Goodbye for now

Last week we said goodbye to an old friend far too soon. Lucy was really supportive of my writing, so I hope she wouldn’t mind me sharing this.

Lucy was diagnosed with a brain tumour during our first year at university. After being sent straight to the hospital by an optician, having complained of blurred vision and headaches, her life changed forever.

That was over six years ago.

I admit I wasn’t a great friend when Lucy got ill. I didn’t check in as often as I should have, but the ‘what ifs’ are mine alone to live with. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the times I did get to spend with her over the past year.

She told me she’d wanted to have as many new experiences as possible, so I took her to the North Wales Burlesque Festival. I told her someday I’d be up there, and I’m sad to think she’ll never see it.

We also went to her first music festival – Festival Number 6 – based in the bonkers Italian style village of Portmeirion in North Wales.

I had gone fully stocked with neon paint, glitter and fairy lights. I was appalled when Lucy said she didn’t like glitter, and briefly questioned our friendship, but she did wear my fairy lights in case I lost her in the dark.

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One of the most intimate moments I had with Lucy was wondering through the woods with a bottle of vodka in the middle of the afternoon. I asked whether she was afraid of dying, and we talked about it for a long time.

We were having a lovely time, but I don’t remember ever feeling as angry at the situation as I did on that day. She couldn’t believe what was happening because she felt so well. The only thing that hinted at her brain tumour was that she could get lost easily and needed help finding her way around.

She told me how people kept calling her brave, when really she had no choice in the matter. But I am proud of her for achieving so much when other people might just curl up and shut the world away.

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The best case scenario, apparently, was another four years. This was excellent news to me – she’d be here a minimum of four years and not a day less – and surely a cure would have been found by then, anyway!

We caught up on normal girl stuff – I needed to know every single detail about her boyfriend – and I sent her to give the burger boy my number. We had a cracker eating competition with her friend Kevin, and when the rain became too traumatic to handle we went to my friend’s grandmother’s house for a hot shower, which Lucy was eternally grateful for.

We headed back to the festival in our freshly dried clothes, Lucy delighted with her idea to put carrier bags inside her leaking wellies. She said she would buy us lunch, and the outrage she expressed on learning that a portion of fish and chips would cost £10 (‘TEN POUNDS???’) was priceless.

Re-reading the blog post I wrote about the weekend, it feels surreal that she’s already gone. If I had realised that seven months later we would be saying goodbye, I would have made an effort to remember everything we said (and possibly put the vodka down).

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Then there are the older memories. On a French exchange trip, we stayed with a miserable elderly couple who only fed us dry pasta, overcooked carrots floating in water, and canned hotdog sausages. In our room we found a swastika emblazoned book and were horrified to realise we were definitely probably living with Nazis.

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Disneyland Paris

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Lucy’s 18th birthday

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Last day of 6th form

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Charity fundraiser soon after Lucy was diagnosed

The day after I heard about Lucy’s passing, I was at the BBC in Cardiff for work experience. On my way out the door I had grabbed any old notebook – this one hadn’t been used since 2011 – and a page fell open with the words:

‘Good things that have happened to me this Christmas:

  1. Lucy saying “I’m just happy I’m still here.”‘

I just about fell off my chair. I was transported back to Beaumaris town square on New Year’s Eve with all our friends, when Lucy said those words as we watched the fireworks. I will never forget it.

Lucy left us on Sunday March 19th. Not being able to say goodbye is difficult – I visited a day too late – but I’m glad she died surrounded by family.

That week I was at my friend’s grandmother’s house for the first time since last summer, and I could imagine Lucy curled in front of the fire wearing Nain’s dressing gown. It seemed surreal that an old lady was still here when Lucy wasn’t.

When I see the little green dot pop up on Facebook to signify that her account is active, my heart stops for a moment as I convince myself it was all a mistake.

I wish I had profound words to share but I’ve been struggling to find any that seem right. Nothing I write will be as good as the post Lucy herself wrote. I remember being so proud when she asked me to help her set up a blog.

