For anybody wondering what it's like to live in fanfiction? It's bliss! But it's also – naturally – full of real life; work commutes, the odd rainstorm and regular laundry. And I love it just the same... ;-)
Disclaimer: I do own Skins, it's a part of me, I just don't have any legal or financial claims to it.
"Come on lazy-bones!" came mum's voice for the third time that morning. "I'm not going to let you waste another hour of Naomi-Day."
I was starting to regret giving my mother a key to my place in return for her help with the loan deposit. A sudden rush of cold air licked at my feet as the blanket was unceremoniously dragged away from my legs. I let out a petulant grumble but I knew it was futile in the long run.
"Up, up, up! There's tattie scones downstairs and Thomas has already tucked in. Better get up before he eats them all, birthday or no birthday missy."
"Thomas wouldn't do that to me." I protested, rolling onto my back and rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
Still I could smell the food through the open door of my bedroom and I wasn't about to test that theory. With great effort, I forced my eyelids open to see Gina standing in the doorway with her not-to-be-deterred 'game face' on. I knew that face very well. I'd known it since I was a child. It was a mix of slightly manic excitement, dogged enthusiasm and stubborn determination and it meant: We are going to have fun if it sodding kills us. She wore it only for me over the years. Although I've been given to understand that Kieran has been on the receiving end of it more since they had become a steady item. He'd since come to me for tips on how to deal with this facet of my mother. I had told him to cut his losses and just go with the flow; there was no other option when she got like this.
I swung my legs around and my feet found the cold floor. Realising that the hem of my nightshirt barely covered my bum, I tugged at it with one hand and ran the other through my hair.
Mum huffed and shook her head, looking amused. "Oh, don't be a bloody prude on my account Naomi. I hate to break it to you hun but I've seen your fanny more often than Emily probably has so far."
"Boundaries, mum! Jesus!" I yelled.
"Just saying, darling... I'm glad to see you've relaxed your sleeping getup, mind. Emily must be a good influence on you. There was a time I thought you'd never be caught dead sleeping in anything less than a full kit, that's all I'm saying." she shrugged. "Now come downstairs before breakfast gets cold at least."
When I'd found shorts and emerged to meet the others I found Thomas grinning at me over a plate of corn fritters and tofu scramble. Kieran was picking potato scone crumbs out of his beard while mum manned the griddle.
"Eat up girlie." Said Kieran, motioning at a plate which had already been piled with food at the head of the table. "Big day of walking ahead of us."
He needn't have reminded me. I would have been all too happy to have a quiet day at home on my birthday. Mostly, if the day went completely unacknowledged, it would be no skin off my nose.
It wasn't so much the walking that I objected to, nor was it Gina's choice of noble cause. I'd gotten used to my darling mother's concept of mother-daughter bonding activities over 24 years of being stuck with her. Gina had taken on her mission of child-rearing as her very own duty to create the most devoted mini-activist she possibly could. Some might say she'd done pretty damn well, all things considered. In truth I'd grown to find it endearing and I found it a small price to pay her back for being 'genetically indebted to her' as she put it.
It was more the fact that she regarded us going to this rally as some kind of birthday treat. Not just for me but for any of my friends who might have wanted to spend the day with me. Thankfully, as Number One Acquired Congolese Son Thomas was used to this quirk of hers too. In fact, he obliged it with such seamless enthusiasm that I had to remind myself to berate him later for encouraging the woman too much.
More embarrassing though was the fact that this year I had to come to terms with my recent girlfriend being added to Gina's recruits. So I filled up on my mother's hearty vegan-fuel and braced myself for the day to come.
We were planning to meet up with Emily at the North corner of College Green, ready to set off with the rest of the rally from the City Council chambers. When we arrived, the crowds were already gathering on the lawn. Home-made banners rolled up by their feet, megaphones and placards leant up against nearby walls, the marchers assembled for instructions. A growing number of willing and eager protesters paced around the stiff ground, kicking and scuffing about at the frozen blades of grass to keep themselves warm. A majority of women had dogs on leashes or carried snugly wrapped toddlers still half asleep on their hips. Newcomers joined the ranks and mingled with the early morning arrivals, exchanging tired smiles and shedding rucksacks off sloping shoulders. A few rummaged around for extra gloves, cameras or phones to document the event in the hopes of reaching still more people by spreading the word early through social media.
