NANOWRIMO 2014….day 20…….day 20- a bowling medal awarded in Shanghai to the military wives bNanowrimo day 20- a bowling medal awarded in Shanghai to the military wives bowling club. Circa 1958.


day 20- a bowling medal awarded in Shanghai to the military wives ten  pin bowling team.

The big drawer in the pine dresser is where the lost and found objects finally come to rest, it’s the last port of call, the final desperate search, hands moving crab like through the detritus of decades, too scared to actually look because that will mean an admission that the lost thing is actually, in fact, truly lost.

Those frantic searches are the worst, they are one step away from despair, an act undertaken only to delay the inevitable admission that the passport, the spare car key, the only charger that fits the only phone that her aged aunt will or even can use is lost and normally those searches end with the searchee slumped over the table, forehead pressed against a wood knot, leaving behind a a skin tattoo of shame and loss and emptiness.

But, there are other searches, far more pleasurable, having the flavour of treasure hunts, hide and seek and sun blackened maps showing exactly where X marks the spot.

These searches often happen on wet days, cold days and most memorably on those stolen, bonus ball, can’t be legislated for….snow days.
Snow days when even the quality of the light is different, when sounds are muffled and there is a strange public sense to the day, families out in open spaces at other times, out of routine and rhythm, conversations, glances, shared snacks and hot drinks at least while the snow falls.

And after the outside, there is hot chocolate and dripping wellies and mittens drying on radiators and then the treasure cupboard, the magic drawer has its place and time.

She can remember warm chubby hands reaching inside the deep drawers and pulling out items that she cannot remember or even imagine her having placed there, is not even actually convinced that anyone in the family has ever put them there.

There seems to be sentient life within the piece of furniture, she can almost imagine it sucking in random objects from the ether or perhaps becoming a lost luggage place for all those things that don’t have a proper home, a place to call their own and are doomed to wander from bus stop to cupboard under the stairs to over full recycling boxes or to tiny cramped corners in the back of pantries.

But today is not a a snow day, just a non magical grey November day, too early for dragging out the Christmas tree, far too late to,light the candles in the pumpkin head.
The girls, in a rare spirit of togetherness have gone shopping, allegedly Christmas gift shopping, but, she knows from past experience, they will instead buy more clothes they don’t need and will, as usual, come to her in the last week before the holidays, plead poverty and ask her, yet again, to pay for the Christmas presents that they will wrap, admittedly beautifully and place under the tree.

She is getting better at weekends, rarely if ever crawls back to bed or hides under a duvet on the sofa. Organisation, she has discovered, is the key, pre-planning, making arrangements, having a to-do list are the weapons against misery and bone aching sadness.

So, on Friday evenings, she makes a weekend list, something social, something pampering or fun and at least one time consuming and useful household task.
This weekend her list read
Fri pm – book group – take olives and feta cheese
Sat am- hair cut and colour 12.30 meet Harriet and Suzie for lunch
Sun am – plant out spring bulbs
Sun afternoon – clean out the flotsam and jetsam drawers.

Which is why, having happily put red splashy ticks against the shopping list of busy making, she makes a giant sized cup of tea, has a guilt free raid of the biscuit tin and settles down to finally, properly sort out the drawers of stuff.

The big drawer in the pine dresser is where the lost and found objects finally come to rest, it’s the last port of call, the final desperate search, hands moving crab like through the detritus of decades, too scared to actually look because that will mean an admission that the lost thing is actually, in fact, truly lost.

Those frantic searches are the worst, they are one step away from despair, an act undertaken only to delay the inevitable admission that the passport, the spare car key, the only charger that fits the only phone that her aged aunt will or even can use is lost and normally those searches end with the searchee slumped over the table, forehead pressed against a wood knot, leaving behind a a skin tattoo of shame and loss and emptiness.

But, there are other searches, far more pleasurable, having the flavour of treasure hunts, hide and seek and sun blackened maps showing exactly where X marks the spot.

These searches often happen on wet days, cold days and most memorably on those stolen, bonus ball, can’t be legislated for….snow days.
Snow days when even the quality of the light is different, when sounds are muffled and there is a strange public sense to the day, families out in open spaces at other times, out of routine and rhythm, conversations, glances, shared snacks and hot drinks at least while the snow falls.

And after the outside, there is hot chocolate and dripping wellies and mittens drying on radiators and then the treasure cupboard, the magic drawer has its place and time.

