Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy New Year!

Just wanted to wish you all a very Happy New Year. May it be healthy, creative and rewarding for you all. Failing that, survival is the next best thing! Anyway, I hope that you're all doing something nice to see in the New Year. We're just staying in with a nice bit of steak with stilton and red onions followed by a vanilla and Scottish raspberries cheesecake. In case you're wondering, I didn't make the latter but it is of the Finest variety. I guess I'll have to start cooking properly now I've got a lovely new cooker and a new cookbook on its way, not to mention some new baking tins, a wok..... yes, I've been shopping. Being ill may have prevented me from visiting the sales but rest assured that retail experiences have not escaped my grasp. Unfortunately ....

I'll probably be asleep for the bells but I'll be with you in my dreams and just as soon as I've got my term paper sewn up, you can expect me back here regularly!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Homecoming

Yesterday was the last session at Sussex for this term and I expected to collapse in a heap with relief. Instead, my mind is buzzing with new ideas and they're not related to Christmas trees which is what I should be thinking about today.

The other major event on which I should be focusing is the arrival of a certain black Labrador at our new home. As he is slightly senile, blind and deaf, we felt that it would be unfair to expect him to clamber over boxes in a strange house and so therefore, he has been staying with my mother for the past week. Now, I'm not sure what the situation is there. When I've visited, he greets me with enthusiasm, in fact, he grabbed my coat the other day as I walked past him. My mother maintains that he is missing us all. I'm not convinced. Maybe he's grateful to us for providing him with a little respite? Time will tell. Or at least his blog might. She doesn't have the internet there so I'm sure that when he arrives, the first thing he will do is to spend hours surfing and other doggy-type things online. I can't wait.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Good News

I'm back here again. The first reason that I went off was to write for this year's Your Messages project on a daily basis throughout November. It was great fun (again) and I'm very, very pleased to say that I have been selected as a joint winner with Jacqui so congratulations to her too! When I took part last year, each day I would worry that I had exhausted my repertoire and that I had just written my last piece. This time I felt quite differently, much more relaxed which I think must be a measure of my progress. The beginning of last year's project coincided with my first attempts at serious creative writing and I wonder whether I would have continued writing without the momentum of the Your Messages project. So, all in all, I have a lot to thank Lynne & Sarah for. The best thing about it all has been the sense of a writing community in what can otherwise be a fairly lonely pursuit.

The second reason that I'm back now - albeit briefly - is that we moved house last Friday so it hasn't really been practical to do anything other than move boxes around. Actually, it's still not that practical as we're far from sorted out yet so I must go and have one final push to declutter the hallway. Oh, and our bedroom, the boys' bedroom. And then there's the garage. The sheds. I'd really better go. Back later!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Happiness tastes like Friday night

The taste of happiness is something I hesitate to think about until every last spice jar has been checked for its BBE date, turned upside down to see if its contents are still mobile or whether it has been replicated on a yearly basis in which case it will be thrown out.

When that lorry drives off down the road on Friday with all our belongings packed inside, I might have a think about the happiness we sought when we started this whole business. I seem to remember something about a big garden, vegetables, greenhouses and the sort of privacy from onlookers that we don't get just now. It does come with penalties. A bungalow that needs a loft conversion to meet our needs means a that a lot of stuff has had to have been given away. In fact, I'm giving it away faster than I'm packing. It's so therapeutic. When the removal men turn up on Friday, I can just imagine four of them taking a corner each of the one remaining box to be moved.

I'll let you know next Monday what happiness really tastes like but realistically, I won't be able to post until then as we won't be online over the weekend and seeing as how tomorrow, I'm off to do my voluntary work in the morning, I may be a little busy tomorrow. Have a happy weekend!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Actually, I lied

There's nothing on TV except something about Einstein and string theory that my husband has watching. Therefore, I will post a little after all. Nothing exciting mind you.

The other day, I overtook a plumber's van on the dual carriageway. Nothing unusual in that, you say. Maybe not but I noticed something amusing. The van had a kayak strapped to the roof. At first I had thought that it was a surf board and it was only when he overtook me back again (these van drivers don't like being beaten) that I realised that it was a kayak. It's better that it's a kayak. At least it means that his jobs are negotiable with the use of a couple of oars and a strange shaped boat. Had it been a surf board, it would have suggested something completely different to me; that he was expecting tides of wastewater of such monumental proportions that he would have to ride from the stopcock to the ball valve on white water.

OK, the physics programme has finished so I'm off to watch the Culture Show.

Busy, busy, busy

I'm far to busy to post today but I have let Monty borrow the laptop for a few minutes.

Monday, 1 December 2008

I'm back

November has been and gone and so has this year's Your Messages. If you haven't done so already then why not have a look and even better, think about donating some money to Kids Company which is a very good cause. Plug over.

We're moving house on Friday so it is very likely that my posts will be even less structured than usual and if they are, then you may take it as a reflection of my manic state of mind at the moment. We have 3 days to pack up 6 people's belongings so that they fit into a 3 bedroomed bungalow. The reason for this is that we're planning a loft conversion so that eventually, it will be big enough to accommodate us all. I just lost half a day's packing because the children's new school told me this morning that actually, they can't hold the place until January and that they would have to start there immediately after we have visited the school which is tomorrow. Therefore, I spent the day fretting over their lack of appropriate uniforms and tore over to meet up with the uniform supplier, came back home armed with a bundle of pristine royal blue sweatshirts and fleeces (I even told our daughter about the change of plan) only to find out by accident during another telephone call that it had all been sorted out and that in fact, they would allow them to wait until after Christmas. Luckily, my husband is very understanding as when he came home this evening, there was no evidence of any packing having been done whatsoever. It's tempting just to order a skip.

Tomorrow morning, the dog will have a shower and his bedding will be washed. Tomorrow afternoon, I will spend my time trying different ways to extract dog hair from the drums of the washing machine and then the dryer. No doubt I will marvel yet again at the amount of hair collected in the filter, contemplate knitting a scarf or something just to prove a point and then poke it into the bin along with the usual byproducts of the drier. I'm sure that Monty will have something to say about all of this. I think he's a little overwhelmed at the moment. He's not the only one.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Where have I gone?

Last November, I took part in the Your Messages project. The process became addictive and it's the reason I started this blog. So for the month November, I will be diverting my energy towards this year's Your Messages (not all my energy, of course, I have to leave some for moving house, a term paper and the usual domestic hubbub) so please visit there instead of here.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Dull, dull, dull.

When is a writer not a writer? I'm not just talking about clever, established, well-known authors but the more lowly breed such as myself who write because they have to and/or they enjoy it. The answer to the riddle is 'never'.

Chores never get much more dull than supermarket shopping on a Sunday morning, this much I can tell is a universal thing judging by the glum faces on this rainy morning in our local store. Just recently, following on from discussions we had at Sussex last Saturday, I've been wondering what puts me in the frame of mind to write; in other words, what makes me get all creative. Now, I really didn't expect the answer to be shopping for our weekly trolley full of food. However, today, there were a series of announcements over the PA system, given in fairly quick succession, which were begging to be linked together to make a story. I won't give away everything just now but I can tell you that it involved the Customer Services Desk, a first-aider, the owner of the dog tied up outside and a security guard. It just set me thinking ....looks like our shopping bills are about to rocket and not necessarily because of the credit crunch.

Friday, 24 October 2008

And another thing ....

Monty and the Ginger Ninja have been blogging again today.

Dananananananananana Batman!



This is my son (number 2) as he prepares to leave for college this morning.

It emerged this morning that his college email inbox has exceeded its size limit and that the messages sent out to students to warn them of the fact that they will no longer be able to send or receive messages are not empty threats. Consequently, work he thought he'd emailed to 3 different tutors hadn't gone at all.

I never thought I'd see the day when I could actually teach him anything related to computers. How did the concept of deleting unwanted messages or having an awareness of the Sent Items Folder bypass him? I've no idea considering I thought he was some kind of techo-genius. How does he propose to explain his unfortunate situation to his tutors? Dressed as Batman, that's how. I'm not sure which aspect should be of the greatest concern to me.

By the way, it's Rag Week in case you were wondering.

I should also add that he's wearing a full-length wetsuit underneath as apparently it was rather revealing without this reinforcement.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

What you need to know is

What you need to know is the way through from here to there. If the sun's up and you can't see it, then it's time to prune the hedges. If you prune the hedges, you might get to talk to people on the other side doing exactly the same and then you can always chat about finding your way to the next place.

If the ground ahead of you is muddy, the chances are that someone has been here before you. If you should catch up with them and they're at a dead end, you could share your failures and work together. If you catch up with them and you haven't really been walking that fast, maybe they're wounded and could do with some help.

If the ground ahead of you is dry and the blades of grass are growing straight upwards, it looks like you're the first to tread this path, at least for a while. Take heart in the knowledge that you are a pioneer. Every now and then, sit down and reflect on your experiences. You may find that the last part of the journey is the hardest but don't worry. Being first is always difficult but think of all the times you've walked down a well-trodden path and taken it for granted.

When you arrive, you will do something to mark the occasion; plant a flag, get a certificate or hear a round of applause. This is your moment. Eventually, the flag will seem smaller amongst a field of others and both the certificate and the applause will fade. But don't worry, it's not the end. Because this place where you got to is inside of you now and you will begin to feel hungry for another journey.

