Monthly Archives: September 2018

shoe shopping with my mother – fragments


This is the shop where they buy the school shoes.

This is the mother who will pay for the school shoes.

This is the rocking horse which the children get to ride, but only after the shoes have been paid for.

And this is the daughter, body hunched into a seat which is too small, staring down at her feet which are far too big for her and for this shop.

This is the assistant, hair pulled back into a neat pony tail, smile just beginning to fracture as she carefully unpacks the 3 pairs of shoes from the startrite boxes.

And these are the shoes, sensible, well made brown lace up school shoes.

The daughter cannot even bring herself to look at them, if she looks at them, acknowledges them in any way, then she will have to try them on and if she does that, her mother will make a choice and then she will actually have to wear these shoes every single day and if that happens then she might, really might die.

The mother is wearing her best social smile, wishing that the assistant was older, a  mother, so that they could both raise their eyebrows, smile at each other rather than into some hideous middle distance and most importantly, she wishes that the assistant was old enough to simply bully her daughter into actually trying on the shoes , so that this can finish and they can leave.

The daughter has curled her feet under the chair, her feet, she is making it clear her feet  are not going to be involved in this and are not going to be cooperative.

These feet have been encased in Dunlop green flash tennis shoes since school broke up. The plimsols are now greying, the laces frayed and the big toe on her right foot has begun to poke through the fabric, a flash of badly chipped red nail varnish, the remnants of early holiday optimism.

This is a nice shoe shop, where nice children from the schools which most certainly do not have names that include the words secondary modern in them, come to buy their nice school shoes once they have bought their nice new uniform from the dept store that sells the uniforms for the better schools.

And there, piled up next to the mother are the bags from that department store, the shoe shop assistant can see the corner of a green blazer poking out from the largest bag.

The assistant is silent now, her smile gone, she is simply waiting, wondering which of them, the mother or the daughter, which of them will break first.

The silence seems to go on for ever, the assistant looks at the shoes, the mother looks at the daughter, the daughter looks down at her nails, only just visible from underneath the fraying cuffs of her brother’s 4th best cricket sweater.

Finally, the mother cracks

“We will take them in a seven please”

The daughter winces, can’t help herself, nobody, nobody in the world, no other girl aged 13 has size 7 feet, secretly, she is terrified that they will keep on growing forever, that eventually she will end up with a pair of feet so huge that they will dwarf the rest of her body, that she will be almost completely feet.

The assistant knows that this is all wrong, she knows that she should go get the special xray foot machine, she knows that both she and the mother should take turns to press down on the toes within the shoes to access growing room, she knows that the child should walk up and down on the carpeted floor to gauge comfort, but, instead she simply takes the box to the cash desk.

The mother, removing her purse from her handbag, follows her, takes care not to look back at the daughter.

And the daughter, the daughter stands, moves towards the rocking horse and then checks herself and walks instead to the shop door and stands, one hand on the door handle head bowed, waiting to leave.

 


hashtag me too


He said he liked my sweatshirt, said wonder woman was his favourite when he was a kid

hashtag me too

i see your compliment and raise you

This boy in my french class keeps staring at me

hashtag me too

i see your gaze and raise you

They made us read a book where a woman got hurt in olden times

I see your literature and raise you

When he reached across my desk to get a paper clip, his hands brushed my shoulder

hashtag me too

I see your uninvited touch and raise you

In the pub, with work friends, he made a joke about big breasted women

hashtag me too

I see your banter and raise you

He asked my friend to ask me if I fancied a drink sometime

hashtag me too

I see your assumptive behaviour and raise you

When we kissed, he put his tongue inside my mouth

hashtag me too

I see your boundary pushing and raise you

We got drunk, we had bad sex, in the morning, i wish we hadn’t

hashtag me too

I see your issues around consent and raise you

He told me that i had to chose, him or my friends

hashtag me too

I see his controlling behaviour and raise you

He told me it would really help my grades if i had 1-2-1 tutorials with him on a sunday morning at his house

hashtag me too

I see his abuse of power and raise you

He pushed me into  a doorway and told me he had a knife

hashtag me too

I see your stranger rape and raise you

My father only touched me when he was very drunk

hashtag me too

I see the child abuse and raise you

 

 


more and more i find myself thinking about chi chi the panda – part 2


It is the 1970s and the TV is black and white, there are colour TVs of course, but they still have a black and white one and sometimes that’s a problem.

Sometimes when other children come round, they notice, notice the TV, notice the holes in the carpet in the hallway, notice the saucepan instead of a kettle.

But pandas work well in black and white . For once, the children don’t feel as if they’re missing out on something, don’t feel as if they’re getting second best.

It is the first time that Claire can remember actually watching the grown up news, properly watching, not just waiting for it to finish and she sees the panda being carried down the steps of an aeroplane.