She can remember warm chubby hands reaching inside the deep drawers and pulling out items that she cannot remember or even imagine her having placed there, is not even actually convinced that anyone in the family has ever put them there.

There seems to be sentient life within the piece of furniture, she can almost imagine it sucking in random objects from the ether or perhaps becoming a lost luggage place for all those things that don’t have a proper home, a place to call their own and are doomed to wander from bus stop to cupboard under the stairs to over full recycling boxes or to tiny cramped corners in the back of pantries.

But today is not a a snow day, just a non magical grey November day, too early for dragging out the Christmas tree, far too late to,light the candles in the pumpkin head.
The girls, in a rare spirit of togetherness have gone shopping, allegedly Christmas gift shopping, but, she knows from past experience, they will instead buy more clothes they don’t need and will, as usual, come to her in the last week before the holidays, plead poverty and ask her, yet again, to pay for the Christmas presents that they will wrap, admittedly beautifully and place under the tree.

She is getting better at weekends, rarely if ever crawls back to bed or hides under a duvet on the sofa. Organisation, she has discovered, is the key, pre-planning, making arrangements, having a to-do list are the weapons against misery and bone aching sadness.

So, on Friday evenings, she makes a weekend list, something social, something pampering or fun and at least one time consuming and useful household task.
This weekend her list read
Fri pm – book group – take olives and feta cheese
Sat am- hair cut and colour 12.30 meet Harriet and Suzie for lunch
Sun am – plant out spring bulbs
Sun afternoon – clean out the flotsam and jetsam drawers.

Which is why, having happily put red splashy ticks against the shopping list of busy making, she makes a giant sized cup of tea, has a guilt free raid of the biscuit tin and settles down to finally, properly sort out the drawers of stuff.


Nanowrimo 2014……day 19 An elderly plush velvet tiger, missing one eye and wearing a green leather cat collar. Circa 1962.


Nanowrimo 2014……day 19

An elderly plush velvet tiger, missing one eye and wearing a green leather cat collar. Circa 1962.

When she cannot sleep or is scared that the bog monster will creep along the corridor because she didn’t get back to bed before the sound of the toilet flushing stopped or when she can hear the TV turned up extra loud and mummy and daddy are shouting, but in the strange way, like a really angry loud whisper, then she sucks Spottys’ ear.

She’s not meant to anymore, mummy says its babyish and people who go to school are too grown up to suck a cuddly toy, but she doesn’t care, his soft velvet ears, damp and warm and slightly frayed where she has chewed on them over the years Feel so good and as she sucks, she gently strokes her nose and feels herself falling back into sleep, safe from the shouting and the bog monster And even the lepers who live under the bed.

Sometimes it is silence that wakes her up, no TV, no voices, even the fridge that hums 2 notes over and over again seems quiet and for a split second, before she remembers that she is a big girl now, she wonders if she is all alone, if the lepers have finally crept out from underneath her bed, despite her booby traps of dolls shoes and pencils and half used up crayons, and have finally made it downstairs to do whatever lepers who live under the bed do when they finally break free.

She can feel a sob building in her chest and she tries to push it back, but, it’s too late and too quiet and the sound escapes, a wail that fills her head with noise
” Mummy…….mummy……mummy”

While her hands stretch out desperately seeking the comfort of Spottys’ velvet body……but she cannot find him and for a minute imagines him lost forever, dragged away by the lepers under the bed.

” mummy…….mummy…….mummy……”

But it’s daddy who comes, eyes half closed, hair sticking up everywhere and she is enveloped in that completely smell that is daddy and home and safety and as she sobs her sense of loss, of panic into his chest, she is snuffling at his neck, the sobs beginning to die away and then, like a miracle, Spotty is pushed into her arms and she is holding onto him as tightly as she can, while her father turns and goes away and once he is gone, she picks at the fraying fabric on the Tigers’ left ear with the very edges of her remaining front tooth and falls asleep.


Nanowrimo 2014…..day 18…A scarecrow, fashioned from broom handles, hessian, straw and a grey charcoal suit, circa 1973.


NANOWRIMO day……

A scarecrow, fashioned from broom handles, hessian, straw and a grey charcoal suit, circa 1973.

Years later, on holiday in New England, with just the first child, the second one not yet planned, they, the picture perfect british family come across the picture perfect New England town and are just in time for the annual scarecrow festival.

