Friday, 29 February 2008

Things I have stolen

I walked out through the front door. The cold air nipped my nose and pinched my cheeks. I was wearing a hat. A bobble hat but with the bobble missing. I wonder where it went? I could put an ad in the newsagent’s window. Lost bobble. I could put up a photograph. But I never took a photograph because I never expected to lose my bobble. I’m always losing things. I could make a list of all the things I have lost. But better to make a list of the things I haven’t lost. And take photographs. Then, when I lose them, I can put up all the photographs in the newsagent’s window. I could put up so many because I lose so much and then the newsagent man would complain that it was dark and that he had to have the lights on. Having lights on costs money. Losing things costs money. I don’t have any money. So if I don’t have money then I can’t advertise my lost things that I haven’t yet lost. I could sell the things I have to pay for the adverts but then I wouldn’t need the adverts so I may as well keep them. And then the newsagent man gets to save the money he would have spent on electricity. But then he won’t make money out of me paying for adverts for my lost things that I haven’t lost yet. He wouldn’t have made any money out of me anyway because I don’t have any. When you haven’t got money, you have to find other ways to get things. Things that I can then lose. Like the bobble off my hat. I hate it when I lose things. I’ll have to steal another bobble. Quick! There’s a nice one over there.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

What you didn't say

I don’t remember waking up, going from the nothingness of sleep to being aware. The smoke must have slipped silently up my nostrils into my dreams until I was dreaming of being in a room full of smoke and then I was sitting up soon to be dreaming of just being. My trembling fingers fumbled around the metal neck of the table lamp, trying to find the protrusion of the switch but when I did, of course it wasn’t going to work. There was no beam of light under the living room door and I wasn’t aware of any sounds; my head was ringing from coughing and the thickness of smoke which had caught in the back of my throat making me gag. I pulled the thick blanket that had been covering me over my nose and mouth whilst I searched my trouser pockets for a handkerchief. I was frustrated by my clumsiness; it was a simple task, especially in comparison to what I suspected may lie ahead. I found the handkerchief and used it to replace the blanket. I slipped down onto the rug and my stomach. As I slithered slug-like across the floor in a diagonal direction, I hit a solid wall of smoke. I buried my face in the carpet but it only offered the alternative of nothing, no air and I wondered for a moment if I should just keep my face there. My eyes stung as though hot salt had been poured into them; fear kept them stretched open, trying to see beyond the blackness but they were useless .

And then I don’t remember going to sleep. I remember that in hospital you wouldn’t answer the questions my throat and blackened lips couldn’t speak. What you didn’t say was written all over your face.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Before Computers

How can I describe it? It’s long, about six feet although I’ve seen them less than that. Sometimes they’re not long, but vertical and again, approximately six feet but with some variations. They come in different colours; the basic ones being brown, pinkish-orange and yellow although this description is too reductive because the varying hues in between are infinite. Their texture is also varied. Some are warm and sticky to touch, others cold and rough, depending on where you find them. Under the outer shell are a series of blue wires, occasionally visible in some places and constantly so in others. There are bits of wire sticking out at one end and randomly spread elsewhere and these too are different shades. On the older models, the wires have come disconnected from the shell. Some of them appear to have optional extras, add-ons not apparently factory-installed.

If you’re going to get one, make sure you do your research. There’s no point having one that’s going to just sit in the corner of the living room. It may even be advisable to take lessons in order to get the most out of your purchase. Reliability is a key issue as is capacity for handling data and the speed at which it can be processed. If you get one that’s unreliable or faulty, the manufacturer just won’t want to know and it can be really difficult to get it fixed. They’re very sensitive and one tiny component not operating to its full potential can have untold ramifications on the rest of its system.

Don’t let me put you off altogether. I’ve had one for some time and would thoroughly recommend it but I have heard some real horror stories. It’s hard to imagine how life was before we had people computers isn’t it?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

There was never any need

There was never any need to see what she was doing. She could reach into the bag and touch the tiny mountainous dimples and spiky peak of the oranges, smell their sharp, wide tang melting in her nostrils like honey on a hotplate. Such was their power that the netted bag around the oranges allowing them to roll around her palms but not into the black abyss of the bag carved a nick in her thumbnail with one of its strong, fine threads. She could feel the imprinted lines on her fingertips riding over the waxed paper of the butter and under their pressure, the edges caved, eroded and slipped into a slope, down, down, into a cold face; the cold face of a jar and she travelled along its surface to an angular edge. Not a right angle, wider. Onto another side, the same again and it began to warm to her caressing. As she moved upwards, towards its neck, she paused at its moulded shoulders, possibly pears or fruit of some kind, leaves, a clue to the jar’s contents. Over the shoulders, the neck and a round lid ice-smooth and her index finger felt for the weakness in the middle. She pressed down, listened, felt; there was no click. It was still safely sealed, intact. Satisfied that the jar was upright and would come to no harm, she withdrew her arm slightly and her sleeves brushed against a noise. Two rough surfaces; a perforated, crinkly bag and the flakiness of a crusty loaf rattling roughly, rasping against one another. A squishy, nutty warmth wafted upwards and its dampness landed between her fingers. She couldn’t delay any longer. Eyes open, knife thrusting, yellow butter sliding generously, red jam oozing, brown wholemeal crumbs. The matter of a heavenly mixed marriage.

