Sleeve Notes: Valentine’s Edition

Track listing:

  1. Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken – Camera Obscura
  2. Nobody’s Empire – Belle & Sebastian
  3. Just Friends – Sarah Vaughan
  4. Little Green – Joni Mitchell
  5. Note to Mrs – Milo
  6. Flava in Ya Ear – Craig Mack
  7. In My Room – The Beach Boys
  8. Guilty (feat. Barry Gibb) – Barbra Streisand
  9. Wooly Bully – Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs
  10. I’ll Come Running – Brian Eno

Link to Spotify playlist here.

This piece started as an exercise to write about the past decade of my life. I turn 27 this year, which means it’s been a whole TEN years since I “was just 17, you know what I mean“, since “I learned the truth that love was made for beauty queens“, and, as such, I felt I should commemorate (or commiserate?) this eventful passing of time in some way. I pondered on what to write it about. Oh, how much there has been.

Then, last week, I attended a writing class called ‘Words to Live By’, which encouraged us to use lyrics from songs to inspire memoir-style writing. I realised this is what I’ve been doing, in a way, for – well – a whole decade. As such, in the piece that follows, I have put together a chronological playlist of songs for each year of my life since I was 17 (I know, like I haven’t got enough on already). They are either songs I had on repeat that year, or songs that now strike a chord with how I was feeling at the time, or remind me so much of a person from that era that I couldn’t help but include them. Therefore, as I was writing it, it became a list of love songs (read: it became about my exes), which I felt coincided nicely with Valentine’s Day. 

So, presented here are some reflections on love: some more elusive than others. If you see yourself reflected in one of these mini-pieces, or if you understand the meaning behind some of the lyrics within, please, for the love of God, do not DM me. But also, hope you’re doing OK. Also, I want my t-shirt back. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Track 1 (17 years old) Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken – Camera Obscura

I’m ready to be heartbroken

‘Cause I can’t see further than my own nose at this moment

Track 2 (18 years old) Nobody’s Empire – Belle & Sebastian

I have shared contact with my first boyfriend only three times since our relationship ended. We share no mutual friends (a rule I have carried on, subconsciously, with subsequent partners; when they’re out of my life, I like to have the option to question if they ever existed at all). The first time we texted was when Manchester Arena was bombed (he worked nearby). The second was a few weeks later when Borough Market was attacked by knife-wielders (I worked nearby). The third was only recently, on a walk in a nature reservoir, near where we both grew up. Well, I think I saw him. I caught a glimpse of him, felt my heart expand to the size of both my lungs, felt as if I might faint. We were both with our parent/s. I wonder if he recognised me (that’s if it was him, of course). But I mean, what on earth would we have said to each other, anyway? It had been so long. So much has happened. And our parent/s were there, for Christ’s sake. 

There is no heartbreak like the first. He broke it off with me (over a phone call, or maybe a text, followed by a screaming phone call from me, I can’t remember). I was on my lunch break and cried into my sandwiches afterwards. My boss sent me home that afternoon. But hey, that was when I was 19 (see Track 3 for the heartbreak accompaniment). When I was 18, I was sooooo in luuurrrve.

We often danced around to Belle and Sebastian. J loved this opening track of their latest album, because he was living with a chronic illness at the time and had been discharged from a lengthy hospital stay just before we met. He saw himself reflected in the lyrics:

They took me to a place where they checked my body, my soul was floating in thin air

I clung to the bed and I clung to the past, I clung to the welcome darkness

But at the end of the night there’s a green green light, it’s the quiet before the madness

There was a girl that sang like the chime of a bell

And she put out her arm, she touched me when I was in hell.

(Me, I was that girl!) When I listen to this now, I am reminded of J’s undying optimism. I was in need of optimistic love at 18. I’ll never forget a conversation we had once, where he’d said something about how people are inherently good until they prove otherwise. I was taken aback by his sickly sweet outlook: surely the opposite was true. I don’t think I was being deliberately glum, I’d just encountered a few ill-meaning people in nightclubs that year. It’s weird the effect that conversation had on me. I find it sad now to think I was ever a person who didn’t believe all people were good until proven otherwise.

In making this playlist, I’ve been more drawn to reminisce on songs that remind me of people’s goodness. It is very easy to remember the pain of break-ups, the shock of betrayals, the regret of what-ifs. But, boy oh boy, the music we listened to! What are relationships for, if not for simply having someone to dance around the kitchen with when you’re cooking dinner (see track 10)?