Every house, it seems, has some form of cutesey, chintzy, gingham clad, broom handle skeleton, faces from the famous, the benign to the malevolent, even primitive, some harking back to another time when the straw men stood sentinel in fields, guarding the crops.

They walk around the neat streets, eat scarecrow shaped gingerbread, buy a gingerbread fridge magnet and agonise over over-priced hand crafted scarecrow dolls, she is secretly delighted when her husband, the holder of holiday money, decides that they are too expensive, too twee, not what their daughter needs at all.

She is back on the windswept Norfolk coast, the family caravan, buffeted by storms, baking hot whenever, if ever, the sun shone and prone to leaks, usually just above her pull out bed.

They holiday here, 3 and 4 and even 5 times a year, the car carefully packed, the caravan checked over, her mother simply transporting her domestic life into a smaller, less convenient, more time consuming shape.
And her father, holding the fort at home, somehow held up as bravely soldiering on without the women.
It was only years later that she realised that her father had managed to construct a summer life of solitary masculinity where no one asked wheat he had done, where food could be eaten in any room and where nobody interrupted the Saturday litany of the draws and wins and losses and points.

Their holidays, their female shaped days had a rhythm and routine all their own, the beach, the little shops, a day in Cromer and later as the caravan park moved up in the world, the pool, freezing in June and soupy by August and the club house for cola in real glass bottles and bags of cheese and onion crisps.

And they had their walks, on days, when even the most stoic, the most barricaded behind windbreakers and esconced in anoraks admitted that it wasn’t a beach day.

Her mothers’ walks tended towards the suburban, peering into the big houses,the burgeoning antique shops, the careful choosing of an ice cream parlour, a tea shop, even once, daringly, a wooden bench outside a pub, where throwing caution to the wind and without even her mothers’ assessment of the toilets before deciding to order food, they ate fish and chips and she, her fingers still vinegary, buried her face into a knickerbocker glory bigger than her face while her mother had a second half of lager shandy.

Her favourite walks were wilder, she would always choose cliff tops and beaches and those flat open fields which seemed to fall into a distant horizon, but she was easily swayed by the promise of horses, donkeys or goats, so there was a compromise walk…..the farm with the donkeys.

Over the years, as her legs got longer and the walks got shorter, they completed the donkey farm walk so often that they became, not friendly, but on nodding terms with the couple who lived there, who actually owned the 3 moth eaten donkeys.

When she first met them, all of them, donkeys and humans seemed impossibly ancient, moving with that slow care of the venerable who need to conserve energy, aiming for a marathon, not a sprint.
The donkeys press velvety noses against the fence, pull back lips to expose huge yellowed teeth, but they take the stale bread, the bruised apples, the past their best carrots carefully, gently and often stay close for a few moments after they have eaten, while she breathes in their musky scent, rubs her fingers against their soft hair and wants to tell them everything that is going on in her heart.

The scarecrow stands in the top of the hill, close to the walkers gate and stile which leads them back downwards towards the coast and through a small copse of stunted trees and springy turf.

They always stop and look at him, her mother calls out a cheery hello, has even been known to readjust his scarf, replace his faded sou’wester on his hessian head, but the girl looks away, keep her head down or fixes her gaze on the sea and the safety of the little beige caravan.

She is convinced that behind the hessian is another face, sometimes in the winter, even when the coast is far away, his face, his real face creeps into her dreams, leaving her in a wet and tangled mess, tiptoeing shamefacedly into her parents’ bedroom and her mothers’ side of the bed.

She knows that if he ever catches her eye, she will be forced to look at him, to see his unveiling, his true self and that will be more than she can ever cope with.

The scarecrows outfits change over the years, as clothes get damaged by the winter gales, the spring rain and the occasional blistering sun.
He has worn a black raincoat, an ancient cracked Barbour, one summer, unexpectedly, he sported a pair of bright red velvet trousers and she and her mother sometimes wonder what his outfit will be this year.

The donkeys get older, go down from 3 to 2, but still carry a hint of carpet, a vague, but not unpleasant mustiness.

The couple get a little older, a little stiffer, he, always wearing the same shiny, worn at the knees charcoal grey suit, moves a little less, but the relationship of nods, chatter about the weather, a brown face, impossibly lined, leaning towards her, asking about school.