Monday, 25 February 2008


The definition of swimming is moving through water for fun; the action or activity of making progress unsupported through water using the arms and legs, whether for pleasure, exercise, or sport.

I like swimming. It’s a great leveller. What other public situation can you think of whereby you can strip off to one flimsy layer, exposing areas of your body to strangers that you wouldn’t dream of revealing in the supermarket? The funny thing is that once you’re in the pool, it’s not so easy to tell how rich someone is, what kind of car they drive, what their house is like or what kind of job they do. Perhaps there are one or two exceptions. The man tattooed head to toe in mermaids is unlikely to be a chartered accountant, the lady with the chestnut tan and long red fingernails swimming swan-like up and down the slow lane without getting a hair wet is probably not a cleaner in the burger bar; the woman with three children under five struggling to stop the youngest from pulling down the strap of her costume wouldn’t have arrived in a sports car. Broadly speaking though, people in their swimming gear are the same and come in a wide enough variety of shapes and sizes in order to negate the need for differentiation.

And so it followed that I would extend my swimming activity. On Thursday, it was reasonably warm outside so I got ready. I put on my hat and goggles too; I know that neither of these items is particularly attractive but in sportswear, the parameters are different. So I swam down the High Street and glared at people who were slower or going in the wrong direction. It was a bit chilly but not so bad once I’d warmed up.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

When you come back to me

When you come back to me you’ll probably offer me a drink again. But I’ll refuse because to accept, to let you nourish me is dependence and that’s not where I want to be in this relationship. But you’ll keep trying because it’s a good delaying tactic.

Whilst you’re gone, I think about taking off my coat because I can feel my cheeks flushing but I decide not to because it would show that I’m willing to stay. I want you to think that I can go at any moment. I think about whether I should let you see what I’ve got rolled up in my hand, information I have gathered, but you probably already have and I don’t suppose I would be the first one to have tried that.

The chrome arms of the chair are getting hot under my palms and slipping from my grip as I wait for your return and I wonder if my exposed forehead is shining under the lights. I wish I’d dressed smarter or more casually rather than just a nothingness that leaves no impression at all.

I want to know just what you’ll get out of all this, how you will sleep at night with the knowledge that you’ve squeezed every last drop of blood out of me. That’s what the coffee’s all about; if I accept, the blood will run more freely. If it was the other way around, I would be happy to leave you with nothing but I’m too weak to do what you do. You pretend to be weak, pretend to be incapable of making any decisions that really matter. That’s why you keep leaving me.

I can’t go on. I need to know what the real price is. Why is it so difficult buying a new car?

Saturday, 23 February 2008

What I didn't do was sleep

I lay in bed, a tight line of pain clamped to my brow shaped like a bird soaring high on a clear day. I’ve slept for two hours and yet it could easily be eight. A full moon floods the garden as if someone has left the light on. I search amongst the folds of the crumpled duvet for the nightdress I took off earlier when I was saturated with heat, get out of bed, open the window, lean my upper torso out into the sharp air and as I look down to the French windows of the kitchen I can see that someone really has left the light on. I go downstairs, past the dog who barely stirs as I step over him and ignore the cat weaving in and out of my legs meowing because he wants feeding. I find the only glass I can which isn’t either pint sized or in the dishwasher, go to the fridge and pour myself some cranberry juice which momentarily freezes my neck as I swallow it.

Back upstairs, nightdress removed, I pretend that I had never woken up at all, that the interruption was as much part of my dreams as last night’s adventure down a turbulent Thames sideways in a sinking pirate ship inhabited by ghosts. But there’s a distant rumbling, the low beat of an unsophisticated engine so I get up again, open the window and hang outside to try and pinpoint the source of this intrusion but then realise that it’s not long past midnight and I could be seen by anyone on their way home from the pub. The rumbling fades and there is silence in my head except for the blank hissing at the end of a cassette tape. And then someone switches off the power.

Friday, 22 February 2008

People are always telling me their secrets

There’s Eric who visits every day, sits down, lets his red setter off its lead and then ignores it whilst reading some boring book on astronomy or something. He doesn’t notice that Jupiter, is frightening the swans or that lady with the two poodles who are presumably female which means that he doesn’t contemplate what a red setter/poodle cross would look like in the same way as I do. He always wears brown cords, obviously has no sense of adventure as far as fashion goes and he thinks that no one notices that he picks his nose with about every fourth turn of the page. Eric is the most boring individual I have ever come across. At least that’s what I thought at first.

And then there’s Molly. Molly brings her knitting and used to sit there click-click, gazing up when a pair of ankles passed her own dimpled ones, crossed and stretched out in front of her, sniffing and absent-mindedly adjusting her hat whilst the scarf got longer; so long that it brushed my legs. When she sits down, her brown tweed coat is at bursting point and once, a button popped off; she had an awful job finding it in the dust as she was wearing the wrong glasses. So now, she sits leaning back to alleviate the pressure on the buttons and has moved up from looking at ankles to shoulders. Not many people understand Molly.

