Friday 10 November 2006
Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column
'My heart pounded, cheeks red and flushed. I was excited - I had a crush on a boy'
I don't actually like this time of year very much. Even if the skies are blue I find it harder and harder to crawl out of bed. Hibernation is the only true answer. This isn't a new thing. It's been like this since I was a child. It's the time of year when I feel that I have nothing to look forward to. It's the time of year when the old people and the weak decide to give up, rather than face another winter.
The only thing I look forward to in the November/December months is the ritual of pomegranate eating. I have been doing it since I was a little girl. At the age of 10 I would rush home from school, fly through the front door, and run upstairs to the kitchen. (I know it was odd to have a kitchen upstairs, but next to the bathroom was the only place we had running water. From the age of seven to the age of 13 my Mum, myself and my brother, and various strangers who would come and go, squatted in the smallest cottage in Trinity Square, Margate.)
I would take a knife and two bowls, lay them out on a tray nicely and place a pomegranate into one of the bowls. I would then take the tray downstairs and sit cross-legged on the sofa, a pillow on my lap, with the tray on top. In a trance-like state I sliced the pomegranate in half and for the next hour no one would be able to communicate with me. I would slowly pick every single pomegranate seed, meticulously and carefully, removing every ounce of pith so that each seed would shine and sparkle like a little jewel. One bowl left with pith and skin, the other bowl like a tiny jewelled mountain. I would not let myself eat one single seed until the cleaning of the pomegranate was complete. But before one taste I would raise the bowl to the light and always be amazed to watch it shine through each seed, like looking at a three-dimensional kaleidoscope.
My other winter highlight was to chase the school bus down the hill. I would leave home just at the moment when I knew that if I got my timing slightly wrong I would be in trouble again. Breathless and panting, I'd race against the number 50 bus, along the alley, past the police station, down Fort Hill past the haunted hotels to arrive at the harbour just in time. My heart pounding, cheeks red and flushed. I was excited - I had a crush on a boy.
Sometimes I would sit next to him upstairs and we would chat about music. He was a few years older than me, but seemed somehow much older. He was from Northern Ireland. When I was 13 he moved back to Belfast and for a long time we wrote to each other. It was amazing. I had first-hand information of what it was like to live in a place under military siege. I remember how shocked I was when I first read that you were searched going into shops and frisked from head to foot when entering discos. He would often describe shootings, bombs and the day-to-day fear.
I really missed him when he left school. It was like someone who took me very seriously wasn't around any more. I think this may have contributed to part of my boredom at school, or with school, just getting there. Along with the 10 No 6. (For anyone who is too young, that's 10 tiny, cheap cigarettes, almost designed for the tiny hands of school children.) Christ, I can't believe it! You could go into any sweetshop, pick up a bag full of sherbet dabs, two bags of Wotsits and 10 No 6, please.
I'd get to school late every morning. They used to shout at me: "Emin, you're late!" One morning I'd just had enough and I said: "No Sir, you're lucky." With that, Mr Tuppen marched me off to his office. When I say marched, I really mean marched - military style. This man was still there for land and honour, fighting for his country. To all intents and purposes it could have been 1942: "Corporal Emin! Will you stand to attention!" I would cock my head to one side and say: "My name's not Emin, Sir." Mr Tuppen would say: "If it's not Emin, then what is it?"
"Miss, Sir. Miss Tracey Emin. I have to call you Sir, Sir, if you-know-what-I-mean, Sir."
"No," said Mr Tuppen, "I do not know what you mean."
"Sorry, Sir, but you-know-what-I-mean, Sir."
"Emin, will you stop saying 'know what I mean'?"
What I didn't know at this time was the reason why I had been summoned to Mr Tuppen's office was because my purse had been handed in. He held out my red, shiny purse and said: "Is this yours, Emin?"
"No, Sir, it's my Mum's, Sir."
He unzipped the purse. Inside was my bus pass with a photo, numerous stickers of David Bowie, kittens and other cute animals. Plus numerous photobooth photos of me and Maria. And there, smack bang in the middle of the purse, two unsmoked No 6 and one half dog-end. I was in big trouble - not just for having a verbal tic. I managed to get a message to my friend Susan. She lived quite close by and went home for lunch. I said: "You got to call my Mum. She's at work. Tell her when the school calls, she's got a red purse covered in David Bowie stickers and she smokes No 6." It worked like a treat. You should have seen the look on Mr Tuppen's face.
God knows where all that just came from! I was supposed to be writing about running. Loneliest long-distance runner, if you know what I mean? Yes, Emin, we do know what you mean!
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