Helen Palmer

A self-described complex being, all-too-wearily knowing of her own position in the world. The thud of the Guardian every morning on the doormat of the parental home. The thud of the Gazette every evening. Comfortable in uncomfortable politics and shame. More financially comfortable than Stephen Dedalus. Unable to unfurl the body she had been given. In some ways completely in the form of a comma or a cringe. And how much will we talk about bodies? Perhaps a lot. Perhaps there is a lot to be spoken about there. She has these multiple voices within herself. Don’t talk too much. Don’t keep silent. Don’t confuse them. Keep yourself simple. A straight line. Straight down the line. If you have male teachers all the way down the line you will grow up thinking you are male. You look terrible right now. Go back to the seaspawn and seawrack. Signatures of all things. Curlicues under the pier. Brashness of signs. Madame Tussauds and the squares of the Palace Discotheque. What kind of style? Almost art deco? What is art deco again? When was Blackpool born? Fashionable in the fifties? The White Tower Restaurant. Rachel played the piano there in the evenings. Who had got her the gig? Graham. 

Graham lived in a flat more suitable for cats than people. How do we read Graham? The kindest of souls. Graham’s fingers were thick and his fingernails were long and sometimes painted. Graham belongs to the tradition of the Blackpool queen, which is strong. Queens and queers throng the streets of Queen Street. Cheeky Vimmies in the Flying Handbag. Rachel only knows these things from gossip and has never set foot in the Flying Handbag. And Graham is the piano teacher. Graham’s mind is subtle and sensitive and thoughtful and playful and strong and excellent. Talked of 1920s Paris. Graham’s health is not great. Graham lets the neighbourhood cats rule his flat above the sex shop. Precarious steps up to the front door and piles of sour-smelling rubbish lying around. Portals to other worlds on his yellowstained walls.

Rachel cannot connect the mind and the body. This was happening culturally throughout the twentieth century, but at this time, at the century’s the arse end, they had already been connected. And yet Rachel cannot be in her body due to what she sees as commonplace woes but are actually big western feminist problems. She has body dysmorphia and eating disorders. She is on antidepressants. The boys from school started growing their hair long and looking like the faux 1960s mods in Year 9 onwards. No one did what she wanted. No one wore dresses and eyeliner and carved messages into their arms like Richey did. But Richey was gone. She carved secret tiny hieroglyphs into her wrist with the compass from her pencil case and told nobody. Not like Cheryl Sanderson and Deborah Parr at school who tried to make ink tattoos in the bogs and got sent to hospital after leaving bloodstains smeared across the tiles.  

Signatures I read whilst sitting on the bog at school. The word bog. How ‘goanbogz’ is a good condensation of syllables. CHARLENE IS A BINT. Too scared to speak to Charlene always. MICHELLE CHIVERS GAVE DOM BLUNT A BLOW JOB HERE 05/02/97. Forbidden. MARK K WOZ ERE IN GIRLS BOGZ!!! Giving boys blowjobs at school, not cloaking yourself in a load of alcohol first . . . possible?

Linguistic analyses of bog walls and doors.
Interrogative. DO U KNOW A SECRET?  
Corporeal. I. NEED. A. POOOOOOOOOOO.  
Demonstrative. I LOVE JAMES GREGORY 4 EVA.
Phatic. HELLO I CAN C U.
Illocutionary/perlocutionary speech act. I LUV ANDY FERRIS 4 EVA I.D.S.T. I AM SMOKING A FAG IN HERE RIGHT NOW HA HA

Two can play that game. In the Syndicate. But when did the Syndicate open? What about Heaven and Hell? R Kelly. She’s Got That Vibe. The Waterfront. Brannigans for cheap drinks first. (Perhaps think about the structure of the day). Morning for Olga Allegri. The humpy tray. Olga lives on Dickson Road.  