These two characters never arrive at the same time. I call them characters because they entertain me, performing their lives for me personally and I always have a front row seat. Mind you, Eric’s got a bony bottom and Molly needs to lose weight. But the good thing about being a bench is that people are always telling me their secrets.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

I like to touch

I like to touch base with the others when I get the opportunity. Emily moved house three years ago although she’s lost her marbles since and she got picked up by the police for wandering through the shopping mall naked and with bananas sticking out of every orifice. She’d been in one of those sheltered housing schemes after Albert died, one of those places where they let you take your own stuff and pretend that you want to be there. She had her Parker Knoll in the corner and her budgie – Oliver, I think his name was – and a pink, quilted Brentford Nylons bedspread. Oliver would spit seed on the floor but Emily didn’t worry too much because there was Edith who came in to clean up. Edith was a character too; I can’t imagine how she got around all the old folks’ rooms when she chatted for so long. I saw her once when I was visiting and could barely tear myself away and I only met the woman once. Still, you can’t beat a good cleaner. Anyway, after the banana incident, Emily was put in hospital and if I’m honest, I don’t suppose she’ll ever be let out. Apparently, she likes to touch the fruit in the basket on the counter at the League of Friends shop when she gets the opportunity, sits in the shelter next to the taxi rank outside the main entrance, meets up with a couple of old codgers, Albert and Edith whose daughter brings their dog, Oliver,to visit and they all sit on the bench looking down at the fag ends and piles of spit that someone should clean up. I’ve always liked Brentford as a place but that one in the white coat is coming now and he’s a right nosy parker.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Traffic lights

Green was the colour of the fat stalks of the bramble bushes as they brushed against my thighs striding through the gaps in the hedges into the shelter of the fading green forest canopy in the warm downpour. Green was the colour of the spiky conker shells on the tree in the garden waiting to fall down onto the green grass with a bump. White was the colour of their linings, some landing intact some splitting open on impact. Green was always my favourite colour.

Orange was the colour of the tangerines, their peels shining, polished and dimpled, rolling around in the fruit bowl. White was the colour of their furry pith, picked off delicately by eager little fingers. Orange was the colour of November as I scoured the internet and the shops for presents for the children. White was the colour of my purse lining as it became papered with credit card receipts and lists of things to do before I ran out of time.

Red was the colour of my cheeks as I strode through the forest with crisp, white leaves underfoot, with my red dog collecting holly with red berries for Christmas, trying to forget about all the things I hadn’t done but should have. Red was the colour of the blood that flowed from my arm through the needle into little plastic tubes, off to the lab, examined by a white coat, in a white room. White was the colour of my face when the doctor spoke to me the following week.

White would be the last colour I saw vividly. I would become an incomplete rainbow, a quarter-circle; no more rays of sun would pass through my glass body projecting colours. The sharpness of the brambles, conkers and holly leaves dissolved into a dull fog.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Every year the same thing happens

The trunk of the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) cannot be hugged yet it is held in our affection for most of the year. It draws the eye away from the house at the back which, although positioned sideways to ours, reminds us of our neighbour’s proximity in an otherwise secluded spot near to the forest. In winter, when it’s bare, the bricks are clearly visible but the sky is much bigger and can be full of stars and space stations zooming from left to right. In springtime, its frozen fingers give birth to sticky buds which are less welcome, collected by the dog and stuck fast to everything in his wake so I follow him around vacuuming.

In springtime, the peacocks shout and there’s a donkey braying; the holly (Ilex) bush, twelve feet tall and obliterating the row of houses running down the side, even from our bedroom window, exposes its earthy inhabitants; the cats resume their seasonal killing spree and it is on February 17th, a bright frosty morning when sunbeams highlight the smeary kitchen windows, that my husband presents Exhibit Number One, suspended by its tail: about eight inches in bodily length and countless more including its plump tail. Cats don’t eat rats but often behead them. This one was all there, all rat. They don’t eat moles either although their appearance in the procession of corpses is rare. I wrote this last summer when the killing season was well underway:

We thought Jack’s silence

Was innocent play

With a digger.

But after a time,

A glass of red wine,

We looked over, horrified

At a mole driving the digger!

How ironic

That no animals were harmed

In the making of this poem;

It was already dead,

Just driving a digger,

A sedentary occupation,

Like writing a poem.

Monday, 18 February 2008

His grandmother's hair

His grandmother always had long hair, longer than any other person he had known. Before he knew that doing hair was a girls’ game, he would spend those gaps in the days - when he’d come in for a biscuit and some squash before going back into the orchard to play Raiders of the Lost Ark – helping Granny to redo her plaits.

Unravelled, her hair was smooth under his muddy fingers, the tips of which rode the kinks made by the twisting and looping of the plaits like a roller coaster. When he hugged her, he had noticed that the top of her head smelt like anyone else’s; today’s stew cooking on the stove, yesterday’s smoked fish or even barbecue smoke once when it had been his sister’s birthday but unravelled, the scent of her apple shampoo rose with the freshness of dew. Because it was so long, he would grab a handful in his fists, lift it to his nostrils and if she was reading her Woman’s Own, she wouldn’t notice.