What you need to know is that although you may feel full for a little while, it's a good sign that you're starting to feel hungry already. It means you're alive.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Writing to Musical Prompts

Sarah put up some musical prompts for writing to today. I've never done this before and it was fun. There were 2 different pieces:

I want to fly, to feel the breeze stroking my armpits, my hair sleeked back from my forehead by the thin wisps of clouds rushing through it, my arms stretched wide, finger tips and toes pointed. My neck is free of weight, looking ahead, not down at the land beneath, at the shifting horizon because I'm going fast now. And there are trees; tiny and still, yes, I have a real different sense of perspective because I remember how from the ground they were heavy and foreboding and rustled in the gales. Up here there is no weather as such, just air, light and coolness.



I'm feeling threatened, it's dark. There are brick walls, dirty from the bottom up, they're chipped at the corners. At the end of each alleyway, there promises to be a light but when I get there, its corner is as dark as the last one. In the distance I can hear raucous, drunken laughter, I smell wisps of cigar smoke, doors closing and muffled screeches of tyres. A cat startles me by jumping from the top of a wall on to a metal dustbin. It lands on the edge of the dustbin lid which couldn't have been on properly as the cat clatters to the ground, meows and streaks off into the gutter. There is a rustle of paper from the dustbin, the tinkle of cans being disturbed and three rats run over the top edge, down its side; their smooth movements belie the existence of their feet and they all run in unison, synchronized and I wonder if it's just habit or calculated. The rats have gone and I am scared because I can't remember which direction I came from. I don't want to have to wait here for sunrise.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

This has bothered me

Life is still horribly hectic, not least because this was my Sussex Saturday and I had to fit in taking the children to swimming lessons beforehand. However, it was a very enjoyable and productive day. The leader of our group today provided us with the prompt 'This has bothered me' to use as a warm up exercise. Before I sink in front of the television to watch the X Factor (a bit of a contrast to studying for an MA, I know), I thought I'd share with you what I'd written, especially as I haven't been blogging as regularly of late. It's not ground-breaking fiction or anything but just to let you know that I'm still alive:

Going to the doctor's bothers me. A lot. It bothers me because first of all, I can only phone up for an appointment on the day at 8am so that element of uncertainty is always there with the apprehension attached to this impending event usually starting the evening before.

Having argued my way through getting an appointment; 'Yes, it's sort of an ongoing problem but honestly, I don't mind who I see as a) they rarely remember me which is strange considering the frequency of my visits and b), I like to spread my misery evenly'. Okay, I don't actually say that but it's implicit in my acquiescent tone, surely? Anyway, having been forced to see a particular doctor, I arrive at her door, knock inaudibly, almost apologetically and prepare to reveal the reason for my visit. Should I blurt it all out therefore risking making her think I have made a self-diagnosis or do I provide her with little tidbits of symptoms and if so, does the in order in which I present them have any impact? She might judge me to be anything ranging from hypochondriac to know-it-all.

I don't think it's any accident that patients are described as 'presenting' with symptoms. Going to the doctor is always a performance for which no amount of rehearsal can be adequate. All that bothers me. A lot.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Going around the gender bend

The pile of ironing in our utility room is only one visible representation of my workload this week. I haven't got any time to blog today except that I must share this with you before I forget. Of course, it's also a delaying tactic as I should be hoovering right now but I'm sure I will hoover all the better for having got this out of my system.

On Sunday, we went to the supermarket. Now, I've begun to find it rather irritating how there are now car washing people there, ready to leap on you as soon as you get out of the car with your head full of shopping lists. Anyway, I was driving and my husband was in the passenger seat. As we got out of the car, the nearest car wash person was on his side and they shouted out 'You want car wash lady?'. I should explain that their view of me would have been completely obscured by the height of our people carrier and the blacked-out windows (you'd want to be anonymous if you drove a people carrier too) so they were definitely directing their question at him. Oh, how we laughed, especially as he does have an extremely deep voice, even for a man. In fact, I can't remember the last time I laughed so much. Even the children repeating the 'You want car wash lady?' line over and over didn't diminish its impact. Eventually, the tears on my face dried and we went shopping.

On the way out of the supermarket, we stopped to get some diesel. I went in to pay and the cashier said to me 'Would you like a VAT receipt for that, Sir?'. So now we're even. I'm married to a lady-boy and he's married to an extremely butch woman. The implications are endless. We could swap clothes. Coincidence maybe? Perhaps. And then I went to take our daughter to gymnastics the next day and there was a sign:

TEMPORARY MALE
CHANGING ROOMS

Do you think I'm being a little over-sensitive?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A change of direction

I was going to write something about having all the time in the world because that was Sarah's prompt for today. However, as I went to my blog and saw that my last posting was entitled 'White Rabbits' I'm going to go off at a completely different tangent.

Today has been another fairly trying day for one reason and another with some fairly serious issues to address, the details of which I won't bore you now. Peversely, amongst all these domestic trials and tribulations, I took the rabbits to the vet to be castrated. It started badly when I went to grab the catch on the hutch door and instead felt my fingers sinking into a fat slug. And that was only the beginning. Bramble is a slippery chap and he played games with me, disappearing as soon as I loomed over the hutch with the intention of scooping him up. When I took a few steps back (carefully avoiding the rain-sodden dog faeces on the lawn disguised cunningly amongst fallen conkers) he would re-emerge from his bedding area. This went on for some time whilst I got soaked in the rain, increasingly mindful of the time slipping away, their appointment with fear approaching and the local school-run-scrum clogging up the roads, competing for tarmac against the Tuesday visit from the dustbin lorry. Eventually, I won and it wasn't long before I had arrived at the vets victoriously having fought off the traffic which seemed to be coming from all directions. I felt like I had just run naked across a battlefield but at least we had got there.

I contacted the surgery at 4pm and said 'I'm just phoning to see how our rabbits are following their castration?'. I'm really not sure what sort of response I had anticipated or whether had put either one of them on the phone, they would have been as cheery about it all as the receptionist.

Imagine this for a moment: you can't stand your next door neighbour, in fact, the very sight of him causes you to see red and any meeting - however accidental - ends in a punch-up and one of you getting a bloody nose. He's not the sort to be reasoned with. He never says a word to you but wouldn't hesitate to urinate in your direction given the opportunity. Now then, someone has come up with a solution. You're going to be castrated. Next, the perpetrator of this deed phones up the surgery to ask how you are. What would you say?

So I've had a bad day and the perfect end to it is the discovery that Holby's not on tonight and it's my favourite programme. Still, it could be a lot worse. Our next door neighbours are very pleasant.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

White Rabbits

Happy October. White rabbits, rabbits feet for good luck and being late. Today and not just today but recently in general has been a time of running late for me.

Today I got out of bed, did an hour's worth of ironing, vacuumed the whole house, cleaned the bathrooms, got myself ready and left for my hospital appointment hoping that the house was respectable enough for the potential buyers viewing the house at 9am.

Having got about a mile down the road, I realised that I'd forgotten to place my new tax disc in the holder. Given that I would be passing the roundabout near Gatwick where I know for a fact that they film passing cars, I thought it wise to turn back and get my disc from the study. I'm not sure why I had delayed putting it in the car in the first place. Perhaps I like being late for things?

I arrived for my appointment with plenty of time which is more than I could say for those I had to see. The whole process would start again (house viewers, not hospital appointments) before 5pm, the same time at which we had to drop our daughter at Rainbows, go and collect fish & chips because we were in exile from our house, eat them and return to pick her up by 6pm. Phew!

Amongst all this, our second eldest was requesting a lift to see his girlfriend who lives about half an hour away by car. Oh, and a lift back again later. No way. Apart from the fact that I'm exhausted, I've been told that my new medication limits me to one glass of wine and this is for a lifetime. I am planning to start on Saturday. Therefore, tonight, we eat drink and be merry. Pinch, punch, the first of the month .....

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Service Wash

I've never used a service wash at a launderette although I suppose it's a bit like being a minor whose parent does their washing for them. The problem is that you don't appreciate the service you're getting until you're the one doing it for someone else.

In our house, it's getting trickier to determine whose are who's as my two sons have started buying clothes from the same shops and are roughly the same size. Of course, I'm supposed to know the difference between two seemingly identical items of clothing. You only have to look around the streets outside the local college to see that whilst there are wild variations in the styles of clothing, they tend to gather in clusters of those with a like-minded sense of fashion.

As you get older, clothes seem to be a more individual affair. My own are not those I would choose to wear; they are more of a collection of things which have stood the test of time and the tumble drier. They don't represent me, they're just a convenience to stop me from being arrested. If I had a little money, I probably wouldn't buy clothes but if I had a lot, I would.

At my counselling course, we were discussing making observations of how people look in order to gauge their mental state. This is worrying. That would make me an unco-ordinated, faded, worn-out, outdated heap of rags. OK, that's maybe a bit strong but it is enough for me to vow to buy some new clothes at the first opportunity.

