I have a dream

I don’t remember what I’d said, but it had made him laugh, briefly, before the seriousness we both recognised, settled.  His eyes focussed too long on mine, then scanned my mouth.  He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and unsteadily as he moved closer, as he bowed his head down to reach me.  I felt the roughness of his thumbpad on my cheeks and our lips brushed; the lightest of touches…

Not likely – boomed my unconsciousness, and gave a good poke in the ribs to ensure I was woken fully.  For the hour that remained before my alarm set The Today Programme upon me, I pondered my unconscious and its increasingly unkind behaviour.

Until a few months ago, we’d got along fine.  Then one day, the good ladies of the office had a discussion about recurring dreams:

I dream that my hair falls out – said the bold one at the front.

I dream that I’m sitting on the bus and I realise that I’m naked – said the timid one at the back.

I dream – I added from the corner – or rather I used to dream, that something horrible happened, but when I tried to shout out, I had no voice.

That night, I dreamt that I had a hard swelling, right in the hollow where my neck and chest meet.  It was leather-brown and ribbed, like the pupa of a large grub, and my fingers worried it and worried it until it fell off into my hand, leaving a gaping hole at the base of my throat.

Bugger, I’ve self-tracheotomised – I thought.  I can’t breathe, I’m done for.

I held onto the air in my lungs; the few extra seconds it gave allowed me to acknowledge and accept the finality of death.  When my lungs could hold it no longer, I released my breath and instinctively I gasped for air.  The air did not seep from the stoma in my throat as I had expected, but instead refilled my lungs: and again, and again. I breathed and I lived on.  I cried out in joy.  Or at least, I tried to; my cry wheezed silently from the grub-shaped gap.

It was only when I recounted this dream to my ladies that I realised I’d been set up.  It can’t have been chance that a random dream just happened to end in a way I’d described hours before.  My subconscious must have planned it: planted it.  This is contrary to how I thought my brain in general – dreams in particular – work.  I had visions of a democratic process – id, ego and super-ego working together in harmony to organise my mindspace and its contents:

Ego: so guys, here’s what I’ve experienced today.  Make of it what you will…

(video plays)

Super-ego: OK, that right there.  See what you did there?  You learnt from a mistake.  That’s a great learning strategy, well done.

ID: blah blah strategy blah.

Ego: no, I think Super is right.  It might come in useful, we should keep that in the Long Term pile.  So, let’s see what’s up next, guys…

(video)

ID: oh my! Oh, that’s good, can we keep that?  Can we, can we, can we?  Oh, can we? Please say we can!

Super-ego: certainly not.  You shouldn’t have been looking at that angle – C for chickenshit.  File it.  Now.

Ego: I’m not sure, Super.  It wouldn’t hurt just to poke a bit of that into a dream?  Huh?

Super-ego: well…

ID: gwarn Super!

Ego: oh Super, you’re just the best.

*

Turns out it’s not a democracy but a dictatorship.

I had a dream.  I think he may have been Ifan from Information – sweet guy, not normally considered fantasy material (he’s Welsh for a starter) but dreamers can’t be pickers, especially when they’re being bullied by their super-ego.

*

I wanted to go with this:

But Super, she insisted on this:

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I got blisters on my fingers

Imagine, if you will, me as zulu warrior dancer.  I hold up my rake as a spear while my feet stomp along in lines, around in circles.

*

Friday was a furious walk to work.  When I get home, decisions will be made.  A phone will be called… emails sent even. 

But they weren’t.  Instead, this being bank holiday weekend, I spend my frustrations and energies in what we laughingly call the garden but is more of a wasteland.  I want a seating area, so I choose a small sloping section in front of the bedroom windows to transform.  I dig it over, move a ton of soil, and what is left I level, ready for decorative aggregate.

Which explains my dance.  Rake, stomp, check, rake, stomp, check… I pass a happy Sunday morning.

The mud I tread into the house is soon mingling with Yorkshire mud that my daughter brings home from the Leeds festival.

Every other word is fuck, she says.

Needn’t bring that northern muck here, I say.

Was so funny tho, Ma.  K had so much E Saturday that he woke up Sunday with blisters all in his mouth and throat, so D was trying to spoonfeed him cold cream of chicken soup.

Sounds hilarious.

But that was all claggy so we cracked open the cream of tomato instead.

Wise choice, I say.

She tells me that raving in the rain was probably the best experience of her life, and that the most depressing thing in the world is the end of a great festival; walking alone through muddy fields of mostly-empty tents, the odd person you pass is either sobering up or hungover and you have seven hours before the coach home.

*

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.

*

*

This and that

You know those mornings, dreary and disinterested; even the rain is indolent, can’t be arsed, just kind of hangs there for you to walk through, and I do: all the way to work.  They know that umbrellas are against my personal principles, so when I arrive sodden, I get fond chidings rather than sympathy.  A quick rub down with a tissue and a nibble on a rich tea finger as I wipe my specs, then I’m ready for the working day.

This is a big day because I have an appointment in my diary.  Yes, someone wants to sit next to me and talk databases.  Generally speaking, my little corner of the office is left undisturbed by human presence: if my phone ever rings, people stop working and turn to watch as I tentatively pick up the receiver – hello….  no, it isn’t….   no, no, it’s fine...  – and they raise their brows innocently and ask – wrong number? – and I shrug, and they return to their work, sniggering; if I am alone in the office and a visitor pops her head round the door and asks – is nobody in? – I smile sweetly and mutter – nobody of consequence, obviously, fuckwit.

But this day; this day I am someone of consequence.  On this day, someone will come in and ask for me, and she will sit and listen whilst I explain to her the finer workings of a cantankerous lump of data.  She will nod and make notes and I will smile reassuringly and offer her a rich tea finger.

And this is what happens, but something else, too.  I vaguely know the woman who comes to sit with me; she is Danny, the grouchy lesbian.  I know she is a lesbian because she is tall and shapeless with short hair and I can easily imagine her wearing dungarees; she prefers to use the male form of her shortened name rather than Danni, and she is sour-faced, with the hostile air of the unfairly oppressed.  Except on this day, she isn’t.  Her face is rounder, her eyes have softened and she carries herself with the grace of contentment.

As I walk home through the mizzle, I think about Danny and wonder what has turned her from that to this: the mellowness of maturity; the self-possession that comes with a hard-won acceptance; or the love of a fine woman?  Is that something I should consider, maybe – expand my horizons a little, could be the making of me.  There was a manager used to work with us – always yelped – I’m about to eat my brain here – when she was annoyed – she was men all the way until she met the woman of her life, and she stroked my face once, when everybody knows not to touch me.  And there’s Cagney & Lacey from IT, they’re always looking at me coquettishly.  Although they have matching squints to match their matching bomber jackets, so it’s anyone’s guess really.

I frown as I wait for the green man to tell me I may walk.  It’s tricky.  I mean, I appreciate a comely woman as much as the next man, but I’m not at all sure what I’d do with one.  At the end of the night, where would be the point?

Paddling along the narrow path that is both pavement and soakaway to the road above, a black umbrella approaches, and I consider whether to dodge and tut, or just accept the poke in my eye, the cold drip down the back of my neck.  But from underneath the umbrella emerges a man in a dark three piece suit and a bright yellow turban.  He notices me, and his smile is as sunny as his turban as he steps into a gateway to let me pass, and holds his umbrella over me as I do.

I grin back at him, and ‘this,’ I whisper.

*

*

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.