My girl

Matt, the preppy one has a can of lager between his knees.

My girl, looking relaxed and hopeful, clutches a bottle of Oasis.

Andy, the needy one, caresses his bottle of white wine.

Beth, the drama queen, juggles a red bull between her estimable thighs

Sarah, the one who never swears, sips at a glass of water.  (Later that evening she will OD on speed, but she will be ok)

A photo posted of the newly-introduced flatmates.  My girl is the most beautiful.

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Summer in the city

*

This morning’s tour of duty; boy’s room first, open the blinds.  Nearly a teen and he’s still my baby boy, my puppy dog.  Two weeks today since I last saw him.  He’s off round Europe in a motorhome, playing Max to his dad’s Paddy. Not long till the weekend is my mantra.

But for now, I’m alone.  Girl in Africa, boy in Europe.  Sister on some island in the Med, friend in Scandinavia.  Utterly alone.  Even Les next door has escaped to Blackpool for a few nights.  In general, I think I do quite fine with alone, but these are testing times and I’m feeling kinda forlornely.

I consider taking Regina’s advice and finding a protest, to rub up against strangers; but this is a tiny city and its best offering is a rerun of Macbeth at the independent cinema. I settle, it’s ok.  Reminds me of when my boy nudges and says come watch the rugby with me, Mum; I get the gist but not the finer points and when I tire of concentrating, the scenery is easy on the eye.

Back at the car park pay-station, I find my plastic park-card and hold it out ready to slot it in, but there is no slot.  I wave it around in hope.

Just hold it up there, duck, where them three lights are.  A head peeks out from under the paymachine and a grimy finger points up to guide me.  Right up there – look, says the crosslegged imp, patiently.

Right, thanks I say.  I show the card to the buttons and like a jackpot in reverse, they flash rainbows and tell me how much to pay.  I feed a note into the machine and it spews out a few paltry coins, which I press into the grubby hands below.  Spend it wisely, I counsel, I hear wet wipe washes are the way forward.

Walking to the car, my phone rings.  My boy tells me he will be home in about an hour.

But you’re not coming home till the weekend.

Change of plan.

Well, that’s great, but couldn’t you have let me know?

I told you Monday didn’t I?

No, you said the weekend.

Hmmm… oh yeah, I wrote it on the postcard.

I see.  And when did you send the postcard?

Well, I couldn’t find anywhere to post it.

So, you’re bringing me the postcard that you wrote to tell me you’re coming home?

I could hear his grin, the sweetheart.

*

*

Missing my daughter

I close the curtains and breathe the air.

I sit on my daughter’s empty bed and close my eyes.  I see a tiny girl in a high chair.  She wears a tangerine playsuit, her dark hair is split into short, mischievous bunches, and she is play-frowning as she sits waiting for me to make her peanut butter sandwiches.  As a toddler, she had beautifully expressive feet: oh, how indignant they could be, and again so joyful.  She smiles at me as she theatrically furrows her brow, but the angle of those feet; the tension in them, let me know that a real tantrum is not far behind if I don’t hasten.  Just in time, the sandwiches are served and the feet relax; a first bite and her toes wiggle happily along with her jaw.

Always so independent, she developed her own individual smell from an early age.  Now older, stronger-willed and even more contrary, the perfume of her in this room seems to grow more powerful the longer she is away.  Or maybe I just breathe deeper.

It was two weeks ago that she sent her last, nervous, text before flying off to spend three weeks on the plains and deserts of southern Africa with a group of people she’d not met before; it is another nine days before I see her again.  In the meantime, we glean what we can from the weekly group-blog.  The first was heartening; we’re here safely, evenings are spent singing round the campfire and stargazing (generally speaking, the only stargazing my daughter does is watching TOWIE, but first for everything and all that).  The second was slightly more unsettling; we’re off trekking in search of elephants, it’s up to 40º most days and there are no showers – wet wipe washes are the way forward.  And while someone’s son is living on Tabasco sauce, someone’s daughter is a natural breadmaker and someone else’s snores, my daughter – after a week – spoke.

Next update is due tomorrow.

Where the feck…

Abandoned

Just back from a few days in Ireland.   Won’t bore you with all the photos, but this is a special secret place we discovered whilst looking for somewhere to squat (in the bladder sense).

County Cork, Ireland

An abandoned house.  Abandoned not too long ago, by the look of things; the building was structurally fine and in the garden, brambles were still just building up strength for the rampage.

County Cork coastline

I scrambled through the gateway, followed the overgrown path to the porch and turned around. I expected a decent view, but this…

garden to coast, County Cork, Ireland

can you imagine opening your curtains to this of a morning?