And then one June, when she has begun to suspect that there might be more to both holidays and their weeks long absences from home , when they walk, she some way in front of her mother as she is taller now, faster, the farm is changed.

There are no donkeys, no gentle huffs and puffs of breath across the fence and the old man is not there, not seated on the wooden bench outside the front door, chickens scratching around his feet.

He has become such a fixture, simply part of the landscape, as unchanging as the pattern of fields that they both, mother and daughter, stop and stare into the garden, waiting for him to appear from some corner, but nothing happens and finally, her mother laughs self consciously and walks on, assuming that her daughter will catch up.

They start the climb up the hill and it feels tough, leg achingly tough as it always does at the start of their summer caravan time. The girl knows that in 2 or 3 weeks, she will be fitted, browner and this will be able to run up towards the stile and then downwards into the partial shade of the tiny woods.

But today, she is focussed on the climb, head down, breath ragged, uneven and her mother is silent although the girl doesn’t know, not then, not till much, much later , exactly why.

So, when they come across the scarecrow, both of them are surprised, almost as if they have never seen him before and it takes a moment of two before they notice his new outfit.

A charcoal grey suit, worn at the knees, the fabric shiny with age and the arms flapping empty, his straw hands somehow lost since they last climbed this hill.

The mother stops, covers her mouth with one hand and stares,but says nothing, but it is the girl who fill the hillside, the field, even the path back to the coast with noise, a scream that goes on and on. A sound that continues even when her mother shakes her, drags her over the stile and towards the woods and the little path and then the girl pulls free and begins to run, her breath too short now to hold a scream, just a keening, a wailing that somehow seems even louder.

The girl keeps running, looses her footing, struggles up and moves further away from her mother and away from the scarecrow, her face turned away, eyes half closed, the mantra, the chant running through her head, matching the pace of her pounding feet.

Don’t look back
Don’t look back
Don’t look back

Because she knows, with a absolute cold certainty that the scarecrows face, the true face under the hessian cover, can finally be seen and it is the face of the farmer, his eyes burning into her back.

ThIs picture, the running child, the mother too far away to help and behind all of that, the scarecrow, suit flapping in the cold summer wind, empty sleeves twisting round to grab and clutch, becomes her recurring nightmare. The nightmare that always wakes her, breath gasping, the sense of running down a hill so strong that she almost falls in the bed.

The first time she ever sleeps with the man who will eventually be and then un-be her husband, she has the dream and he stays awake all night holding her and waiting for the drawn.


Nanowrimo 2014….day 17. NANOWRIMO day ….. A boxed game of 9 men’s Morris….complete and unused but with no instructions.


NANOWRIMO day …..
A boxed game of 9 men’s Morris….complete and unused but with no instructions.

The box is beautiful, wooden, with sun faded paint, a group of children around a table with the game unpacked, assembled, complete and they too are assembled, complete, faces alight with pleasure, even joy.
Surely no box of wooden counters, no matter how well made, how retro, how satisfying to hold, to move from hand to hand, surely they cannot, must not, will not make anyone quite that happy, even these 1940s children, cosy in hand knitted cardigans, stomachs full of snook and spam and swede use to sweeten ersatz egg in ersatz cake.
Only the crockery is real, pre war, saved, wrapped in crumpled newspapers and wool, before wool became too precious, needed to be unpicked, remade, make do and mend. Plates of pink and gold, delicate as conch shells.
Still beautiful even with a slab of utility baking, food to fill gaps, nothing more and nothing less, but the plates bring a reminder of another time, another place, another type of tea, the ghost of cucumber sandwiches, crustless, so thin that they resemble filigree Of bread, lace sandwiches, food for no one who has ever counted spoons of jam, measured slices of seed cake to ensure fairness for all.
This is not good for those who go hungry.

And this game belongs to a different time, a time of less expectation, lower bars, making do when making do means far more than off cuts and darning and smiling when christmas turns into a paper back, a puffin classic, a hoarded Orange, 2 pairs of socks turned perfectly and wrapped in pale pink tissue paper, scent fighting for dominance, a bar of lavender soap and of course,the board game, but this gift is for them all, shared out,a quarter each and the phrase ” it’s for sharing, for all of you” hangs like a bauble over this Christmas morning.

The box lives in the hallway cupboard, underneath, far underneath other games, other pastimes, other ways to crawl through a wet Sunday or a bug ridden bedroom with coughs and sneezes and a weakness,an uncommon agreeable-ness allowing her to open the cupboard and arrive., laden with boxes and boards.