I can’t go back and recall every single moment together, because life doesn’t work that way. All that’s left to say, I suppose, is that I’m so very proud to have known Lucy and am grateful to her for reminding me to make every moment count.

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Lucy Kate, 1991-2016

 

 

 

 

Life: an update

Last night in Waitrose I spotted my A level Welsh teacher. Having finished school 6+ years ago, people tend not to recognise me. But I was made up when she knew exactly who I was! Imagine my mortification when I couldn’t remember the name of this woman who had taught thousands of kids across the years.

I told her I’m a writer now, and she was delighted. She remembered I’d been a good writer at school. I felt a huge glow of pride being able to tell her this. Okay, so maybe I don’t always get paid to write about the most exciting things (boilers, DIY, carpets) but I’m doing the only career I’ve ever wanted.

2016: the Lows and Highs

I won’t lie, 2016 has been tough. I hit rock bottom and spent 12 days on a psychiatric unit, and a few months later got picked up by police with the threat of a section. They were humiliating experiences that I still find hard to think about. There have also been a lot of problems at home, which I haven’t shared here.

And of course, there’s George Michael’s death. I’m generally unaffected by celebrity deaths – the last one was Steve Irwin – but I was terribly upset about poor George. I remember desperately wanting a George Michael CD one Christmas and Dad grabbing one from Asda and hiding it under his coat in an attempt to hide in from me, terrified of being pulled up by security. I decided a long time ago that Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go would be played at my funeral for the lolz. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate George nabbing the title of most ironic death of all time from Steve?

So, that’s the grim stuff out of the way! Here are some of my favourite memories and achievements:

I performed burlesque with my troupe several times, including three performances in one weekend at Threshold festival. Two years ago I would never have been brave enough. I’m even working on my own tooth fairy inspired solo!

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I made a speech at a very dear friend’s wedding, after a whirlwind year-long romance. I hadn’t known Kairi too long, but she stayed up late into the night talking to me on the phone as I had a meltdown on a secure ward, and I felt the need to share what a wonderful person she is with her new family. As someone who is terrified of public speaking this was a big deal! We turned our dance studio at the back of our beloved 81 Renshaw into a secret garden wonderland. Doesn’t she make the most beautiful bride?

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I got more into my urbexing, i.e. urban exporation, having been taken under the wing of a seasoned explorer and a great friend. Meeting a ghost at Denbigh asylum and our various adventures dodging security guards have been a blast!

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I graduated with a Master’s degree in Screenwriting, gaining a merit despite my ups and downs thanks to some wonderfully understanding lecturers.

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I’ve dabbled with fire performance for a couple of years, but this year I picked up new skills that suit me better, including body burning and fire licking. If you’re in the Manchester area, Tinika over at the Manchester Fire School is a brilliant teacher (and heaps cheaper than the one down in London). I performed all on my lonesome at interactive art event INKbeat* in Liverpool and was dead proud of myself – and dressed as a humbug, no less.

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I met my beautiful boyfriend at Festival Number 6 in September during a Craig Charles set. I asked if he wanted a snog and the rest is history!

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Brother: move that ugly bag from the frame.                 Dad: Don’t talk about your sister like that.

What I’ve learned

2016 has taught me that a select few friends who have your back no matter what are far more valuable than many randomers. There was a point where I felt the need to cull a lot of people from my life for self preservation purposes – a need to close a chapter and eliminate everybody who would remind me of it.

 

New Year’s resolutions

My resolution every single year is to be kind. Although I try to be a nice person, when jealousy or insecurities rear their ugly heads I find myself thinking bad thoughts. I’ve said and done lots of things I regret. I could say my resolution was to lose weight, or win the lottery, but if I’m not a kind person being thin or having money won’t make me happy.

 

And finally…

Thank you to everybody who has read my blog this year and supported my writing even when I lost faith in myself. Thank you to my parents for making the 4 hour round trip to the hospital every day. Thank you to the random stranger on the Merseyrail train who told me I was really pretty and didn’t try to hit on me…

Wishing you all a wonderful 2017.