And so I have been paying a little more attention to people and what they are wearing. On my way back from dropping my son off at college, I keep seeing this man on foot crossing the railway bridge. The first thing I noticed was his dark eyebrows and white hair, chin length and blowing like sheets on a windy day. His face is bony and he's so tall and his strides so long that I imagine office workers being lost in his inside leg. His coat, a navy blue quilted anorak flaps open in time with his hair and he moves so lightly as if hastily gliding from cloud to cloud in order to avoid falling through to earth. The thing is that he looks out of place, from a different time and doesn't fit the demographics of your average Horsham person. All that and I'm supposed to be concentrating on the road and if making observations for writing purposes wasn't enough, now I've got another excuse to do it.

It seems that it is inescapable for us to judge each others' appearance. So I'd never use a service wash. I couldn't face going back to collect my clothes.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pussy Paranoia

I'm all for giving those on the fringes of society a voice. And no one lives more on the edge of things than Tiger. Therefore, despite the libelous content and sly insinuations of his little soliloquy, we have decided to let me have his say. Marmaduke, has not only put up with the cat-cursing and clicking of claws on the keyboard but permitted him to publish it there so thank you to him for his cool co-operation.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Yo-ho-ho!

On Saturday, when I should have been doing other things, I entered Sarah's competition in honour of National Speak Like a Pirate Day. So, if you've got time, go to Sarah's posting for today to see the result!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Today's posting

Marmaduke has decided to write today. I'm surprised that he's managed to stay awake long enough.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Jobs you have no chance of getting

I think that most of us would consider ourselves extremely lucky if we ended up with a career for which we were both ideally suited and enjoyed. I think that most of us settle for the best we can get to get by the best we can.

Sarah's prompt for today set me off thinking about making lists of things in reverse. Reverse lists could be useful and could tell us more about ourselves that the conventional sort. Here are some of the jobs I would have no chance of getting:

MP: My knowledge of current affairs is sporadic ranging from watching Newsnight every day for a fortnight to falling asleep at 9pm after a glass of wine. Also, I never have time to read a newspaper.

SALESPERSON: I'm too honest. This was proven when I showed prospective buyers around the house and I ended up telling them how I'd like a smaller house and a bigger garden. I think they came around to my point of view.

TEACHER: I enjoy intellectual debate and challenge. The trouble is, I'm not sure I want to share it with anyone.

AIRLINE PILOT: I tend to avoid crowds and or queuing for ages to park. I also like to sleep and watch films whilst flying.

Clearly, this list has infinite potential. As does my shopping list. Therefore, next time I go shopping, I will make a list of the things I don't want and it will be shorter. I will honestly be able to say 'Look, there's not much on my list, please come with me'. Problem solved.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

So this is the beginning. No, wait, this is. No, actually this is ...

They say that life begins at 40. I'd like to pretend that this little milestone is something to look forward to but unlike my husband who is soon to celebrate this momentus point in his life, it's something I look backwards at. Actually, my 40th was really quite a non-event given that I had only given birth to our youngest son 2 months beforehand and that he was 10 weeks premature. Around the time of my birthday was the point at which he should have been born so it marked a new phase whereby people no longer stopped us in shops to marvel at his tiny form and exclaim 'I've never seen one that small before' and instead we became a normal family rather than a travelling circus.

Beginnings are not just about newness, that's the easy bit;they're about having the energy to enthuse, perhaps to inject a new life and hope into what has become staid (at this point, I hope that my husband doesn't think that I'm describing him in this way) and start over again.

I'll soon be back at uni, resuming my MA studies and that's another beginning because if I'm honest, I've managed to switch off from it almost entirely with all the moving house business. But I can only face it if I sit down with my books spread around me and a new resolve, an attitude that says 'Right, I am now a student again' and this magical vow will transform my thought process from one belonging to a harangued mother into academic genius. If only.

With the children, we have beginnings all the time. When the morning routine slips into a cacophony of chaos (as it frequently does), when just getting them to brush their teeth seems to be the most unachievable goal in the universe, I think up a new scheme to encourage their co-operation. A new beginning in the form of a star chart.

Well, I must go now. We're expecting a man. My mother's getting a new car which means I'm getting her old one. It's the same old one I've been borrowing regularly for the past 6 years and yet, to have it given to me makes it new again. I'm even going to clean it. It will be born again....

Monday, 15 September 2008

My mind is swimming

As I flop onto the sofa after a manic Monday morning rushing to clean the house for the estate agent and prospective buyers to visit, my mind is swimming. My mind is swimming with the 'what if's'; whether they'll like it, if they do, will we get the house we want? If we do, how long will it take? Will we be here or there for Christmas? And what was it we were going to have for dinner tonight? Ah, roast beef. Mustn't forget to put it in the oven before we go to gymnastics.

Watching gymnastics feels very un-sporty. In the dingy cafe, sat upon spindly aluminium high chairs overlooking the sports hall, it is stuffy; the smell of warm rubber from the squash courts, and the plastic exercise mats mixes with the cappucinos sipped at by harrassed mothers trying to keep awake through the hour-long session. I wish that by watching my daughter at gymnastics, I could absorb the essence of fitness by osmosis or something. I wonder whether attending sports centres has a positive effect upon your health or if even just parking outside can be beneficial in some way. Some hope.

There are always posters in reception inviting you to tone up your body for the summer, although now it will probably have switched to ski fitness classes and taunts to 'get into that xmas party dress'. It's not that I don't like exercising, just that I've been there and done that about 20 years ago and it probably explains my arthritic condition now. Plus, unfit as I probably am, it may well kill me.

Whilst my daughter is learning forward rolls and cartwheels, my mind briefly flirts with the idea of just one last game of squash. And then I remember how my knees have never fully recovered from the skipping incident. So I'll have to stick to walking the dog which is probably as good an exercise as any and at least you get fresh air. However, I think that we all like to feel part of a movement, a rhythm, (if you'll pardon the pun) and that the sense of belonging to a group of people committed to improving themselves in some way is the finest reminder of our continued existence in the world whether it's through an activity such as writing or indeed exercising. Well, I've got the writing bit sewn up but I don't think that this spectator sport business is going to work on my middle-age spread. Perhaps I should try swimming again. Actual swimming. I think I'll have a cup of coffee and think about it.

Friday, 12 September 2008

A new arrival

Marmaduke has just started his own blog. He doesn't say a lot but we're hoping to get a little insight into the cat world.

Virginia Woolf brought me breakfast in bed today

In 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own (1929), with its famous dictum, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Let's take a room of one's own in the first instance. I've tried having a room of my own for writing purposes and strangely, I have settled for the busiest room in the house, the sitting room. I can sit on the sofa with my feet up on the coffee table to avoid the spider underneath the chest and look out to the garden through the patio doors. I've got somewhere to rest my coffee cup, the television's there if I want to put it on and I've got the dog for company. It's not idyllic when the children are around but aside from school holidays, I'm usually busy running about with them anyway. So it's not about rooms, it's about spaces in which you feel comfortable.

And money? I've just been trying to find out who first said that you can never be too rich or too thin but I've decided to give up on that one. I think to be comfortably well-off and comfortable with your size is the best you can strive for; I'm a bit doubtful of being either but it's always good to have a goal in mind even if its achievement is constantly deferred. I digress.

I've been rather preoccupied with thinking about living spaces because we're moving and in this dreary market, waiting for an offer on our house, at least we do have time to think about what we want. Something smaller, for a start. Something older, definitely. Our house is very nice but it is a mish-mash of different styles and this disturbs me for some reason. There are certain practical considerations; we need four bedrooms, one of which must be large enough for the older boys to share when they're both at home. There are other matters to consider but I won't bore you with those right now. Because I've had time to ponder, I've come to the conclusion that my preference is for houses that are authentic to their period. I don't want the latest style in kitchen or bathroom; there is something really appealing to me about original fixtures and details. But, of course, the next question is, just how far do you take it?

We've looked at one or two houses built in the 1920's - 1930's. We're not going to dress in clothes of the 1920's or dance the Charleston instead of watching TV in the evenings. By its very unprogressive nature, it would be self-defeating to embrace modernist values so it's not about that either. It's not about identifying with a particular era, or a process of re-enacting. And yet I know that there is something wrong in not recognising that each generation will leave their contribution to the house. This is only tolerable to me when it's been done a long time ago. For instance, it's fascinating if the original house was built in the 1500s with additions made in the 1700s. However, a house built in Victorian times with a 1970s double glazing thrown in is less desirable. If it's recent, it has to be sympathetic (Estate Agents' speak) but if it's history then it's OK.

A friend of mine has a house built at exactly the same time as ours, 1959. The main difference, between them in terms of style is that hers has original fixtures and not only that, they're in a wonderful condition. I think that as a nation of DIY-ers we've probably ruined most of our houses by now. I don't disagree with change when it's real progression such as replacement windows and heating or redecoration as an expression of creativity. Anything else and you can save yourself a lot of money because sooner or later it will come back into fashion. Your newly purchased whatever-style kitchen/bathroom won't have the enduring spirit of the original.

And talking of enduring spirits, I didn't really have Virginia Woolf bring me breakfast in bed today - I think she may be a bit too full-on first thing in the morning - but it was Sarah's prompt and it set me off thinking about why I want a period house. See how bad my obsession's got?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

What are you waiting for?