Weeks pass and the panda story grows, and Claire watches them all. These are the things that she learns about pandas;

They eat bamboo shoots, only bamboo, nothing else will do.

Chi Chi the panda has come all the way from China, she is a present from China.

Whenever she is on TV, there are always men in suits and the kind of hats her dad wears when he goes to work.

A famous architect has designed her new home at London Zoo.

London Zoo is in London which is a long way away from where they live.

For Christmas, Claire asks for a panda, really she wants Chi Chi or at least the chance to go all the way to London to see the real Chi Chi, but she does get a small fluffy black and white bear, who she calls Chi Chi and  plans makes a zoo home for her out of a cardboard box on the day after Boxing day when they have nothing special to do.

She also receives;

A famous five book

A selection box

A wade whimsy china rabbit

A new swimming costume

A charm for her charm bracelet, she has nine now and wears the bracelet all day on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day evening, when the adults are opening a bottle of wine and all the nice quality street have been eaten, she lies quietly on her bed and strokes the bear’s soft fur and whispers her name out loud

Chi Chi

Chi Chi

Chi Chi

 

 


The house of dust ….2


Once upon a time, in the house of dust, there lived a boy and his mother.

But then, back then, the house was just a house and the mother was a woman and almost, sometimes, a wife.

And if you stood in the garden and looked over the roofs you could see into the school playground and sometimes,the mother, the woman, the almost wife would stand there and watch, trying to see the boy in the playground.

She was never sure if this watching was a good thing or a bad thing and she never told the boy that she watched.

She was never sure if that  was a good or a bad thing.

But mostly, she stood in her own bedroom, waiting and watching. Her eyes travelling along the cul de sac and onto the main road that led  past the school and into the town.

In those days, those once upon a time days ,there was no phone, no inter-connectedness, so  there was only waiting and watching, playing those tricksy  games, trying to fool the fates

” If I see a lorry on the main road, he will definitely come today”

“If I walk downstairs and refuse to look out of the window, he will come just when I’m not looking”

” If I say, very loudly, I’m going to bake an apple pie, he will be here to eat it this evening ”

And sometimes, just often enough to make the watching and the waiting not an act of madness, she would see him, see him turn into the cul de sac, suitcase in each hand, his pace slowing as he reached the garden gate, him trying not to look annoyed as the gate squeaked, needing oiling, still hanging on one hinge.

And once she saw him, she wanted to run out of the house, leap on him, smother him with kisses, but, in the cul de sac it was the 1950s, it was still the 1950s into the 60s and even the 70s and her neighbors  already watched her watching and she knew  that the boy played alone in the playground, walked to and from the school behind the gaggle of children from all the other houses and so, she waited behind the front door, counted to 10 before she moved down the hallway, trying to look as if she had been disturbed in the middle of some housewifely task.

And when the man, the father , the almost husband was there, she watched the boy, watching him, waiting. The boy drawn even further into himself, sometimes, when she stood in the kitchen at night, watching the man standing at the very edge of the garden, smoking into the darkness, she would see the boy, back against the fence staring at the father, the man, but, all her attention needed to be on the man, all her attention needed to will him, this time , to stay.

Sometimes, she wondered what the boy saw, wondered what he read in the man’s angry gestures, the cigarette thrown into the bushes, stub glowing red for a second or two before the damp leaves extinguished it, the slamming of doors, the silent eating of indifferently cooked mince.

She wondered what the boy learnt as she watched him, watching the man, the father, the almost husband and sometimes she wanted to ask him, but, there was really no space between when the man was there and when he was gone, she drifted back into her own waiting and watching and the moment was gone.

Eventually, the man, the father, the almost husband stopped coming at all and the boy became taller, almost a man himself and she found herself watching for him.

She found herself standing at the bedroom window, neck craned to catch the first glimpse of him as he turned into the cul de sac, his brief case always in his left hand, his pace slowing as he reached where the garden gate used to be, stepped over the rotting wood and took the front door key from under the broken flower pot.

One day, when she was standing, watching and waiting, she almost didn’t recognise this almost stranger, almost man walking towards the house.

She wonders what he remembers of the father and starts another round of waiting. 

The house slips further into becoming the house of dust.


The house of dust…..1


Once upon a time there was a boy and he lived at the house of dust, but that was then and it wasn’t the house of dust, not yet, just a house where a boy lived, in a house where, if you stood in the garden, you could see the school.

The boy was never sure if this was a good or a bad thing.

And in the house, which wasn’t yet the house of dust, lived the boy, the mother and sometime, but not always, the father.

And the boy was never sure of this was a good thing or a bad thing.

When the father was there the boy would watch and wait, wait for the father to go away, because that’s what men did, they went away and he knew that when he was a man, he would go away too, do the thing that men do.

