Tuesday, 8 August 2017

And this is where you get with metaphors

Last year, as part of a nightschool course, I found myself in the midst of an exercise where the participants had to say positive things about each other. I thought it an excruciating idea.

When it came to me, there was the usual - she's so funny, she's so warm, she's so whatever. (You already know I was not born for positivity). But one lady said something that has stayed with me ever since. My presence on the course, she said, my continued ability to fully take part whilst caring for a terminally ill mother and two children, made me 'the definition of having your sh*t together".

It wasn't a phrase - or a sentiment - I had ever connected with me. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's telling myself I'm not really doing very well at things. That I'm barely coping. The fact that someone thought I was not only coping, but doing it quite well, really surprised me.

Just weeks ago my husband - my partner of 25 years - left, after suddenly announcing he had been having a very long-term affair. Without warning, the children and I had our entire existence turned upside down. The pain and betrayal were heart-stopping.

So let's talk now about this picture of a chicken.

Chicken image from The Balance of Things, storytelling by Michael Harvey

Once upon a time, I was working with the Crick Crack Club to promote a show by the storyteller Michael Harvey, the poster image for which was just this single, determined-looking chicken, staring straight at the camera. I loved everything about that show - the stories, the teller, the telling, and, of course, the chicken.

In my head, it became a symbol, and I remember talking to my husband about it. I was saying that all the metaphors about lovebirds, and those doves that people release in cheesy movie weddings, weren't the real deal. Real marriage was like that chicken - steely, unswerving, sometimes not entirely pretty - but the one bird you'd like to have in your corner in a fight. Marriage had your back. It gave you strength.

So why, when I was planning what image to take for a textile art workshop I had booked months ago, was I still thinking about that chicken? My marriage had not had my back. It turned out that I had not actually been in what I would consider a marriage for years. Why was the chicken still so important?

The words from the nightschool course came back to me, and they made me realise. For a long time now, as my husband concentrated on a new career, I have felt increasingly alone. I have run my household, I have gone to work, I have gone to college, I have nourished and nurtured my children. I have nursed my much-loved mother and kept vigil at her death earlier this year.

Marriage was never the chicken. I was the chicken. I was the effing chicken all along.

With thanks to Mandy Pattullo for a wonderful workshop, and for understanding that I had to abandon the pretext of the course - 'Stitched Memories' - because memories sometimes have to wait.

Thanks also to the Crick Crack Club, for the gloriousness of the chicken. All the shows they promote are exceptional - go look at what they have coming up.

Michael Harvey is currently touring a new show called Dreaming the Night Field. Details of tour dates are available at Adverse Camber.


  1. It takes a special kind of man to leave his wife right after she's lost her mother, and by "special" I mean a series of expletives I daren't type. Cluck on, you amazing thing. xo

  2. Oh my goodness, you certainly do have your sh*t together. To have coped so well (or just to have kept going) with everything that has been thrown at you, takes some doing.
    Keep on going.
    Best wishes

  3. You are so absolutely the chicken. xx

    1. Oh yes. Fear me. Though I don't have your collage skillz.

  4. Far out. But yes, cluck on. And I love your inspirational chicken quilt. [I didn't even know inspirational chicken quilts were a thing, and now I think that we might all need one to get us through the tough times]

  5. You absolutely have your shit together, but I hope that sometimes you give yourself permission to not have it together. Because sometimes falling apart is required. Lots of love, chicken.

    1. Oh, I can do falling apart spectacularly too. I rule.

  6. Know a bit about what that rug going out from under you feels like but, trust me, it gets better. It really does xxxx

  7. Always knew you were a top chick(en)

  8. You ARE the fucking chicken. I am totally in awe of you right now for the way you can write so comprehensively, with so much depth of emotion and yet so calm - you are inspiring.

  9. Catherine Hunter9 August 2017 at 02:36

    You've had your shit together since I first met you. You also always used to doubt yourself even at 17. I think you're one of the most amazing people I've ever been fortunate enough to meet. Been too long.....
    Love chickens! They even carry on without heads FGS!
    Sending love.

  10. Well said and done. The next time someone calls me a chicken I'll have an entirely different bird in mind.

  11. Ye gods, what a horrible load of things to happen to you. I have had the husband walking out but I didn't have all the rest of the stuff you have dealt with. I salute you m'dear, you are indeed the Chicken! Keep on clucking. xx

  12. So sorry you've had to go through all of it. You do come across as strong and positive, you should be proud of yourself and all you have coped with. I'm sending you a cyber hug and my very best wishes for the future. CJ xx

  13. I've been there and it's shit but you are one strong, funny and amazing lady and you will come through. Sending much love to you and the kids xxx

  14. Yes, I get what you mean. I realised that I had completely raised our 3 children (1 step child), whilst also caring for my elderly parents and a childless elderly uncle. Alone. Despite being married.
    I also realised that he had serially cheated for about 20 years without my realising it. That was 10 years ago. We are still in the same *insert word here*. home/family/marriage???
    I may have left it too late to leave, but at the time our daughter was recovering from open heart surgery. And then life continued to happen, Alzheimers/death; spinal problems; financial crash; more bereavement and breakdowns etc etc. (And that's only half of the shite from these 10 years.
    He now thinks we are ok, despite separate bedrooms. We are not. I would leave tomorrow if I had the courage. Children are grown now.
    That realisation about long term adultery/serial adultery and the fact your marriage was fake, oh God, it tears your heart out.
    Blessings to you, my darling, it's gonna be a long hard road but the 'training' for this particular marathon has already been done.
    Susan xx

  15. You've got to be kidding me! Can hardly believe it. I'm so very sorry. You should have had that support all along. Midlife is something else. I never had the life with a husband or children, never got it. And envied those who had what looked like a wonderful home. Now it seems I keep hearing of people that thought they had it but were actually alone in it...

    I wish it were different as you deserve to be lovingly cherished. But given all the hard work you've put in, I believe the universe has all good things for you just around the corner. Sending a prayer for peace for you, & all love...Kim

  16. How absolutely dreadful. So, so sorry. You are indeed a very splendid chicken and your husband sounds like a rat. (You're such a good writer that you wrote so well, even about such a horrible thing.)


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