All this gang of straggly but well-meaning foot-soldiers needed was one element of order and authority, a single voice to rally them into action. They were just awaiting the signal to give them purpose and stir the force within them that was begging to be heard.
We found Emily emerging from the small cafe off the green, blowing across the lid of the takeaway coffee she cradled in both hands. Wisps of condensation came off her bio cup as she ambled towards us. A green chullo hat swaddled her head and ears, covering her bright hair except for the tips which could just be seen pushing out under the woollen tassels of her earflaps. I was on the verge of melting in the surge of warmth and affection that hit me in middle of the cold morning when a commanding voice rose over the crowd.
The quiet murmur of hundreds of people idly chatting away died off in an instant. The spokesperson for the joint unions stood on a small raised platform and welcomed the gathered troops. After a short introductory speech, she gave out our marching orders to a hushed and attentive audience. Emily nodded in greeting to Thomas, mum and Kieran as she drew nearer and her hand crept into mine. She stood beside me while the woman on the dais continued. My girlfriend then proceeded to discretely lean across and take advantage of our height difference to kiss the side of my exposed neck. She lingered a little longer to whisper "happy birthday" into my ear in lieu of a 'hello.' For the second time in as many minutes, a welcome rush of warm blood flooded to my blushing cheeks.
When the speaker finished, the crowd seemed to stir into life again. Various union officers milled about more purposefully, calling their members and followers into groups and setting off down the cordoned off section of Park street.
We picked up Gina's hand painted Defend our NHS and Public service, not private profit signs and hit the road hand in hand behind a bunch of UNISON marchers. Our multi-legged organism gathered numbers as we weaved through the university and crawled up Tyndall avenue. We were near a thousand strong and loud by the time we reached our first stop at St Michael's hospital.
Once the last stragglers had caught up with us there, a team of obstetrics nurses and midwives were given the stage. As they vociferously bemoaned the effect of the threatening cuts and the introduction of regional pay on the maternity wards of Bristol's hospitals Emily pulled out her phone and snapped a few photos of the most passionate speakers.
The crowds lagged a little in getting back into the procession. During this time Em dragged Thomas into her other side with her free arm and stuffed her hat into her coat pocket. The three of us huddled behind the NHS – No cuts! banner and Kieran took a picture of our three heads bobbing at eye level behind the lettering.
"That's the one we want!" giggled Emily as she uploaded it to twitter with the hashtags #NHSkids and #unitedcoloursofNHS.
I peered at the brown, red and blonde crowns peeking mischievously over the banner. You had to smile at the genius of her spontaneous pop-slogan. The tweet got a few instant favourites and by the time we were moving again Emily's phone went off once more in her pocket.
Where are you lezzer? xx – It was Katie.
Emily requisitioned her left hand from me long enough to fire back.
NHS Rally, slag of my heart. :-)
Top of Marlborough Hill, heading towards
the Hospital Broadcasting Service.
We started to snake down Marlborough.
U kidding?! It's monkeys outside! – Katie replied.
Emily shrugged and tried a different tack:
It's Naomi's birthday, Katie.
Interesting choice of argument, I thought. But soon enough the phone chirped again.
Ok, gimme 20.
But there better be
more than just beers, yeah.
"Katie is coming?" said Thomas cheerfully when Emily passed the word around "That is good; I like Katie."
"I hope that's ok Naoms," Emily said quietly just to me while she pocketed her phone, "We're at least going to a pub after this to warm up and celebrate."
I generally don't like to make a big fuss out of anything so when it came to making an event of my own birthday I was not overly convinced. I sighed and nodded at the redhead's beseeching smile. I could accept this on the grounds of the 'warming us up' argument she'd conveniently offered up. Besides, drinks at the pub was hardly a big fanfare.
We settled on the Stag and Hounds near the Tower Hill corner of Castle Park, which was where the final rally and speeches were being held after the march. Thomas texted Pandora the time and place.
