Monthly Archives: May 2013

You can take the girl out of the cinders…..


Cinderella drops her head, a terrible combination of guilt, embarrassment and anger at having been caught, yet again.
The woman, girl really. standing in front of her, extends her hands,cupped together, skin chapped, reddened, palms calloused and Cinderella drops the tiny fireplace brush and pan into cupped palms.
She tries to smile at the girl, make some sort of connection, but the drawing room housemaid simply sniffs, turn on her heels and leaves the room.

Cinderella sinks miserably onto the pale yellow silk day bed and a fat tear falls onto the fabric, causing immediate water damage, damage that should, if it is to avoid leaving permanent marks, be dealt with now,but she remembers other attempts to enter the staff quarters in search of cleaning products and so she stays still, slumped in misery, watching as her tears mix with the coal dust on her face to leave sooty damp smudges on the bodice of her dress.

She tries hard to ignore the fireplace itself, tries to not see the fluff, the badly swept corners, the tiny bits of coal left behind when all it needed was a quick brush, a tidy up, a few seconds of spick and span-ness.

She sighs, this is not how she thought it would be, back in the day, when it was all about the dancing and the parties and the shoes and the dress and him, of course, the prince and happy ever after.

She got swept up in it all, the fairy tale ending and yes, there was pleasure in beating her step sisters, coming out on top, but no-one told her about the boredom, the empty days, the nothing to do and so much time to do it in.

There are so many servants and all of them charged with her well being and it seems, personally offended if she tries to do anything for her-self.
So, someone dresses her, someone else undresses her, there is a maid whose only job is to care for her clothes, someone else to brush her hair, even the tiny lap dog is not really hers to care for, there is a boy who walks and groom the pet and hands it her only when it is spotless and be- ribboned.

More and more, Cinderella finds herself harking back to the days before all of this, the days when the kitchen was full of noise and warmth and conversation and laughter, her and cook, stealing the best slices of meat before the plate was sent upstairs for the family, the cook impersonating the step sisters, getting their voices just right and both sitting at the end of a day, hot milk and the sense of work well done.

Cinderella remembers the boy, Buttons, flirting across the wash tub, eyes on her, even when she only owned one dress and laughing and the pleasure of a stolen kiss or a stolen apple.

She remembers the work, knows that she is mis-remembering it, cutting out the days when she ached, when she was tired, cold, when the step sisters teased her, when she felt so alone, dozing next to the fireplace, waiting for something to happen.
But the work had it’s own rythmn, it’s own pleasures, doing something right, keeping the dirt and dust at bay.

This is not what she expected, not what she hoped for, all the time ago, when the clock struck 12 and she ran as fast as she could but knew that she would not, could not out-run him, not at the end of the story.

She drags herself back into the present, into today and looks at herself in the mirror, her reflection is elegant, dressed in a fashionable pale green, her skin is white, hair gleams, brows carefully shaped, lips delicately colored.

She doesn’t recognize herself at all, the french clock chimes, 12 o clock.
In a few moments, someone will come and suggest that she changes her clothing so that she can join her husband, her prince, for lunch.

She wonders what would happen if she simply refused.

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Have you seen this girl ?- On the night bus 9 – part 2


and apologies to anyone who was waiting for the second section of this story, it’s taken a little while to pull it together

There’ll be a list she thinks, probably a chart, maps, color coding, there’s always been a fucking list and even as she thinks about it, thinks about her mother and her bloody lists, her hands curl into fists and she lights another cigarette, smokes it defiantly with the windows closed.

Jasmine knows that what she is doing is cruel, beyond cruel and knows that she can fix it with a simple phone call, but the longer this goes on, the harder it is to simply pick up the phone.

Every morning, she wakes up, determined that today she will do it and every day some memory of home and her mother and the lists and the planning and the organising, surfaces and she doesn’t make the call.

Jasmine remembers her childhood, school timetable on fridge, color coded by her mother so that PE kit, cooking equipment, violin were never forgotten. She can see the family calendar, blue for her brother, pink for her, green for Dad, lists of Brownies, Scouts, music lessons, ballet, Karate, over-time and darts matches. Each one of them reduced to a series of coloured blocks, a catologue of busyness.

Her brother, her father simply bowed down to the tyranny of the lists, put their dirty washing in the separate baskets ready for washing on Tuesdays, stripped their beds on Fridays, hung up their ironed clothes on Wednesday nights.

Her brother tidied his bedroom on Saturday afternoons, having dropped his Karate suit into the special wash basket reserved for sporting kit and then collected his football kit, clean, ironed on Sunday mornings.

Her father washed the car on Sundays, consulted the home maintenance, gardening and DIY lists according to the season, month and day and plans his free time accordingly.

