Screen Love

by Benjamin Parameswaran 

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Lines across space will find,
New means to spend some time,
If only for some peace of mind,
It uncorks a realm not quite sublime.

Heads of this hydra may bite one another,
Trying to express to others,
That they themselves are lovers.

Growing fonder, watch out for it
A pedestal, on which they now stand,
A looking-glass for the wistful hearted,
Always shatter-proof upon reflection.

These trees grown together need firm earth,
For wires without roots prevent disclosure,
There is no rain or sun inside this house,
Life travelling on with an electric hum.

Hold on, effort is without limits,
This garden is vast and you were born in it.

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When I was a small boy, my mother used to set me writing tasks. Sometimes I wrote about my day, other times I came up with fantasies taken from whatever I could find. She wanted me to read, read, read. But being half-stubborn mule, more concerned with games, I failed at this task. Now at the age of 25, I read at the pace of a snail and have found a love in writing that I once denied myself.

Working in a Supermarket During Lockdown

by Lucy Parish

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I got the text asking me to come back to work almost straight after I had to leave my university accommodation.

My first shift was mere days after Boris Johnson’s lockdown speech (despite his apprehension to use the word lockdown) and I saw small changes quickly ricochet through the store that I’ve worked at now for almost four years.

I noted that the colossal neon green sign now looms menacingly over the line outside, which trails back further than the naked eye can see. Customers rattle their silver trolleys impatiently, keeping two meters away from the person ahead. I sigh.

A week passes, and flimsy PVC screens go up, forming a barrier between me and the customers. Hastily laminated signs appear on the staff room door letting us know face masks are available in the office if we need them. I don’t take one.

Now as I walk through the store, customers freeze when they see me, standing back to let me pass. It’s abnormal and I can’t help feeling as though I have the plague. I saw two people with gas masks on yesterday, actual gas masks. The flashbacks I got to that Doctor Who episode were rather jarring.

Customers can only buy three of one item per household, but I must admit, denying an old man his fourth Twix bar won’t be a high point of my life. Despite this, my hand hovers steadily over the security button each time someone tries to argue about how much they desperately need four two-litre water bottles rather than three.

It’s been two weeks now, and arrows have been stickered on the floor mapping out the safest route through the store. They’re adhered to for the most part. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve been told to ‘keep safe’ and ‘thank you for what you’re doing’ as it was reaching the seventy thousand mark. I hear rumours about colleagues being coughed on, and xenophobic name-calling, and my mind boggles how the culprits have managed to get so far in life.

I keep seeing discarded gloves on the floor and in trolleys outside the store, and it’s proving very difficult to keep my cool.

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Four weeks have passed now, and we’re nearing the end of April. Easter has come and gone and the majority of the chocolate eggs have been reduced to 50p. The line outside is just as long. I miss hugs and talking in person with my nan.

If one more person asks when we’re getting more flour, I might have to quit.

At five and a half weeks, restrictions on items have lifted. Other things are changing too. It seems more people are paying with cash than ever before, with almost every person managing to make contact with my hand as they pass the money over. Someone actually licked their fingers to gain traction on a twenty-pound note before handing it to me yesterday, I couldn’t hide my disgust. The now scuffed arrows stickered on the floor are promptly ignored and are a laughing point when people arrive at my checkout. I don’t laugh with them.

Seeing the same people every week is slowly getting to me, leading me to the realisation that I’ve taken social interaction for granted my entire life.

During the sixth week, my mum offers to pick me up but I politely decline and walk home in the stifling heat. I pass a shirtless man wearing a face mask.

People are no longer moving out of the way when I get close, unless I tell them to. Occasionally I’m put on self-scan (with the machines that protest that there is nothing in the bagging area, when in fact there is), and it’s almost as if we’re not in lockdown. A man actually touched my shoulder as I was swiping my card to approve his alcohol today. I was rendered speechless.

The eighth week is here, or maybe the ninth, the weeks are starting to blur – or perhaps that happened a while ago. Lockdown is beginning to ease or so it seems. I dream about Prezzo, and TikTok.

