Sunday, 31 March 2013

335: Flash

I love how the breeze feels, that’s all.  The wind gently stirring blows my hair and I keep it long so it moves in even the slightest air movement.  Just before I go out I brush it to remove any knots and sometimes I like to run my fingers through it one extra time as I begin.

When the wind is fuller there is even more movement.  That’s the feeling I long for.  It’s like a cold lover’s hand stroking me, but everywhere at the same time.  One time it was so strong I could feel the movement against my thigh, like some sort of living windsock.  I thought it might flap back and forth but the wind would never blow like that under normal meteorological conditions.  Such a storm as would be necessary would have me scurrying for cover before the leaves started blowing off the trees.

It’s not a sexual thing, not for me anyway.  I don’t like being seen and I don’t have any kind of mac that I wear.  It started in my backyard when I was a child and at the beach too.  Pre-school, running about without clothing is considered perfectly fine.  As I grew older and my parents supplied me with three sisters, I was expected to cover up.  I visited the beach a lot and dropped my shorts when I was waist-high in water, but the feel of water wasn't the same.

I can sometimes get some sunbathing in when all the family are out for the day but I’ve had a few too many close calls with the neighbours.  So I have a few favourite places in the New Forest I like to go.  I wear no pants and joggers what can slide down quickly, and take advantage of the time I can get.  It’s mostly at night but every so often I treat myself to the daytime.  Then the breeze is warm and I can feel the sun and the wind together.  I lose myself in the feeling.

I always go at least 20 minutes walk off the main paths, but I might be down near the creek so don’t walk that way if you don’t want to see me.  This is for me, not for you.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

334: Was It All Worth It?

This cell was built to sleep two but there are always four of us, sometimes more.  The friendships you make in here are so much more intense than those outside.  Good friends would do anything for you and you for them.  Bad friends would stop at nothing to get you.  The scary ones are more terrifying than anyone, except the sort of women you hear about on late night television.

I’ve been here for just over two years now and it’s been three months since I last cried myself to sleep.  You never let anyone know, though.  Not after the first few nights.  The banging and shouting to welcome you to the wing is mostly harmless the first night.  The second night less scary voices start to yell at you to shut up and it’s for your own good.  Those newcomers who have still been making a noise the third night get a visit from Rita’s girls the next morning and from then on they only ever cry quietly.

There hasn’t been too much turnover here so I still have two of the original girls in my cell.  Steffi is a bit younger than me and she’s been in and out since she was 18.  Carol is as old as us both together and clucks over us both.  She’s really hard but doesn't use it unless she has to.  I remember seeing her handling three of Rita’s girls at once after she caught them trying to deal to Steffi.  They never did it again and we had our own den mother and guardian.

They kept me sane those first months.  When my mother refused to visit, they told me not to mind that she was a stupid bitch anyway, and if she wasn’t she would never have let Ralph do that to Kelly’s friend.  When Kelly’s mum came and thanked me for doing it, they held me tight afterwards whilst I wept that it was necessary at all.  When my boyfriend dumped me by letter, they offered to fix me up with  someone in here because a cutie like me would have them queueing round the shower block Carol said.

And they helped me come to terms with what I did.  Not to admit I did it, because I always did.  It was me that called the police and I was still holding the knife dripping his blood when I did.  We talked it through every night for months and months like a therapy circle of some sort.  We all took turns talking about anything we wanted but I only ever talked about what I did to Ralph.

It was Carol who decided I was over it.  Probably not over it, but fully coping as she liked to call it.  “You have to own it Sarah.  Doing it takes real balls and yours are dangling with the best,” she said.  She looked serious, then added “unlike Ralph,” and the pair of them started pissing themselves.

When you can take a joke about what you did to your stepfather’s testicles, you can consider yourself fully owning it.  It’s crap in here and I miss making decisions for myself, but after what he did, yes it was all worth it.

Friday, 29 March 2013

333: It's a Hard Life

This is my day.  Listen and tell me that I don’t have it hard.  I’m up as soon as the light comes through the curtains.  When it’s colder and the light comes later, I’m up even before the light.  But they never get up too so I can’t go anywhere or do anything.  I have to wait until a raucous noise comes from a box by the bed, usually accompanied by a handslap on plastic, a short period of silence, more noise, another handslap, silence again and eventually groaning when the noise comes for a third time.  How can I sleep through that?  

I’d like to get straight out when they’re finally up but they fuss and bother with water and cups and sometimes I have to sit on the sink for a full ten minutes.  He goes out for an early smoke and he’s still too full of sleep to catch me as I streak through the open door.  Sometimes it’s cold out there, or wet.  That makes me think again and I have to stand and flick back and forth at the very tip of my tail until one choice pulls me harder.  He will insist on trying to sway me at times like that and I wonder if he will ever learn I’m more likely to do the opposite of what he wants.

Once he’s gone back in he closes the door behind him at exactly the moment I was going to go in for breakfast.  By then I’ve seen outside, sniffed what I need to sniff, had a stretch and a claw, so it’s time to go back inside.  Mewling outside the door can sometimes take even longer to get a response than sitting on the sink, but I figure I can hold out much longer than he can.  And sometimes she’d up by then and she gives in straight away.