She would hand him a large paddle brush and he had learned the technique of starting down at the ends, working upwards so as not to hurt her or tear the precious strands of silver. Once he had raked through it gently and if he was careful, he could move the brush from her crown right down to her waist with one stroke so that the hair flowed through the bristles silently before springing back like strips of twisted marsh mallow.

Sometimes, his grandmother sipped at tea from a bone china cup and he took his cues to recommence brushing from the ringing as she replaced it on the saucer.

He was skilful at tying plaits. He had never questioned how she did them when he wasn’t there.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Asking for mercy

When I sit up and demand to know where he’s been, why he’s wearing a different shirt to the one he wore when I went to bed and really only five minutes have passed, I just fell asleep and it’s the same shirt.

When I keep going back to my childhood home and the living room fireplace with the blue husky dog living in the grate but I haven’t lived there for twenty-four years.

When I am working and I interrupt a meeting in my boss’ office, walk up to him, press his nose and say ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were a drinks dispenser’ but I haven’t worked there for seven years.

When I sat up and said ‘There are three things you have to know before you can sit before the tree’ out loud but never explained what they were.

When my arms are outside the covers or I’m lying on my back and there are ghosts and monsters flying at me.

When I’m on a beach and there’s a huge wave coming and I’m trying to scramble to a crumbling wooden cafe which is going to be engulfed by the surge anyway. Again and again.

When I discover a room in the house that wasn’t there before and it has a bathroom too and I want to sell it but we haven’t lived there for five years.

When I’m put on the stage and the audience is there waiting for me to begin but I haven’t had time to learn the words except when it was Oliver and I knew those because I did it at school.

And this morning I woke up to hear a crocodile in the tree outside. Thank goodness it was outside.

When will the madness ever stop? Have mercy someone, please.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Looking in the mirror

Look down from up here and those little green and brown patches with ants sliding up and down their seams show you just how far you’ve come. There were times when you were too close to see the blades but now, but now the forests are just glades, clumps, dots gone, gone.

Look through the ropes, the ropes are twisted and don’t stand up to close scrutiny; they’re tense and look strong but it’s not them holding you up. In the long term, they will fray, their loose ends will slip away from the brackets that clamp them onto anything solid but you will not.

Look up from your basket. Yes, that’s it, straight up and there’s a fiery glow, roaring, lifting your spirits, your leaden shoes cast over the sides and making you both hot and cold, an ember in a glacier rising to the surface of the atmosphere.

Look beyond the glow and there’s a material rainbow colouring your view, a flimsy, fluttering piece of material and your flight depends on its flawlessness. Have heart, it may look thin and vulnerable but it will embrace the air and rise above it. Like you. On the outside its surface undulates, is battered by the turbulence but inside, the warmth keeps it going. There is some writing on the material but don’t waste your time trying to work out what it says; your journey is too short.

Look at the man on the other side of the basket but don’t linger because he won’t return your glance, he’s too busy admiring the view. You should do the same. Or look at yourself. Open your bag, take out your mirror and look at your face. Feel the wind on your cheeks. Look in the mirror again. Your fears are behind you.

Friday, 15 February 2008

In the shop window

In the shop window is a naked mannequin squinting at me saying ‘Why have you got two arms when I’ve only got one and a half?’ Its head is shiny and eyes are empty, vacant with painted lashes. There is a crease at the waist, the bit where the two halves of the torso meet. Do people notice my scar, I wonder? But I don’t show them. I don’t parade around in shop windows, naked, leering at passers-by, people in the bus queue, hanging around shamelessly naked with my friends. Yes, I’ve seen the others too. They’re all the same, posing provocatively, pointing fingers extended, hard and unrelenting. I thought it was androgynous until I looked at the others; less painted, a fixed, arrogant gaze cast across the street, a challenge. To describe their colour would be difficult. It’s neither pink, nor orange, nor brown, just hard and decisive. I don’t like the male one or its square jaw and cheeks. Not natural or inviting. Not like the first one. At first, I thought she was a naughty mannequin but compared to the others, she’s quite angelic. She’s got a sister, I see, in the next display. I know they’re sisters because they look alike. I wonder if they’re twins. Her sister’s getting married. I hope she’s not marrying that pig next to, next to – what’s her name? – I think she’s called Gloria, glorious Gloria. I hope that Gloria’s new brother-in-law is a good husband. I hope he’s a good listener. I suppose that mannequins don’t talk that much so maybe it won’t matter too much but then that’s a bit of a worry. If you don’t talk then you’ll never solve anything. Counselling, that’s what they need. I hope they sort it out. Got to go, catch my bus.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Lay your head on my shoulder

Lay your head on my shoulder and we’ll drift downstream and let the waves lap over our bellies and our toes tinkle in the ripples. Let the lily pads bump against our heads as we glide like soft bullets through the water and stroke the frogs gaping at the passing spectacle. Don’t worry about your lack of clothes, the water voles will weave us skirts from the rushes plucked from the banks to cover your modesty and they will be fastened with berries. To lull you to sleep the dragon flies will swirl around our heads and sing soft songs of trees whispering secrets to the grass.

