlier that day, I’d looked down at my hands and passively cursed myself for forgetting to put my jewellery on; bare knuckles and wrists uncovered with bracelets make me feel slightly naked, a little off my game. ‘Damn it,’ I thought. ‘But, hey, it’s not the end of the world.’ Sure enough, this little quirk of fate meant that it was all gone.

My first thought was how upset my mum would be. Amongst the things taken was a silver ring my Nana had given to me before she died. She was well into the late stages of dementia at the time but she turned to me one day when I was thirteen, pulled a twisted silver band off her finger and said, “Here, you have this.” I don’t think I need to explain how this made me feel.

Walking around each room and observing the general chaos made us think that these intruders hadn’t really been searching for much (money maybe, small things they could exchange at Cash for Gold) but expensive things like laptops, iPods, stereos, etc. were still there. In a way, it felt like the real object in pulling our home apart had been to do just that: to simply lay waste to our personal spaces. There were carrier bags and cardboard boxes that clearly weren’t going to hold valuables inside them, ripped open and upturned. There was barley a clear inch of space to set foot on. They went through my underwear drawer, handfuls of pants and bras pitched into the air. Sort of amusingly, they’d been considerate enough to replace the drawers after emptying their contents. Well, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, right? It was the idea of their hands on my things, precious or not, intimate, unimportant, whatever, that felt like the biggest violation. At the end of the day, everything in that room was my own and no one had any right to touch it or claim it but me.

There’s nothing like trouble to bring people together. While we waited for the police to arrive, we shared booze and watched an episode of Love Island. When they did arrive, we had out details taken and listed each of our missing items. We could tell just by looking at the uniformed duo that they had little hope of ever discovering the culprits. They told us to expect CSI in the morning and that we should probably find somewhere else to stay for the night. The next day we spent the morning chain smoking at the front door while a nice gentlemen from forensics dusted for prints and tried to establish a point of entry. By the end of it, all we could think of was pizza. So in the fucked up living room of our fucked up house, we settled ourselves into the general disarray, ordered Dominoes and watched a rom com, laughing at the shitty acting.

Sometime in the afternoon, we began the sizeable cleaning operation; we left all of our bedroom doors open and sang loudly and badly to 00’s classics (I’m talking Artic Monkeys, Outkast, Beyonce, Chilli Peppers, Nelly feat. Kelly, you know the stuff.) We were quite literally standing in the wreckage of our lives, shaken, exhausted, wronged, but we were together and smiling because of it. All day, I received message after message from friends, both intimate and acquaintances, offering help or commiserations, invitations to drinks or homes just in case we wanted to get out of the house. That evening when the doorbell rang, I answered, smelly and sneezy from all the dust turned up by the cleaning, to be greeted with a dear friend. “British Red Cross, we bring aid.” he said, before three bottles of rose wine were pulled from the depths of a Tesco’s bag. “Also, I got you these. I thought you’d be needing more now.” he continued, holding out a tube of biscuits to me: Party Rings. Not only are they a favourite of mine, they also served as a cracking pun given the circumstances. I laughed for fucking ages at that joke. We all sat squashed together in the living room that night and played cards, joking, drinking, recounting and speculating. One of the girls said that what had happened at least had an upside, as the culprit had uncovered a favourite top of hers that she’d thought lost.

It was initially a pretty scary experience, eye-opening but, on reflection, not wholly a bad one. This thing happened to my friends and I, and as a response people from all different corners of our lives have come forward to offer support by way of messages, beds for the night, offers of help cleaning or with rubbish removal or even money if we needed it. In fact, one of the sweetest gestures was made by my work colleagues; on hearing what had happened, they secretly started a jewellery collection for me. Hand-wrapped packages of second hand bracelets, necklaces, broaches have been dropped through my letter box and into my hands, no big deal, with a refusal to acknowledge the sheerly wonderful sentiment behind the act despite my protestations of “I can’t accept this.”

All of these things make my heart swell.

So there are twists of fate in life that you might call luck, things that you might consider to be out of your control. However, I like to think that there’s also such a thing as making your own luck; my friends and I have clearly surrounded ourselves with good people who we’ve been loyal to and who have reciprocated this quality in kind.

Sometimes you don’t know what will help, you don’t know where or how to start climbing the mountain before you, whether it’s a mountain of clothes and broken belongings or something more perilous. But I think the most comforting thing to hear when you’re looking up at the summit of a problem, praying for the strength to overcome it, is the question ‘What can I do?’