” Why are they called board games???”
Her children have learnt to ask
” Because they’re boring of course “

And she smiles, feels her moment of stiff upper lip and doing our bit and not being negative slip away…..the careless talk of early 21st century life costing that image on the boxes, happy children, happy, grateful children, happy, grateful children entranced by dice and counters and little mice and the buzzy buzz of an operation going wrong.

And she wonders where she went wrong, when her children became strangers, angry, intolerant lodgers who pay no rent, but pay instead in slamming
Front doors in the dead of night
Back doors so that secret cigarettes can be smoked, if secret means in full view of the kitchen sink and then the butts pushed casually into her winter flowering jasmine
Bathroom doors, with a finality that says no one is getting in here anytime soon and of course ….bedroom doors.
A nuanced slamming here,tone is all and she has learnt to read each sign, each portent as carefully as any single handed yachtsman reads the clouds and sky,
Single handedly now, she navigates the the straits and shoals of home life, sometimes daring to map but usually settling for
“Here be dragons”.

She strokes the counters from the game, sets out the board, moves the dice and not for the first time wonders if she could simply make up her own rules, impose them on other players, win because only she really knows what’s going on.

A guaranteed victory.

She puts the game away in its proper place, underneath the chess, the draughts and the ludo box nibbled by mice in a long ago house.

Games, she thinks, games we play and the rules we set.


NANOWRIMO 2014- day 16- The blue leather bible continued


A leather bound bible …..continued.

Whenever they leave his family home, laden after a visit with home made jams and cakes and flowers, she feels a weight drop from her as they get nearer and nearer to home.
It as if the weight of history in his every family possession has been pushing down on her. Nothing comes without a narrative, a back story, a reference to somebody or something or somewhere that she knows nothing about.
She longs for objects that have no history and often finds herself in children’s clothes shops, picking up armful of girls dresses and tights and t shirts that smell of unused fabric and haven’t been bent or twisted to the shape of a long procession of other children.
The girls don’t need these clothes, but their lightness, their simplicity….just a t shirt, just a head band make her feel As light and clean and straightforward as the pile of rustling garments too.

It drives Nick mad, this constant buying of new when old, well made, serviceable exists and can be easily excavated from home, dusted down and used again by a new generation.
He sees her shopping, her interest in the new, the shiny as a little common, a little suburban, a little off.
She only knows this because of one row, one terrible row, when words were thrown like hand grenades and where ever after there remains a bad taste, a sense of language that can never be undone, sentences that cannot be put back, a Pandora’s box of hurt and truth, honesty and lies.

Over the years, objects travel from his parents home to theirs, luckily, at least for her, the differing scale of the houses means that no one seriously expects them to give a good home to furniture so vast that it would be a simple choice of furniture in and the family out, perhaps living in a tent in the garden, but small objects slip in when she’s not looking, a carved mirror, an ancient, but of course, still functioning weighing scale, lamp shades, pictures, boxes of photographs, a rocking horse, this at least had a shabby beauty and is much loved by the girls until sadly outgrown and shipped off to younger, smaller cousins.

She begins to understand that she is far more her mothers’ daughter than she would like to believe, that she has her mothers’ instinctive dislike of the old, the hand me down. For her husband these are heirlooms, proof of his family’s’ longevity, their sense of continuing generation after generation, but for her they smack of making do, of hard times, of taking what you’re given and being grateful.

The shabby, serviceable, sensible stuff reminds her of those tough years after college, still living in terrible houses, still eating potato curry and learning to live with challenging wallpaper, while trying to ignore the voices that whisper how everyone else is doing so much better, is exhibiting, has an agent, is selling, is up for an award…..sneaky voices late at night or in that time between day and night when everything seems so much worse.

The bible is something else though.
It belongs to her, has been passed onto her and there is an expectation that she will conform, will pass it on to her first born daughter and so on and so on.

The bible has only come to her by default, given her husbands’ family and their inability to produce enough female heirs to ensure that the blue leather bible owned by a great, great, great, great grandmother and always passed onto the firstborn daughter.

Her mother in law presents it to her one wet November evening, trying for but missing light, not a big deal, nothing important.
Just a silly family superstition, but she can hear the tone, the need to keep this line going and as she has already produced one girl for the family and is busy cooking another one, she guesses that her mother in law feels secure enough to pass the book on now.