Yesterday, I met a man who was waiting; he was frustrated, exasperated, apologetic. What was he waiting for? A computer. In my experience, it is not unusual for there to be an association between waiting, computers and frustration but I always try to remind myself what wonderful creations they actually are, how my life would be so totally different without them. They are almost like magic to me, in the real sense that I will never understand how they work. I know that I could not do the things I do without one. But then I'm a writer and it is my tool.

Yesterday, the man I met was a consultant at a hospital. The source of his frustration was that he had a computer sitting on his desk that had been there for 4 weeks and no one had come to make it work. He said that in all probability it would sit there for another 4 weeks before anything happened. Apparently, the NHS computerised things 8 years ago and this added to his exasperation that the investment hadn't been there previously in this very nice private hospital (if anyone wants to lecture me on the immorality of going private then I probably deserve it). The point is that he was obviously as lost as I might be if I had to permanently resort to writing by hand, not being able to Google things and all the other really useful things I do like open accounts, fill virtual baskets with purchases and then empty them again before closing down for the night.

Anyway, my GP is wonderful as are all of those at the surgery but I have noticed a growing trend for note-taking on the computer whilst you're talking. I'm not suggesting that I necessarily get an impression of them saying a silent 'Are you still here then?' (although this is entirely possible) but that somehow I'm bypassing the doctor and speaking to the computer. This is more of an observation of the natural progression of things rather than a criticism. Of course, the doctor is not Googling my symptoms.

There was something very reassuring about sitting opposite the consultant who scribbled away on a sheet of paper as I talked; the magic of technology didn't intervene. Not even once.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

A Week Without Speaking

It is perfectly possible to imagine a week without speaking. Obviously, it would be completely impossible to stop those around me from speaking (particularly those under, say, 4 feet tall) and decidedly risky to suggest to anyone over say, 5 feet 11 inches tall that they should not speak as there is a very great danger that it may be irreversible (I'm referring here to teenagers and husbands). That aside, I will now plan my week of silence.

Best to start on a Monday. Probably about 9ish when the children are off at school/college/university. I can vacuum, dust, clean the bathroom. I'm not sure that I can tidy bedrooms without outwardly cursing the fact that I'm picking up wet towels off the bed yet again with the certainty that they'll be back there again tomorrow morning. I will practise silent cursing. I can order my grocery shopping on the internet. When it comes, I'll have to accept all the substitutes.

I could text people. Perhaps even improve my texting skills. I don't usually send texts because it takes me too long which is odd because I can touch type very fast. I suppose that I'm not used to the ordering of the keys on the mobile phone keypad and as we get older we become reluctant to change our ways of doing things.

I could talk to people on MSN or whatever is the in thing at the moment. Except that most people are out and about in the world, not sitting in looking for non-verbal communication. I could look through Facebook, think of witty things to write on people's walls about the exciting things I'm up to but I only joined to keep up with my eldest son and not many grown ups are into that sort of idle chit-chat. Not in writing, anyway.

I could watch television but most of the programmes shown in the daytime are repeats so this would be short-lived as an enjoyable pastime. I could search for houses or clothes on the internet but I did that yesterday.

I could do some cooking, read a book, stroll around the town. Without being able to speak, I would be limited to the thoughts bouncing around inside my head. Which brings me to my point. I've been planning an exercise for a Communications Group for stroke survivors, some of whom are limited to a handful of words. Sometimes we can't find the right words but imagine never being able to find the words. And so we have to look for alternatives to speaking, a new way of communicating ideas and enriching lives. I don't think I couldn't speak for even just a week. Some of them belong to the older generation, some don't but they all have to learn a new way to communicate and that must take a lot of effort. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Something to get me going again.

I feel like a rusty old car that needs cranking. I can almost hear the creaking as the rust and moss that's grown in the workings is sheared off by the promise of the creative wheel. And so I turn to Sarah's prompt for today: The smell of my grandparents' house. I'm not sure where it's going but that doesn't really matter; it's just a little exercise.

Not unusually, I had two sets of grandparents. I only knew my grandmothers as my grandfathers died before I was born. Actually, that's not true; one of them died when I was three weeks old. When my father died, my dentist, with whom I had an appointment the following day, told me that he believes how when someone dies a new life fills their place. There has to be a certain amount of logic going on here but I don't think it should be taken too literally. Otherwise, we'd all be shouldering an awful lot of responsibility. Anyway, back to my grandmothers' houses.

I'll deal with the one in Cumbernauld first. I've already written about my visits there (albeit briefly) in my contribution to the Your Messages anthology. However, if we're talking about smells, perhaps we'll go in a different direction.

I can't just tell you about the smell in her flat; it's more of a journey. We always flew there. Because my father was a pilot, we were always standby. I'm probably giving away my age by saying that behind the check-in desk was a board with seat numbers. We would hang around at the back of the queues of fare-paying passengers willing the little oblong pieces of card to stay there until the last minute and then be stapled firmly onto our tickets. This didn't always happen but the smell of rushing and waiting somehow blended into one. Waiting, rushing, the transience of mixed perfumes and clacking heels on the shiny floor, the walkways became tunnels, the tunnels leading to the gate, brightly coloured, plastic seats arranged in squares. A door opens behind the desk and the whistle of jet engines (see, I'm not THAT old) pushes aside the fight between the warm air of the waiting area at the gate and the crisp air from outside.

On board, a creamy plastic aroma streams down onto the parting in my hair; adjusted to the 'off' position, I am stifled by the leather briefcases and glossy in-flight magazines but 'on' and I am chilly. I smell coffee brewing and breakfast being warmed. I look forward to my round, grey, palid, salty mushrooms and tinned tomatoes. The jagged, plastic knife is surprisingly sharp and even saws through the bacon. And gouges a groove in the foil container. I panic and try to check underneath to make sure I'm not losing valuable tomato juice. The foil burns my fingertips and I recoil, knocking my impossibly wide coffee cup. Now, I will have to be careful how much whitener I put in there. I could save some anyway in case they come around with refills. I realise that I haven't added salt and pepper to my meal. They're like tiny daleks, one blue and the other mustard yellow, the colours of the airline. How organised. I'm intrigued by the the salt and pepper pots; once you peel off the little round stickers sealing the holes in the top, there's no going back. Either you stick them in your handbag there and then or you use them. I don't add salt and pepper at home so I may as well use them now.

And now I've run out of time and we haven't even got as far as the diesel trains, bacon rolls, meat pies and shoe racks in the department stores. Oh well, you've been spared. This time. And just before I go, my other granny had a bungalow. I don't remember much except hydrangeas, stuffing and silver polish.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Coming soon ...

Today, I delivered my eldest son back to university. Tomorrow, my two youngest will both be at school and by Tuesday, the last remaining one will be back at college.

My mind is brimming with little writing ideas that I am anxious to commit to (virtual) paper before they die alongside my brain cells. Therefore, I am hoping to resume blogging in between tidying up the house for selling it, writing a novel, reading for my MA and the many other things I am supposed to be doing; the point is, that the summer is over and something near to normal service will be resumed shortly.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Monty goes on...and on...

Whilst I'm taking a rest from blogging and trying to focus on my novel (amongst other things), my dog, Monty has taken up the metaphorical pen otherwise known as the keyboard and can be seen tapping away with his little paws (okay, so they're quite big and very hairy) with renewed vigour. He does so enjoy Sarah's blog, particularly the little mentions of her dog, Tally and uses her prompts to aid him bring forth those formerly hidden emotions and to launch them into the blogosphere.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Island comes to an end - at last!

Roland has reached the end of the road and some might say that it is about time. I've decided to put him to bed (without going back to the unmade one in the middle of the jungle) because I've got to start doing some serious writing for my novel. The school holidays will soon be over and the new uni term will be beginning so I'll have lots of reading to catch up on. Monty will continue to respond to Sarah's prompts on my behalf because he gets very twitchy if he doesn't and there's nothing worse than that, I can tell you.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

.....getting out of there

Roland was no celebrity but the next day, he was airlifted from the island along with his new half-bald, red-haired girlfriend with the gammy leg and curious emotional issues. It turned out that he wasn't all that far from civilisation after all; what he thought was the narrative was actually just a load of random fantasies bearing no relation to anyone's reality. It was all a set-up, a series of tricks, traps set by a television crew for entertainment. Once he had realised what was going on, that his fears of living the life of an undiscovered hermit were just barren, emotional shells, he felt more abandoned than he had done before.

If you believe something is real, is it reality? Or is believing reality itself? Every man is an island. No matter who is watching.

The Island - Part 10 - at last!

Sorry for the delay. It's good to be back writing again. I'm still taking prompts from Sarah Salway and if you visit her blog, you'll see where I'm getting my inspiration from. If I've missed responding to prompts for a while, I like to use a series of those I've missed in one chunk as a fun writing exercise to get me kickstarted. It seems that not having had time to think about writing and wondering where this story can go next is reflected in today's theme! I hope you enjoy reading it.