Home in on this. What the music does to you. Teenage songs. Ash Goldfinger. Move closer / Set my soul on fire. The ease of teenage bag-slinging wrist-scratching love.  would die for you. 4 REAL. I.D.S.T. The purple of half-healed scars. Tramlines up your arm. The only way to gain approval / Is by exploiting the very thing that cheapens me. Those times when fifteen senses that rang true. And now in my nineteen senses you have captured every single one of them. And when there is what you call the soulsoar, the soar of the soul, you imagine it as something incongruous like a polar bear but flying with the chance any minute of dropping to the ground weighing one tonne. Culture sucks down words / Itemise loathing and feed yourself smiles. The anger couched, condensed, down into one line. Just one line. Kicking screaming Gucci little piggy. The hatred that people feel for those they have zero knowledge of. The hatred people especially feel for those they have zero knowledge of. (she does not want me really; not really; not truly. And I know this. So why pursue?) But come back to the beestung lips . . . I still love you the girl from Mars.

Something about being nineteen and leaning out of a window smoking on a cigarette and feeling your skin prickle with sentience, a knowing that every particle of you is hanging suspended from the sky and if you just leant out a little further, a little further, you wouldn’t fall because you always dream this. You can levitate and you can tread air. You know you can do this because you do it every night. I wish they’d swoop down in a country lane / Late at night when I’m driving / Take me on board their beautiful ship / Show me the world as I’d love to see it. It tries to come back to her. It always tries to source itself in her. But the her is moveable. She moves like an abstract notion through this guitar-flavoured mindspace, the soulsoar. It’s all you.  Listen to the you of the future. She has nothing to do with this. This is your artistic epos (?). The time when you listened to High by The Cure and you felt every word down to the marrow which curdled deep in your bones at the very proximity of her. When you wrote the words airy and shaky and featherlight and you felt a new feeling that you had never felt before. These feelings. How you move / The way you bust the clouds it makes me want to try. Sticky as lips. Licky as trips. Never has there been a purer joy than one of an awakening of a new feeling, a new cavern.

Across the pillow, some strands of hair, scented with dark henna from Lush bought in Manchester (when did Lush open?), were agitated by a pair of lips stuck together out of dryness, slightly stuck to the pillow. Scratchy lip-crackedness, eyes slightly stuck together. A shrill cockerel noise from the Argos alarm clock with the melted plastic top and spattered with discs of hardened candlewax drips. Doing the early, starting at 9am. Gav and James would be sleeping until around 12, then lighting the first spliff of the day with breakfast, sitting out on the porch with Terry the mastiff who had become used to the late starts. The sun is going to be high and hot.  

She moves her head to the side. For a minute she cannot remember who is there.
With some relief she sees that she is still clothed.
Olga flicks on the tiny radio. Atlantic 252 in the mornings. A small yet reliable playlist of songs which are listenable, if not predictable. Mike and the Mechanics, Looking Back Over My Shoulder. This song has been played multiple times per day on this station for about 5 years. Olga stumbles through the detritus strewn across the floor, reassured the floor is still there underneath it all: sticky empty pint glasses, a couple of plates, discarded work uniforms with the scent of malt vinegar and cleaning fluid, jointstubs and makeshift ashtrays, purple foil from Cadburys milk chocolate, newspapers, a jumble of bras, knickers, tights.  Wine bottles and takeaways boxes. Handbags and scarves and mascaras and Lush hair products and perfume bottles. Recent reading materials: Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things. Janice Galloway, Selected Short Stories. William Shakespeare, Sonnets.

A pint mug of tea, then, before work? No time. Olga is still wearing her work uniform from yesterday’s day shift-turned-pub session. Time to spray self with Impulse Zen, wipe mascara from under eyes, brush teeth perfunctorily, grab handbag with purse, fags, keys, wind scarf around neck, cast one glance at sleeping Simon, consider saying something, decide not to, and leave the house. The door needs a good slam in order to close properly.  
A trinity of slumbering brains are woken slightly by Olga’s doorslam.