Love,

Lowri xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Feelings About Graduating Tomorrow

So at 10:30am I’ll be graduating with a Master’s degree in Screenwriting. To start with, let me explain how much I really, really dislike mornings. I’m contemplating staying up all night to make sure I get there in time.

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I’ve spent several years getting to this point: I studied Welsh and English at A level, then a Creative Writing degree, then a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design because, according to my CV, I wanted to ‘gain a more thorough understanding of the production process’. And now, finally, we’re here.

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Creative Writing, class of 2013

I was so excited to start my two-year course. All was going well – I was getting 60+% grades, which at Master’s level qualifies as a Merit.

…that is, until March, when I ended up in the nuthouse. Since March, I’ve felt like a deflated balloon. I just stopped caring. It’s been a couple of months since I received my results, which I still haven’t opened because I don’t want to face the guilt of dad spending £4,500 on a degree that I barely managed to pass.

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I had so many good ideas inside my head, but what came out on paper was half-arsed. I don’t feel like a master of anything.

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I’m sad that I’ve let myself down. I’m nervous to see my lecturers because I let them down. I’m annoyed at myself because I was supposed to be more, but instead I’m only just making enough money to eat through my writing – forget rent, and the general cost of being alive. And I’ve had a bad week, which prompted me to scratch my arms and I don’t have a long sleeved dress to hide them.

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I went to the pub with Dad, and tomorrow I know I’ll be okay, because I don’t have a choice. I’ll keep applying for jobs I might get rejected for, and keep writing about boilers and safe sex so I still have the right to call myself a freelance writer.

The one thing that comforts me is this blog. Right now I should be dying my hair, ironing my dress, finding unladdered tights, and maybe checking what grade I actually got for my degree. It reassures me that I’ll always be a writer, because all I’ve ever wanted to do is write. I’m guessing around 10 people will read this blog post, but that’s okay, because it will be out there in the universe, existing, regardless.

*vom*

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Welsh-Inspired Christmas Gifts

There are plenty of traditional Welsh gifts out there. Love spoons, slate coasters, salt… but to be honest, as a 24 year old female who isn’t a grandmother I wouldn’t be that impressed with a spoon, no matter HOW MUCH?!?!? it cost.

Instead, here’s my pick of Welsh-inspired Christmas gifts, which prove that Wales can be cool…right?

Welsh Girl Problems

I once had a fictitious Facebook profile named Welsh Chick Issues. Then Welsh Girl Problems came along who was much funnier. I catch up with her posts on social media when I’m feeling homesick, and now she’s got some lush merch on offer.  I actually bought the ‘Tywysoges’ jumper a couple of months back.

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Gemwaith Lora Wyn

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I am head over heels with this pendant! Alternative colours available, whilst alternative location for heart can be requested (Rhyl will be rejected). Anglesey shape also available. Buy here.

Dwi ‘di mopio. 

Bolycs Cymraeg

Translated to Welsh Bollocks, the social media persona aims to re-tell our country’s history, picture by picture, word by word:

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And now there’s a book, which I’ve already ordered Dad. And not just cos it costs a fiver.

Naiswon!

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Dwi am brynu’r ti-shyrt yma i’r brawd ‘fyd:

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Niki Pilkington 

Regular readers will have caught my previous post about Penllyn-raised illustrator Niki Pilkington. Despite now working from the Big Apple, having been commissioned by everybody from Paul McCartney to Topshop, much of her work still draws themes from Welsh culture and language.

These are a go-to when my parents need to find me a gift, and my collection contains about 10 prints right now.

There are some gems in the ‘Merched Cymraeg’ collection by Twinkle & Gloom as well:

 

Monopoly 

If you have to be stuck in a house with the fam for an entire day, some regional monopoly will help kill a few hours. The Sir Fôn and Wales editions cost upwards of 80 quid on Amazon, but this Cardiff edition is available from John Lewis for £21.99:

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‘Sgynai’m byd doniol i ychwanegu. ‘Sa well ni herio’r Saeson? ‘Sgwn i os ‘dyn nhw’n gwbod fod popty ping mond yn air i’w difyrru nhw, ag mai meicrodon yw’r gair cywir? 