Whilst the girl slept – or not as the case may have been – I tried to think straight. I tried to imagine what might happen next but each different scenario was more bizarre than the last. This journey that had started out as a fun holiday excursion with my rugby friends had come to a halt, deserted me on this wild island with the strangest, desperate looking people I had ever seen. A vision of my air-conditioned hotel room with its cool, hard tiles underfoot - as opposed to the uneven, warm and damp uncertainty, the way you could suddenly sink deeper without warning – came to mind. I was no longer alone; that was the only certainty. I wanted to keep my bearings. It was absurd to feel that lost. If I had to find my way in a city, I would know exactly what to do. Surely, it was only a matter of using the same approach? Wherever this journey took me next, there would be something in the back seat of the car. A girl, with tufted, red hair, frightened, wounded, malnourished, possibly foreign. Clearly, she was Caucasian. But language? I had no idea. I am no linguist and unless she came from France, communication would be challenging. In fact, even if she was French, our conversation could well be limited to the customary exchanges to be heard in a Paris restaurant.

When she woke up, we'd need to get her wounds sorted out. Bathing in those parts was going to be tricky to say the least. But then so was getting out of there.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Island - Part 9

The crushed vegetation beneath my shins began to wriggle; I realised that it was inadvisable to be kneeling on the jungle soil but I was fearful of looking at the girl, fearful that she had landed with the fragility of a rotten plum. I needn't have worried; she was already struggling away from me with more purpose than the creatures I had flattened on the ground. The green smell of the bruised leaves, the sap oozing from the fractured stalks and shattered petals were wrestled into submission by the odour of fear and weeks of wild living. How could a frightened human smell so bad and yet an injured plant be so sweet?

Our arms and legs remained entwined despite the girl's efforts. I managed to free an arm and hold up my hand as if I was stopping traffic. I felt ridiculous and was on the brink of laughing. The pulling was subsiding and I wasn't sure if she had been calmed by my hand gesture or whether she had run out of steam. I offered my hand to her.

'Please. Let me help you. Use my hand to steady yourself.'

At last, she seemed to have given in and I was holding her rough hand in my own.

'Now, just stay there a minute whilst I stand up. There. I'm going to help you onto the bed. It's yours isn't it?'

She nodded and a grimace flitted across her lips.

'Well, we may as well make use of it.'

As I lifted her by the armpits to a sitting position on the filthy bed and gently swung her legs up, I could feel that she was severely undernourished. I turned the blood-stained pillow to its other side and supported her as she lowered her upper torso down to rest. Almost immediately that her tufted head touched the rancid pillow, her eyelids came down like heavy shutters over a Glasgow off-licence. It certainly seemed as though she was genuinely exhausted but I wondered whether she was really just playing for time.

Of course, I could just walk away and in a sense, maybe she was offering me the chance to do just that. But I couldn't. I had already swallowed the silent promise to help this wretched girl. The birds and insects seemed to hush waiting for my strength of resolve as I gulped down the lump in the back of my throat. This would be the hardest promise I would ever make.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

We're back ....

Well, it was good weather for flying kites.




but not so good for relaxing on the beach ....




or camping ..

Click on the last photo here and you'll begin to get some idea of what it was like. Sorry about the shoes.

Friday, 1 August 2008

We're all going on a summer holiday ...

I won't have access to a computer for a whole week. I suppose I'll have to make do with a good, old-fashioned notebook. The advantage of this is that when I come back, I should have a wealth of material just bursting to get out of my fingertips and onto a keyboard. Or maybe not. We'll have to wait and see. We're getting back to nature, you see (fully-clothed, I might add); the smell of damp canvas, dewy meadows and birdsong.... soggy pyjamas, children kicking a football against the tent, having to dig a trench around the outside to stop the water from flowing through the zip - no - I refuse to think like that! Be positive. Everything will be just fine. Starting with the 6am dash to get level with Stonehenge before the rest of the country.

This time tomorrow, we'll be sitting in front of the barbecue. Probably trying to dry off our trousers because you're not allowed camp fires.....

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Island - Part 8

Amongst the fronds of the tree hung a foot, pigeon-blue. But it was not the hue of death; they were wriggling. The bony ankle and stringy calf gave way to a thigh, gashed open. The expression of pain on the face of the owner of that thigh is something I will never forget. She seemed to be trying to move.

'Don't move, I'll come and help you!'

The sound that came from her mouth belonged to a wild animal, the sobbing that followed and the tears, saliva and mucus dripping from her face onto her ripped clothes, more human. It was clear that she had been far removed from civilisation for some time. Signs of either cleanliness or vanity were absent. What was left of the hair on her head grew in red tufts, the bald patches were scored and raw.

I put my rucksack on the bed.

'Don't move, you're hurt!'

As I prepared myself for the challenge of climbing the trunk in a wetsuit, she had drawn her leg upwards and was trying to curl into a ball. She must have misjudged her footing; I am guessing that she had lost some sensation in her leg and she started to tumble out of the tree. My arms had already been outstretched and in an instant became a rough cradle for her form as we both landed on the bed and rolled onto the ground.

Upon impact, she had gone quiet and we were almost nose-to-nose.

Friday, 25 July 2008

The Island - Part 7

My instinct was to run. I wasn't sure whether the blood was from my own forehead or from someone else. Neither possibility was something I wanted to contemplate. I knew that I had slept very soundly, much more so than usual and I had no recall of injuring myself. I ran my fingertips across my brow. It was smooth, oily with the heat. I could feel the triangular dent from when I had fallen off the garden swing when I was four. When I raised my eyebrows, I could feel the creases in the shape of a bird in flight and at that moment, I wished that I could fly. I could feel no discomfort; no bruising or rawness. My skin was intact.

Reluctantly, and with the delicate silence of a slow-motioned picture, I cast my eyes back to the scene of my slumber. The pillow was blotted with blood. It was fresh. I took a deep breath. The muscles working my eyes may as well have been having to raise an elephant off the ground as I steeled myself for a glimpse of the origin of the blood. I decided to do it gradually; first locking on the base of the trunk, my vision mentally climbing over the gnarled bark and severed branches on the way up.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The Island - Part 6

I woke with a start in the half-light of dawn, feeling drops of liquid splattering onto my forehead. The backs of my ribs were so stiff from the pressure of the lumpy bed that in the effort to rise, it felt as though my lungs were being asked to carry the entire weight of my upper torso. I was still alone. But not at home. What sort of person lived in a place like this? It was hardly an ideal home; a grubby, worn bed probably infested and exposed to all comers in the forest. The vegetation around the bed's base was well-trodden. I wondered whether I should be expecting the return of its owner. Would they be pleased to see me or did they choose this wild and solitary existence? If so, I might not be welcome. Either way, this person wouldn't be accustomed to having friends for dinner except possibly in the most gruesome sense, I mused. I should be on my way.

I clutched roughly at handfuls of neoprene from my wetsuit, which in this heat was as pliable as newly-kneaded dough; the warm, salty waft as it rebounded,clapping back onto my chest was the closest I could get to letting my skin breathe. I undid the zip a few inches, scratching at the raised wheel left around my neck by the sweaty elastic. I longed to strip off and seek a stream but I knew that even if I could find one, getting my wetsuit back on would be all the more unpleasant. No, I had to return to the beach or find someone who could help me.

Having gathered myself into a more upright position, and with the stiffness fading, I swung the rucksack onto my back. I felt a trickle down my forehead and wiped it with the back of my hand. My eyes were scanning for a lost horizon, a sight of the end of the dense jungle, perhaps a sea bird or even a change in the hue of the soil ahead. But I saw no exchange of red earth for pure white sand. On the edge of my field of vision I glimpsed the back of my hand returning to my side, streaked with blood.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Island Break

Sorry about the lack of postings over the last few days and the consequent break in The Island. I've been having a few technical difficulties, mainly a broken laptop and trying to be in two places simultaneously. However, I hope to resume normal service by the end of the week so please do keep coming back. You never know, I might find a quiet corner with an unused computer and a brain cell at an unexpected moment! You're not the only ones being neglected. Monty's missed out on his walks for the last few days and is huffing a lot.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Island - Part 5

I reproached myself for jumping to the conclusion that in some way, the red hair was more sinister than if it had been blonde. The connotations were irrelevant as after all, the reality of the situation was far more threatening than some weird childish hang-up. And yet still the image of little Red Riding Hood being lured into the cottage by the wolf kept edging its way into my mind like a fist pushing on the skin of a drum. So where was the wolf? Wearied by the number of unanswered questions, I sat down on the filthy bed. By this point, I was drenched in sweat and resigned to the fact that I must already reek; if I made it back off the island that day, I could take a dip in the water to clean off.

Suddenly, I heard a crackle amongst the low-lying vegetation. I looked down and about six feet in front of me was a huge, black snake slithering along. It didn't appear to be making its way directly towards me but I quickly pulled up my legs, just in case. It paused at the sound of the bed springs creaking and then continued on its journey. Confident that it wasn't interested in me and wanting to keep it that way, I remained still, fixing my attention on the string of muscles rolling along until the end of its tail faded to a dot and became indistinguishable from the shadows thrown by the undergrowth on the earth. Even although I knew it had gone, I couldn’t help looking back to the spot where I’d last seen it, again and again. Hypnotised by the effort to maintain a focus which kept receding, my eyelids grew heavy, weighted by beaded lashes and I must have drifted off. And that was the last thing I remembered of that day.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The Island - Part 4

The day before the holiday I had sat on my own unmade bed at home trying to envisage myself far away from this grey town with its dirty buses. I tried to imagine the clear blue skies (although I did allow a few high, wispy ones), the rattle of steel drums, brightly-coloured shirts and the aroma of jerk chicken on the beach barbecue. The sight of the unmade bed had reminded me that I was there on a much needed holiday, that trekking around a tiny, uncivilised island – albeit a hot one - was not what I had planned. It was the suggestion of barbecued food that was most discordant with my reality.

