Saturday, 21 January 2017

52 Words, 52 Weeks, Part the Third

Lost Things

We huddled together, two lost things alone in a cold, hard world. She had my back, I had hers; friends forever.

But now she's screaming at me, blaming me, accusing me. No longer my anchor, safe haven, sister. I have hurt her which in it's turn hurts me.

We hug and weep.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Prompt - History

I dated Andrew briefly one summer. He was a friend of a friend and we had a good time going to parties and hanging out with friends. It was the long hot summer of 1976 and we spent plenty of time outdoors. We went to the local park, lying under the trees as I pretended to revise for exams. We paddled in the children's pool and ate ice creams, laughing and holding hands. It was all so innocent and yet as he was younger than me it felt very grown up.

We knew it was summer romance. I was due to go to college in the autumn and I knew that our fling would never survive separation. So we enjoyed the time we had together and didn't pretend it was anything other than fun. I probably wouldn't remember it if it hadn't been for history.

One evening I arranged to meet Andrew at his home before a trip to the local pub where we all met on a Friday night. I strode up to his front door and rang the bell. As I waited I hummed a few bars of a tune I'd heard on the radio while getting ready. Footsteps in the hall and the door swung open. The blood drained from my face and I was frozen to the spot. She was standing holding the door open, smiling and waiting for me to speak. I opened my mouth but no words came out. She inclined her head like an inquisitive bird and I knew I had to say something.

'I'm here for Andrew' was all I could manage.
She nodded and stood aside, inviting me in. I walked past her and heat flushed up my neck and face. The last time I had been this close to her she had backed me into a corner of the playground and stood there barring my escape. Every day for a year she had done this, without a word. Walking towards me with a smirk on her face, making me retreat into the corner, standing over me and smiling. Every single day. Every single playtime.

I stood in the hall and she walked up behind me. I felt faint and pressed myself against the wall to steady myself. She passed me and opened a side door, disappearing from view. I managed to breath, sweat breaking out across my forehead. What was she doing here? How quickly could I escape?

Her face appeared round the door frame and I jumped.
'Come and wait in here. He'll be ready soon.'
The last thing I wanted to do was sit in that room with her but I found myself following her into the room and edging around the sofa before perching on the armrest. I kept my eyes down so I didn't have to look at her and time slowed to a crawl in that room. Suddenly I was back in that playground, 7 years old and a victim. She was 11 and the bully who made my life bleak and scary. She was chatting away, enjoying the sound of her own voice and not noticing that I was silent and closed off. Thankfully Andrew arrived and I saw my escape route open before me.

But fate was playing cruelly with me that day. As I stood up to leave Andrew put his arm around my shoulder and said,
'You don't mind if Rosie comes with us, do you? She's at a lose end this evening so I said she could come for a drink with us.'
A cold hand grabbed my heart and squeezed. My brain screamed that here was no way I wanted to spend another second with her but my head nodded and I heard myself say that it was no problem. Betrayed by my own mouth and sense of politeness!

That evening I sat quietly in the corner of the pub and watched her. She flitted about, chatting to everyone and flirting with some of my friends. I hardly spoke to anyone and several people asked if I was alright or feeling unwell. I managed to smile and whisper that I was ok but inside everything was churning. I watched and waited until I could bear it no longer. Pushing through the crowd I found Andrew and pulled him aside.
'I want to go home. I'm not feeling well. You stay, I'll get the bus.'
He looked surprised but didn't try to change my mind. I picked up my bag and pushed my way through the Friday night crowd to leave the pub. When I reached the doorway I turned and looked back at Andrew. His head was thrown back in a guffaw and Rosie was locking arms with him as someone told an amusing story. She caught my eye, grinned and waved. I managed a weak smile and left.

As I stood at the bus stop, I thought about Rosie and how she had made a whole year of my life miserable. I had been so scared of her, feigning illness to avoid the playground, too young to understand that I was being bullied. Yet today she seemed not to recognise me. It had been 10 years but we had gone through secondary school together so she must have seen me since we left primary school. The bus approached and I scrambled to find the fare in my disorganised bag. As I took my seat next to the window and watched the city lights pass by. As I put distance between me and her I realised that I no longer had to be her victim. She didn't know me and had no idea the impact she'd had on my life. I had been a mousey little thing for many years, never pushing myself forward, happy to stick to the shadows. She had robbed me of my confidence and made me shrink into myself. It was many years before I felt able to speak out and stand up for myself but now I knew that she hadn't picked me out for any special reason. I was just the one she picked out in the playground, I was anonymous to her and she didn't even remember the little girl she had tormented. I promised myself there and then to never be a victim again, to stand up for myself and trust myself, to never again let someone exercise that sort of power over me.

History would not repeat itself again. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Book Review - Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Sometimes when I've loved a book I worry that I won't love the sequel as much and that the magic will be ruined. I confess to thinking this about Bring Up The Bodies; I enjoyed Wolf Hall so much that I was apprehensive that BUTB wouldn't be as good. Boy, was I wrong! It is every bit as good and then some.

