Sunday, 17 January 2010

What's in the Box?

What's in the box, Mum?

It's your Uncle Mark, Kieran. He's having a good long, rest now. He'll be alright, I promise. Hold my hand.

Is he tired then?

No. Not any more. He won't ever be tired again. He won't ever hurt again. He's in peace.

Why are all those people here, Mum?

Because they know what a good man he was and they're sad. Like we are.

How come he knew so many people?

Well he didn't actually know them. Not like that. No one can know that many people. Even if you're famous. He was special, though, remember that. Let's be quiet now for a bit, shall we?


The procession moved forward and Heather tried to quieten her own mind. She wished that the flags and bowed heads weren't so distracting. Kieran had a point. They hadn't known Mark. They hadn't made dens at Grandma's house with him, argued over the cake mixing bowl or vied for first place in the queue for pocket money handout by Dad on Sundays.

Heather surveyed the passing lines of mourners, ten or so deep in some places, wanting to confront them in the same way that Kieran had done to her a few minutes ago. Some dabbed away at their eyes. Some stared straight ahead at an infinitely distant horizon and saluted, mouths stiff. They hadn't had the call, the visit, the gut-wrenching sobs threatening to strangle their necks. They had been summoned by a news report. Another one. But what of those who hadn't come today? Those whose sense of emotional disaster could be contained by the dimensions of their television screens?

It seemed ironic, Heather thought, that as technology became more compact, its power became immense, blurting out messages to larger numbers of people spread over wider areas, like microscopic bacteria travelling first class to feed off the world's open wounds. Heather understood the onlookers' dilemma well. She, too, had watched catastrophes unfold before her eyes on the television and momentarily been desperate to be involved, briefly overcome by guilt at the distance dimming the pain felt by those victims depicted in harrowing images. Thinking about it, her role here was clear-cut. Her brother, a hero, was being buried and her memories of him were neatly sealed in by the lid of a coffin. He had been a good man. He had been a good man fighting for a lot of people he didn't know. He was special but she hardly felt lucky. Everyone was special, wasn't that what she was always telling Kieran?

For the onlookers, the coffin contained anonymous, slippery, collective symbols of grief, loss and pain. Confusion of what they ought to have been feeling and reproach for being thankful for what they were not. Remembrance of past losses and imaginary future ones. Sadness projected onto a box had to be a very individual thing. Some people threw flowers as a symbol of something. But universally, no amount of nailing down was ever going to stop their tears from escaping through the gaps or from seeping through the wood. On the grand scale of things, their responses to television news reports could shrink dramatically and neatly to microscopic proportions but only because they were too big to even think about.

Turning back to herself, Heather's only solace was that at least Mark was safe. It was small comfort, of course, but at least she wasn't alone. She sat in the car, naked in her emotion and sobbed, comforted only by the blanket of compassion. She shivered in its warmth.


Friday, 8 January 2010


OK so it's all my fault. I said that we never have proper snow. I said I'd believe it when I saw it. I've seen it and it's proper. Three days of school closures and we're getting cabin fever. Supplies are running out and I'm not just talking about milk.

We're also counting down the days to the arrival of a plumber to install a new bathroom suite. Bad luck decreed that our toilet would stop flushing over Christmas. Maybe it was subjected to undue strain, who knows. The result is that we have to fill a bucket with water and throw it down the bowl instead of flushing it like normal people. So our days are occupied somewhat strangely, filling buckets, watching sparks fall like stars through the loft hatch as joints are cut and fixed into place and planning what our house might one day look like.

I'm just wondering whether there has been a huge surge of spending on the internet. If so, it can't all have been down to me, can it? You see, I have been a little frivolous in my boredom. Curtains for windows we don't have in non-existent rooms, that sort of thing. So, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas all over again as we wait for various mysterious deliveries to arrive against a backdrop of glistening, dusty snow.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Grab a Blanket

When I woke up this morning, a blanket of art had been draped over the garden. By art, of course, I mean snow. If the purpose of art is to make you look at things from a new perspective, to stimulate the creative instinct, then what fell out of the sky is today's artistic medium. Children want to create models of people, play anarchistic games of snowballs, invent a replacement for the wheel with makeshift sledges and adults cast off their hard-won routines of daily life. They take guilt-free days off from work, huddle unashamedly beneath their duvets hugging mugs of steaming tea or better still, engage in child-like, creative activities outside.

As a nation, we are not equipped to manage extreme weather conditions because most of the time, we don't have them. Some may be justified in mocking the British inability to cope. The thing is, though, that if you took away our weather changes, even the most minor, predicable ones, what would we talk about?

The best thing about living in Britain is the changing of the seasons so let's not pretend that we don't like the snow or any other random extremes of weather sent to surprise us. Where else could a group of people be stranded in a pub for days on end or go out to get the turkey and be stranded so long as to miss Christmas entirely? These events mark out our lives as noteworthy. They make us realise what normality is and not to take it for granted. They allow us to enjoy temporary exotic (or arctic) conditions we wouldn't normally experience without going on holiday. They allow us all to take a day off from our mundane lives. If nothing else, when it's over, we'll appreciate the usual rainy, grey misery we put up with the rest of the year. Now, I'm going to savour not having to rush to get the children ready for school, prepare for the builders' arrival and go and take some photos. Hell, I might even write something.

Happy snow day, everyone!