(He blessed thrice gravely the tower. Where will Rachel be?)

Split peel painty bench.

Roar goes the lion. Somewhere between a roar and a laugh and a husk. The difference between the husk of a husky note and the husk of a (?) tusk, the husk as a shell or a rough covering. Is there a similarity between these though? A quality of roughness?  

Channel some of whatever this is. Write about the Pleasure Beach.

Being nineteen and wandering through the Pleasure Beach at 8pm in the summer dusk. And you see three lads aged about 13. Eyes like Alan Partridge buffet plates. Reeling across the pathway as though on a rocky sea. A look of intense awe behind their eyes.  Some pretty good pills they have taken there, or maybe it was acid. What would it look like to their eyes? Sensory overload. Remember when you were on acid and decided you were the Sensory Overlord. (The different voices is still a thing, as is thinking about the Stoic mixing of bodies). How were the Stoics queer? What does it mean to mix bodies? Mixtures of bodies and interpenetration. The drop of wine pervading the whole of the ocean.

Cream-skinned, raven-haired Olga Allegri regards herself with gravity in the toothpaste-spattered mirror. Plump pockmarked face. Mascara-flecked tired eyeholes. Full lips like a film star, no one gonna take those away from me. Mel C and Brian Adams on Atlantic 252.  Even food don’t taste that good / Drink ain’t doin what it should.

Baby when you’re gone. Days just go on and on. Toothbrush mic. I would make a great popstrel. I have no qualms about making pacts with EMI/the devil. And I genuinely believe the world owes me everything and I will do whatever it takes to get at all of it. I have no qualms about selling part or all of my body and/or soul for less than it’s worth but more than I would get by any other means.

What hurts today? Tooth: yes. Internal organs: no more than normal. Drunkenly twisted ankle: check. If a tooth gets decayed or my liver or my kidneys hurt, I regard this with almost clinical interest. Decay is interesting. If I could be anyone I would be Oscar Wilde. I identify with Oscar Wilde more than anyone else. I no longer know what truth means. It’s so much fun thinking about life if we redefine the concept of truth to mean any number of things.

Liam is 18 years old and has a little baby girl. His girlfriend is Teresa. Trees-are-green he calls her. Liam is a philosopher.  

‘Work? Work doesn’t exist. Work isn’t real. Why do you want to go to work? Look out there. The sand is real. The sea is real. The fuckin seagulls are real. People are real. Work isn’t real. You could die tomorrow. Don’t go to work. Fuck work. Work isn’t real. None of it is real.  Look out there. The grass is real. This metal is real. Fuck work. You could die tomorrow.’

Submission of the highest order being conflated with rushing through the depths. I can’t always manage it. Rachel hates herself. She does not know from whence it stemmed. She did not survive the first year at university. It was too hard. And she thinks of herself as sniveling. The middle-class disease. I know people with real problems. One of the worst things. Guilt and self-hatred. Shouldering the world. A spin cycle to nowhere. Churning hating writhing clenching. It’s only because you have the privilege.

What route did they take across town?
From North Pier alongside…………

What did they talk about?
Politics. Socialism and communism. Clothes.

What were they wearing?
Olga wore pink flared jeans, black Harry Ramsdens fat-spattered workshirt, polka-dotted neckerchief, denim jacket, black work shoes.
Rachel wore oversized skater jeans from Afflecks Palace, purple hooded jumper, Vans.
Teresa wore bootcut jeans, spotless white Reebok Classics, multicoloured Helly Hansen sweater.

What styles were they aping?
Olga saw herself as a reborn child of the Summer of Love Hippy hair, hippy flare, Nag Champa, horoscopes and LSD.
Rachel, hiding in baggy layers, unable to see herself beyond uncomfortable politics and shame, the thud of the Guardian in the mornings, the thud of Gazette in the evenings.
Teresa wanted clean lines and sharp edges and was a minimalist of sorts. JD Sports her favourite shop.