I also stop social distancing, admitting a sort of defeat. I dart past people down aisles and sidestep trolleys, embracing this new normal.

No one talks about lockdown at work anymore, it’s just there, lurking.

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Lucy Parish is a first year Creative Writing student at Brunel University London. When she’s not working in a supermarket, she loves to read, write, and cuddle her dog.

An Hour A Day Keeps The Blues At Bay – The Rambles of a Wannabe Traveller

by Becca Arlington

It’s day whateverteenth of lockdown and I’m beginning to wish I had written down each small achievement so I remember this significant period of history in the future, instead of just crossing out all of my painstakingly-well-made plans in frustration.

The most exciting part of each day is probably the hour long walk around my little town; discovering more back roads and wooded areas than I ever thought could fit into the sleepy suburb.

Never have I ever spent so much concentrated time with my parents.

Never have I ever struggled so much to get motivated.

And never have I ever felt guilty for not doing enough home workouts, or even more importantly, not buying a puzzle on Amazon Prime.

My sister got six months of Disney Plus so at least I can binge watch childhood favourites and belt out the classics at the top of my lungs. I might be 25, and I might pitifully still live at home, but there’s always Disney.

I hope the novelty of pub quizzing doesn’t wear off once normality resumes, because I’ve probably done about 1,234 online quizzes with friends at this point. At least my small amount of general knowledge will be increasing daily.

Perhaps I should be going on Zoom dates, that would be quite a story for the grandchildren; “we met in the midst of an apocalypse and could only make eye contact through a screen; it was the Romeo and Juliet of our era don’t you know.”

My dad and I got symptoms. He was so lethargic and feverish for at least two weeks and I had some headaches and no sense of smell or taste, but we are the lucky ones and I am so grateful for that.

I feel I should be doing more to help, but deadlines are coming and creeping faster than normal and my Monkey Music children in my online classes won’t monkey around by themselves. As I attempt to teach them virtually, I hope and pray that the dystopian tales that speak of school children only being taught by screen don’t last longer than lockdown.

I made banana bread the other day, so I am now an official quarantine cliché; but it was very tasty, so I have no regrets. This may be my last ever foray into the world of baking now that flour is scarcely seen on shelves, whilst it’s viewed as an essential product for all of us bandwagon-jumping novices.

I think back to the beginning of last year when I was travelling the world and the possibilities seemed endless. How lucky I was that it was a year prior to pandemic. I give myself wanderlust every day as I attempt to finish my very belated scrapbook and travel blogs. What a difference a year makes. It all feels like a distant memory when so much is now an impossibility. Goodness knows when I can tick off the next country on my ever-growing bucket list. At least the world gets greener as humans stay indoors.

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The daily walks are a reminder that nature continues to flourish, and the sunny weather has brought an abundance of wildlife to the forefront of my senses. The flowers smell stronger, the birds tweet louder and I even saw a rat running across my road just yesterday. I think it was a big ‘FU’ to humans. “Ha, I’m not in isolation b****tches.”

But then the rain began in earnest and the hail indicated that the ten plagues may well be coming for all of mankind. The sun seemed a glimmer of hope during such a bewildering time, but it had been snatched away by the grey clouds of impending doom.

Daily walks have now become replaced with short bursts on the Wii Fit and I am naturally baffled that it told me I haven’t lost any weight. Although I did only just have an Indian takeaway, something to look forward to during the repetitive cycles of eat, sleep, repeat. Its warm and inviting boxes were sprayed within an inch of their life with what remained of our nearly-exhausted supply of Dettol, but the food inside brought back memories of my time in India, and, uh-oh, the wanderlust begins again.

To take my mind away from the unforgiving urge to travel, I FaceTime my niece. She might be a six-month old sausage dog, but she understands how to smash through lockdown unperturbed and constantly grateful that her ‘hoomans’ are always around. I note down her top tips and am then informed by my mum that she has signed me up to sing to my road in a lovely little street party. It’s the small things right now, so I don some rainbow clothing and sing about the rainbows to a socially distancing, but very kind audience.