The story of the fall of Anne Boleyn is a familiar one and Hilary Mantel handled it beautifully. I particularly liked the way that Anne faded away during the course of the book, becoming less prominent as her demise drew nearer. By the time she was executed she was a mere phantom in the novel.

What I love about Hilary Mantel's writing is the detail. You can sense the research that has gone into each episode, every nuance of the Tudor court rings true. Her spare use of words at times allows the reader to use their imagination to the fullest, yet she knows when to fill in more detail. For example, there is a scene where Jane Seymour and her sister are trying a different headdress on in preparation for her re-appearance at court; this scene is filled with delightful details about the fashion and the relationship between the sisters, it is glorious to read.

Thomas Cromwell continues to fascinate through the novel; at times complex and inscrutable, then charming and disarmingly open. I am so looking forward to reading the final part in the trilogy and watching his start fade, as we know it must.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

52 words in 52 weeks - second installment

The Badly Timed Trump

'I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.'
He lifted my veil, tears in his eyes. Leaned in, eyes tightly closed.
It had been the perfect day, traditional yet modern. Just as I had dreamed it as a child.
Then it happened; the badly timed trump. How embarrassing!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Very Superstitious

Archie crossed his fingers and hoped for the best. Friday the 13th wasn't the best day for an expedition like this but the date had not been of his choosing. He put his hat on and buttoned his coat. No point in putting it off any longer.
A black cat scurried from under the hedge and darted across the path. Archie jumped, dislodging his hat in the process.
'Just my luck,' Archie thought. 'As if I need anymore bad luck.'
He picked his hat up and hurried towards the station. A light rain began to fall and Archie cursed himself for having forgotten his umbrella. Thankfully there was time to pop into town and purchase a replacement.
Archie opened the shop door and entered. The smell of polish and tobacco made him feel uneasy. Trips to the shop for school uniform with his overbearing mother sprang to mind and he winced. Thankfully none of the same shop assistants worked here now so his embarrassments were hidden from everyone but himself. A young woman approached and Archie asked to see their selection of umbrellas. He blushed under her gaze and fought hard to suppress the stutter that surfaced when he spoke to attractive women. She pulled three umbrellas from beneath the counter and unbuttoned the fastening. Archie felt his heart quicken. Everything happened in slow motion and he was powerless to stop her. She shook the umbrella and reached inside. He watched a she opened it and twirled it before him. He turned and fled from the shop, bumping into a passing chimney sweep in his haste to escape.
The town clock chimed three and Archie picked up the pace. He had to make that train or he would miss his appointment. As he rounded the corner he saw the train pull into the station. He rushed into the ticket office and was dismayed to see a party of school children queuing for tickets. Thirteen of them for heaven's sake! Archie fretted for a moment then decided on an uncharacteristic course of action. He ran past the ticket office, ignoring the cries of the ticket seller and jumped on the train without a ticket. He pulled the carriage door shut, slumped into the scratchy seat and sighed deeply.
'Archie Brown! You rebel, you,' he thought. He giggled thinking about what his mother would have said. The train moved off and he stretched his legs out, enjoying having the compartment to himself.
He reached into his pocket and stroked the rabbit's foot that he always carried. It calmed him down and he stared out of the window as the countryside raced by and the rain scudded down the glass. The rhythm of the train swaying and rocking lulled Archie into a deep sleep. He dreamed about his mother, scolding him for travelling without a ticket while a mischief of magpies danced in the garden. Archie counted in his dream and woke with a start when he counted seven magpies.
''Seven for a secret, never to be told! What does that mean?' Archie thought. He opened the door to the corridor and wandered down the train to calm himself. He spotted the ticket inspector at the far end of the corridor so Archie ducked into the nearest compartment and pulled the blind down.
Archie backed into the compartment and felt something solid behind his foot. He pushed against it and it pushed back. Slowly he turned round and saw the top of a ladies hat at eye level. Looking down he saw an elderly lady standing behind him with an expression that reminded him of his grandmother. He was instantly seven years old, sent home from school and about to be told what a disappointment he was. Archie mumbled something apologetic and shuffled towards the door. As he reached for the handle the elderly lady inhaled and screamed.
Archie heard the pounding of feet as the guard ran down the corridor towards him. He scanned the compartment for an escape route and panicked when he realised there was nothing for it, he had to jump from the moving train. He raised his hat and pushed as gently as he could past the elderly lady. He felt the rap of a handbag against his back as he opened the train door. Cold, wet air rushed in and Archie puffed out as he grasped the edges of the door frame. Saying a quick prayer he jumped.

Archie opened his eyes and winced. Pain shot through his body and he sucked air into his lungs to take the edge of the pain. His fingers brushed against something smooth and cool. There was a sharp antiseptic smell in the air and he could hear people bustling around. He turned his head slowly and caught sight of a young woman dressed in blue.
'Miss? Please Miss, can you help me?' Archie managed to squeak loud enough for her to hear. His throat was so sore and dry he had difficulty speaking.
'Where am I? I remember a train but then it's all a little hazy.'
She placed a cool hand on his forehead and gently held his wrist.
'Don't fret, Mr Brown, you're quite safe here. You took a tumble from the train. And would you believe your luck? You tumbled into cargo heading for a local hotel. Smashed all the mirror into a thousand pieces. Hope you're not superstitious, that's a good few years bad luck!'
Archie felt hot, then cold, saw stars and passed out. The nurse tucked him safely beneath the linen sheets and continued on her ward round.

