Omar Majeed -
Born to Laith and Diana Majeed at Leighton Hospital in Cheshire, 1984. Snippets of half memories rebuilt by family photographs and moving pictures from a now-broken camcorder. Moved to Hereford aged two-and-a-half. Number 23 was called Morouge. A three bedroom detached house on a street of three bedroom detached houses. Lying on the linoleum and painting on sugar paper. A Volvo named after Spot the Dog’s mother. Dorothy and Roy next door, Steve on the other side. Frank. All these men and their vegetable gardens. Paul up the road who would invite himself to play roller basketball or shoot things on the computer. Sticking photos in a scrapbook. A den cut into a hedge leading down the side of the house. Jonathan, Transformers and hiding in the garden. Learning to cycle a blue BMX at the park. A bad experience with a jack-in-the-box at playgroup.
Rising fives. The bridge into school, learning to knot ties and tie shoelaces step by step. Making paper robots with paint and PVA. Books with pictures and few words. Learning to shape letters, sentences. Nadia is born in Hereford County hospital, 1988. “How do you like your new sister?” “Fine.”
Milk and a Jaffa Cake every morning. Walking through the park with Granny. SATs. Kiss chase. The smell of conifers and playing football with a tennis ball. Grass stains on grey. At the LEA swimming pool name tags make one jumper different from another. Carpeted coach seats. Getting in early to collect conkers. A quarter-ounce of cola-cubes. Assembly. Sing Hosanna, sing banana. See the headmaster. He had a buzzer outside his room made by a year five. Amber, please wait. Green come in. Nice man, lived up our road. Good Christian, bad wig. Waving out the back window to my friend Nicky the last time I saw him. Swimming with Leila. A giant chessboard with no pieces in the playground. Not talking about Iraqi relatives. Visiting Scottish relatives. Mystery books read by torchlight. A pitiful stamp collection. Corridors. Packed lunches. Visiting the class above to read their books now. Friends’ birthday parties. Learning to swear. School plays written by teachers. Recorder practice. Staged photographs with a side parting and missing teeth against a mottled beige background. Chubby cheeks. Making a house out of sofa cushions, sheets and clothes pegs. Scratching melodies from violin strings. Those yellow Y-fronts found at cub-camp that nobody would own up to. Racing raindrops on French windows. Sleepover philosophizing. Seeing a ghost after reading the young ghost-hunters guide. Sonic the Hedgehog. Crazy golf. The zoo. Cycling on the road. Playing football for a team. Looking at insects close up. Eurocamp. Judo. Writing poems in the library with Sophie at lunch for an anthology. Utilising the youth orchestra tuck-shop. Skiing holidays. Lee jeans and a Sweater Shop jumper. Gravel under my skin. A place on a writing weekend in a youth hostel in the Malvern hills. French Club. Naming goldfish after hobbits. White shirts and marker pens on the last day, an autograph book of good wishes and goodbyes.
Gradually losing touch with people for the first time at the age of eleven. Arriving at Hereford Cathedral School with a scholarship. Wondering what clothes to wear when I’m not in uniform. Breaking the plastic saltcellar in the canteen. Trying not to look awkward in communal showers. Posters. Different sets for maths. Pop music and kissing at parties. Playing on the Playstation. Being too short and not very good at rugby. A first kiss. A second kiss at the same party. Falling out with friends over girls. Running with the dog. Recording Peel sessions on Minidisc. Climbing trees. Getting in a fight once on the green and being kicked in the balls. Listening to music on headphones. Seeing your friends drunk. Making compilation tapes. Swapping music with friends, talking about music. Making up bands and songs that don’t really exist. Leaving the Scouts. Trying to speak to girls on the phone. Starting to skateboard, first at Joe’s then in car parks. Staying up to watch films. An undercut and a half-grown moustache. Flirting. Shaving. Masturbating. PGL and Panda Lemonade and Green Day. The first taste of hash on a park bench. Being sick in a kitchen sink after drinking spirits from a Super-Soaker. Army Cadets. Scoring a sixteenth of hash from a friend. Baggy Jeans on wear-what-you-like day. Forgetting how to count 4/4 in piano lessons. Being made to do Latin over Classics. Choosing Science over Art. Getting stuck with German and returning to French. Making choices knowing they will affect the course of my life. Choosing Maths, Music and IT as my GCSE options. Mock GCSEs. A pattern of success despite a variable work ethic. Shooting toys with air rifles. Reading a lot. Making up birthdays for bouncers. Trying to keep a diary. Drawing in a notepad. Volunteering at the hospital. Hiking. Two local football teams and a new tracksuit. Eavesdropping on public transport. Poetry as obsessive and inefficient self-examination. Prizes for same poetry. Prizes for achievement in English. A prize as voted by