It’s lockdown and it’s strange. I’m up one day and very far down the next, and the world might never be the same again; but I am not alone, and I am one of the fortunate ones. I am trying to hold on to each small moment and remember that this too shall pass.

 

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Becca Arlington is studying for a Master’s in Creative Writing at Brunel University. She works part-time as a music teacher for young children and is currently blogging about her recent six-month trip around 19 countries. You can find her on Twitter at @beccablogs360.

Funeral Home

by Emmi Goldenberg

New Canaan, Connecticut

6th April, Day 22 of Quarantine:

Cycling along the roads, everything seemed like normal. Gardeners in front lawns blowing leaves in spirals, the odd kid skating up and down the quiet lanes, chipmunks darting from burrow to bush with their tails bolt upright for balance, the occasional rumble of a car passing cautiously at 15mph, the birdsong unbroken as jaybirds perched in every other tree.

Everything seemed like normal until I reached our little town. It was empty. Everything was still. The only sign of movement were the changing traffic lights that flashed green for the non-existent cars, or the crossing man who flashed white for the non-existent pedestrians. Not a single person was here, New Canaan’s town was deserted.

I cycled further up Elm Street and took in the desolate avenue, unable to keep the feelings of sadness at bay. With the spring weather, the town would usually be bustling with people at the early morning farmer’s market, out for their morning coffee, families together for brunch, the annual sidewalk sale. Daffodils, ice creams, and donuts.

As I waited for no reason at a stop sign, I noticed some life; two builders in a pothole. Even they were hiding from society. I mean, I don’t blame them, the whole world was an apocalypse, no one knew what would come of this but at least they could work while they wondered.

The emptiness was peaceful. Despite the abnormality, there was something soothing about being the only one around, almost as if I had entered a world of my own – cliché and comforting. Basking in the newfound bubble, I made my way home, thinking about how everything was still while I was in motion. As I cycled out of town, I passed the Funeral Home, lost in my thoughts I was startled by the figure on the porch. It was the owner. He was stood by his front door dressed in a freshly pressed suit, staring out into the deserted streets. He was working, watching, waiting for the victims of the virus. His aura was beckoning; willing me to fall into his open arms or the casket before him.  I looked away. A sinister chill darted down my spine.

This was day 22 of quarantine for me, it is now 2nd May and day 48. God knows what it’s like out there now.

image001Emmi Goldenberg is a first year English with Creative Writing student. Split between England and America she usually has a very hectic lifestyle, but currently she is sat in the garden watching the world go by. Follow her Instagram @egphotos_ where she is beginning to experiment with the collaboration of photography and storytelling.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/egphotos_/

Portfolio: https://www.clippings.me/emmi

 

Let’s Have a Think About Toothpaste

by Chloe Perrin

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Let’s have a think about toothpaste.

Why toothpaste, you ask? Well, you exhausted every game and TV series in lockdown week one, you’re sick of social media because all your friends keep trying to make you do exercise and you’ve had enough of allowing the news to encase you in a shell of unending dread.

So, what’s left? Toothpaste, that’s what.

I promise you, the ordinary household toothpaste can be your greatest friend during these trying times of fear and isolation.

Still not convinced? Not a problem! Here’s a list of ten incredible things you can do with your very own tube of toothpaste during the lockdown:

  1. A classic – you can clean your teeth with it! Who needs dentists, eh? Besides, it’s not like you’re going to see one of those anytime soon!
  2. Slather your body in it! If it’s good enough to fix your teeth, it might be good enough to fix you.
  3. Wash it all off your body! It really stings and now you can’t stop crying.
  4. Throw your toothpaste at spiders! The spiders won’t like it. But they also won’t stop you.
  5. Talk to the toothpaste. Ask it how long it’s been since you’ve both seen another human being. Keep asking. Don’t be put off by its silence, ask louder! Demand answers from the toothpaste!
  6. Use the toothpaste to create a protective circle around yourself because the spiders have started to revolt.
  7. Become romantically involved with your toothpaste – briefly, and because you’ve forgotten what normal is.
  8. Show the toothpaste pictures of your favourite dim sum places online and pretend you’re not eating there because you’re too tired and not because the government said no.
  9. Dump the toothpaste because it forgot your birthday.
  10. And this is really important – don’t wonder why you’re doing any of this. You have toothpaste, why would you need anything as distracting as healthy introspection? You know deep in your heart that you can’t risk focusing on anything else right now. Even though your skin hurts, even though everything’s sticky and you’re covered in spiders – even though you’re still crying, and you’re scared and lonely and you miss your family, it doesn’t matter.

If you can focus on your toothpaste, everything will turn out fine.

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Chloe Perrin is a second year Creative Writing student from North Wales. She sees a therapist, and so should you.

So You’re in the Middle of a Global Pandemic: An Abridged Guide to Surviving the Boredom of Lockdown

by Kasey Smith

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I find there is nothing greater about living under glorious capitalism than the never ending list of pointless tasks it spawns, which pile up in the back of your mind and fill you with so much anxious stress that you are forced to constantly self-motivate to make sure you don’t slip down a rung on the towering ladder of meritocracy. So, now that we find ourselves in a time without structure, like a tacked-on poem in a portfolio submitted five minutes before a deadline, it is important to seek out things to do. Because God forbid you stopped working, even in the midst of a global crisis.

1. Structure

Keeping a routine to your day is important, so here’s a list of things I like to do to ensure I make the most of this period of isolation: enforce a regular sleep schedule; eat three meals a day and stay hydrated; scream out of my window, ‘next, please’ and ‘would you like a bag?’ so as to not lose the authority in my customer service voice; exercise; meditate to keep the existential dread at bay; rearrange my room and then walk around it as if it isn’t the same room I’ve been in every day for the past… how long has it even been? What day is it? Who am I? Will we ever be let out? I miss Brexit.

2. Creative Output

Hahahaha you have no excuse now! All those novel ideas, poetry concepts, short story inspirations have all been waiting patiently to finally meet the page, and what better time than in a period of impending societal collapse? Think of the witty commentary you can make on the Boris government. Of the flourishing nature outside that reminds us everyday that we were, in fact, the fucking problem. Of how America seems to be eating itself alive. And how, no matter the amount of students that are on campus, the smell of weed still drifts in through my open window to remind me that someone is having a far more relaxed afternoon than I am. So, sit down at your desk (or equivalent) and start writing. After all, great art is born from interesting times, or so they say. Who says, you ask? They. Them, over there.

3. Self Care and Mental Health

I consider myself to be very lucky when it comes to the support network that I have. That’s why, if, like me, you are unfortunate enough to have to deal with a mental health issue, I just want to remind you to take care of yourself. Even if it is just doing one thing a day that makes the burden a little bit lighter. I understand how difficult it can be to force yourself out of bed in the morning after a night of staring at the ceiling, or to force yourself to eat when you feel so nauseous you could vomit, or to reach out to friends or family for help or even to just be sociable. I can’t say I know how you feel exactly, but I’ve been in very similar situations and I’m sorry. At the bottom of this post are some links that you may find useful.

I know I run the risk of sounding very cliché but fuck it, I believe that everyday you prove that negative voice inside your head wrong, it gets quieter. And honestly, that little bastard has done nothing for you so far. So just do your best, even if that means doing something small every so often.

It’s a strange time to be alive, especially when you consider that in ten to fifteen years time a reluctant seventeen year old is going to write a really half-assed history essay on everything happening right now. But, at least this lockdown gives us all a chance to work on the stories we will tell future generations. You want to know what Grandpa did during the great lockdown of 2020? Well, come and sit on my lap and I will tell you about the time I stared at a wall for two whole months and forgot what we called the days of the week.