She tickles my ears, which I grant you isn't much of a hardship, but then she stops.  She always stops.  If food is there I don’t mind but sometimes I have nothing to take my mind off how good it felt having her fingertips dig in around the base of my ear.  On a good day I can get both of them to put food down if I eat quickly and that’s hard in itself because I get a bit bloated and windy then.

They both go off all day and leave me.  I keep thinking it would be fun to pretend I’m in charge but I have a little sleep first and mostly it’s time for them to come home again when I wake up.  One day I’ll try it, just to see what it’s like.  I’m sure I’d leave my cat some company, good food and a way in and out so he wasn’t shut up all day.  

After work is much like before work without the sense of urgency and with diminishing light.  Once I eat I like to take a turn around the neighbourhood to see my friends.  We catch up and race and eat stuff and sometimes we find little things to chase.  When I catch something I usually take it back home for my people.  I do worry they’ll never learn to hunt so I share mine with them.  They must be much more confident because they are never grateful.  She stands on a chair and he shoos it away with a brush, unless it’s the other kind of catch when he stands on a chair and she shoos it away.Then a few hours sleep because hunting is hard, maybe another tickle or a firm hand stroke and it’s bed time again.

So you aren’t telling me I don’t have a hard time are you?  Imagine if you had to put up with that, every day of your life.  That’s our lot and we’re expected to be grateful too.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

332: I’m Going Slightly Mad

I had the strangest dream.  I woke up, sweat sticking my t-shirt to my body, and lay under the covers panting.  At first I wasn’t sure what had happened and whether it was real or imagined, if I was safe or still in danger.  But when I caught sight of red luminous numbers showing the time of 3:45 I knew I was safe, for now at least.

They had been chasing me down corridors but in bright sunlight.  Spines of books lined the walls, stacked on shelves more neatly than any other library I’d been to.  As I ran I couldn’t catch the titles but I noticed every single book was the same size.  None were taller, or smaller than its neighbours.  And they were all the same buff colour with thick black lettering spelling out the author and book.

I must have picked up a reserved book or maybe even a banned one.  I remember flicking through thick paper pages, much thicker than in regular books.  My fingertips registered the difference before my conscious did but if that set an alarm ringing I managed ignore it.  I’m not sure what the words on the pages said.  I think it was a story but I can’t be sure.  I have a sense of being moved, maybe stimulated into action.  Before I could do anything they marched towards the table I was using and I fled.

Despite the sunlight streaming into my dream, I had a cold feeling.  I was scared, I remember that, and I think it wasn’t just me in danger.  The book may have been one I had written myself although I have no reason to think that would be the case.  It felt familiar and alien at the same time.  They wanted it and I wanted to keep it, so I ran.

In my room I thought I was safe, whilst I was awake at least.  The windows were still dark, there were no runners chasing me and there were no books.  I shook my head and laughed at how stupid I’d been.  There were no such things as books at all.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

331: One Year Of Love

We met in Spring and I picked a few of the daffodils poking through the snow as I walked to see her for our second date.  It was at the cinema, showing one of those romcoms couples seem to watch early on in a relationship when she wants to see if he has a soft, caring, romantic side and he wants to get in her pants enough to try having one.  It took three more dates before she let me but I still have no idea what the film was.

I had her name written in white icing on a Thornton’s chocolate egg, with a little heart squiggled next to the last letter.  And a furry thing of some kind carrying a basket of pastel chocolate eggs, probably a rabbit I suppose, for Easter.  I didn't really expect anything from her but she did share the little eggs with me.  The large one she left in its package and displayed it on a shelf in her room, next to the rabbit thing.  £20 that cost me and I got to look at my generosity each time I rolled off her and laid there wishing I smoked so I could have a post-coital fag.

Summer came late but eventually she began wearing short skirts and skimpy tops every day.  It was so nice to have my own girl to think about dressed like that so I didn't only ever fantasize about women I saw in the street.  They came off more quickly too and we spent much of the summer sweating from sun or sex or from both.

It was too soon to go on holiday together, she said, so we spent most of the hot days and long weekends in the gardens of friends or sometimes at the beach if we could get a lift.  But she eventually agreed we could go somewhere still warm when we’d been together six months, so we planned a late break to a cheap Greek island.

There was a chilly autumnal bite to the air when we landed back at Gatwick and she asked for my jacket for her shoulders.  I would probably have unpacked it and offered her anyway, but she beat me to it.  She mostly wore jumpers and thicker tops from then onwards.  None of them offered a glimpse of nipple as I remember.  One showed an outline if it was really cold, but she usually wore a cardigan on top with that one.

We had settled into a regular routine, which was comfortable.  It was good to know where we were and which nights I could see the guys.  And when she saw her friends at the same time, we didn’t usually go to the same places.  Only once did we end up in the same pub.  One of my mates fancied one of hers so we all formed one big group.  She was looking really hot that night and I swung between being a bit angry she dressed like that when I wasn't out with her and getting hard as I watched her throw her head back and laugh with her friends.  I didn't drink much more and sex that night was the best we’d had in a while.