Lay your head on my shoulder and we’ll follow the meandering river smoothly slipping snake-like and we’ll steer our course by thought alone. Let the pond weed tickle your soles as they dangle into the water enticing a trail of minnows to follow in our warm wake. Don’t worry about what they will think, their memories aren’t that good and they’ll keep following until we reach the end of the tide. To keep you warm the sun will throw its beams on your bare skin and turn droplets of water into brilliant jewels and you can give these to your new friends.

Lay your head on my shoulder and as we float lightly along the flow we’ll blow bubbles with reeds and watch them pop on the surface. Let the rainbow you see overhead be captured by a fairy and brought to your chest for you to clutch tightly. Don’t worry that this will be the last rainbow you see, it won’t. The sky will be full of rainbows and ripples hanging there just for you. That’s the sort of place you’re going to.

Lay your head on my shoulder one more time.

Wave at the grey car

I lift my arm and wave at the grey car as it passes me walking along the grey pavement next to the grey road and opposite the grey block of flats with grey washing waving and the grey man driving it waves back.

I wave at the black cat as it brushes past my black jeans covering my black boots stomping down the black tarmac melting in waves of hot sun and its tail waves back.

I wave at the red baby as its hot cheeks shine at me standing there in my red jacket, waiting for a red bus, any bus; they come in waves and the baby waves back at me.

I wave at the green van delivering green vegetables to green people living a green life in the green countryside and I would like to live there too and the driver must be really friendly like everyone in the country and I am a city person, a green city person, the driver’s overalls have green sleeves and I see these as he waves back.

I want to blend in, chameleon-like but I stand out. I draw attention to myself as I walk down the street, waving to cars, cats, babies and vans, they look at me and say who’s that man? That man with the grey face, the black jeans and boots, the red jacket, the city person, the man with no roots. Up above the streets and houses rainbows flying high, everyone can see him smiling over the sky. Paint the whole world with a rainbow. Then I’ll blend in alright. Paint the flats sky blue, vicious pink and outrageous purple stripes. Only allow people to hang out brightly coloured washing. Then as I walk past the twelfth floor high as a kite, they won’t notice.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Photographic Memories

Today is a very sad day. Since writing the piece below, I have heard some terrible news, the worst news a parent can ever hear. I've though twice about posting this one but as I'm unlikely to write anything else today and it reflects happier memories of my son's friend, I've decided I would. Some things just can't be contained in 300 words:

I’ve boiled the kettle four times before getting here today, searched the bedrooms for enough whites to make up a washing load, finally made my coffee and my stomach is still turning, just waiting. I’ve dug out an old photograph from the tallboy in the dining room. I keep a box of them sorted into rough date order, something I did about a year ago. It was quite a task, trying to remember, trying to make a narrative of my childhood, my children’s births, attempting to guess the ages of the boys at their parties and relating these chronologically to scenes of family weddings, holidays and days out. I wasn’t even sure about which baby was which in some and tiny clothes were passed on from the first to the second so their outfits yielded no clues.

They’re all there in the drawer but today of all days, one jumps out at me. It’s a birthday party and I can make out four candles lit on the Williams Formula One cake but one of the flames is brighter and bigger than the others. He must have been five. I can see a girl through the perspex lid I am using to shield the flames and my son is at the other end lifting a tiger mask to reveal his mouth open and laughing. My other son, two years younger is nearest to the camera, making him look the same size as the others; I’d recognize the back of his head any day. I remember the relief at lighting the candles because it meant that the party was nearly at an end and to get there without any accidents or upsets was my biggest worry. In the background is a tractor, the type you pedal and there is a red bike lying on the grass; those were the days when they drove nothing more dangerous.

But today my eyes are drawn to one boy, leaning forwards towards the flaming candles. He has brilliant red hair and he looks happy. In the picture, he is the one friend my son still knows although their paths have divided at times. My stomach will keep turning as I wait for news.

Monday, 11 February 2008

It’s very simple. It is love.

Sally’s eyes are down, appearing to focus on the scrap of paper she is holding between her thumb and forefinger whilst the rest of her hand is trying to guide the trolley around the promotional display of toilet rolls. The left back wheel clips the wooden pallet but she doesn’t falter. She has inwardly registered the impact which has caused the eggs to slip off the pizzas but she resists looking up in case she makes eye contact with anyone. Better to look so engrossed as not to be disturbed or better still, not even recognised.

There’s a strange atmosphere in the store today. There is music playing, Elvis, and it’s quite hard to concentrate. She has just passed an elderly gentleman singing ‘I’m caught in a trap, I can’t get out’; for this, she did glance up. Something else. There’s a bird perched on top of one of the chiller cabinets and no one is paying it any attention. She stops to see if it’s real and it flies off towards Aisle 24.