Track 3 (19 years old) Just Friends – Sarah Vaughan

To think of what we’ve been and not to kiss again

Seems like pretending it isn’t the ending

Track 4 (20 years old) – Little Green – Joni Mitchell

Call her Green, and the winters cannot fade her

Track 5 (21 years old) – Note to Mrs. – Milo

It was a dreary day in south-west London. It was raining, on and off. I was running a half marathon for the first and possibly only time in my life. It was tough, it was awful, I was hating it. In lieu of training properly, I was wearing a t-shirt that said YOU GO GIRL in big capital letters, hoping that might send a message to my brain to keep my feet pounding the pavement, without needing to walk too much. (I ended up walking a lot, and feeling bad about it.)

Other runners had earphones in. I wasn’t listening to music – for some reason I’d obeyed the soft rule recommended by the organisers, that earphones were advised against, due to part of the route being on a road with mild traffic. This was a huge mistake as music had often been the only way I could get through training runs: high octane hip hop, like Public Enemy welcoming me to the terrordome, Kendrick Lamar reminding me to stay humble. For some reason I’d chosen to listen to the huffs and puffs of my struggling lungs instead that day. It was in the style of how I was feeling at the time, to punish myself in some way. I was proving myself by doing this, even more so if I was doing so without music. 

People who hated PE at school don’t just start running for no reason. The year I ran that race was a year plagued with long spells of days that were extremely difficult to get through. I started running to reclaim ownership of my body. To constantly be able to tick off milestones, week to week, in the run up to that race (1km, then three, then a 5k, then six, 7km, then 10, and now… 21.1km!); that became everything. I clung onto that sense of achievement that micro-boosted my wilting self-esteem, day by day. 

My days were also made more bearable by someone who was waiting at the finish line. Our fragile foundations had already been laid and we spent the next few years (after the day of this race) attempting to build something solid on them (I will need a whole book to write about all of that). But for now, we felt we had a good thing going on. We provided something for each other that we could have never found in ourselves, or another. He was waiting at the finish line. With every step, with every huff and puff of an overexerted lung, I found myself repeating the mantra from an dream-like track on an album we were loving that year, (imagining he was saying it to me). A sweet and tender and hopelessly devoted personal trainer, saying over and over and over:

I’ll see you again

Don’t stop running if you don’t see me ahead

Don’t stop running

I’ll see you

Track 6 (22 years old) – Flava in Ya Ear Remix (feat. Biggie, Busta etc etc) – Craig Mack

Oh, how we cried

Oh, what an ugly break-up

And, oh,

what an expensive therapy bill

But, oh my god

before that painful demise

how much we laughed at that 

unbeatable lyric

I get more butt



Track 7 (23 years old) – In My Room – The Beach Boys

This song reminds me of the time I spent a year living alone in my own apartment.

In this room of mine, as I was rethreading the strands of myself after a particularly fractious break up, I started to remember what was important to me.

I used half a paycheck to buy a proper electric piano off Facebook. I started writing songs that I’d never play to anyone which helped to release some of the agonising longing inside of me, minor chords bouncing off the walls. I rediscovered so much creativity that I felt I’d lost. I wrote a short film and dedicated myself to realising it into existence with a manic fervour: I remember – oh my god – spending a whole weekend creating a storyboard for an opening sequence where the shots would work in time to – oh my god, how ridiculous this is –  Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier. God, I’m laughing remembering this.

In the same way I often joke that the only way I’d ever be able to write a novel is if I spent time in prison (free from distraction and financial anxiety about paying rent and bills), I also only experience this intensity of feverish creativity in the midst of a break-up. (I never made that film in the end, but, for the record, it would’ve been award-winning.) 

I re-made myself in that little studio. I was often lonely, I spoke to myself regularly. I got a rabbit and forgot to feed him more than I’d care to admit. I had to do an assignment for a module I was studying at the time on the history of 20th century music. I chose to compare In My Room by the Beach Boys with a song it’s loosely based on, Wish Upon A Star by Dion and the Belmonts. I did a lot of wishing in that – my – room. 

Do my dreaming and my scheming

Lie awake and pray?

Do my crying and my sighing

Laugh at yesterday?

Track 8 (24 years old) – Guilty – Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb

Out on the street

Anybody you’ll meet

Got a heartache of their own

Track 9 (25 years old) – Wooly Bully – Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs

That’s the thing to do

Get you someone really pull the wool with you

Track 10 (26 years old) – I’ll Come Running – Brian Eno

Dancing around the kitchen

Running along the tiles in slippers, in slow motion

Crooning along an octave lower than comfortable

To a record that sounds at half speed

Boil the kettle would you?

We’ve run out of olive oil

Write it down on the list  – I’ve stuck to the fridge

Next to the photo of us walking home from that gig

Changing the lyric

“I’ll come running 

to tie your shoe”

To — Singing to the dog (it must be said)

“I’ll come running 

to pick up 

your poooo”

Guitar solo!

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