I don’t usually bother too much with Christmas but she was so excited with all the gold and red and greenery that I started seeing it as more than an opportunity to stay off work and drink too much.  I did buy her quite a lot but thinking about the joy I’d see on her face make it worthwhile.  My Mum did most of the wrapping for me but I used those sparkly little bags stuffed with tissue too.  Hiding it all was fun but she didn't come round that much in the run up to Christmas anyway.

At the last minute she couldn't come to my work’s party but I still had to go.  Probably as well she wasn’t there because Fi from accounts was slaughtered and made free with the mistletoe.  I hid from her but she found me ladling punch into a glass and grabbed me from behind.  The liquid splashed over my hand and I licked it to stop it splashing on my shoes.  She kissed me and as I pulled away she ran her tongue over her lips, sticky from the punch on mine.  I left the party soon after and in bed tried to hold those skimpy summer girlfriend memories in my mind instead of Fi’s pink tongue, sliding and glistening.

My birthday was a few days before hers and we shared a party with all our friends and family invited.  I was surprised how few joint friends we had after almost a year together.  The room was divided almost like two sides of a church, her side and my side.  Only a few waved across the gap although our parents did meet up at the bar for a while.  I made an effort to work some of her side.  Not sure if she did the same with mine.

A few of the presents we received were joint ones but not many.  Some would live at my flat, some at hers and we even did a swap with our own ones we didn't like.  She came back to mine after and we had a bottle of champagne together and danced slow in the dark.  In bed she began snoring almost at once, even though she swears she doesn’t snore.  I tried to feel frustrated about it, then to think back to the summer and even to that pink slippery tongue, but nothing happened.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

330: Fun It

Computers are never fun.  No, let me rephrase that.  Working with computers is never fun.  Even that’s not quite it.  Working in computers, with people who work with computers is never fun.  Yes, that’s what I mean.

Sure, in my youth I was excited about my career.  I was going to work in IT.  The late 1990s had been a buzz time for IT professionals, when the offons didn't understand a thing about Y2K.  Remember that?  I was 11 and from my bedroom I knew nothing was going to happen.  But they totally pulled it off and made a killing.  A total killing.  That’s when I decided my future lie amongst these creatures of wily cunning, advanced intellect and bulging wallets.

I topped my degree class pretty much throughout our three years and when my mother snapped me throwing my mortarboard in the air, it was me declaring to the world ‘Here I come.’  Such determination radiates from my face that it was virtually tangible even on matt Kodak paper.

As you’d expect, I’d landed a job with a large multi-national company before I even graduated.  I spent two weeks tanning in Rhodes and started work ready to revolutionize the system, the ethos and the productivity, all for the better and from my large antique desk.  I thought it might have a green leather inlay with a gold edging pattern, probably worn from decades of hard, hard work.  And if it didn’t, I treat myself to a new top with my first bonus.

A Spinster on reception pointed to stairs leading down to the basement when I arrived and asked where I should report that first morning.  There were only small windows down there and all but one were painted or screwed shut against intruders.  That window was permanently open and was situated above the hot desk nominally allocated to me.  In practice it became my desk but only because everyone else knew it got wet when the rain drove in on the prevailing wind.  It was daily that first summer.

It was the happy band of IT professionals working in that basement who helped shatter my illusions and wreak my faith in human nature and make me wish I’d listened to my father’s advice to enter the law.  They taught me the term offons.  That’s what we call most of the people in this place and you know why?  Because all they need to do is turn it off and on again.  Within a week I wouldn’t even log a call until the user had rung off and done that.  They hardly ever called back.

I don’t get to design systems or even consult on what a system might look like.  Sometimes I install drivers, but rarely with all this plug and play.  Sometimes there is a new starter, and then there is a rota for dealing with them because we all need a bit of excitement.  Last week I spent seven minutes trying to identify why a user’s id had stopped working.  Turned out to be related to an offon but it was exciting whilst it lasted.

I can see myself still being here at 25 because that’s less than a year but I have to be out of it before I turn 27.  The Spinster is developing a fondness for paper jams and I just can’t take it much longer.

Monday, 25 March 2013

329: Save Me

The appeals are the worst bit.  We used to be friends until the Game turned us against each other.  Now I look for reasons for them to sacrifice my friends instead of me.  Each of us wants to be the last one remaining because only the last one of us will be saved.

We thought it would be fun and we had no idea it was real.  Reality TV somehow leached out of the TV and into real life.  Is that art imitating life or life imitating art?  Reality-based living, all the rage these days apparently.  Self-selecting groups only, for those with more money than sense and strictly only for those with a heightened sense of entitlement.

I couldn’t think of any reason why I should be saved, other than the usual that I want to live.  I said I want to sneak under the cordon at Stonehenge and rub the stones to touch the past.  I said I want to keep bees and watch them turn pollen into honey that would last as long as a pyramid would stand.  I said I want to grow another person inside of me and feel them ripen as my belly tightened.  I said I want to know and to feel and to be.

I said I wouldn't say why another living being should die instead of me because they all should live too.  If one of us must be chosen to live, let it be for reasons of why we should live and not why another should not.

Would I stand more of a chance if art is imitating life or if life is imitating art?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

328: Keep Yourself Alive

I didn’t think team bonding exercises were supposed to be like this.  I thought maybe build a raft out of plastic bottles or construct a bridge out of paperclips, but never this.  I can't see what practical application living rough in the woods for three days will have in the marketing and communications department of a food manufacturer.