My thoughts switched again, this time to my niece and something she had said to me. She’d being doing a project on the rainforest and was fascinated by a plant they had discussed. She’d told me about it over and over, laughing. She said that it only came into flower once every ....I couldn’t even remember that....and that when it did, its flower smelled like rotten meat. I’d wondered if she’d ever smelled rotten meat. Did this count as a rainforest? Probably not. But I could smell rotten meat and I could see no flowers anywhere.

The bed was dirty, streaked with brown; in fact, I couldn’t have even made out its proper colour. The duvet was spilling out of the poppered end as if trying to wrestle its way from its cover. I could see some hair poking out from underneath the far side of this crumpled mess. It was red hair. A doll’s? I looked around me. The giggling had stopped. I seemed to be alone. There was no one to explain it to me, to tell me it was going to be alright, to tell me why, when I gently lifted the duvet to examine the owner of the red hair, there wasn’t one. Just a clump of red hair on a dirty mattress.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Island - Part 3

A low hum was resonating from the huddle in the sand although its effect was almost vibrato as the breeze blew the sound around the bay and out to sea in rhythmic waves. I could stay there to find out what they were leading up to or I slip away whilst they weren’t looking. I chose the latter and hoped that they didn’t view my departure as a mark of irreverence for their friend. But I needed the toilet.

This wasn’t an island that had been either developed or cultivated but as I ventured into the bank of greenness fronted by the coconut trees, I could see a well-trodden route through the undergrowth. I could hear an intermittent hiss from some reptile or other and I saw some tiny lizards scurrying up some tree trunks but it didn’t seem as if there was any human company. Unwilling to alert any more potentially hostile inhabitants to my presence, I crept down the centre of the path to avoid cracking any branches underfoot.

I walked for maybe fifteen minutes. As my journey lengthened, so did the height of the trees and an almost solid canopy cut out most of the light. All around, I was surrounded by dense jungle but despite this, the path continued and I wondered what or who I may find at its end. I began to notice more mosquitoes darting and droning in front of my brow as I walked and it was hard to tell whether it was them or drips of sweat tickling me. Either way, I knew I was going to have to stop and take a rest. I was hardly dressed for trekking through the jungle but at least I had a bottle of lemonade in my rucksack. I sat down on a stone to the side of the path. Next to me was another stone. Suddenly, I noticed movement to my left and jumped up. It was an iguana, well camouflaged and startled by my arrival. I relaxed a little, took a sip of my lemonade, deciding to ration myself in case I needed it later.

I rested for a few more minutes and the dampness of my t-shirt began to cool me down. My watch had stopped – it probably wasn’t designed for watersports – and having done what I had left the beach to do, I decided it would be wisest to retrace my steps before I got completely lost. I stood up, hauled my rucksack over my shoulder and from the thud on the ground, thought that I must have dropped my lemonade. But my bag was zipped up. I had left the coconut trees far behind on the fringes of the shore and I’d seen how silently the iguanas could move around so what was it?

I heard a giggle; not too far away, maybe twenty feet or so. Never one to shy away from the opportunity when a woman comes calling I felt drawn towards the merry sound coming through the bushes.

‘Hello?’

No reply.

‘Hello! I’m from England! Lost, actually! Hello?’

A muffled sound came over the humid airwaves but it was just as far away as before. Someone was playing games with me. Wary of becoming disorientated, I ventured forwards again. I hesitated and even considered that the sensible course would be to turn back there and then but I caught a glimpse of something whitish ahead. There must be some sort of clearing because light was streaming through the canopy in thin strands like hot icicles in a cave. My pace must have quickened because it seemed no time at all until I had arrived at the object of my gaze. It was an unmade single bed.

Intermission

Now I don't want it to sound like I'm making excuses but .....

I make no secret of the fact that I haven't quite been myself of late (whoever that is) and I have a few problems with my memory. Someone on that Grumpy Old Women programme summed it up beautifully when she described how with being a middle-aged mother, everyone's lives are filtered through you. Even when there is no stressful situation either present or on the horizon you are expected to know the whereabouts of every family member and most likely be responsible for transporting or retrieving them from there. You are also required to know exactly what they are doing, what they would like to do, what they have done and be able to retrieve this information instantaneously for a variety of people. This means that a phenomenal amount of data is filtered through my brain uninvited, the consequence being the occasional server overload. Therefore, I really think that it is perfectly excusable to have taken a phone message regarding a change of appointment and not to remember what or who it relates to. So, as Tuesday 15th at 0845 looms (4 days and counting), my anxiety increases proportionately. Yes, of course, I wrote it down. On an envelope. And I've double-checked with the dentist which was a little embarrassing as I had to admit to why I was asking. I also had to confess to the doctor's surgery when I rang there this morning to ask if my son's vaccination appointment was today or had been moved to next Tuesday. Obviously realising that I was indeed a nutcase, they asked to speak to him directly. His conversation with them was relatively short when he discovered that I was speaking to the wrong doctor's surgery. How was I to know that his appointment wasn't with our one? Now I don't know whether to drop around with some chocolates for the most polite doctor's receptionist I've ever communicated with or if I should just keep my head down. After all, I have a different surname from my son - I expect that he's quite glad about that at the moment - and no one is likely to twig unless they look through his notes. However, having taken up a considerable amount of their valuable time on the phone whilst they searched for the non-existent appointment, I expect they would be too busy. So I'll say nothing.

Anyway, he rang the right surgery only to be told that his appointment was today so the mystery continues. When it comes to 0845 on the 15th, should I stay at home and await the phone call to say 'Where are you?' or go out and pretend I was called away urgently?

Also, I'm trying to organise our daughter's birthday party which is on Sunday and have yet to bake the cake nevermind ice it. People keep asking me what we're having, i.e. what expensive entertainment have we got lined up? The answer is 'me'. Therefore, I'm thinking about party games ideas too.

All in all, I just wanted to say sorry for the break in what I'm sure is the most gripping narrative of 2008 but 'The Island' will resume normal service. Eventually.

Now this is spooky. I've just had an email asking me to work, starting from next Tuesday. I'll aim to get there at 0845. Very weird indeed.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Island - Part 2

There are times when someone's presence produces foolish excitement. This wasn’t one of them. It was beginning to dawn on Roland that the vacant interest in his arrival on this tiny island was well founded. The man on the left-hand end of the line was swaying and his forehead seemed to be erupting with balls of sweat. His eyelids were becoming heavy, his knees unlocking and folding beneath him.
The others in the line were not reacting to the deterioration of their companion and so Roland quickly stepped forward, just in time to scoop the hot, wiry frame of the man into his arms. The man’s eyes were now fully closed and although he weighed little, his clammy form was slipping from Roland’s grasp and he moved to lay him down onto the sand. The next person along the line had recoiled and flung their arms up the air and let out a hoarse scream. As he’d done so, the remaining six bodies fell like dominoes and landed in a pile, their legs protruding like wayward sticks on a bonfire.
Roland raised his palms to the group as they hauled themselves back onto their feet.
‘It’s OK, I don’t want to hurt you. Do you have any water?’
They looked out to sea. There were birds with beaks like Concorde and V-shaped wings soaring in a predatory fashion overhead. The shimmering tide was gently lapping against the hull of the jet ski and in the sunlight, Roland could see the tiny flecks of pink coral in the white sand accumulating, embracing this foreign body into its own substance. The screaming had died down, the birds glided in silent circles and the horizon was as deserted as the expressions on the faces of those who had now formed a circle around the body of their friend.

Monday, 7 July 2008

The welcoming committee

The welcoming committee awaited Roland as his jet ski roared up onto the white sand. Once on dry land, he’d planned to take out his binoculars and have a good look out to sea; with the noise and the spray, not to mention the panic at the thought of having left his friends somewhere out there in the Atlantic, it was impossible to concentrate and get his bearings.

'Hi there’ he decided to try and sound confident and put on his friendliest smile.

No response.

‘I’ve lost my friends. On jet skis, you know? Just wanted to take five minutes to try and work out what the hell has happened to them.’

Nothing.

Roland looked from the first man on the left then right along the line, trying to make eye contact with each of the eight figures in turn. Their eyes were directed at him but not registering his attempts to communicate let alone reciprocate. They were all tanned to the colour of Roland’s creosoted fence back home. Their clothes were faded and frayed at the hems, their colours dulled further by a coating of sand. They gazed through Roland towards the horizon, the tropical breeze blowing their unkempt, sun-scorched hair like windsocks.

Scattered around the foot of the trees lining the shore were broken coconut shells, interspersed with vacant tiny turtle shells. There were charred hollows in the sand surrounded by fish bones. There were some much bigger bones too, the shape of which Roland didn’t recognise.