She has never really managed to find a home for the bible, it isn’t grand enough, quite old enough to be displayed, but is clearly too old to be left to fight for survival on the plain wooden shelves that fill every alcove in this final house and besides this book needs the gravitas of a library, a long line of leather bound worthies, not really ever expected to be read but simply there, in its right and proper place.

The bible has lived in boxes, in the back of cupboards, was part of an installation piece in the late 90s, has been photographed and used to dress an small shaker style table and more recently has ended up at the bottom of her bedside table, not quite forgotten, but part of the detritus of a home and a marriage.

It only leaves this resting place on Wednesday night because she is knocked sidewards by a migraine, can hardly see when desperately searching by touch for painkillers, she manages to empty the bedside table onto the floor and leaves a muddle of books and tissues and lip sticks and random sheet of paper and unfortunately no pain killers at all, but, surfacing the next day, she sees the bible and because her eyes are sharp after the darkness of her head ache, she notices properly, for the first time, the subtlety of the binding, the attractiveness of the shade of blue.

She looks at the book more carefully, notes the tiny crabbed notes all over the text, the yellowed slips of paper that threaten to fall out.

It is she decides a beautiful shade of blue, she will have another nap and once she had fully recovered from this migraine, she will take the bible to B&Q and get them to paint match the shade, it will , she decides look just fantastic on an accent wall.


NANOWRIMO day 13/14/15 A bible circa 1756, with a blue leather binding somewhat foxed.


 

The problem, she realises, some years later, was the uniform of studied non conformity that everyone wore.
All the boys dressed in ancient suits, hairy tweed jackets, unpartnered trousers, legs taken in so that the DMs at the bottom seemed even larger, even heavier.
Everyone, boys and girls wore old cardigans, collarless white linen shirts, old men hats and in the case of the more eagle eyed girls, tea dresses and cocktail gowns, worn defiantly with big boots and too much eyeliner.

She assumed that he, like all the others scavenged for clothes at jumble sales, charity shops and those strange old fashioned men’s clothes shops that only seemed to exist in medium sized northern towns.

Of course now, she knows that his clothes were simply picked up from the boots cupboard or from one of the many un-emptied wardrobes in unused rooms. His tweed hunting jacket was in fact his hunting jacket, still carrying the musky, dusty aroma of horses and sweat and dried mud. It seemed to fit better than many of the other boys,but she put this down to luck or being a very standard size or simply looking good in tweed.

He never mentioned anything about his home, but then again they were all in the business of re-invention, emerging, slightly grubby butterflies from the chrysalis of suburbia.
Names were changed, an art school nickname often following them into adulthood and even late Middle age, spellings altered, the use of I’s and E’s in place of their old pedestrian identities.

What mattered was the work, oh and the sex and the beer, girls like her working hard to develop a taste or at least tolerance for half pints of Adnams Ale, sipped slowly to make it last, and of course the gossip….who’s doing who, whose work is derivative, who got drunk and so on and so on.
In a college where the land ends and there is only sky and sea and quietly suspicious locals, gossip and beer and the work is what keeps them going, that and huge pots of lentil curry and tuna bake and tea brewed in brown pots and drunk with the obligatory roll up or for those who need to try a little harder, french cigarettes in soft crumpled packs.

The mingled smell of tobacco and Patouchli and slightly damp wool are the scents of her late teenage, early adulthood. A potpourri no one ever smells any more, but she know that if she did she would transported back, immediately, to that time and place.

Their relationship starts in the same understated way that so many others did, a gentle curve from being a bit drunk or a bit stoned, a casual night or two together and then more nights, the borrowing of a shirt, a toothbrush, moving onto the casually draped arms on shoulders, the sharing of one chair in the decrepit student canteen and finally a simple understanding of the fact . They are a couple, although no one ever used that word, but there is shorthand, public acceptance.
Other students looking for one or other of them is likely to ask the nearest half and invitations are given to one of them, sure that it will be passed on.

Looking back now, she wonders if they would have fallen into this, this easy relationship, a play at the world of grown up, Sunday mornings in bed with the big newspapers and at her insistence, the first of a line of cats and kittens who all jump into the nest of newsprint and all suck and bite at her head, but never his, if she had known then that his clothes, his easy manners, the slight hint of out door – ness Indicated more than studied performance, a knowing construction of an art school persona.