The minibus that collected us was really plush, none of this chewing gum on the seats or fag burns from a hen party you sometimes see.  It headed for the Forest and Marcia said she knew of this lovely lodge place, so we thought it must be there.  Even the sign pointing to it was elegant and well-tended, so I began to wonder whether in leggings and overshirts I might be under-dressed.

The minibus carried on past the turning Marcia knew, so we thought maybe it was another way in or she’d forgotten the route or something, but it carried on for a few miles before indicating down a path that narrowed to barely the width of a car.  At the bottom of the track was a clearing, where the driver stopped.  Without a word he climbed down from the front, unloaded all of our luggage, shooed us off the bus and reversed back up the track.

There we were, six marketing and PR professionals, abandoned at least twelve miles from the nearest wine bar or shoe shop, without a pitch or a storyboard between us.  Marcia said she was watching out for Ant and Dec but I said I’m not peeing in a plastic bucket or washing in a stream, not even for the cheeky Geordies.

So we waited.  We decided it must be some stunt or a practical joke, and that if we stayed put, eventually they would get tired of waiting for us to struggle with our bags, back along the track and up to Marcia’s lodge.

The darkness fell much more quickly with no light pollution.  Things rustled and shook and looked funny when the moon came out from behind a cloud.  And by then we had to continue being stayed put because it was too dark to see a way back anywhere.  Nobody was coming.  We had been left to fend for ourselves.  We had no food, no mobile signal from any network, major or smaller, no shelter.  We could have died out there.  Died.

At first light we set off, three of us to get help, three to stay with the luggage.  It was the longest twelve miles I’ve ever walked.  In fact, the only twelve miles I’ve ever walked, certainly consecutively.  My David came back with our estate and I rang Marcia’s Richard to fetch her because she said her gout wouldn’t let her walk that far, so she stayed on guard with my things as well as her own.

I’ll never forget it, never.  I don't think any of us will.  In time, it may give us a commercial edge to our work.  But I need more time and distance from it.  I think we all do.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

327: Spread Your Wings

Look at it as an opportunity, they said.  A chance for a new start, try new things and spread your wings.  It’ll be for the best, you’ll see.

Angie didn't see it like that.  The letter had arrived in Saturday’s post, a buff envelope holding the decision that would change her life.  She recognized the header before she opened the letter fully and sat staring at it whilst her breakfast went cold.  We’ll be in touch to arrange a meeting, they’d said, but instead of a date there was just the end.

Twelve years they’d had from her.  Getting up early, staying late, odd weekends morphing into most weekends, extra duties, pay freezes, increments next year, no promotions and all along she’d done whatever they asked.  She’d even lost her health when they announced that stupid multi-site merger.

As she applied for her own job, she realized following the company line meant she had little to back up her application.  Large chunks of white paper stared back at her as she struggled to find examples of using her own initiative or times she’d implemented a new policy.  Maybe willingness to be a company doormat would count for something.

The interview had been predictable as soon as she saw the pinstripes on the suits on both panel members and other applicants.  Angie had worn her smartest dress and matching cardy and felt like a maiden aunt sat amongst the thrusting young executives.  None were a day over 30, all stood a better chance than her.

They were very sorry, couldn't keep all the staff, appreciated she’d be disappointed.  She stopped reading when the platitudes made her screw up the letter into a tiny ball and toss it into the waste bin.  When she retrieved it and smoothed it out, the word ‘wings’ was the only one that caught her eye.  How could a meagre redundancy payment help her spread her wings when it was the company had done so much to clip them in the first place.

Friday, 22 March 2013

326: Let Me Live

So uhhhm, God.  I know I don’t chat to you much, sorry about that.  I can do this now though, can’t I? About these results I’m waiting for.  I’m worried, really worried.  Maybe I need to be a better person.  That’s what I was thinking might help.  If I’m better, you might let me stick around a bit longer.  Anyways, here goes, God.

My mother.  Now the weather is warmer she’ll need that buddleia trimming again and she’s probably a bit too wobbly on her feet to be getting up a ladder.  Last year it spread everywhere and she paid an arm and a leg to get it cut back by some arboreal type.  I had to leave the money to pay for it in her purse, she wouldn’t take it from me.  She won’t ask I bet, just go ahead with trying it herself.

And the kids need to go round more often too.  When they were born I thought she’d burst with happiness.  Her cheeks ached with smiling so much, she told me.  They’re at that funny age now, when they don’t want direction but still need it sometimes.  I don’t want them walking the streets late so I should take them.  We’ll all go, even Pam sometimes.

About the kids.  I forget stuff sometimes, they say.  Truth is I’ve never even heard of half the things they accuse me of forgetting.  Parties I said they could attend, presents I said they could have, boys I apparently like.  They won’t talk to me at all soon enough.  In future, not only will I listen, I will put down whatever I am doing and talk to them.  Reply and interact with them.  That’ll probably teach them.

When I looked at Pam the other day, she had these wrinkles around her eyes.  I said where did they come from and she got in a huff.  Said they’d been there for ages, hadn’t I noticed, and I was no spring chicken untouched by time myself.  So I looked and I have got wrinkles.  And grey hairs with some big wiry ones growing out of my eyebrows.  Like I need one of those men’s trimmer things.  When did we both get old?  Not really old, but older.  