Jasmine fought against it, tiny rebellions, dropped her shoes, unpaired, in the porch and came home one day to find her mother had color coded the shoe racks, little pink, blue and green stars to indicate the proper home for footwear.

She tried to leave things behind,but her mother,eyes truly in the back of her head, always quick to notice a forgotten bag, a cooking box pushed into the far corners of the back seat of the car, would call her back, eye brows raised and a sorrow-ful shake of the head and the errant object pressed firmly into her hands before a hasty exit and a quick reminder of the evenings’ schedule.

Holidays were the worst, planned months in advance, researched, googled, every day an agenda of activity, goals, targets.
Breakfast at 8am, in the hire car by 9 and always a bloody list.

Jasmines’ greatest victory to date, before this one, the really big one, was to fail her A levels so dramatically that her mothers’ lists of universities, even the bottom 5, the really only worth looking at in an emergency, became irrelevant and Jasmine, joyfully, went to work in a hairdressers that operates a no appointment system and took delight in telling her mother, every day, that she had no idea what time she would finish work and sometimes, it was even true.

Jasmine hasn’t run away, Jasmine isn’t lost, Jasmine is having a lovely time, living in a flat with the gay boys, watching the dirty dishes mount up, building a fully functioning floordrobe and not worrying when they run out of tea-spoons.

When Jasmine thinks about it, which she is training herself not to do, not too often, she imagines herself existing on many data bases, web sites, super lists. She can see her mother, lips pursed, pen in hand, ticking off another activity, another avenue to explore and her finger, close, so close to pressing the green call button, retreats and she puts it off for another day.

It was Greggs’ fault really, this, this thing she is doing. His niceness, his politeness to her mother. He fitted right in, invited round for tea, barbe-ques and she could feel her mother measuring him against some other list and watching him and her dad on ladder, de-gunking the guttering, second week in April and a neat green tick and the date in her mothers’ writing against the task.

And Jasmine could see the next list, the folder, venues, flowers, ring designers, mood boards and she in the middle of another mother project, so, when Liam and Dan said they had new jobs in London, needed a third person to share the flat, she made her own list – Reasons to stay and reasons to go and then she read it carefully, went home in her lunch break, Wednesday, optimum clean ironed clothes day and packed and left.

She still has the list, folded up very small, tucked in the back of her purse, she takes it out sometimes, reads it and nothing has changed.

She is seriously considering posting it to her mother, maybe writing it out more neatly first, perhaps some color coding.

She hopes her mother will understand.


What would Elvis do ? – On the night-bus – 10


More and more he finds himself turning to Elvis as a moral compass when he doesn’t know what to do, of course, you have to be careful about which Elvis, not the bloated Elvis, hepped on goof balls and deep fried foods, lost in the jungle room surrounded by yes men and half clad teenage girls, but the young Elvis, the boy who sang songs for his mother and called all men sir, even when he knew that he was the next big thing, in the days before any next big things.

That’s the Elvis he thinks about, tries to channel, he’s got the shy duck of the head, the eyes looking upward, the half smile off to a tee, somewhere between Princess Di and the King himself, but it’s good enough, gets him through the day or more accurately the night.

Afterwards, when the union and human resources, a woman who patted his arm and changed her nail color to match her outfits, said he didn’t have to go back to driving, said he could have an office job, take long term sick leave, he paused and Elvis spoke through him, the Elvis from Sun Studios, hands at his side, deferential and he said that he just wanted to get back to work, the ma’am slipped out, but he didn’t think that anyone in that small windowless room had noticed.

So, back to the night shift, back to the night buses, back, because it was May to those morning walks home, sun shining, streets quiet, the off time somewhere between the early hours and the work day, back to the mug of tea and the fried eggs, fried bread breakfast.

Fat Elvis, deep fried chicken, jelly donut Elvis.

He sleeps in the bedroom he has occupied all his life, feet can touch the wall at the end of his bed if he stretches just an inch or two, makes him feel like a giant, squashed into furniture just that little too small.
When his mum died, he planned to move into her bedroom, is still planning to, has got as far as bagging up her clothes, stripping the bed, picking up an Ikea catologue, circling potential new bed-side tables, but knows he is not yet ready.

Elvis’ mom, watching her son on stage, hearing the screams of girls as he thrusts and plunges, face shiny back then with the sheer joy of performance.

After breakfast, the best cigarette of the day, smoked, these days, in the kitchen, knot hovering on the fire escape, plate scraped, surfaces wiped, dutiful son Elvis, homeboy Elvis and then bed, sleep.

When he first went back, the other drivers were cautious, circled him carefully, looking out for signs of slippage, but time passed and other stuff happened, Salim helped a woman give birth to twins on the Crouch End bus, someone left a brief case with 3 grand in it on the Muswell Hill Circular and he was old news.