There are always mountains to climb in life but no matter how high they may be, if you are kind and surround yourself with good people, they will always show up at your back to offer a leg up.

I wish you all the best in your respective endeavours.

All my love.

Annie

xoxo

Top 10 Albums of All Time

It’s a wonderful feeling, getting to know an album, being able to recite every lyric and hit all the right notes with your air guitar. When you’ve become so familiar with an album you enjoy, it can feel a little bit like returning home. You hear the resounding whine of Tony Iommi’s (Black Sabbath) guitar at the beginning of War Pigs, the shuttering percussion and rumbling build of Coshise by Audioslave and it’s almost as if your muscles relax, soothed by the knowledge you have some serious eargasms ahead of you.

Now while I can safely say that I will never again repeat the word ‘eargasm’, I wanted to talk about a few of the albums I have persistently revisited over the years. These range from (somewhat) recent to (relatively) old, rock to folk to indie – there’s even a soundtrack or two in there. I’ve tried to be economical and varied in the genres I’ve gathered to compile this list, so hopefully there will be something for everyone (unless your music tastes sucks. Sorry.) Without further ado, this is a list of my top ten favourite albums.

bullets

1. I Brought You My Bullets, You Gave Me Your Love – My Chemical Romance (2002)

The reader should be extremely thankful that I have the presence of mind enough to know that not everyone wants to see all five of MCR’s studio albums on this list (though it was a tempting idea.) Instead, I’m restraining myself to just one, the most important in my humble opinion. Before the Danger Days of Na Na Na and that three year period around 2006 when it seemed nothing graced the airwaves but those hauntingly memorable notes preceding Welcome to the Black Parade, there was the band’s very first album. Frequently referred to by fans as ‘Bullets’, this release was wonderfully rough around the edges. To this day, it remains to be my favourite of all their works. The lyricism, a component of music that I find extremely important, is laced with sweeping metaphor and vibrant, violent imagery. It’s clear to see the influences of alt-punk bands like the Misfits and Black Flag in the sharp, fast-paced rhythms as well as epic, almost orchestral guitar solos reminiscent of Iron Maiden. I loved this album because the whole feel of the thing was so visceral, unapologetic, as romantic as it was furious. It’s not much of a secret to anyone who knows me that My Chem were my first true love when it came to music and have continued to have an effect on the way that I write and make art to this day.

Recommendations:
Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us
Headfirst for Halos
Early Sunsets Over Monroeville

one two three home

2. One, Two, Three, Home – Clayton Blizzard (2009)

When I first moved to Bristol, I house-shared with a guy called Big Will (there were two Wills in Flat 203, guess what we called the other one?) He and I became fast friends and in the very first week that we all moved in together, he tapped on my bedroom door one day armed with a CD and said, “I know a guy who knows this guy. You should listen to it, it’s a pretty good album.” So I did. The first thing I picked up on about this gentleman’s music was the entrancing mix of piano, string and drum beats. Together, each instrument lends something different to the musical canvas being stretched out and from the first evocative notes of Sad Music is Uplifting, the listener’s interest is already peaked. In my opinion, however, the triumph of this album is its scripture – the lyrics are the brushstrokes of this artwork that make it decisively beautiful to behold. The guy’s a rapper but he doesn’t sing about money and women; he writes about politics, love, the creation of art and music itself. As plentiful and poignant as his words are, he also maintains a level of self-deprecation that translates to humour as people identify with the honesty of what he says. This is a witty, intelligent and talented individual and I am still currently in possession of his CD – sorry, Will.

Recommendations:
New Strings on an Old Guitar
Winning A Raffle, Losing the War
War on Words

elizabethtown.jpeg

3. Elizabethtown: Music from the Motion Picture [Volumes 1 & 2] (2005)

As promised, a soundtrack. It was an accident how I came to know and love this album. I watched the film (directed by Cameron Crowe) and as a dreamy, impressionable eleven year old I became obsessed with the concept of road trips and music and romance. On buying the soundtrack, I would become just like quirky and beautiful female protagonist, Claire Colburn, or as critic Nathan Rabin coins this particular type of stock character, ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’. Though it is regrettable to think I was caught out by clever marketing (hey, I was a kid, alright?) I’m happy to say it’s a move I don’t wish to amend. This soundtrack is, quite frankly, boss as fuck. The instrumentals are simple yet beautiful, the original score solely composed by Nancy Wilson (Heart). The predominant genres you’ll find on this album are mostly rock and country. Two artists whose work clearly had a lot of influence within the film’s musical direction are country folk musician, Ryan Adams (not to be confused with Bryan Adams of Summer of ’69 fame) and classic rock icon, Tom Petty. Performers both famous and obscure can be found on this record. The music is so carefully selected not just to fit in with the film, but to give you a feeling of immersion into the deep American south, a connection to your own hurt and healing, and, above all, a sense of gripping wanderlust. This album makes me want to drive for miles and miles and miles.