I will also give change to the Big Issue man, take the dog out more, sometimes make the tea, recycle stuff, find some clothes for the charity bag every time one comes through the door, drink a bit less, vote every election and sort out the shelves in the utility room.  Although I might just pay someone to do the shelves, supporting local business and all that.  Because I’m rubbish at DIY.

Most of all God, it’s about time, isn't it.  I don’t use it properly, just waste it like most people do.  I can see that now.  My family is the most important thing, not work or sports or beers with the guys.  If I could just have some more time, I know I’ll use it better.  

And God?  Even if I can’t, I’ll use what I have left better anyway.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

325: See What a Fool I’ve Been

Rose was sure Gerald would be so proud of her.  She had taken their modest savings and turned them into enough for the retirement they both deserved.  Well, they would soon be enough for their retirement, as soon as the cheque arrived.  That would be any day now.  And then she could tell him.

She knew there were all kinds of scams out there in the digital ether and that’s what made this such a find.  Rose could so easily have ignored the email and missed out on the chance of a lifetime.  The word ‘Nigeria’ in the text had her reaching for the delete key but this wasn’t lost lottery tickets or displaced royals needing help or even a chance to invest in a property boom.  No, it was a real human story.  Rose would help someone and earn their enriched dotage in one.

Kemi told her that her brother Emmanuel had inherited money in a bank account but he couldn’t get at it.  It was a substantial sum, into millions she said, but without some money to travel to the bank and prove his identity, he would never claim it.  All he needed was a few thousand pounds for his travel and accommodation in the city.  If Rose could find a way to send the money to Kemi, Emmanuel would be prepared to share one third of the inheritance with her.  One third.

So any day now, that small loan to a man in a country far away from Leicester, would pay dividends.  Soon Rose could show Gerald she was every bit as clever as him.  And she had done it without his help.  Oh, the look on his face when she told him.  Rose savoured the thought of it and waited for the postman to arrive.  He was usually here before half past and maybe today he would have the cheque with him.  Rose hugged herself and looked out of the window so she could see when he came up the garden path.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

324: If You Can’t Beat Them

What is this country coming to, then?  Dogs, schoolboys and servants only ever work when one is able to beat them soundly.  Everyone knows that is the case, generations have known it.  England was built on the right to hand out stiff beatings regularly and with impunity.

Apparently an open hand may be permissible but no curled fists or leather belts can be allowed.  Those things are the only means available to educate and motivate the lazy, plus the birch perhaps.  If one may strike a horse with a whip, an animal who runs as fast as it is able whenever it is given its head, then why is a similar item not allowed for stable boys?  They laze in the sun, hidden behind the stables with local tarts and one has to call and call before they return, flushed and untucked, to wipe the sweat off the beautiful creatures.

Lord Holme once went three whole days without raising his hand to any creature or person on his estate.  The result?  Anarchy, that’s what.  Meals late, the Manor left cold, strangers permitted to enter the grounds and wander at will.  A day of beatings, perhaps two, was all it took to restore order.  Lord Holme’s exercise in the human psyche was abandoned as potentially dangerous to the entire nation.

There will be an urgent need to identify new ways of keeping certain elements in check.  A task force or a summit may be required.  Longer hours may do something.  Is an exhausted workforce less likely to rebel?  And lower wages, higher taxes too.  If they can barely afford to live, surely they will be more biddable.  Who would risk laziness and insubordination when he has to work long and hard to feed his family?  But would separating a few of them from their jobs anyway not work even better?

Who knows, this move could be a stroke of genius after all.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

323: Scandal

Enid had a baby girl and that was all it took.  One quick fumble, one sticky patch, one naive lass and one small town united in its determination she should pay for straying from God’s path.  One randy boy earned his spurs, one baby never saw her mother and one Enid spent 43 years locked away.

And then came the scandal.

When Enid was 62 years old, the asylum she had lived in for most of her adult life was closed down.  No longer called an asylum by then and renamed to the pleasanter Meadowvale Lodge, Enid knew it to be her only home.  Her life was simple, protected from harm and controlled whether she was awake or sleeping.

Some of the inmates, or patients, or residents, had jobs to keep them busy.  Enid earned pocket money by collecting flowers from the garden and arranging them in a vase outside matron’s room.  For extra pennies, she planted bulbs in spring and fed fatballs to the birds in winter.  Otherwise, Enid was unable to do much at all beyond simple, basic self-care.

Almost nobody from Meadowvale went to live with their family after it closed.  Then again, almost nobody received any visits from family when it was still open.  Most residents moved into other homes.  They were housed in an apparently random way, paying no heed to fragile friendships, rare sibling pairings or whether anyone had any preferences at all.  Nobody was asked.  Nobody would really have known how to answer.

Enid moved to sheltered accommodation and was encouraged to enjoy her new freedom.  She was now free to use electronic gadgets she didn't understand, to eat food she was unable to shop for or cook, to explore a town full of streets she didn't recognize, to manage her pension in a bank account she couldn't access and to feel cold and alone and unloved.