Thursday, 12 January 2017


Today is my friend Alison's birthday. We first met in 1977 at college and became friends. For 3 years we shared many of the major events in each other's lives - all the drama that young women go through when they are away from home and finding out who they are. I thought she was the coolest person I had ever met. She had an interesting family dynamic that made mine seem dull and boring. She had a big sister who was her best mate and I wished I had that bond with someone (I now have that with my sister but we hadn't got there at that time). She dressed in a very Bohemian way and had cascading red hair that I envied so much.

We shared so much back then. She introduced me to Leonard Cohen and roll up cigarettes. We watched black and white films together on Sunday afternoons with tea and cake. We talked books and boys and love and sex and music and everything in between. I enjoyed her company and missed her during holidays away from college. Alison was a huge part of my growing up from a child to a woman. And I'm sure I never thanked her for that.

All these years later and we don't see each other very often. Life and several children got in the way and although we kept in touch we drifted apart from the closeness of college. But this year we are planning to meet up and I am looking forward to that so much. I hope that our friendship is as strong as it ever was and we will slip back into the comfortable companionship that we had in the 70s. But there is the chance that we will have moved so far apart that our friendship is different.

So how do I feel about that?

I have been lucky that I have had several good friends through my life. I have never been someone with a wide circle of friends. At school I had 3 or 4 good friends, people I could turn to and rely on. The same was true at college, there were 4 or 5 good friends and more people who I was friendly with but wouldn't share everything with. Through the years I have been close to a few people but never had a large circle of friends. If pushed to name my best friend I would pick my sister. I know she would always have my back and give me sound advise. But having a best friend isn't as important now as it was when I was younger.

Friendship is a wonderful thing and good friends should be cherished. I have made some great online friends through various writing groups and hope to meet with some of them in real life. The support they give me is invaluable but as we have never met how do I know if they would be friends with me in real life? We might not get on at all!

I have read that we need friends for good mental health.  Studies show that healthy relationships make aging more enjoyable, lessen grief and  help you reach personal goals. Maintaining positive relationships should rank up there with healthy eating and exercise as a necessary investment in your health. In times of trouble it is friends and family that we turn to. Some things are easier to talk about with a friend rather than family as you may not want to burden or worry them. Friends are a great soundboard for ideas and dreams and a good friend won't judge you for the mad ideas you may have. I remember the blue sky thinking I did with Alison when we were at college, we were going to conquer the world. Even though we didn't, obviously, it was important to bounce those ideas around and dream about the possibilities. You can do that with a good friend.

So today I wish Alison a happy birthday, raise a glass in celebration of friendship and start planning to meet up with my 'old' friend this year.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Time for a good old-fashioned procrastinate

I don't like that moment in job interviews when the interviewer asks you about your talents or skills. I freeze and retreat into my shell muttering something about being a people-person or a good communicator. I've never felt I had any special skills or remarkable talents; I can't speak several languages; I don't play a musical instrument; I don't know how to juggle. So I never know what to say at that point and try to get the subject changed as soon as possible.

However since 'coming out' as a writer I have discovered my special talent.

No, not the ability to create stunning characters.
No, not a talent for plotting.
No, not the ability to craft beautiful descriptive sentences.

I have a talent for procrastination. I am really good at it and can do it for days on end. All I need for a good procrastinate is a project to work on. Something like a novel that needs working on, a short story to write for a prompt, a blog posts to schedule. Give me any of those and I will procrastinate for England.

It is amazing what I can find to do rather than sit down and write. There are lots of things to move from one place to another - not put away of course, just moved. Then later they can be moved back to their original spot. There is always a loud of laundry to be put on and supervised - not watched obsessively of course, just listened to from the sofa and gently monitored. There are endless cups of tea to be made - not drunk of course, just made and left to go cold on the table. There are daytime TV programmes to be sneered at - not watched of course, just monitored from the sofa with a cup of tea cooling in front of me. You see, I really have this talent nailed!

So why do I procrastinate so much when there is writing to be done? I think it's because I
I'm still not convinced that I am a writer. And I'm certainly not convinced that I'm any good at it. So I put it off and avoid it in case I should be found out as a fraud. If only I possessed that Protestant work ethic tat I remember reading about - you know, the one that just gets stuff done by knuckling down and working hard. I know I can when I have to but the truth is, most of the time I don't really have to. Nobody will die or starve if I don't. And with superb irony I've just stopped writing this post to play a game on my tablet!

I'm sure I get more done if I have a deadline to meet. Sadly I'm not at that point in my writing career to have major publishing houses setting a deadline for my next best seller so any deadline I have tends to be an I guess what I need to do is find deadlines for myself like committing to writing for a set submission date. But again there is the chance to procrastinate and miss that submission date with no real consequences. Maybe I have to embrace the procrastinating part of me and get on with it as best I can.

Any ideas how I can overcome my talent for procrastination?