Abandoned house, County Cork, Ireland

I couldn’t get close enough to look in the windows, see what state the inside was in.  I love abandoned houses: their potential; the latent promises.  When we reached the next village, I bought a lottery ticket.  I didn’t win.

County Cork, Ireland

This was round the corner from the cottage.  We happened to be there when Cork hedgerows were at their finest.  There were three main staples – red fuchsia, orange montbretia and a lipstick-pink rambling rose.   Sometimes all three tussled for the sunlight and attention; here the roses absolutely won.

You win some…

I am driving my daughter to the nurse, for a jab that will delay the onset of mouth-foaming should she pick a fight with a rabid dog on her trip to Africa.  We wait at a red light on the way to the surgery.  Beyond the traffic lights, on the opposite corner, two narrow upstairs windows have compost bags for black-out blinds.  Between the plastic and the glass, blotch-leaved tomato plants wither in the glower of the sun.

Below, two red stripy poles hang outside the blind-shuffled windows of a barber’s shop.  A young girl – looks the same age as my daughter – pushes herself off from the barber’s door-frame and onto the street.  She is wearing tight black jeans and a big red sweatshirt with just do it written across the front, and she is swaying.  The girl attaches herself to a passing man, steadies herself on his arm, talks as they cross the road.  He doesn’t reply, and when they are back on the pavement, he pushes her away.  As she totters down the side-road, he stands on the corner, hands on hips, watching, and when she stumbles into a cluster of bins, he shouts.  She turns round, the lights turn green, he holds out his arms.   I drive off, not knowing if his arms were spread in exasperation, compassion, or acceptance of a proposition.

The receptionist tells us to take a seat.  My daughter sits, and looks fiercely at me.  She knows I have issues with sitting in waiting rooms; it seems to me like surrender.

Sit, mother.

I stand next to her.

Mother, sit.

Let’s sit at the back then.

I sit in the middle of the back row, and she stomps to join me.

Why couldn’t you just sit at the front?

When we came last week, that chair had urine on it.

People are going to think you have serious problems upstairs if you carry on like this.  Especially when you wear those ridiculous shades.

We sit in seething silence until her name is called.

*

That evening, as I am driving my son home from rugby practise, we see an old man clutch the wall, fall to his knees and lie down on the pavement.

My son and I look at each other.

Do you think he’s ok? I ask.

He’s still looking at me as I stop the car.

What should we do? I ask.

My son looks back to the distant lump on the pavement.

Should we check? I ask.

Yes, he says.

I turn the car around and drive back.  As we pull up, a man and his son walk round the corner.  They look at the old man, who is now curled up, hands tucked under serenely sleeping head.

Alright Derek, says the man.

Do you know him, is he alright? I ask.

We all know him round here.  Derek, you alright mate?

Derek opens an eye.

Are you alright, Derek? I ask.

He sits up.

Am I alright? he asks.  No I’m fucking not alright.  Shall I tell you for why, shall I?

Anyway, always nice to see you Derek, says the man with his son, but we’re a bit late for.

They walk on.

Derek stands.

Are you sure you’re okay?  Should I ring an ambulance?

Yes, ring the fucking ambulance, I want them here, and the fucking police too, get them all here, I’ll tell them fuckers.  I’ll tell them all, the fuckers.

As he speaks, he moves closer to the car, to the open window where my son is sitting.

Glad to see you’re feeling better Derek, take care, I shout as I wind up the window.  I drive off and in my mirror I see him settle down to sleep again.

We drive in silence for minutes, until my son says we did the right thing, Mum and we smile and he tells me about the awesome army guy who made them run ten times round the pitch and do a hundred press-ups.

*

*

Saturday night is pizza night

A knock at the door is an occasion in our house.  This time it is my nephew and niece, a dog apiece.  Their message is an invite to Saturday Night is Pizza Night – an exclusive gathering around the chimnea at the allotment – an invite I graciously accept.  They remain on the doorstep, smiling expectantly.  The dogs sniff my knees and strain at the leash to cross the threshold; I don’t think so.  I don’t do animals.  For humans I will make odd attempts at sociability, anything below primate has my gorge rising.  Misha is a rescue dog and whippet, eager and utterly beholden; Sofia is Anna Karenina in greyhound form.  Yes, for dogs they’re ok.  But still, they’re not coming in.

Nephew and niece are waiting.  Should I tip?  They’re nice kids, thoughts of financial gain wouldn’t have crossed them.  If anything, they are too nice; not quite other-worldly but possibly meant for a different time, Charlie Bucket’s siblings or born to the bosom of the Cratchit family.  Maybe that’s it; perhaps a word or two of Dickensian wisdom is their hope.  A deep breath and I search for a favourite aphorism.