She never found out her daughter’s name and sometimes Enid wasn’t sure if there ever had been a baby at all.  But there must have been because if there wasn't one, why did Father and Mother insist she went to Meadowvale in the first place.

Monday, 18 March 2013

322: We Will Rock You

We will rock you, we just need to whip up a batch of cakes.  Afterwards you can lick out the bowl.
We will rock you, so you can climb as high as a hill and see the whole of your life laid out in front of you.  Behind the ridge will be your past.
We will rock you, do you have your own band?  If you bring the mike we’ll bring the drums and the bass.  It’s on Wii.
We will rock you, and it will say ‘Margate’ all the way through in bright red letters.  Sorry, it’s fruit flavoured, hope that’s OK.
We will rock you, on the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.  We have no plans to open the border on the Spanish side.
We will rock you, all round the garden.  We find heather and rugged plants grow there best and it’s a good way to protect exposed areas against soil erosion.
We will rock you, but technically it might be a big stone.
We will rock you, and/or roll you.  Musically speaking, of course.
We will rock you, when you reach as low as you can get.  The bottom really is the worst and on the positive side, it can only get better from there.
We will Rock you, then help you plan for your career in action movies and kids films.  Two questions first, though.  Do you mind scorpions and what do you think of the name Dwayne?
We will rock you, and we will paper you, and we will scissors you, and we will lizard you, and we will Spock you.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

321: You’re My Best Friend

Did you know?  I leave you messages and presents sometimes, but I never know if you realize they are from me.  I take such care choosing what I leave you, I do so want them to be right.

The notes, they are all from me.  My writing isn't the best so I thought I’d use letters from newspapers.  I believe in recycling, as you do, as whenever I can I use the papers you have discarded.  I like to think you’ll recognize the typeset and the print.

I left the flowers too.  I usually pick some when I’m walking through the streets when I can’t sleep but you have already turned out your light.  The house at number 42 had some lovely blooms but they’ve run out now.  Did you like the patterns I made with the petals?  I waited until I saw the lights come back on, first in your bedroom then in the kitchen, before I laid them out on your lawn this morning.

Did you like the chocolates?  I made them myself, just for you.  You didn’t share them with anyone I hope.  They are my gift to you, not to her or to your family or to your so-called friends.  Just you.  I put something special in to zing up the taste, I hope you noticed.  Another little thing from me to you.

I wish you wouldn’t ignore me as you pass by.  It hurts, you know?  I forgive you and I know it’s only for appearances’ sake, but an occasional kind word or friendly gesture would go a long way.  She probably wouldn’t like it I suppose, but it’ll be our secret.  I won’t tell and I know it’s what you want too.

I’ll always be there for you, waiting, in case you need me.  Look for me and you’ll see me.  I’m always there.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

320: Dragon Attack

The council hotline number rang all day.  The recent campaign hadn’t been the success it seemed after all.  All that money and all those adverts, all wasted.  People still insisted on feeding the dragons.

It was the babies that attracted people, the cute little ones that didn't breathe fire but just spluttered out a few sparks and a puff of smoke.  Word got round that they liked kitchen leftovers and that sometimes they found it hard to compete for food against the fully grown dragons, and feeding baby dragons became ‘a cause.’

Groups met together and sought out places the babies were most likely to be, and laid scraps for them.  And when they came more often, people started to cook things for them specially.  Whole roasts, turkeys and sausages, legs of pork and game pies were left for them, and the babies came every day.

At first, when it was just the little ones, the visits were manageable.  There were occasional scorchings and burning bushes, but nothing that vigilance and a few bucket of water couldn’t sort out.  But the babies grew into young adults, and in time older adults, and they still expected to be fed by the local people.

In time, flocks of dragons were circling the town almost constantly, in search of food.  Dozens of full-sized dragons were no longer cute and local people began to complain.  The skies were dark and smokey and fires blazed every day destroying homes and businesses and forests.

So the council started the ‘ban dragon feeding’ campaign and slowly people realized if they stopped putting out food, the dragons would go hungry and move on.  Mostly people stopped leaving out food and mostly, things got better.

And when all but the scrawniest dragons had moved on, barely visiting the town, someone remembered how sad a hungry baby dragon looked.  How big its eyes grew and how its lip seemed to quiver.  How loud dragon tummy rumbles were and how pathetic such a fearsome beast could become.

Then it began again.  Scraps, joints, birds, even pigs left out, with everyone thinking just a little won't hurt.  The dragons returned to feed.  And this time they wondered what people might taste like.

Friday, 15 March 2013

319: Doing All Right

Doing all right just about covers it.  It’s not like before and I have no idea when it will be again.  Or even if it will be ever again.  Sometimes I don’t see how it can be, not after what happened.  I’m not really sure I want it to be, either.

Sometimes I wonder which is better, to know in advance and have time for goodbyes, or just to be struck down, sudden and immediate and no warning whatsoever.  Perhaps it depends which part you play.  The knowledge of what was to come over the next three months weighed heavy on him.  As three stretched to four and five and almost six, rather than a blessing of extra time, it became a trial to be endured.  He still knew, however much longer there might be, that it would kill him in the end.

I never imagined I’d be glad when he finally went, but I was.  Each morning I woke with my first thoughts turning to ‘Today?’  I’d lay there, breathing as quietly as I could, and listen for sounds coming from his bed.  If I heard rhythmic snores sometimes I’d prop myself up on an elbow and watch him sleep.  That was the only time his face didn’t show pain.