He wondered what they were expecting of him. Entertainment? Enlightenment? Nourishment? He went cold at the thought, even though the late afternoon temperature was pushing one hundred degrees. He wondered who was in charge. He guessed that the population of such a small island may even have been limited to those who stood in front of him.

TO BE CONTINUED ........

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Travels with a suitcase

In my suitcase I pack a silk red rose, a small cream cushion, a sieve, an elastic band and a big plaster. I’m travelling light; other than the clothes I stand in as I prepare for this spontaneous trip, I have nothing except £300.

The girl on the check-in desk frowns at her computer, lifts my case as if to reposition it and looks shocked at its emptiness. She blushes, she’s flustered. An almost empty suitcase. But not quite.

‘Did you pack your bags yourself Madam?’ she asks.

‘Yes’.

She tags it and it quivers as it disappears off around the corner over the rumbling conveyor belt. She doesn’t hand me my boarding pass straight away and is talking quietly into a handset with her back turned away from me. I’m not sure what’s happening but she swivels back to face me and I get a plastic smile with my documents. I get the feeling I’m being followed as I make my way to Departures.
This feeling of being followed follows me through the emptying back streets of Paris in the lull between evening and night time. I sit down at a small round table outside a cafe. My shadow has already halted back at the last corner. I wonder why I am here.

I wonder what I am going to do now that I am here. I’m not in the mood for shopping. I’ll have to make my clothes last twenty-four hours. This could be the last twenty –four hours and every one of them is too important to be wasted sleeping or shopping and besides, my £300 is depleted by the air fare.

I think about the contents of my suitcase which sits next to my legs. I take out the rose and place it inside the little vase in the centre of the circular table. Its texture jars slightly against that of its neighbours; after all, this is Paris and I would expect nothing less than real flowers.

An elderly lady with a small dog arrives and sits down at the table next to me. She is wearing an elegant calf-length suit and seamed stockings. She looks over and smiles and I notice how her lipstick has seeped into the lines around her lips. Her little dog is bouncing, trying to leap up into her lap and she tries to pacify him on the pavement. I take out the cushion.

‘Pour vous?’ I ask the dog and the old lady laughs and places it on the seat next to her.

‘Merci beaucoup, Madmoiselle’ and I return to my seat. The dog circles on the cushion before curling up, sighing and closing its eyes. The lady orders her coffee. When it arrives, she leans forward for her lips to meet with the rim of the cup but as she does so, the pendant around her neck catches around the button on her jacket sleeve and its stone plops into her coffee.

‘Here, let me’, I say, forgetting my French in the heat of the moment. I take her cup over to the kerbside and pour its contents through the sieve. The stone – and I am not sure what kind of stone it is – lies steaming in the pit of the sieve as the last drops filter through the mesh. The lady orders another coffee from the waiter who has come rushing outside and she thanks me again. She orders me a cake and I’m grateful.

Energised from my coffee and cake, I wave to the old lady, pick up my suitcase and set off down the pavement. I walk for a while and my heels become sore from the friction as I try to walk as graciously as the French girls strolling with their arms linked together.

Ahead, on the bank of the Seine, I can see a bench and plan to sit down to examine my sores. But I hesitate as I lower my weight onto the seat. I remember something; once you take off whatever’s hurting you, you never want it back how it was. Flesh swells, fills the gaps repressed by straps and finds its own form.

A few yards away, an artist is packing away his easel and painting. He looks tired and wipes his brow with his sleeve. He has a case for his brushes. It’s a hard, black one a bit like those I’ve seen musicians use. Perhaps it’s an artist thing, this case, the idea that you can contain your precious belongings in a case. The main difference between him and me is that my case is full of random objects; I will not be using them to create a masterpiece. Or will I? Perhaps I will write a story about a trip to Paris and feature the contents of my case and then they will be useful because someone might read it.

But what about the plaster? I bet you thought I was going to put it on my heel. Not so. I offered it to the artist to stick on the back of his painting after it fell on top of his case and was torn by its catch. That’s art for art’s sake. The elastic band remains the only mystery in this plot; it is circular and if you stretch it to a point, it comes back to the shape at the beginning.

In my suitcase I pack a silk red rose and wonder where it will take me. This is the beginning of the end.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Mermaid

You may have noticed that I haven't written here for a little while. Feeling under the weather with some mysterious illness, I've focused all my energy on doing the basics, like cooking and ironing, etc. Jealous? I bet. Anyway, the cooking has been getting more and more elaborate (making pizzas from scratch and chelsea buns is elaborate for me, anyway)so I decided that my creativity was asking to be let out regardless of my aches and pains. So, having missed out on responding to Sarah's prompts, I've played a little game with them just to get me going again. It's probably the sort of writing I shouldn't really inflict on other but there you go. Why should I be the only one to suffer?

• Thursday 3rd - the footprints were tiny
• Wednesday 2nd - take me out tonight
• Tuesday 1st - I was a nice kid
• Monday 30th - the pillow's bare by my side
• Sunday 29th - the bouncer's in hospital


I was a nice kid. The hair of a mermaid and the neatest frame which gave the impression that I’d just jumped out of a delicate little bird’s egg to sip dew off a tulip.

‘Take me out tonight’ I’d said to the Water Fairy. And she did.

We went to the Ladybird Club. I had to sneak in around the back, being what they disparagingly referred to as ‘Water Fowl’. I’d heard them alright although I pretended not to and hid behind the fish tank. The lights were low; it was almost dark except for the colours darting around the walls like fireflies.

When there was a really loud number on, I slipped across to the middle of the dance floor, holding my hair twisted into a temporary pony tail so that it wouldn’t swish against the legs of those gyrating to the club beat. My movements were smoother than theirs, like silk slipping over a banana. I had no clumpy shoes, just my bare flesh.

It was a matter of bad luck, I suppose; the wrong night to turn up. They were giving out awards for Best Dancer and I didn’t know until the lights went up and there I was weaving in and out of their stilettos trying to escape. Of course it was useless and I was spotted. But following trails of perspiration across the exposed areas of the dance floor, I managed to get to the window in the Ladies’. The Water Fairy was waiting outside and hearing the ensuing commotion, whisked me back home.

The next day, I asked her if she’d heard whether I’d been seen.
‘Undoubtedly, my friend. The bouncer’s in hospital for having let you in. It seems very unlikely that there will be no repercussions.‘

And so it was. There was much whispering around the forest and the lakeside. I woke up the next day feeling totally washed up. I looked downwards and did something I had never done before. I wiggled my toes amongst the reeds and a frog burped out a stream of bubbles before legging it across the surface frightened at the spectacle of me.

I stood upright. The ground felt solid underneath me. I took a step forwards. Unable to believe what had happened, I looked behind me. The footprints were tiny but they were definitely there.

At the end of that first day, I was weary with the weight of the constant breathing of the forest air and having to lift one foot and then the other but I couldn’t go back home like this. I made a bed out of laurel leaves and grass, covered myself with some clumps of badger fur and fell asleep, exhausted.

That day was to change my life forever. When I awoke to the scent of the bruised laurel, I already knew that yet something else was different. The pillow was bare by my side. My hair had been hacked away.

So the moral of the story is: listen to what your mother tells you and you’ll never wake up after a night out knowing you were legless the night before and that now you are paying the consequences. And don’t forget that we’d all die without water.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Fault Line

Today's prompt is 'The Fault Line'. How I arrived at the following then is anybody's guess although I think I was thinking along the lines of a division of the selves. Who knows?

As Susan put on her tracksuit jacket and stepped out onto the balcony, her lungs took in the first drenching of humid air. Overnight, she’d forgotten the leaden humidity that had flowed like molten lava into her lungs when the aircraft door had opened; the chill in her room was more reminiscent of home in late October.

There were no bathers, just a pool man and a waiter pushing a big trolley covered with a white cloth. The clinking of plates and the thud of cutlery against wood came bouncing through the air telling her where she would find breakfast although she guessed that it wasn’t time yet.

Susan wasn’t alone that morning. As she looked over the edge of the balcony and past the bougainvillea a blonde head moved out from the main building towards the pool. She looked at the parting in the hair. The tapping of heels on the paving slabs had caused the invisible sparrows waiting for breakfast crumbs to take flight. This was someone who was used to making an entrance. The source of the tapping was soon revealed to be a pair of white stilettos. Each tap came hot on the heels of the previous one, marching to the tune of a vibrant pink pencil skirt.

Fearful that she would be spotted spying, Susan retreated to her room and brushed her hair, hoping that her highlights wouldn’t look too brassy in the sun. Even with the doors shut now, she could hear raised voices coming from the pool or the restaurant outside. She was hungry, her stomach confused by the time difference and she needed to settle the turbulence within by eating breakfast.

The lift arrived swiftly. Its interior was mirrored and smelled of a vaguely familiar perfume. As the doors reopened to reveal a cleaner mopping the marbled floor, Susan recognised that feeling of disorientation. Here she was again. Alone in a foreign hotel, not knowing where she was. Or who she was.

The cleaner looked up and smiled deferentially and Susan smiled back. She would not initiate conversation with the woman in case she couldn’t speak English. Instead, she strode up to the reception desk.

‘Excuse me, what time does breakfast start?’

‘Breakfast is at seven Ma’am.’

‘Thank you.’