my peers. Gatecrashing a party and playing table-tennis with someone’s drunk dad. Playing golf. Trying to remove my double nipple with nail scissors. Having a band for about a month. Writing one good song. Hours spent in front of the computer making ‘music’ on my own. Taking pictures without a good reason. Playing albums and making coffee at a photography shop. Black tie parties in village halls. Awkwardness and longing. Cycling a lot for a while. The secret road. A burnt out car in a pond. Long walks around the outside of factories and through fields. Difficult relationships with fleeting moments of joy. Visiting people at work but not working yet. Buying an eighth of an ounce of skunk now and again and learning to skin up. Getting high in the countryside and feeling fuzzy the next day. Liking girls but them not liking me in that way. Playing with video cameras at Rural Media. Swimming outdoors. Spending time in the darkroom. Mugs of tea. The Gambia, a new landscape on Larium. The Fear. The Simpsons. Washing my hands and trying to read the Koran. Albert Camus. Being thin and pockmarked. Wearing a gown to chapel and staring at the stained glass. Looking at the tree in the car park through the study window every morning. Contributing thoughtful pieces of writing and black and white photographs for the school paper. Being asked to lay out same paper. Turning the school paper into an unfunny post-modern joke. Recreational trespass. Birthday parties that still include videos and basketball. Relaxing in the bath with codeine and vodka. Art AS-level, German Expressionism, Life drawing. Maths A-level, cake day, Kierkegaard and Prog Rock. Biology and dissection anxiety. English literature, tedium and inspiration. Chemisty I don’t remember. Music Technology – the only person who lasted until the end and somehow in the peace of solitude made some good music. After lesson chats with my English teacher about Beckett and Buddhism. Opening a vein and being scared of blood. Playing squash. Getting Duke of Edinburgh Gold, walking with friends in the hills and feeling happy and free. Saving a sheep with its head stuck in the fence. A sixth form study filled with my best friends in the world and stuff we like from magazines and music playing always and tea and games of Chinese chequers and people coming to visit. Miserableism and the growing void. My body drawing in on itself. One decent drawing to show for it all that Antony didn’t believe I did.
School finishes finally and I end up with two A’s and a B in A levels I don’t care about and a further two A’s and a D in my AS’s. Applications and an Architecture interview at Cambridge and a place at Bath University. Quitting a cushy job in a call centre for catering in the hospital for long hours. Milk and two sugars. Washing up. Swapping picnics with Loretta for reading Dostoevsky in my lunchbreaks on the bench watching the sixth-form kids go past. Sitting in the car and listening to Dylan cassettes. Thinking I was in love and working for a week and happy but the happiness flecked with madness and then floating away. The smell of death. A lingering gloom. The wrong medication. A mental breakdown. A slow recovery. Regular meetings with psychiatrists, psychologists and community psychiatric nurses.
Enrolling in the local art college on a HND Photography course. Hereford College of Art and Design, or HCAD for short. Hackysack on day one introduces new faces. Starting quietly. Doing a bit of work. Meeting some people. Getting stuck in. Going off on one without anyone noticing. Experimenting with drugs. Going on jaunts. Invoking madness as a creative impulse. Self-publishing. Overworking the photocopier. Justifiable vandalism. Sleeping in my car. Disappearing off places. Helping people out. Hanging out a lot drinking tea or soup and talking and being friends with people. Living alone briefly. Failing to cope. Befriending the librarians. Networking without realising that’s what I’m doing. Flying kites, seeing bands. Meeting girls for coffee and feeling like I am finally entertaining. Taking photographs of everything and being told it’s relevant and interesting. Technical issues. Sloppiness. Acquiring new skills. Looking at other people’s work. Blagging. Watching films. Going to the pub. Getting a proper girlfriend at last, for a few happy weeks. Needing something more and finding it.
Finishing after two years with a foundation degree in Photography accredited by the University of Gloucester. Going to university properly. Leaving Hereford behind. A new town. A new place to live with the same girl, a constant companion. Video games and newspapers on Sundays on the lawn. Mildew and rats and designed spaces. Disorder, ennui and a strange kind of contentment. A walk down the hill to uni. English and Journalism at Kingston. Reading books and talking about them. Not reading books and talking about them. Writing haphazard experimental essays. Writing occasionally for pleasure. Writing the news. Learning feature writing. Rediscovering my voice. Going out. Pretending to be normal. Melting down again.