Luckily, I am saved by my daughter who squeezes into the doorway beside me; she raises her voice an octave to sweet-talk the dogs as she crouches to ruffle their ears, greets her cousins without looking up to see the contentment settle on their faces.

Saturday evening we arrive at the allotment.  Word is, everything from scratch, so I’ve rustled up lavender and liquorice muffins to take along with bottles of lambrusco and frozen dough balls. I dump everything on the supplies wheelbarrow in the orchard and big sister takes me on a tour around our estate.  Flower beds are looking good – she grumbles at the wanton calendula, I silently cheer them on – so we gather lilacs and ivory rosebuds for the passata jar, then sit to drink their health.

Meanwhile, pizza dough is kneaded, shaped, topped, slid onto the stone with Dad’s old spade – spit-and-polished to a pizza-shovel – and slid off again when everyone agrees the cheese is bubbling.  I am on cutter duty.  Niece offers to take over pizza production from her father, and calls Sofia and Misha to lick her hands clean.

The pizzas are delicious, the wine too easy.  Sister and I sway and hum as we cut another handful of perfumed lilacs, which we clutch and sniff and exclaim over as we stumble home.

*

*

Mixed feelings…

In a flurry of elation, I submitted the final draft of my final A363 assignment the other night.  After a fitful night’s sleep, I added missing references, a couple of tweaks and resubmitted before work the following morning.

A363 has turned me into a drunken slob.  It’s time to get my act together, reintroduce myself to the kids; the hoover; the garden; movements more strenuous than putting cool hand to angst-fevered brow.

The course has been a torturous journey for me, and although it has taught me many things, the main lesson I have learnt is that I am not a writer! A215 pats you on the head and tells you: you can do it; A363 asks if you really want to, then challenges you to prove it.

My answer to A363’s challenge is a creatively-drained and exhausted ‘no more’.

But I wouldn’t have missed the journey for the world.

A shaggy mooc story

Rocker

I’d got into the lazy habit of driving halfway to work, but big houses in streets nearby don’t like to see unsightly cars, so staff who have not been granted a car-park pass are chased further away by yellow lines, to cram together on streets (and often their pavements) of little houses that either have more important things to worry about or merely tut and raise a brow rather than getting down PDQ to the MP’s surgery.

Tuesday, when I saw paint-cans poised for the latest batch of lines, I remembered that I am both symptom and cause. I felt my tightening waistband, my fusting brain, the dying planet, and I resolved to walk each working day – all the way there and all the way back again.

So it was that I found myself tramping alongside the duel carriageway Wednesday, brain bouncing, shaking about the settled thoughts until they burst into an epiphany: this is what walking will do, when hormones are aligned. The central reservation with its leafless trees is key to the metaphor that I am hoping will save my story from pointless flailing.

Thursday, I strode out audaciously, head held high; I knew where my story was going. I marched stiff-necked and swift up our road, then through the tunnel of trees that shelters old folks homes and student accommodation, crossed the main road and on past the generous Bohemian villas, over the brow of the hill to where new money gathers, in modern boxes perched in strict pecking order, looking down on the city and each other. Near the top, as I glided past twenty foot tall wrought iron gates, I was yowled at. It was a mooc. Its back legs were unable to move independently of each other due to the size of its big oers that swelled between, so that as it came bounding up to the gate – still yapping – it resembled a playground spring rocker that needed a good oiling.

I turned to face it, offset position, flexible knees, finger to lips, eyes narrowed: ‘SSSHHH,’ I hissed. It rolled its terrible yellow eyes and showed its terrible weeping scorm. I sucked my teeth, cocked my brow and quieter this time: ‘sssssssssshhhhhhh.’

Its tail fell, it turned and slinked away; last I saw it was squeezing its oers through the mooc-flap.

Invincible, me.

Everything about you is violet sky

Last Creative Writing assignment went in today, an excerpt from the final assessment, which we have to continue drafting, drafting until final submission mid-May.   Sick of it already, sick of lengthy decisions over punctuation: commas; dashes; colons and semis – seems to be about as creative as I’m getting on this one.

I’ll have a little break and hopefully be reinvigorated when it’s returned with (hopefully, almost certainly: I have a great tutor) words of encouragement.

Leaving the house this morning, a young woman was sulkily pulling leaves off next door’s camillia, muttering. A little girl caught up with her, breathless, pushing baby brother in buggy.

– You want out of what, Mum?

– Life.

The woman took over the pushchair and they continued on their way.

Two worms are battling it out in my head. I’m going to listen simultaneously, see if they destroy each other, reclaim my head space.