Elvis in Vegas, forgetting the words, stopping mid song to stare at the audience who have come to see someone who used to be big.

He misses the old Routemasters, the days when the driver lived in a cab, kept separate from the passengers and the buses that actually needed driving, huge heavy steering wheels, double declutching to change gear, the smell of diesel.
Now, he is there with the fares, takes the fares, polices the fares and the bus is all power steering and reversing sensors and his job is to be the face of the company.

Elvis, his uniform specially altered, tweaked, carefully choreographed photo shoots, you’re in the army now.

The night- bus is easy, once you get past the drunks and the lost and the ever so slightly mad, flat rate fare, no change and there is room to drive, roads not deserted, never deserted, but a hint of space, a possibility of movement and sometimes, out in the suburbs, out towards the end of the line, it feels like it’s just him and the bus and the night and he wonders what would happen if he just kept driving, but that’s a James Dean thought, not the moral compass for a man on the 47 night bus.

James Dean, Jimmy Dean, flashbulbs light up the found art that is car/tree/car and your body, scarred with cigarette burns and sly slicing to your arms and wrists.

Find a happy place, take a deep breath, centre yourself, this is the 47, heading out of town, he gets a grip, stares in the mirror, checks out the passengers, checks himself, find the happy place

Elvis cradles Priscilla in his arms, his hands are huge, designed to dig and cut and work and freed from all of that when he opened his mouth and sang gospel like a black boy.

Mostly, he doesn’t think about what happened, not in detail, not for long. He knows that it is becoming a depot tale, one of the dark ones, the stories that don’t get told in the pub.

He didn’t even notice her, why would he, small, skinny, hair pulled back in a straggly pony tail, he had lots of time to look at her, afterwards of course.
She sat on the back seat, curled up into the corner, he saw it on the CCTV, afterwards and quietly, somewhere between Oxford Street and the terminus, the far suburb, the streets where foxes with unblinking yellow eyes watched the bus go by, she slashed her wrists and bled to death, unnoticed, just a huddle of black clothes, a sleeper who has missed their stop.

He doesn’t think about her very often, drive the bus, move the people, watch the foxes, ask what would Elvis do?

Elvis, on that last night, hot southern night and the pills don’t work and the girls don’t work and the food won’t fill the hunger and you walk from room to room trying not to catch sight of yourself in mirrors and you wait for day to come.

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In lieu of any writing


As the writing pixie seems to be taking a little absence, worry not, ye lovers and likers of the little world that is rubies and duels, instead, we have been celebrating pet birthdays.
Poppy horse was 6 today and Awesome Ethel, born to a feral cat in our front garden, celebrated her first birthday.

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Have you seen this girl ? – On the night bus – 9 – part 1


It was Caroles’ idea really, when we all sat round the table one Sunday, everyone ignoring the empty place and her mother and I equally ignoring exactly how little Carole ate and how quickly her wine glass emptied and was re-filled.

Her tone was fast, persuasive, trying to convincer herself as well as us

“It makes sense” she said ” She loves dancing, clubbing, staying up late, she’s bound to catch those buses sometime or know people who catch them and besides”, she pauses, looks directly at me ” It will be safer, easier…..” there is another pause “Easier than walking the streets” and I know that she is remembering those first few desperate weeks when we walked, Kings Cross, Charing Cross, Eros, Soho, showing her Yr 11 school photo to anyone who would look.
It wasn’t the children that got to me, not really, it was the other adults, sensibly dressed in M&S fleeces, clutching their photos, their flyers, tracing the same routes, a small army of seekers.

I don’t know what Carole felt, we didn’t talk about feelings, kept focussed on tasks, lists, new ideas.

One night, 6 weeks after Jamine vanished, Derek and I went to the pub, sat, mostly in silence while he shredded beer mats into tiny pieces of lager fumed confetti and then he blurted out that Carole had moved out of their bedroom, was sleeping in Jasmines’ room and he didn’t know what to do and then we both sat in silence again and I bought us double whiskies and it helped, a bit.

So, we started making the trek into central London, Carole had done her homework, it reminded me of when she was revising for her O levels, colored revision charts on her bedroom wall, special exam pencil case and a plan, Caroles’ always had a plan and even now, when anyone else would fall apart, Carole has made another plan and just like when she was young, we are all part of it.

It was Carole who worked out the routes, found the most likely buses, Brixton, Hoxton, Spitafields, Camden, Soho, West End, plotted the best stops, the ones clustered around night clubs, trendy bars. She clung to the image of Jasmine, all dressed up on a Saturday night, off to the clubs in Leicester, her and her dizzy friends, laughingly trying to persuade Carole to come with them, offering to lend her clothes, make up.