Being 11 and starting big school. Big and little rebellions. On the first day of school the small group of intrepid adolescent wanderers enters the park and climbs onto the swings. There are a few older kids around but they are not paying you any attention  - yet.

Childrens fiction: The Lion and the Crow
Young adult fiction: Spectres of Me and You
Young adult non-fiction: Just Say No…Always
Romance: Blackpool Lights
Romance masquerading as cerebral: Blackpool Illuminations
Cerebral masquerading as romance: Blackpool, Illuminate Me!
Nonsensical masquerading as cerebral: Blackpuddle Spleenominations
Satire: “Remember To Exorcise Daily”
Self-indulgent: The Unnecessary Reinscription of Pain
Philosophical: The Complete Immateriality of Everything
Psycholinguistic: Some Narciseismic, Sarcaustic Ramblings into the Most Remote Outposts of Distorted Neural Topography
First novel: Like Moths to a Flame
Second novel: Like Bluebottles to a Lightbulb
Third novel: Like Mosquitoes to an Englishman Abroad
DIY: Watch Out for the Shards of Glass
Romance masquerading as DIY: Watch out for the Shards of my Heart


Christine Powers, sitting high on the yellow metal turret of the newly-painted structure they still call the Wreck, brings out a bottle of Tippex from her bag.  Christine Powers, who will eat crisps and chocolate every day on the way to school and drop her empty packets and wrappers. Christine, who never said a word all the way through primary school. Christine writes her initials onto the bright yellow untouched paint. You feel this deeply as a wound, a rupture, as something that is wrong. Christine announces what she is doing so the older kids can see and hear. She gains some laughs and therefore scores some points. She has an older sister so she knows what she is doing.

Seeing Christine Powers eight years later makes you think of big rebellions and little rebellions. People who go to university and study Dissent. Literature of Dissent. History of Dissenters. You study something about breaking the rules and you must abide by the rules in order to pass your course. Christine Powers draws initials in Tippex back in 1991 so that she is the first to deface the park. Rachel Smith writes eloquently about anarchy residing in language in her first year at university then drops out because she is depressed and cringes at the thought of herself. Christine works behind the bar at the Bull in Poulton and goes out with Andy who works in the kitchen. She is friendly and content and wants to have a baby soonish. She no longer defaces anything or drops litter. Rachel Smith gets drunk and eats chips a lot and chucks them up, learns the rules of academic referencing and cringes at herself writing nicely-turned sentences about radical literary evolution. What is the net level of dissent taking into account socioeconomic status?

Rewrite as a maths problem.  

On the train from Preston to Blackpool North. Holidaymakers and football train drinkers jostling for position, just falling short of climbing on the roof.
Train guard trying to usher people into the centre of the carriage. Woman sitting right in the middle of the carriage guarding an empty seat with her life. ‘Me mum’s in the loo’, she tells each person who tries to sit down, so when Mum arrives back to her seat it is accompanied by a chorus of applause and cheers.
‘How was it?’ someone shouts.
‘You get a better seat in there than out here’ says Mum.
Daughter has finished her can of Stella. We are 15 minutes from Blackpool North. Football man walks past with carrier bag full of cans.  
‘Can you spare me a lager love, I’m thirsty’, daughter asks man.  
He stops and looks at her, amused grin.
‘We’ll be there in ten minutes! Can’t ye wait till then?’  
‘No I can’t, I just fancy another lager, can’t you spare me one? Go on.’
He hands over a Carling.  She is grateful and mouths if you don’t ask you don’t get across the table to us and everyone else once he has gone.

Photograph by Yaroslav Shuraev

Helen Palmer

Helen Palmer is a writer and theorist from Blackpool, currently based in Vienna. She is the author of two books of theory: Deleuze and Futurism: A Manifesto for Nonsense (Bloomsbury, 2014) and Queer Defamiliarisation: Writing, Mattering, Making Strange (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). Pleasure Beach (Prototype, 2023) is her debut novel.

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