For a while afterwards I still woke and listened for sounds of him.  I don’t now but sometimes the quiet is so loud I have to flick the radio on.  It’s still tuned to his Radio 4 but I don’t think I can retune it yet.

I have so much time, now.  I don’t know what I used to do before but it must have been something.  People suggest good works or helping a charity but I think that is for the future.  I might have to explain why to someone and I prefer people who already know the why.  I’ve started to read some of his books which does help to pass the time.  Only the ones I can recall him reading though, so I know my hands are where his once were.

But I eat and I sleep and see my sister and read and watch some TV shows I can’t recall the name of right now.  It might be just getting by but I think I’m doing all right, considering.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

318: A Kind of Magic

Michael was the most perfect boyfriend.  He always knew just the right thing to say or do, how to cheer Penny up if she was down and to make her laugh when she was tired.  She still couldn’t quite believe after three months, that he was all hers.

He’d been the new guy at the office and Penny fancied him from the first day.  Michael was so gorgeous that most of the girls in Marketing fancied him and Penny didn’t think she stood a chance against such fierce competition.  Then one day he came in after lunch and handed her a skinny hazelnut latte from her favourite coffee shop.

He was sweet and attentive and had her best interests at heart, he said.  He only wanted what she wanted for herself.  What he said she deserved.  He was right, perhaps she did look a little tarty in pillar box red and she did find cork wedges hard to walk in.  Michael helped her realize she wasn’t quite ready for promotion yet, without her even needing to talk to him about it.

Sometimes it was like he could read her mind and see into her innermost thoughts and hopes and dreams.  He would suggest things she wouldn’t discuss with anyone but her very closest girlfriends.  Michael made her blush and thrill in equal parts.

She was too happy to worry that the odd pair of knickers disappeared from the washing line.  Or to notice the static tone that sometimes flicked across her laptop screen.  Or to wonder why some pieces of mail never made it to her pigeonhole.  And surely that dark dot on the wall of the bedroom had always been there.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

317: Living On My Own

George and Enid married when he was twenty two and she was nineteen.  There had been nobody else, for either of them.  First love was destined to also be last love.  And they were happy together, even when money was scarce and Enid had to boil the same bones for soup for days.

The only sadness in their lives was baby Jack.  Enid tried so hard but her small body seemed to find carrying babies too hard.  Over the years she lost more than she wanted to count, some even before she knew she had caught.  Then there was baby Jack.  He came early and was a wee lad, but he was a fighter.  After weeks of worry and tests, Enid was able to bring baby Jack home.

Jack grew into the sweetest natured boy but being born so early made bits of his brain struggle with life.  He needed extra love and care and because he was so sweet, everybody helped George and Enid.  Children from the street played with him, parents kept watch on him as closely as they did on their own children and shopkeepers slipped him his favourite gobstoppers so often he nearly always had a bulge in his cheek.

When he was seven Jack went out to play and never came back.  It was a scorching summer’s day and the children decided to visit the river.  They took turns on an old rope swing and when Jack climbed on, nobody noticed the rope was almost worn through.  They all said how happy he looked as he swung out across the water and back, and then the rope finally snapped.  He tumbled into the water and hit his head on a rock on the riverbed.  By the time one of the bigger boys dragged him to the bank, it was too late.

So George and Enid were alone again.

Now George was eighty five and Enid was eighty two.  They still lived in their home and still took an afternoon walk when the weather was fine.  George had his heart and Enid had her memory, though.  Neither would be able to do it forever.  Neither wanted to do it without the other.  There was this one thing they could be sure to do together.

On what would have been Jack’s fiftieth birthday, they visited the river.  They found a bench to sit and rest, and watched the water.  On the surface it was almost still but deeper down it pulled strongly at plants and branches and stones.  At anything that sunk below the ripples.

Slowly, arm in arm, George and Enid walked into the river, as close to the spot that Jack was last seen as they could manage.  The current knocked first one, then the other from their feet, and they slipped beneath the water still happy together.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

316: Fight From The Inside

“Brothers and sisters, I ask you to stand firm with me today, united in our fight.  We have suffered this tyranny for far too long.  Our wishes, our wants, our needs are ignored, every single day.  And it can’t go on.

“We deserve better.  You deserve better.

“You elected me to represent you and I plan to do that to the very best I can.  I will take our demands to management and insist they listen.  And I will tell them, if we do not get what we want, we will take action.  All of us, together.

“So if they refuse to move morning sleepy time by fifteen minutes so we can watch Postman Pat, then we won’t settle to our naps until they do.  If they won’t heat up our milk on cold days, we will spill it on ourselves, on them and on the floor.  If they don’t agree to cut up the lunch of every child, we will all squish our food in our fists, then let go and watch as it falls onto the carpet.  And if they persist in removing our num-nums, even if they know we might be nervous or missing Mummy, we will all begin strategic thumb sucking.  Let’s see how they take those away from us.

“I don’t think we’re being unreasonable, brothers and sisters.  All we want is what is fair and what we would get anywhere else.  We get it at home, we want it here.

“You deserve better.  We all deserve better.”