Recommendations:
Same in Any Language – I Nine
Come Pick Me Up – Ryan Adams
Let It All Hang Out – The Hombres

Moby_play

4. Play – Moby (1999)

This album reminds me of the good old days (or more accurately, nights) when I would stay up until 3am pulling together my GCSE Art coursework. Don’t get me wrong, I loved art, still do, but for some reason I always left it until the last second to get started on my homework. The mystery of procrastination, eh? Either way, I used to get loaded on black coffee like the idiot I am and stay awake painting to this album. And what a fucking album. An old friend of mine introduced me to Moby; we shared a lot of the same interests, including music tastes and we were both mad for this lovely, shiny-headed, techno-blues vegan. This album is full of energy; it will instantly have you bobbing your head and saying in a surprised sort of fashion, ‘Ooh, yeh!’ I defy anyone to press play and not find themselves toe-tapping in the first twenty seconds of Honey. Where there is upbeat, there is also heartfelt lyricism too, most songs having a distinct theme of loss and being lost. The record clearly has a distinct ark, starting out fast-paced and full of tracks to Bodyrock to before descending slowly but definitely into smoother, slower, more melancholy pieces such as Everloving and The Sky is Broken. Every time I reached the end of this album, I had also finished whatever adolescent masterpiece I’d been working on in my A3 sketchbook. I like to think I couldn’t have done it without the musical caffeine tablet that is Play.

Recommendations:
Porcelain
Natural Blues
Run On

SmithsSoundOf

5. The Sound of the Smiths [Deluxe Edition] – The Smiths (2008)

I once seriously contemplated breaking up with a guy because he just didn’t ‘get’ The Smiths. I’m sorry, but I feel extremely passionate about this band. Yes, Morrissey is a bit of a twat. Yes, Meat is Murder is a truly terrifying song. And yes, the lyrics are 9.5 times out of 10 comically grim but that is what sets this band apart from so many others. The contrast of the melancholy lyricism and the jaunty, upbeat sound is unparalleled. The lyrics come from a place of such indulgent self-interest, it would be impossible not to relate to some small aspect of Morrissey’s story-telling. He points out so many of the insecurities and faults of human nature and in caricaturing them, allows us to view ourselves in sharper relief and with a sense of humour. The concept was to create poetry about perfectly ordinary aspects of human existence and set them to a backdrop of cheerful indie-pop rhythms. The music will make you want to get up and wave wildflowers around, the words will make you question the validity of your own existence – is it all pointless? Will I ever be loved in return? Why can’t I be as good-looking as the others? And why does my girlfriend have to be in a coma? Now it may seem like a cop out that this entry is a ‘Best of’ album but frankly it was the first Smiths CD I ever owned. My dad, Manchester born and bred just like The Smiths and probably happy to know I was showing an interest in music he used to listen to growing up, bought this record for me at Christmas when I was fourteen. “What a great present,” my mum commented sarcastically. “Nothing says Christmas spirit like Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now! Or Pretty Girls Make Graves, or, of course, Girlfriend in a Coma.” We didn’t play it on Christmas Day. But I did almost every day since.

Recommendations:
Girl Afraid
This Charming Man
The Queen Is Dead/Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty [Medley]

what's the story morning glory.jpg

6. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? – Oasis (1995)

Oasis are a Manchester band, a city very close to my heart. I remember exactly where I was on the day they broke up and I know that I thought exactly the same as every other fan on that day: ‘It’s a bloody shame, but I’m amazed they lasted this long the way Gallagher brothers have been carrying on all these years.’ People often say it is the mark of a great band, when the lead singer and lead guitarist have horrible animosity towards each other – Slash and Axl? Simon and Garfunkel? And Liam and Noel were no exception to this rule. Oasis hit the mark almost every time and this album (‘borrowed’ from my parents’ CD cabinet never to be returned) was my first experience of how good this band were. The first time I played Wonderwall in my bedroom, my mum burst in and said, ‘Where did you hear this song?’ Bemused, I looked back at her and responded, ‘Just around.’ ‘Seriously,’ she insisted, ‘How do you know about this song?’ I think this was a relief to her, a sign that I was starting down a path towards ‘decent’ music.