As her gaze follows its flight path, she notices that there’s a flurry of activity around Aisle 22. A crowd of raincoated, jostling torsos, some supported by sticks poised for jousting, leaning towards the reduced chilled foods section, heads drawn down like magnets towards the yellow stickers. The ambient reduced display never attracts the same curiosity from passing shoppers; buying a squashed box of cat biscuits is not such a coup as being savvy enough to pick up a cottage pie for lunch for fifty pence. Such greed and indulgence comes cheap. Sally will not be tempted by special offers, chilled, hot food to go or ambient. Sally stays on the straight and narrow and buys what she came for.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Oh, go on then. I can't not do the fiction thing after all.

If Gloria had asked him what was wrong that morning, she thinks that he wouldn’t have replied. He may have just said that he was tired, not looking forward to work or miserable about the weather.

He believes that he would have driven to the other side of town to the surgery. As he adjusted the fan to demist the car windscreen and wind down the window to accept his sandwiches from Gloria, he felt no guilt about what he was doing. He had always been too busy to worry about dishonestly. He was not a schemer. He was faithful, tidy in his dress, clean but not vain, retained a slim figure by regular hill walking with the club and able to offer his wife stimulating conversation over dinner each evening. Gloria, for her part, was appreciative of her husband’s all-round appropriateness. Yes, this was the right word to describe Bernard. Appropriate Bernard. Never over-dressed, under-dressed, too serious or flippant, able to administer the correct measure of charm without gushing or being over-familiar to his patients, sombre, sensitive yet light and carefree. The perfect man. Gloria had always known how much Bernard loved her and never asked any questions.

It was Tuesday morning and Gloria was going shopping. Bernard had appeared distracted but she didn’t worry. She had seen it once before, some problem or other connected to the surgery. She wouldn’t pry because she just knew that Bernard would know exactly how to handle the situation. Maybe he had to tell someone they were dying. Maybe he had to tell someone that they were infertile or would never walk again. Or deliver a baby. Resuscitate a child. Amputate a limb. But she was fantasising again. She didn’t know where he was going. Hadn’t done for the last thirty years.

And now for something completely different....

Yes, it’s more than 300 words and no, it’s not fiction either. Just for today.

Today has been a bit of a messy day. I was up for a large part of last night scraping vomit off a carpet, partially awake for the rest of the time listening for my eldest son to come home from clubbing in Brighton (it was five o’clock when he eventually rolled in) and up again at 6.50am at the request of my youngest. I had to prepare roast beef to be ready for midday, complete with Yorkshire pudding and apple crumble and eating it so early was like having it for breakfast. Needless to say that I didn’t feel particularly cheery or enthusiastic about cooking after my nocturnal exploits. I threw away the first lot of gravy because of its resemblance to the aforementioned vomit, announced that today was definitely going to be a ‘thin gravy day’ and started again. Apart from that, the meal was ready on time and was surprisingly nice; because I had been half asleep during its preparation, it was as if someone else had cooked it for me. Therefore, although I wouldn’t recommend clearing up vomit as an enjoyable way to spend your weekend, there are some potential benefits to be had from this pastime.

The reason that we had to eat so early was that I had to drive my eldest son back to uni as he has just spent ‘reading week’ at home. I, personally, have loads of reading to do for my own studies and can’t face it today; firstly, I am too tired having just driven a three-hour round trip to Eastbourne following some lovely diversions via Alfriston which isn’t built for two cars not going in the same direction and back via Lewes and secondly, I am worried sick about my term paper results. Perhaps I should go clubbing too. Also I just know that I won’t be able to concentrate and that my powers of reasoning are fading. Today’s Yahoo Headlines: Costelloe kicks off fashion week, Eton head calls for exams overhaul, Carey attacks Sharia law comments. Just tell me this: since when did pop stars have such a say in what goes on in the world?

On a positive note, the dog hasn’t urinated on the floor today. Tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

She didn't like her routine changed

It was comforting to know that by Monday morning, there would be an out-of-date yoghurt in the fridge. It was something of a mystery because yoghurt consumption in the household had always been high. She wondered whether the good bacteria multiplied at the same rate as the bad bacteria or whether they called a truce on the use-by date. She’d always decided that it wasn’t worth risking an upset stomach over a fifty-two pence yoghurt. She'd also liked to think of the untouched cucumber portion decomposing in the bottom of the vegetable draw. She would pick it up and her index finger would sink into its curling, dissolving ridged skin and softening flesh at the cut edge, examine the stalk end to see if it could be pared down for eating and then put it in the compost bin on the basis that she would have just bought a new one. Buying the cucumber portion every week - knowing full well that in winter time it was unlikely to have been eaten,and would’ve been tasteless as it probably originated from somewhere so far off that it had been harvested a fortnight ago – had been her talisman for good health. Why it was sold as a ‘portion’ and not a ‘half’ she didn’t know but there couldn’t be many people who would eat it in one go. She had supposed that if it was labelled ‘Half a Cucumber’ then someone somewhere would want to see its partner and measure it to make sure that they were indeed precisely two halves of the same cucumber. But being healthy was more than just a matter of semantics.