Mental Health Helplines

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Kasey Smith is a first year creative writing student at Brunel University London, who hopes to go on to write novels, poetry, and plays and maybe have some of them published.

Living in the Age of Coronavirus

by Marie-Teresa Hanna

As I write this from my bedroom, the sun is shining through the window, the birds are singing and I can hear a neighbour exercising to Andra Day’s song, ‘Rise Up’. My next-door neighbours are entertaining their toddler, and she is giggling at their duck noises while the neighbour across is washing dishes in her kitchen. Separated by windows, walls, and doors, we are all aware of each other and although our lives are different, we are collectively trying to get through this pandemic, each with our individual stories, worries and emotions.

As for many of us, this is the first time I have witnessed global fear and collective grief, not only for the uncertainty of the future, but most importantly, for the lives lost within the NHS, communities, family members and friends. With close friends working in pharmacies and Intensive Care Units, a vulnerable and high-risk parent, and elderly family members, I find myself taking precautions that seemed unimaginable before. In between essential bi-weekly hospital visits and once a week shopping trips, I am haunted by the fear in people’s eyes, floored by older members of the community who are unable to get groceries delivered, and the rising mortality rates where human lives are turned into numbers on the news. In contrast, staying safe at home and smelling of pure alcohol and disinfectant wipes is a small compromise.

Although I limit watching the news and social media, the impact of the Coronavirus is constantly on my mind and I have to remind myself that productivity is not the be-all and end-all. Some days I get on with university work, attend Zoom meditation and yoga classes, read, write a few lines of poetry or exercise. Most of the time, I watch Netflix, funny animal videos on YouTube, or end up daydreaming, aware that my mind is processing this current climate and forcing anything would be counterproductive. As I connect remotely with friends and call members of my book club, I hear stories of struggle, change and resilience. Talking to these members brings intergenerational connectedness centred around individuals who tell me their narratives of surviving wars, migration and several losses. Or my father, who recalls stories of waiting in six-hour queues for essentials such as bread and petrol, while growing up in Sudan. In these moments I am reminded that we are hardwired for survival.

In the future, this will be our story to tell. For now, all we can do is connect with each other, give ourselves time to feel, grieve, and remember, because like the sun that sets, we too will rise.

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Marie-Teresa Hanna is a British Egyptian-Sudanese writer, interested in BAME, Middle Eastern and North African women’s fiction. She is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University London. In her spare time, she runs a monthly hospice book club and always enjoys listening to podcasts, and long river walks while contemplating life. If you would like to follow her thoughts and ramblings, find her on Twitter @MarieTeresaHan3.

 

Brunel Creative Writing MA Students Write, Record and Mix an Album in a Week

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By Alex and Simone Ayling-Moores

The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone. Whether it’s our collective isolation and restrictions leaving home comforts, or those fears and concerns for both loved ones, and those we’ll never meet: it is a uniquely uncertain time for almost all of us around the globe.

As both musicians and music teachers (and aspiring writers too!) we had the prospect of losing  a big chunk of our income so, instead of twiddling our thumbs, we decided to try and make something positive from all of this.

Thus the challenge to write, record and mix an album, all in one week, was something we set ourselves… and WE DID IT! Pushing through early mornings and very late evenings, the compositions were crafted and recorded with passion (and a lot of persistence!).

It wasn’t easy. But that’s not to say that it wasn’t fun too!

The album, entitled ‘Escapism’, was started on Monday (March 23rd) and was released Sunday (March 29th). It’s an eclectic album, which presents listeners with a smorgasbord of musicality. From dark harmonies, and electronic distortions, to offbeat lyrics and exotic rhythms, the album blends styles and genres to surprise, entertain and delight.

Like its title suggests, we want it to be a space you can escape into for forty minutes or so, and catch a little novelty and intrigue in moments of dismay and doubt.

‘Escapism’ is available for download through the link below for merely a fiver.

Any download or share really is massively appreciated – if we can make up even an hour’s worth of lost earning from this, it will all have been worth it!

https://alexandsim.bandcamp.com

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