Cawl

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I met author Siôn back in 2012 at the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Awards in Swansea (shudder). After I read aloud my work he came over to tell me it was funny, so obviously I liked him immediately.

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                                                     Siôn yn dysgu’r bychan sut i gyfarch Saeson

Siôn is himself a highly entertaining writer, unfortunately even more so than me, and I can’t wait to read this collection of essays, short stories, cartoons, poems, comics and a recipe for cawl. Nice one mun!

Toffoc

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Toffoc is the ffocin one. Like having a big toffee-flavoured cwtch.

The Little Chilli Shop

I visit Wales’s first chili shop in Beaumaris whenever I need a present for Dad. The owners are fab and customers are free to sample the huge range of products available, and conveniently there’s a legendary ice cream shop situated across the road.

I like the Cheeky Girl, whereas the boyfriend prefers the Bad Boy. Reckon we’re a bit wrong for each other if you ask me.

The chili marmalade is surprisingly moreish, and there’s even chili jewelry.

Fydd dy dîn di ar dân.

And finally…

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Angan rwbath romantic i’r fodan? Sorted.

I would say you’re more than welcome to buy me this for Christmas but to tell you the truth I impulse bought it at the Electric Mountain gift shop in Llanberis several years ago. Tidy.

 

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If you’re wondering what else I’m giving this Christmas, Mam’s getting this vaguely overpriced but had-to-have-it bunting by Elements Crafts (£15), whilst I bought soap containing world-renowned Anglesey Sea Salt for the boyfriend’s mum (£4.50 wrapped), in the hopes she’ll like me cos I’m exotic. And for Dad, an album by the true love of my life Meilyr Jones, partly so I can steal it.

Even if my suggestions are too ridiculous for your tastes, I hope I’ve inspired you to shop local.I’m a firm believer that unless you’re gonna put thought into presents, you may as well not bother. I love searching independent shops for Christmas gifts, especially around Beaumaris and Betws y Coed.

Now that I spend most of my time in Liverpool, it can be lonely without anyone to speak Welsh and discuss sheep with. I personally would love any of these gifts to remind me of home.

Swsys a snogs,

Lows xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A date to Denbigh asylum

Denbighshire asylum is an abandoned psychiatric hospital nestled in the north Wales countryside. Regarded as one of the great Victorian institutions, building began in 1844 and at its height was home to 1500 patients.

Its treatment of psychiatric disorders was often regarded as barbaric and the controversial hospital was designated for closure in 1960. It would take until 1995 to close its doors for good.

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With an Ouija board in tow, this was hands down the best date I’ve been on. I developed an interest in urbexing (urban exploration) last year and was buzzing to make a chum with similar interests.

The gorgeous grade 2 listed building with its Gothic architecture is soon to be flattened in favour of building a shopping complex, so I was desperate to finally see it.

I was particularly excited because my dad actually worked at “Denbigh Mental” as a trainee social worker. Wonder what he’ll think of our photos?

As someone who’s spent time in a madhouse, I also felt a particular pull to this place.

I was unprepared for its sheer scale. Here’s an aerial view:

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Image by David Gaskell

One of the first things you notice when you step inside is the total lack of sound. Despite window panes being long hollowed, the noise doesn’t carry and is totally silent.

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It wasn’t all bad. The first annual ball for patients was apparently held in December 1852 and in 1867, the first hospital band was formed. Here are images of the asylum i its heyday: 

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Denbigh-Postcard

Here it is now:

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We encountered multiple groups of kids creating their own summer fun. We were joined for a rest at a table and chairs by a gang of 12 year old boys. Settling, they offered a hit of their bong before spilling beer over our backpacks.

We politely declined but hung around the building, my date taking great delight in scaring them. Cruel, but my God, was it fantastic!

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My urbex buddy had been there previously and swore he’d heard a girl scream. Although I consider myself an open minded skeptic, I pretty much thought someone had been having him on.