“That’s what really hurts” said Carole, one afternoon when we were sitting, me, her mum and Carole, planning another night bus run ” There was nothing wrong, no signs, no warnings, nothing”, but one Friday, 9 months ago, Jasmine packed a bag, sent a text to her dad, not Carole, not her mum, saying she was going to visit friends in London for a few days and she would be back.

Except she wasn’t.

And we watched, her mum and me, we watched Carole move from annoyance to anger to fear to a terrible dread and then to frenzy, constant calls, texts, facebook, twitter and of course, the police.

And still Jasmine didn’t come home.

But now, we have the night bus project, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, midnight until 4, choose a route, pick up the flyers and off, it wasn’t what i was planning for my retirement and I look at Jeans’ face sometimes – pale, features pinched and I wonder how long we can do this for, but for now Carole is pushing us on, keeping everything up in the air.

The night bus was a new world to me, well to me and Jean both really. I think we had both forgotten that people were up that late, were so loud and so busy. At first we were a bit timid, but Carole just steam rollered on, made brave by desperation and we trailed in her wake, handed out flyers, talked to the not too drunk, not too mad, tried to make strangers care about someone they had never met.


home


This weeks’ writing task for my school based writing group – 300 words on the topic of lost, deserted, dangerous or abandoned places.

“But it wasn’t like that”, I want to shout out, set them straight, but when I look around everyone, all these strangers, are silent, intent on the performers moving along the corridor, so i duck my head down, start fiddling with the buttons on my winter coat.

“You don’t want to go to that” said Norah, when it was our turn to make the lunch, ” Might raise a lot of, you know, stuff”.
I wanted to argue with her, explain, but the words were sticky that day, so i ran the zip up and down on my cardigan, taking comfort in the feeling of wool against metal.

Tony brought it up at the weekly meeting, mentioned the poster in the community centre, asked how we were feeling about it and i wanted to say, excited, looking forward to going back, but you have to be careful how you answer those kind of questions, so i said nothing, just rolled the loose threads in my pockets into tiny soft balls.

So, Saturday, my library day, I take my books, but I don’t turn right at the end of the road, i turn left and i walk up the hill, heading towards the miles of metal railings and the big gates and when i get there, there’s a woman, she’s dressed as a nurse, but i know she’s not one, I can tell, but she’s smiling, so i smile too and there’s a little crowd, so i tuck myself at the back and we walk up the gravel drive towards the front doors.

Mr Carmichael would be cross, the gardens are all over-grown, flower beds choked with weeds, he was proud of the flowers, always made sure that the vases were full, cheered up the day rooms, some of the men helped him, we would watch them, know who was having a good day. Sometimes, at the Saturday night dances one of the men would have a flower in his pocket, give it to the woman he was dancing with and she would hide it in her locker until all the petals had fallen off.

I head towards the side door, the womans’ entrance, but two more of these people appear, they’re dressed as doctors, but they’re not, too young, not busy enough and now i know we’re were heading, the tunnel.

The tunnel was famous, a mile of corridors, everyone used it. It was where you saw stuff, heard stuff, caught up with gossip, news. Sometimes people just walked it or on bad days stood still, shrank against walls until someone came and took you back, put the kettle on.

And now we’re standing in a little huddle and in front of us are these young people and some are wearing strait jackets and pajamas and some are dressed as doctors and they’re screaming and shouting and now I really want to tell them, but I bite my cheek, hard enough to draw blood and I half close my eyes and i’d like to rock , but that’s attention seeking behavior, so i don’t.

I’m drifting now, remembering……………

Saturday dances, men one side of the room, women the other, piano and then later, years later, a record player and sometimes wanting to dance and sometimes feeling the music pour through your hands and sometimes it all being too much and being taken back for quiet time and the kettle on.

The laundry, warm, steamy, the smell of soap and hard work and the jokes and the nice Irish nurse, the one who would share her cigarettes.

Fish and chips on Friday and jam roly poly with custard.

The men had a barber, but the ladies had the WRVS women, shampoo and set, the smell of warm hair and setting lotion.

Concert parties, everyone, well everyone judged good enough to be an audience, in neat rows, nurse on the last seat, the one nearest the aisle, a good sing along and a nervous comedian.

And days when the sky seemed too near and you needed to hide under the blankets and someone would save a slice of cake from tea and leave it, quietly, on the bed-side locker.

The young people are writing on the floor now and there’s an abandoned wheelchair placed carefully halfway down the tunnel, everyone in the small audience is focused, all attention on the performers.
i take a deep breath, rub my fingers along the fabric of my good winter coat and quietly slip away.

It’s time to go home, to the home, I walk out of the main doors for the second time in my life and my feet make a soft crunching noise on the gravel path and i wonder what’s for tea.

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Just because….


Sometimes you need to break the text up a bit, so, purely for entertainment, here is the spotty baby horse today and modelling her very subtle new fly rug

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