And he would watch, watch for the signs the mother never seemed to see. The father standing in the garden, a woodbine in his mouth, looking over the rooftops to the main road, the father in the kitchen, pushing the mound of washing up away to find a clean cup to make a single cup of tea, the father, his pockets jingling with change, walking to the phone box next to the school and then one day when the boy came home it would just be the boy and the mother again and the house would move   closer to becoming the house of dust.

The mother would cry and he would stare at her, not knowing what to say, a

part of him wishing that he was enough, even while he held the secret of his own future going away close to his chest.

And sometime later, the father would come again until one day, he stopped coming, although the mother continued to wait, continued to stand at her bedroom window, continued to talk about him as if he had simply popped out for a few moments and would be back in time for tea.

The house began to slide, to find its true nature and the boy became taller, older, almost a man and he waited, waited to become a man, waited to leave and all the time, the mother waited too.

The mother and the boy, both playing a waiting game……..

 

To be continued.

 


Buying shoes your mother wouldn’t like….number 1


This is the third time today that they have almost made it inside the shop, but, at the last minute, when Karen’s hand is actually on the door handle, Alison loses her nerve and veers left, pretends to be looking into the window of Head in the Clouds, the hippie shop next door.

Karen sighs very quietly, this is their second visit into Norwich in a month, the bus fares eating into her precious boots fund and each time, Alison has bottled it and the best they have managed is a burger on a plate at the Wimpy near the bus station while looking very hard for the rough boys that Alison’s mother says go to places like that.

Alison is not exactly a friend, but, in a small village in the long summer holiday, you do the best you can and Alison is the best that Karen can do.

Alison is not a friend and definitely not a punk, not even a punk like Karen, the kind of punk who lives in a village called Catton and whose dad is a dentist and whose mum tuts when Pan’s People dance on Top of the Pops.

Alison is not a friend, but, she does have some definite advantages that make her useful to know, Alison’s mum is a forgetful smoker, often opening more than one packet of Rothmans, making theft and the beginnings of a smoking habit just so easy and there’s an unlocked drinks cabinet and best of all, a guest bedroom, where nobody ever goes.

Karen has taken to hiding the stuff, the punk stuff there. The stuff she doesn’t want to have to discuss with her own mother.

So far, the punk stuff consists of ;

2 CND badges

A pair of neon pink socks

A black suit jacket stolen from the Brownies jumble sale

And best of all, the sleeve almost exactly the same colour as the socks, her only punk album, The sex pistols. It’s never been played, neither of them have a record player,  but, over this summer, they have sat together, Karen and Alison, not really friends, drinking Campari from mugs and while Alison reads the problem pages in Jackie outloud, Karen hugs the album to her chest and they both laugh when any of the problems are about S E X.

On the bus from Catton, Karen has done her best to punk up, spiking her hair with soap, using the bus window as a mirror to apply black eye liner and sticking a row of safety pins to the lapel of her jacket.

And now they are outside the shop and this time they are going inside and bloody not really a friend Alison isn’t going to ruin it, not this time.

Karen grabs Alison’s hand, pulls her back and they tumble into Andy’s records, part record shop, part punk hangout and right at the back, so that you have to walk past the scary punk girls on the sofa, who sit, day after day, smoking and definitely Not Going To School, right at the back, are the clothes and shoes.

Alison stands close to the door, her hand is searching for the handle as if she might at any moment simply turn and flee, but Karen has waited too long for this, too much babysitting, too many strawberries picked, too many 50ps lifted from her mother’s purse.

She heads straight towards the black and yellow boxes and there they are, 18 hole black Doctor Martin boots.

They are the punkiest things she has ever seen and she waits for one of the girls on the sofa to stub out her cigarette, stand up and then stand quite still, just to make sure that Karen can take in her complete punk perfection ;

Tartan bondage trousers

Bleached white blond hair

A safety pin as an earring

Black lipstick

And on her feet, exactly the same boots that Karen is gently stroking, 18 hole black DMs.

After all the weeks of build up, the buying is almost an anticlimax, almost the same as buying any other shoes and ten minutes later, the Indian leather purse on a thong around her neck is completely empty and she and Alison are sitting on a bench outside the pub where the art school students drink and Karen is putting on her first pair of DMs.

The boots are heavy, rigid, lacing them up takes so long that Alison becomes twitchy, wants to get moving, is prepared to sacrifice a mooch around Chelsea Girl just so that they can go home now.

Karen and Alison walk towards the bus station, not really friends, just making the best of what’s available and at every shop window Karen stares at her reflection.

The boots are already rubbing, hurting her heels and ankles but that seems right, fitting, part of making a punk identity.

On the bus that stops everywhere between the city and the village, Karen laboriously unties the laces and looks at her white school socks, stained pink where the boots have already rubbed flesh red raw.

 

 


It’s a new category darling


I’ve asked women I know only via a social media group to send me photos of themselves, clothes they love, snapshot sentences about their relationships with fashion.

These will be the starting point for a collection of fiction, prose poetry and other stuff.

Strike a pose.

 

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