If she had known Then that everything about him was Both more and less than it appeared, she sometimes wonders if she would be sitting at this table now, staring into a cooling cup of coffee, the shabby leather bible in front of her.
A reminder of the distance between them, the otherness which at times seemed charming, even a little sexy, although at the end it was just another thing, more stuff for her to beat herself up with.

At college, he seemed like everyone else, everyone was broke, everyone lived in terrible shared houses, even his name was just like all the other boys
“Nick…..Nicko”, it was only on the first visit to his home, his family that she found out that everyone there called him Nicky or in his mothers’ case ” Nicky darling ” as if the two words simply slotted together to make one perfect name.

They hitched, in those days when people were less afraid, where a journey might be become an adventure and where, with the arrogance or optimism of youth, they simply believed that good things should happen to them and unsurprisingly, often they did.

So, of course, it made perfect sense for the last lorry driver to feed them cigarettes and chocolate and drive 20 miles out of his way to drop them in the Yorkshire village where Nicks’ family lived or as he explained when they jumped from the cab, a flurry of bags and byes, quite near the village, a short walk.

She assumed a farmhouse, a cottage, even one of those strange 1930s villas you see sometimes, dropped into a rural landscape as if scooped up, from suburbia.

He turns down a long gravel drive, past the gate house, which she almost steps towards and onwards, around a bend and then there it is. A very, very large house, the sort of house she has only visited in the past to drink weak tea and nibble on homemade scones, the sort of house her mother looks at and expresses a gleeful dismay about the cost of heating it, the sort of house that is absolutely outside of anything in her life, at least to,date.

There is a pause while they both stand for a minute in silence, she’s silent because she wants to, needs to look cool, unimpressed, used to this sort of thing and he’s silent because this moment is what he always does after an absence, drops the person he has become, at boarding school and college and art school and becomes simply himself.
She can almost feel him become taller, more straight backed, his ancient Barbour jacket seeming to wrap itself around him like a second skin.

In a novel, his family would have greeted her frostily, judged her, made her feel small and suburban, but the reality was more complex and in the end far more difficult to live with.

His father, the most silent man she had ever met, simply accepted her into the landscape she now has squatting rights on, the commoner allowed grazing rights, but always mindful of the temporary nature of this possession. He rarely spoke to her, but he rarely ever spoke to anyone, blood relative or not but instead moderated his pace to fit in with hers when over the years the evening dog walk became part of their ritual together.

His mother adored her, simply adored her, another woman in a sea of sons and men and when later, much later, she produced only granddaughters, this adoration was cast in bronze, in steel, in iron.
They were the women, standing facing the tide of males, palms outwards, defying the sea or was that the semen to come any nearer.

She glances down at the bible again, just one Of the many markerS of the difference, of distance between them.
She has tried so hard over the years to appreciate his family’s possessions, their patina of age, of quality which means that they never really wear out, never really look tired but proclaim quietly, gracefully that
” we belong to the kind of family who know what crockery their serious, studious ancestors used, because they are still using us…and We expect to be used for many years to come”
She tries to understand, to see the beauty, the value, the history in their everyday objects, the pram used by the last 3 generations may have fitted Happily into a hallway large enough to park cars in, but she knows it will fill, in fact overfill their terraced house, a malevolent burgundy toad of a pram.
So even though she knows it causes a Discreet shudder, hints of half spoken phrases, Modern, Jerry built, not made to last….she ignores them all and buys a defiantly contemporary pram, all collapsible edges and clip on extras.

And later, when she is regularly showered with bags of knitted baby clothes, worn not just by her husband and his brothers, but also she suspects his father and a clutch of uncles, nephews and other assorted male relatives, she becomes Adept at smiling sweetly and then always managing to leave the bags behind.

To be continued.


NANOWRIMO 2014- day . A neon pink hair slide in the shape of a Minnie Mouse bow – circa


NANOWRIMO…day 12. A neon pink plastic hair clip in the shape of a Minnie Mouse bow circa 1993

She can remember exactly when and why they bought the bow
A tantrum brewing in the Disney store
Feet starting to drag on the princess pink carpet
The wail like a klaxon cutting across the small world tune which plays over and over again
” its a small world after all, it’s a small world …..”