After yesterday, I am well and truly a believer.

We took a breather on a stairwell.

I actually found this image online of exactly where it happened. We sat a few steps down on the first left. Below that was a dark scary basement:

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Suddenly, footsteps down the corridor. Coming closer and closer.

The supernatural didn’t cross my mind. I was more concerned with encountering infamous self-appointed security guard Elwyn and his rumoured nine dogs, whose favourite words are ‘If I catch you in the asylum I will get my dog to bite your bollocks off!’ Here is his Facebook appreciation page. I particularly enjoyed this recorded encounter.

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Elwyn. Source: Google

Holding my breath, I grabbed the boy’s hand so hard it probably turned white. We dashed down to the basement when it seemed like the footsteps were barely a couple of feet away. I didn’t even bother turning around to see the face of anger on the security guard, that’s how certain I was that we’d been busted.

We shivered in the darkness waiting for something to happen.

My date bravely went back up to investigate the source of the footsteps.

He scoured the building and its exterior to no avail – there was nowhere outside in the wide open space for anyone to hide. There was no wind, nothing inside the building that could have made such a consistent sound.

I was just relieved not to get my balls bitten off.

Not long after that we really did get busted by Elwyn, although your genitals remained intact.

Going back was initially a no-no. However, having driven all that way we took a chance and clambered inside the nurses quarters. 

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Nurses Quarters

I can imagine that at one point the nurses quarters had been warm and welcoming. Compared to the metal doors of the institution, care had been chosen to paint these in bright colours. Each room was of a comfortable size with its own wardrobe and floral wallpaper. I was surprised by how much effort had gone into individualising each personal space.

One of my favourite finds was the on-site creche…

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…which had teeny tiny toilets and murals on the walls. I was particularly taken with Jemima Puddleduck because of a soft toy my dad gave me:

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More than architecture, for me urbexing is all in the detail. Hand drawn murals, terrible 70s wallpaper, stickers, carpets. Details are where personality shines through, a reminder that people really did live here at one point. Imagining someone painting Jemima really gave me goosebumps.

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Gorgeous countryside views from a nurse’s room

Still debating whether to risk sneaking back into the actual asylum, we took some time to get out the Ouija board.

When  asked what name we should call the supposed spirit by, it SORT OF pointed the planchette towards Y-V. ‘Is your name Yvonne?’, we asked. it SORT OF agreed. Then it buggered off and we lost interest.

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Date hadn’t realised this photo had taken – Yvonne having a laugh at my expense?

On the top floor, I couldn’t quite clamber up into the attic. According to the boy it spanned the length of the entire building. Here are pics he took for me:

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Back inside the asylum we found tunnels which appeared to span the entire complex. We climbed up onto the mechanism for a lift. We found the tiniest cells which made me feel cold to look at.

All in all, we spent around seven hours at the asylum and still didn’t see everything.  As sunset approached, having combed through most of the buildings, we finally found the morgue (six freezer spaces, if you were wondering).

But for me, the crème de la crème was the abandoned chapel of rest. Inside had been gutted, but it was still so beautiful. We lay on our backs staring up at the ceiling with its gorgeous wooden beams. If you didn’t look down, you wouldn’t realise the place was derelict.

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Source: Google

This seemed like as good a place as any to give the Ouija board one last go. I wished I’d brought candles to really up the ambience. Nothing really happened, much to my dismay. I’m now inclined to believe that Ouija boards merely rely on the power of suggestion.

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Despite the asylum’s controversial history, I was overwhelmed with regret that such a grand building would soon be flattened for the sake of commercialism. Unfortunately the site is in such disrepair that it makes sense to knock it down and start again, but it’s a terrible shame.

Driving home, it finally clicked – if there was nobody in the building when we hid from those footsteps, who WAS in there?

If you’re interested in learning about the controversial practices inflicted on former psychiatric patients, check out the BBC documentary Mental: A Hystery of the Madhouse.

Images by Phill Gaffney. For more of his work follow urbanxplor.