Another stay in hospital, first voluntarily then under section. I had escaped through the fire alarm and stolen a bicycle. I was found and convinced to return. Plastic cutlery and a smoking room the colour of shit. Apocalyptic visions and delusions of grandeur. Time travel and the shifting of dimensions. Art therapy and music therapy and talking therapy. Cooking and gardening. Relapse plans. Triggers. Breathing exercises. She visited every day, with cigarettes and a sympathetic smile. Being released into the world again and not knowing how to be anymore. Another year of my life down the pan, sleeping and eating and volunteering four hours a week at the cider museum. Playing six a side football. A trophy for most improved player. The temporary reintroduction of routine as a safety net against the gigantic chaos I see.
Back to uni and a different course - Graphic Design and Photography. It interests me and I feel like I can do it. Finding out what it is, what I can do within it. Resocialising, putting things behind me. Taking stock. Trying again. Setbacks and difficulties but a half-broken persistence and a wonky but wide-eyed excitement for visual ideas that gets me in every day. Taking photographs means something again. I find myself learning new skills thinking in new ways. Out on my own at last, in a bedsit of increasing disrepair. Clutter that matches my mind and a neighbour who frightens me. Erratic spells of near greatness and pits of shame and nothing. One more crisis, of grand proportions. One more year to complete. A new place to live, The Forge – where ideas are made, James said. Playing reed organ with Josh in a hushed basement in Camden. A lineage of excellent housemates, old faces and new. Staying up all night with Stu to conceive Gravity Serpent zine in the wee hours after watching The Bahder Meinhof Complex. In the third year of uni finding a new lease of life, a happy productivity, a consistent creativity. Finishing with a 2:1 and feeling it a success in the face of disorder and despair. Selling my final piece at the end of year show to a sweet couple who loaded it into a taxi. Getting engaged in France to convince her I would still be around after my MA and celebrating in Paris. Moving to Durham and drinking in the dark in a small halls of residence. Getting woken up by my Mexican neighbour and joining in the shots in the kitchen. My SAD lamp arrived broken and it really was the icing on the cake. Dropping out before the course had even started and moving to Brockley. Starting an MA at Goldsmiths. Lapsing into smoking weed again as self medication. Not being able to concentrate to read. Not being able to leave the house eventually. Breaking up and moving out with a feeling of sadness. Moving to Beckenham and getting a dream job in a bookshop. Quitting smoking. Walking three miles a day. Doing Tai Chi every morning. Getting progress on a novel about the city I had left behind. Not being able to stay still at work. Not sleeping. Meeting my friend for coffee and spontaneously going home to visit mum and dad. Good job I did. Sleeping in a female friend’s bed and reading to her. Staying up late singing and playing guitar. Not realising I had been losing my mind again. Becoming convinced my friends were against me. Trying to escape imaginary pursuers by fleeing through the river at night and somehow not drowning but losing all my clothes and walking home wrapped in plastic from the bins at the scrapyard beside. Ringing the doorbell and saying can we talk about this in the morning. Five months in hospital that I barely want to think about. Eventually settling down and being let home at last. Regrouping. Resting. Smoking a lot of rollies and drinking a lot of coffee. Glad my friends are still there. Finding use for my writing in a content agency. Hanging out in Lucy and Beth’s shared house and drinking tea and drawing, which would eventually turn into Drawing Club. Doing the art foundation I should have done a decade before. Making Eight issues of Gravity zine, four with letterpressed covers by Liam. Drinking blackcurrant and soda in the pub because I finally realise beer doesn’t work with my meds. Asking Rex if it’s an art. Hosting the first Hereford Olympics for my birthday and catching up with old friends. Playing Magic the Gathering with Johnny as he realised my tattoo meant I was marked to play. Playing songs at open mic nights. Filming Lorem Ipsun in parks and on a trip to the beach. Getting a screen tan editing. Having a barbecue and getting to know Bizzy. Januray resolution not to dump each other. Doing the second year of a fine art degree as a one year course. Learning basket weaving in the woods. Various wobbles but gradually finding some kind of stability where I struggle to get out of bed but at least I can function. Working on art and music and writing because despite it all there’s nothing else much to do. (written satirically for a Kingston Design careers module 2008, updated 2017)