Voice drowning out the other, the nicer children, thE children who stand entranced by the larger than life-size Bella and the Beast, hands reaching out to touch the primrose yellow dress, the wooden fangs, caught in a permanent grimace of pain and loss

” I wanna Princess, I wanna princess, I wanna princess”

And all around the nicer type of parents, mothers of Emily and Poppy and Hugo and James and Beatrice, smile a secret shared smile, but still she feel the judgement.
The
” why can’t people control their children any more”
The
” my child would never do that “
The
“If she was mine, I’d give her a good sharp slap”
The
” I hate working with horrible bratty children and their horrible, horrible parents “

The noise is getting louder, the child has taken to the carpet, like a very angry snow angel she lies on her back, kicks her arms and legs about and screams
” I wanna princess, I wanna it now”

And of course her husband has moved away, distanced himself from the reality of parenting, not his cosy pre christmas vision, admiring the Santa Claus, hands wrapped around mugs of steaming hot chocolate, a bag of holly and mistletoe to finish their traditional Christmas tree. This is not what he ordered and he simply stands, a careful 4 feet away, expecting his wife to make this better, to restore the Xmas status quo.

Her daughter arrived in a hurry, 2 weeks early and ever since has put energy, focus, a level of determination into getting away from her mother.
Creating herself
Dressed in blue, greens, reds, supplied with garages and wooden cars and teeny tiny real metal tools, she quickly turned her back on this egalitarian, gender less world and demanded only clothes that were pink or at a push a delicate lilac, acquired Barbies and Sindys and their minuscule plastic shoes , the ones that always made the Hoover emit that strange smell of burning, even when she swears to herself there are no pink, doll sized stilettos to be seen.
She doesn’t like to think how, examine the actual,mechanics of how her daughter has collected her sizeable clutch of posing, pouting, super-breasted bonsai women.
She suspects toddler terrorism, cat burglary. An extortion ring, but doesn’t ask and her daughter doesn’t tell.

The child runs a guerrilla campaign, sneaking bows and ribbons, tiny neon teddies, t shirts ablaze with sequins and glitter into a nest of girlyness she hides under her bed. Presents come from grandparents, absent aunts and of course her own mother, under the guise of kindness, being a “good grandparent”. She has provided the pink plastic wand, the fairy wings, the sleeping beauty dress and the most special, the most iconic, the very best, at least in the eyes of the tiny embryo wanna be Barbie standing, twirling and spinning while she keep one careful eye on her reflection in the mirror, preparing, even though she doesn’t know it, her selfie face, her social media persons.
As the mother stands in the Disney Store, while her daughters’ gets louder, impossibly louder, she has at least a micro happy thought, a realisation that it could be even worse, her daughter could be wearing those bloody awful pink shoes.

She looks around for her husband, for some moral and in fact physical back up, but he has moved further away, turned his back, hunched his shoulders to distance himself from the scene in front of them.

The noise is not stopping and the glances are less conspiratorial now, more openly critical.
The other customers really want this to stop.
Now.

She cannot, will not buy the desperately desired princess dress up costume, but some compromise Needs to be made, before and she has to admit that this would not be the worst thing that could happen, they are asked to leave, put on some Disney list that will bar them from any entry to any element of the Magic Kingdom and then she sees it
A large neon pink plastic bow, a barrette she thinks, remembering the neater girls at primary school, the girls whose socks matched their hair ribbons, who kept pink flavoured lip balm in their pencil cases. They wore these , it was one of the many marks of difference, but now is not the time to revisit that old tale.

She takes A deep breath and grabs the bow and then, in the same tentative way one might offer a biscuit to an unknown, uncertain dog.

The child stops crying and the mother can feel the collective out breath of relief from all the other customers.

The child looks at the bow and then at the parent, calculating, making a decision, weighing up the possibility of being able to continue crying and screaming and the likelihood of actually getting the pink and white nylon ball gown and then decides.

Her hand grabs the bow and in a single split second, her face splits, not with the tears and noise that has filled the shop with sound that seems to have gone on forever, but with a smile that lights up everything around them and says, sweetly, nicely
” thank you mummy, it’s beautiful”

There are shoulders, backs stiff with disapproval as they join the queue to pay, she has, she knows,been marked out as weak mother, a pushover, but the silence is so wonderful that she really doesn’t care.

Outside the shop,her husband is waiting, looking away from them , his attention on the line of other children waiting patiently to see Santa and his elves.

The child skips, clutching the red and yellow carrier bag, occasionally stopping to look inside and stroke the pink barrette.


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