She was pleased to see that the new occupier did things the same. Even though she’d passed on, she didn’t like her routine being changed.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Cast Pearls Before Swine

Being fifty and wearing jewel-encrusted denim skirts down to her little pixie boots was never going to stop her from hearing the crepitus in her knees. As she descended the stairs slowly trying to shift some of her weight on to the hand rail, the grinding was still audible, just slower in its execution. She had tried going quickly so that she almost skimmed the surface of the treads and whilst it seemed better at first, the impact of the landing on the hall floor at the bottom outweighed the benefits. Furthermore, it was risky; she could easily trip on the frills of her skirt or misjudge the positioning of the treads as her eyesight was not exactly perfect. So she crept slowly.

She’d just cleaned the bathroom and the satiny cuff of her cerise blouse was saturated; she hoped that it was just water. The pressure from the wood underneath her palm passed through her grip smoothly except for one particularly sticky patch. She paused but decided that it was too late to scrape it away because to do so would probably reveal a nakedness of the grain that she felt unable to face now. Inevitably, polish would need to be applied to the area to conceal the flaw and these things always took time. Anyway, the doorbell had already rung and her momentum down the stairs, now restarted, the swing of her hips and the swishing of her skirt against the wall, the rustling of her petticoat underneath and the whisper of friction from her tights at her thighs reminded her that today, it was really going to happen.

She’d seen him watching her through the glass. But when she got to the door, it wasn’t the window cleaner, it was her husband. Like casting pearls before swine.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

I thought I was meeting a stranger

When I twisted my key in the lock, the wrong way because that’s how it opens for some reason, I was expecting to be alone except for the dog who usually comes to greet me, contorting his spine around so that I can’t fail to miss the presentation of his wagging bottom hitting against the wall and maybe the odd cat sprawled on the bottom stair or looking hopefully to be fed.

When I opened the front door, the mat got caught up with what the dog had left of the post and the degree of force required just to get into my own house made my entrance even more fraught than the trip around the supermarket. It was not so much the trip around the shop that had been problematic as the journey through the checkout. I must be pretty dim. I have only just worked out that someone else must have worked out that a trolley full is equal to the length of rubber on the conveyor belt. Therefore, if you pile your trolley up with BOGOF’s, especially if you are without child (although you can always get the aforementioned child to use bread as pillows) or if you start stacking things underneath or hang them on that very useful hook on the front then you will not, repeat not, fit everything on to the checkout at once. Unless you are an Olympic sprinter with the co-ordination of a jet fighter pilot, it is unlikely that you will manage to make it through smoothly and you should not look at the people in the queue behind you.

When I finally got through the door, I thought I was meeting a stranger but someone had left the coat cupboard open and it was just my reflection in the mirror.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

It could only have one ending

The playground games were getting a little tiresome for Adele. Working in a call centre with a bunch of adolescents who had yet to acquire enough life experience to make them even slightly worth listening to whilst at the same time having to tolerate the bickering of two older women who continued to fight over the best place to put the aspidistra was unbearable. In its natural habitat of Asia, it would have flourished and produced its rather insignificant little bronzed flowers without their assistance and she wondered how they could spend so long shuffling its pot, arguing over exactly how much water it required or whose turn it was to polish the leaves.
Polly, the one with the blonde and grey nest on her head, so solid that even the earphones didn’t make a dent in it, sat nearest to the plant and she could often be observed fondling its stem provocatively whilst spurting out a tirade of artificially acquired knowledge on the pros and cons of buying theme park passes either before or during one’s holiday to Florida.
Iris, the one who had brown hair which glowed orange under the light and wore boots, even in summer and complained at least twenty times a day about the temperature in the office, was not near enough to stroke the aspidistra although she showed obvious signs of distress at the thought of her colleague being close enough to do so. Occasionally, usually about eleven o’clock in the morning, she would leave her desk in an exaggerated manner, banging her swivel chair into the back of Polly’s as a form of revenge.
On Tuesday, Adele had had enough. It could only have one ending. She wrenched the stem of the aspidistra from its pot and put it triumphantly through the shredder.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

I look at the photograph and I think

I look at the photograph and I think of lost opportunities, those gaping holes in the past that went unrecorded by the camera. I wonder how I came to be borrowing someone else’s image. There’s a girl on the beach being held by a man and she’s black and white. There’s a woman, not my mother and she’s French. The wind is blowing sideways and my forehead was high, even then. I’m wearing a pleated dress which I think was navy blue with a red anchor on the hip.
I look at the photograph and I think of how it felt to be alone, flying through the wind. I don’t even know where I was or where I was going to, it was a blur.
I look at the photograph and remember Brighton. Remember the glances as I removed my shiny red helmet. Remember the bikes lined up on the sea front and chips dripping down my chin and hot ring doughnuts coated in sugar. Remember slipping my greasy fingers back into the fingers of my gloves and the lining getting snagged on my rings and having to start again and poke the lining back into the finger holes. Remember the way the road curves left and right, pulling down on the throttle to make it up the hill without losing speed. Hoping that there’s no queue at the other side.
I look at the photograph and I think of how it could have been me. A tangled mess of metal, fragments of a life distributed around a tree trunk. Who cleans up the mess after the wreckage is gone and the onlookers have given up and gone home?
I look at the photograph and I think I can remember because that’s all there is to do. I was alone.