On the wall behind the desk was a row of clocks, each one set to the times of different cities. The central one was the largest and told her that it was seven o’clock. She was relieved. The receptionist had gone back to her paperwork as if Susan had already left. She turned towards the automatic doors leading out onto the terrace. As the doors parted, a commotion danced and spiralled through the blast of warm air and she hesitated for a moment. There was laughter and shrieking coming from a huddle of white coats in the corner of the poolside restaurant. Should she go? Of course, she was hungry and happy noise posed no threat. Or did it?

The gurgling from her innards and the waft of coffee on the warm breeze pulled her towards the restaurant like gravity itself. It was always a challenge working out the etiquette for each hotel. She wasn’t sure whether just to sit at a table or wait to be seated. The white-coated waiters were still gathered around one table and failed to notice her entrance above the din they were making.

Susan unfolded the napkin and spread it out on her lap. She put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on the backs of her hands. She didn’t want to look desperate so she avoided looking over at the crowd. She gazed sideways at the buffet display of melons, pineapples and mangoes. She wasn’t sure if she should just go over and help herself or wait to be offered coffee. There didn’t seem much chance of anyone coming over so Susan quietly rose and made her way over to the fruit. On her way, she noticed some chrome jugs on a side table. She decided to take a detour and poured herself a cup of black coffee. Even the cup hitting the saucer didn’t attract anyone’s attention. She resumed her journey over to the fruit. The stunning display of oranges, reds and pinks were redolent of something else but she put this out of her mind whilst she piled up a plate. There were cooked items in stainless steel dishes; scrambled eggs with what looked like onions and peppers, diced fried potatoes and bacon so crispy it was almost black. She would be back for her second course.

Having arrived fairly late the previous evening, Susan hadn’t really had a chance to size up many of the other guests except for a drunken couple dressed in sequins and swaying about in reception trying to ask for their room key. So as the melon dissolved in her mouth, she drifted back to thinking about the gathering in the corner and the woman who sat at its centre. The waiters were being very familiar with her. A celebrity perhaps? Surely a celebrity would have an entourage or at least some dress sense. They definitely knew her.

As Susan neared the end of eating her fruit, she stood up to make her second visit. Still no register of her existence. At the same time, a group of people arrived at the restaurant. Their exuberant manor immediately drew the attention of the waiters. It seemed as though Susan was going to eat the cooked food unnoticed too. With the edge taken off her hunger, she noticed that the food was arranged between the most exquisite displays of exotic flowers, that the tables were draped in the highest quality of cotton cloth.

Some more waiters emerged from the kitchen and were ushering the new arrivals in the restaurant to tables adjacent to the woman. So, they knew her too. They were together. In an instant, veil of waiters in front of the woman was drawn back and Susan could see her face clearly.

Two years ago, Susan had been to Barbados, two years before that it had been St Lucia. She enjoyed the variety of cultures and the climate of the Caribbean; the relative safety of being confined within a hotel complex was as appealing to a woman holidaying on her own as to couples. Susan liked to watch the weddings in the hotels, wishing that she could be involved in some way. She kept a private score: best wedding music, prettiest dress, presentation of the groom, choice of flowers. She considered herself an impartial judge with the inconspicuousness of a chameleon.
Susan put her head down. She thought about slipping under the table but remembered that the debris of her half-eaten breakfast would give her away. She’d got it so wrong.

This woman was no over-dressed drag queen with an entourage. She was a bride. Just as Susan could blend into the background and avoid people’s gazes, this woman sought them. She’d been there in Barbados. And St Lucia. But this was the first time that Susan had recognised her.

Susan would spend the years between holidays saving and planning for her next trip. This other woman had done the same.

Susan had blown it this time. Something had gone wrong with her judgement and she was willing herself to dissolve into the pool of melon juice on her plate. But all that was just wishful thinking and her old self had already evaporated in the heat.
The reality was that she could no longer go unnoticed. This was it. Nothing would be black and white anymore; a whole palate of colour was about to be splattered all over the blank canvas that had been her life.

Of course the planning of it had gone like clockwork. Ever since Barbados, she and Ben had been comparing scores on wedding music, pretty dresses and flowers; no detail had been left to chance. But this woman in the corner with the pink skirt and white stilettos wasn’t comfortable.

It was only when Ben arrived after his morning run, slowing down as he passed the coffee machine, the fruit and admiring glances of both families that Susan remembered where she was. This was the first morning of what would be a fortnight of celebrations. No more pre-wedding nerves.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The bench






This is a bench of significance. At least to us. Ten years ago, after an enjoyable evening at the pub a crowd of friends came back to my house. We listened to music and talked and talked. Gradually, everyone left one by one until there was just one friend remaining. We kept talking. We decided to walk down to the park and watch the sun rise. We sat on this bench and talked some more. Unfortunately, we didn't notice the sun rising because we were facing West; one minute it was dark, the next it wasn't.

The bench stood firm against changes in the surrounding landscape; the rebuilding of the nearby sports centre, new paving slabs for people to grind their cigarettes into and the tickling of the new hedge's fingers as it shot up from behind.

You can see from the picture that there's been some sort of traumatic event. The unnoticed spark from a cigarette, an illicit barbecue that went wrong or someone who just spontaneously combusted? Maybe. I'm sure if your trousers were on fire, you'd notice before you got to that stage. How can you not notice the sparks, the burning before it gets to your bare skin? We'll never know. Just like we never knew when we sat there talking as friends after a long night that one day, three years later, we'd be married, walking past the bench with our children.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Something you see every day

It’s at times like these when I’m very thankful to Sarah for her prompts. Here I am, up even earlier than usual, just having my Ready Brek and thought I'd just check my emails etc. No sooner had I wandered over to Sarah's blog than I had suddenly got the urge to write something. Yay! It’s made me realize how important it is for me to keep writing daily. Let's ignore the fact that I got up early because I need to wash my hair before the children's swimming lessons at 8am and that I will be running through the doors with them at the last second and making them change in reception, I really wanted to write. So, thank you Sarah! The reason why this is such a turning point is that I’ve been preoccupied with my novel and it seems such a huge task at the moment plus I’ve been feeling a little under the weather. The result has been that I have produced nothing of anything for the last few days. Therefore, I’ve decided to have a few days off from the novel and enjoy some random writing. The prompt is ‘something you see every day’ and I’m going to describe an object in great detail. In true Rolf Harris fashion (just realised he’s got the same surname as me but with only one ‘s’) fashion, see if you can guess what it is before you get to the end.
Its upper surface is a brilliant grey, depending upon the light thrown in through the patio doors. If you screw up your eyes, it could be a model of a town: rows of detached bungalows, a community centre and a block of neighbourhood shops. And yes, I think there’s a sports arena because I can see the outline of the tiered blocks of seating. Beyond that is another small residential area bordering onto the industrial estate. At the very far end, is one lone building with a massive space in front of it; must be some sort of retail development. Come back to the end from where you’re viewing and you can get a sense of perspective. You can see that the ground immediately at the front of our town is not so brilliantly shiny as it is in the distance. Look closer still at the surface and you can see that it’s not contours in the land but sticky fingerprints. Also, there’s some graffiti in big letters printed across this piece of open space. No, it’s too neat for graffiti. It’s a company’s name, an advertisement.
Now, here’s one last thought. In my novel (told you I’m preoccupied by it), I keep coming back to one thought, a quote I heard from somewhere: ‘You spend your whole life looking for something that isn’t there and then one day you’re not there’. I suppose it’s about focusing on the details and not being able to see the bigger picture which is the overall theme of my writing at the moment. So, there’s a clue for you – if your house is anything like ours – it’s something that you frequently lose sight of.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Monty's Blog

He's been at it again. So if you've come here expecting a nice little story, I'm sorry - I've been busy working on my novel. You could, however, check out Monty's Blog where he's ranting regularly about the woes of being a member of our household.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

You're not the only one

I've had some good news this week. A piece of my writing has been selected to be included in a book called You're Not the Only One and it's for Warchild. It's nice to think that my writing can contribute something positive to the world and this is certainly a very deserving charity. So, please buy one!

I've been too busy vacuuming and dusting today so Monty's been the blogger in the household. Please read it and indulge his need for adulation.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Flopsy's Gone

On the advice of our vet and the Wildlife SOS people, Flopsy has been released back into the wild this evening. We took him (or her) down to the edge of the forest. Unfortunately, he didn't adhere to the plan and skip off into the undergrowth but darted off in the opposite direction and across the road in front of a car during which time we all held our breath. Fortunately, the driver braked and missed him as we saw him moving at the speed of light up the path on the other side. Even the magpie which landed and took a peck at him couldn't keep up but goodness knows where he went after that. I walked back later with the dog and did see a small rabbit in front of the forest nibbling at the grass but I suppose it could have been him, at least, I like to think so. Having watched all this take place, I understand why they have a mortality rate of 95% in the wild. I hope we did the right thing .....

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Flopsy Bunny


I've had no time to write today as it's been a little hectic here. Just got back from picking up my eldest son from the station to find that Marmaduke the cat had brought home a baby rabbit. It seemed to be too shocked to move and was obviously far from home so we've put it into an indoor cage with hay, food and water and a tiny cardboard box to hide in.