We soldiered on in the direction of the Broadcasting Service where the next speeches would be made live to air. We were just rounding the Bristol Infirmary next door when my own phone went off. Jesus, it's non- stop today. I caught myself thinking. It was Effy.
What's this I hear
about drinks for your b'day?
I thought I wasn't even allowed
to acknowledge the day
on pain of death.
Ugh, I rolled my eyes and shook my inanimate phone in my fist.
Don't blame me.
It was Emily's idea.
Who told you anyway?
Barely a beat went by.
Course it was Emily's idea.
I figured that out when
Katie messaged me.
I blinked in shock. The fuck!? Today's coming of age was turning into a rather surreal experience.
Well, assuming Katie and Eff would bring along their respective boyfriends, that was Freddie and Cook accounted for. I turned to Emily again:
"Why don't you invite JJ too. Might as well get the complete un-holy trinity now." I declared with a resigned smile.
Katie and the rest of the conscripts caught up with us on Union Street. We all followed the waving flags and cacophony of whistles and chants through Castle Park. Nobody's voice was quite as loud as our Gina's naturally.
Shoppers and office workers on their lunch break stopped in their tracks to watch this outrageous-looking woman, braving fashion sense and age-appropriateness and combining her sheer lack of both into what turned out to be the most absurdly wonderful outfit on the streets of Bristol that day. She marched proudly, exuding passion and commitment from the top of her dreadlocked head to the sturdy soles of her bright yellow Doc Martens. The chants were generally the same up and down the march but she bore this no mind. Preferring instead to make up her own elaborate slogans, shouting them enthusiastically over the top of the crowd's three word chants. By virtue of this mini rebellion of course, hers was the most compelling and rousing chant there was. My mother had always turned heads.
We arrived at the rally itself at just after half twelve. The final four speakers met us by the Headquarters of the Avon Ambulance Service NHS Trust for the last leg.
Two union officers, an ambulance driver and a pediatric nurse took turns at the mic delivering well thought out critiques of the Trust Pay Consortium – or should we say cartel – and its likely outcomes. One serious and busy-looking woman in a slightly wrinkly pantsuit quoted ugly numbers and figures at us, while the crowd roared back in anguish. Another spoke of "Orwellian proposals" and a "race to the bottom." He suggested the "people in the think tanks which conjured up the proposals should come and live with the reality of the cuts" which was met with more shouts of agreement.
The final speaker was more emotive about his and his colleagues' insecurities regarding their future. While he voiced his concerns and struggled to contain his fears, I sensed my mother's anger rising beside me. She had only spent a short stint working in the health care system, when she'd come back from India the second time, so our presence here was more in defense of the downtrodden. Not to mention the snowball effects on the general population in patient care.
When mum had given birth to me, she'd had the 'shitty little prick' whose DNA I shared to support her through the ordeal. But by the time I was through my 'terrible twos' and catching every contagious bug that was going round the school, he had shot through. When I needed my shots for the measles updated, my stitches or casts removed, it was just mum and me. When was kept home sick waiting out my chicken pox or nursing a swollen jaw from my wisdom teeth extraction, mum very much had to depend on the kindness of strangers. She had always and ever since extolled the virtues of the health workers who helped us through that shit. The extra assistance, good will and compassion she got from them never came with an unwelcome side-order of judgment or pity for the single mother.
So it was as a mother and daughter that we were attending this thing. We were there in thanks for the people whose faces we'd long forgotten but whose actions had stayed with us until now.
After the first officer returned and thanked the crowds for braving the cold, the groups began to scatter. Clusters broke off, disappearing into the web of grey streets that fanned out around the park. I spotted various members of the press stopping the odd protester to collect their comments and impressions after the event. Mum had seen this too.
"Don't wait for us darling," she said with her hand on my arm "you go and have fun with your friends. I have important shit to say, shit that needs to be heard."
She strode off, with a determined gait and a docile Kieran in tow, towards the most compliant looking journo with a camera. It took her all of 10 seconds to commandeer his attention and she was speaking her peace into the lens within 30.
BE F xx