Recommendations:
Wonderwall
Champagne Supernova
Morning Glory

Nirvana self titled.jpg

7. Nevermind – Nirvana (1991)

Probably Nirvana’s most renowned album, every track on Nevermind is a single in its own right. Born from the Seattle punk scene, many say that Nirvana were a key founder of the grunge movement. I believe it is an extremely important rite of passage for every teenager to get down and dirty with this album, kicking off with the best known hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and ending with the underrated, understated, haunting Something in the Way. Encompassing some of Nirvana’s best known songs, this album frankly doesn’t put a foot wrong and despite the punk undertones and often sarcastic, unforgiving lyrics, it’s a record that can be listened to at any time, in any mood just to give you that boost to get through the day.

Recommendations:
Lithium
In Bloom
Something in the Way

rotten apples

8. Rotten Apples – The Smashing Pumpkins (2001)

Ah, the Pumpkins. Billy Corgan. That whining voice that irritates my dad so much. I played this album on repeat for at least a year when I was a teenager. It was angry and animalistic at times, tentative and moving at others. All that can be said about this band is that they are a tour de force of alternative rock. Today mixes elements of heavy metal and gentle, tuneful electric guitar. The lyrics are equally as romantically delicate as they are innately angry. Their sound is weird, it’s visceral, it’s unlike anything you’ll hear elsewhere. There is also a beautifully alternative version of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide on this record. Just do yourself a favour and listen to it… especially when you’re feeling angsty.

Recommendations:
Today
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
The Everlasting Gaze

back to black

9. Back to Black – Amy Winehouse (2006)

The first time I heard Amy was at a childhood friend’s house. She said to me, “Has this person got soul or what?” Rehab was the song. I was struck by how low and rumbling the tone of her voice was, the sheer depth of her singing. I adore Amy Winehouse’s music; my parents, who were more interested in her social scandals and drug exploits, were a little uncomfortable that I held her on such a pedestal but I steadfastly held that her music talent was the most important aspect of her character. This album has so many clear influences from the jazz world and brings these genres into a contemporary mainstream era. Her lyrics are sharply honest from everything about her vices to destructive relationships. In spite of the tragic ending this woman met, it’s important to remember that she was brave and true in her art; Back to Black was such an overwhelming success as a stand alone album and will always be an inspiration to me.

Recommendations:
You Know I’m No Good
He Can Only Hold Her
Tears Dry On Their Own

peanut butter blues & melancholy jam.jpg

10. Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam – Ghostpoet (2011)

There’s always that one album that gets you through ‘the big break up’. This one was mine. I’d been aware of Ghostpoet for a few years before I really started listening to his music; he was performing at a local festival a friend from school was attending and she recommended I check him out. It was until *ghost story voice* ‘the big break up’ *ahem* that I began to play this album regularly. When I was feeling low – usually at 10.30pm, sleepless and sober – I would pull on a hoodie and find this album on Spotify, plug in and wander for twenty minutes in the rain towards the shops to buy a bottle of shitty wine. I mean, it was a pretty bleak scene but the time and space to think was good for me. I really needed to feel the sadness in order to move on from it and lyrics like, ‘I love you like chicken soup and biscuits and lemonade, and sometimes my heart’s deaf, it must need a hearing aid’ pretty much put me in contact with my pain. Subtle, understated but so relatable. And it’s not bad to nod your head to either. Also, can I just say how much I love the album title?

Recommendations:
Us Against Whatever Ever
Cash and Carry Me Home
Liiines

Thus concludes my top ten albums. I won’t lie, it’s been a struggle to narrow it down. I’ve been forced to bump several entries in the interests of diversity but just for the hell of it, here are a few honourable mentions:

rumours.jpg

Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (1977)

chillis greatest hits.jpg

Greatest Hits – Red Hot Chili Peppers (2003)

garden-state-soundtrack.jpg

Garden State: Music from the Motion Picture (2004)

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and found it to be a diverting pastime. Every album detailed here has had a profound influence on my personality and the way I create art to this day. I strongly recommend you have a listen to one or two!

Take care of yourself and until next time, I wish you the best in all of your endeavours.

Annie
X