Monday, 11 March 2013

315: You Don’t Fool Me

You don’t fool me, Emily Cheshire, I know it was you.  You might look oh so sweet with your strawberry blonde curls and cutsey pink velvet ribbons, but I know.  It doesn’t matter that nobody saw you do it or that I don’t have any proof yet, but you did it.

Until you came along nobody even worried about who was prettiest girl in class.  We liked ponies and kittens and skipping and cupcakes and netball and ankle socks and Eurovision and plaiting each other’s hair.  Now we have to think about what we wear each day and which bands we like and who we are going to be friends with.

Until you came along we went shopping with our Mums and we collected things.  We sang out loud and skipped in the street and ran fast until our cheeks were pink.  We had pet names for each other and they were all nice.  We weren’t embarrassed to be seen with our parents and we held hands with them across busy roads.  ‘Last year’ was just the time we had a different teacher.  We didn’t giggle, heads down and hurrying past, when we saw something that was ‘so...’

Until you came along we were friends with boys, even our own little brothers.  We wanted to be lawyers and doctors and teachers and train drivers and nobody wanted to be a celebrity.  Sometimes we teased one of the others, but only sometimes and never as mercilessly as now.

And when you came along, somehow you made my Dad leave our house and move into a flat with only a couch for sleeping over on.  And somehow, you made my Grandma die with her heart.  I don’t know how you did it all but I want you to go away, Emily Cheshire, because I like things how they used to be.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

314: Tie Your Mother Down

Hazel struggled against the rope but it held firm.  She couldn’t move her arms from her sides and her legs were just too short to let her stand up, with the chair still tied on, and waddle into the kitchen.  Those blasted kids.

Some Mother’s Day this was turning out to be.  Hazel always added the apostrophe, even though just about every card on the high street omitted it these days.  She’d come down stairs in her housecoat, ready to flick on the kettle, tune into Radio 4 and begin breakfast.  But Rosie was already in the kitchen about to start cooking in Hazel’s kitchen.  Jamie came in shortly after and Hazel found herself frog-marched into the sitting room but her two teenage children.

And then Jamie had produced a skipping rope, pointed to a chair and when she sat down, proceeded to tie Hazel to it.

They left her in the room, all by herself.  A few minutes later Rosie came in with the radio and switched it on.  It was tuned to Radio 2 and Hazel loathed Steve Wright, had done since his show in the 1980s.  he was no better now.  She called and called, asking could she please have The Archers on, but to no avail.

No matter how much Hazel called and wriggled, nobody came.  She could hear noises of clanky cooking from the kitchen and caught the smell of bacon and scorched toast.  Perhaps it would be nice to have someone else make breakfast for a change.  But there was the washing to put on and a big pile of ironing.  White school shirts don’t press themselves, do they.  At least they could let her get on with something else.

After what seemed an age but was probably only twenty minutes judging by the number of Mothers’ Day messages Steve read out and songs he played.  The children came in.  They set a place at the dining table, cutlery shined and laid out properly, a napkin and a juice glass added, a raffia mat put out so the wood didn’t burn.  Rosie went out again and returned with a tray of breakfast, which she placed on the table.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Mum.  We made you breakfast.  Sorry about the rope but we knew you’d never let us do it for you.  You always do everything for us and today, we are doing for you instead.  Jamie will untie you now, but you must promise you won’t try to cook or clean or anything like housework all day.  Promise?”

Hazel said, “I promise” and Jamie loosed the knot in the rope.  She began to eat and asked, “Can we at least have The Archers please?”  “Just a little longer,” said Rosie and then they heard it.  

Steve Wright did a call out, “Rosie and Jamie would like to wish Mum Hazel a very special Mother’s Day today.  Apparently they have a bit of a surprise in store for you Hazel.  I wonder if you’ve had it yet?  And they’ve asked for a Queen song for you and said it would mean something to you.  So for Hazel, from Rosie and Jamie, here’s “Tie Your Mother Down.”  

Saturday, 9 March 2013

313: Put Out The Fire

Basil was never supposed to be Pope.  Until it happened, he wasn’t even in the running for the job, let alone a real contender.  Yet there he was, in the big hat and the red shoes, undergoing the Pope Joan test in that special chair.

He was just trying it all on, so he said.  He wondered whether the garb would suit him and thought maybe a quick self-portrait with his iPhone to send to his Mum would be in order.  After all, he’d never get another chance and there is was, just sat there waiting for the new His Holiness to be chosen.

Of course, he knew smoking was a dirty habit and that he should give it up, but he couldn’t find a bit of the Bible that expressly forbade it.  And that sort of made it alright.  So a second picture for his brothers of himself sat in the chair, in the garb, smoking a Camel Light, seemed like another good idea.

If only he hadn’t dropped the cigarette.  If only it hadn’t fallen into the grate.  If only it hadn’t already been made up in readiness to announce the decision.  If only the fire hadn’t taken hold so quickly.  If only the white smoke hadn’t billowed out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.  If only the cardinals hadn’t been alerted to it and rushed into the room.  If only it hadn’t been binding that the new Pope would be the man sat in the chair when the white smoke went up.  If only he hadn’t uploaded the images to Twitter.

At least he would pass the Pope Joan test.