Monday, 4 February 2008

The bricks and mortar were gone

The crater was still smoking from the explosion. Krystal assumed that it was because of the gas pipes but then her area of expertise wasn’t really structural engineering and this was not the time to be worrying about such details. There were pitiful scraps of material strewn around the site of what had been Chestnut Court. Chestnut Court had been erected following the demolition of the nursery school and hadn’t been popular with the residents of Ashton-Upon-Lee who were less than keen on any variation to the street scene regardless of whether or not it was actually an improvement. Being situated one hundred yards from the station and five minute’s walk to the town, it was a prime target for hasty developers. It was a prime target for Krystal, too, but not in the way it turned out. Krystal loved to shop. Krystal loved to shop on a grand scale. Most of her shopping was actually done in London during lunch hours. Living in suburban Ashton-Upon-Lee, far from being the oasis of calm away from the retail opportunism of London she had sought, had offered her a more intimate and charming shopping experience altogether. Dress Sense in The Square, occupying a quaint eighteenth century building facing the bandstand had opened just after Krystal moved in. The enthusiastic owner was happy to reserve garments, shoes and accessories in Krystal’s favourite colours and styles for collection at the weekend. It was just a shame that her wardrobe in the bedroom of her flat on the flimsy top floor of Chestnut Court collapsed under the weight of her 783 dresses and 436 pairs of shoes.

The bricks and mortar were gone but the carefully wrapped clothes survived the domino effect of the falling masonry and were perched neatly on top. What an investment.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Launch Party for Your Messages

I’ve never been to a book launch party before or had anything of mine published and so I had no idea what to expect on Thursday. I needn’t have worried although I was absolutely terrified beforehand, especially as I was first up to read! One of the best things about taking part in the Your Messages project was the feeling of writing within a community; in the short time I have been writing, I have realised that it can be a lonely occupation (actually I quite like this bit sometimes!). Meeting the other contributors was an absolute pleasure. The wine, in particular, was a pleasure for my husband who came with me for moral support. For me, it felt a bit like my wedding day as I wished afterwards that I could replay the whole thing slowly enough to savour each moment. It is an enormous privilege to have been part of this project and I hope the Your Messages book raises loads of money for Kids Company.

Inheriting someone else's dreams

‘Don’t be daft, Beryl, he’d never be interested in an outsider like me!’

‘That’s what you think. I saw the way he was looking at you at the party last night. He couldn’t take his eyes off you.’

‘Well, you know what? You’re wrong. He was too interested in that bony bitch Rebecca. I’d swear I heard her say “Daddy’s buying a private hospital, you know” at least ten times between the music. As far as Rupert’s concerned, she’s definitely up for it. You must’ve heard her neighing like a horse at his tales about his rugby touring days.’

‘It’s hard to believe that he’d be interested in inheriting someone else’s dreams when he’s got such a promising future of his own. Even with a paper bag over her head, it would still be like riding in the Grand National.’

‘You’re wicked, you know. Funny, but wicked.’

‘I’d give him three days max before he’s on the phone begging for a date.’

‘I like your optimism but I wouldn’t put money on it. Anyway, let’s get on with things. Have you got the sellotape?’

‘What for? It’s not like we’re going to be able to wrap it up without bits poking out all over the place. We may as well just leave it and run.’

‘What, just like that? No way. Rupert will guess and spoil the big reveal. Let’s just cover it up loosely at least. We can always join bits of paper together so that the main parts are covered.’

‘OK, whatever you say. You’re in charge!’


‘It was your dream. Nothing to do with me, thank god. Far too creepy.’

‘I know but ‘creepy’ has its uses.’

They wrapped the bony body in good quality paper but had to use cheap tape left over from Christmas.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

In his hands

In his hands was a book. His chin was on his chest, seemingly gazing downwards towards at his shoes. They were a tan colour, the same as his suede jacket.
She wondered how he came to be there. It had only been yesterday when they had been sitting in the cafe off Moulton Street nursing hangovers from Saturday night at Benny’s and hanging on to mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows on top as if the warmth coming through those mugs would restore some sort of equilibrium to their bodies and minds. Much hot air had circulated around the party at Benny’s and there was a residual frostiness. Their silence was only masked by the clinking of lorry drivers’ cutlery on plates of breakfast. Each of them tried to piece together fragments of an evening spent circulating amongst a mixture of old uni friends and Will’s work colleagues who had little in common other than their presence at the party and their consumption of wine, beer and Benny’s weird collection of foreign spirits from his wanderings around the globe had been an equally abhorrent cocktail and abuse of common sense.
Why Will had insisted on taking his friends from work along to the party she didn’t know; it would have been better for Benny to only have had a handful of people turn up than those louts from the garage. When Benny had said ‘Bring who you like, the more the merrier, old chap’ she hadn’t even considered what might happen. She was still getting over the shock of him taking a job as a sweeper-upper in a garage. What a waste of a PhD.
And now there he was lying under the arches, clutching a book and tyre marks all down his suede jacket. Some things just don’t mix.