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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.

 


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.

 

 


More and more I find myself thinking about Chi Chi the panda….part 1


The woman is being driven through London in a triumph spitfire in a heat wave in 1990 something.

The car is not hers.

The man is not her husband.

Even the year does not feel as though it will at any point be her year.

But the child, shoehorned into a space not really big enough for anything larger than an overnight bag, the child is most definitely hers.

And the child is the reason for this trip, this jaunt, the Sunday afternoon educational outing.

 

They are driving through London in a sports car to the Natural History Museum to look at dinosaurs and polar bears, to press buttons and read tiny labels. They are going to have fun.

The husband, the car, the A to Z and a possibly misjudged Vivienne Westwood frock are all on loan, borrowed from a friend who childless herself does not quite see that a museum in August may not be fun.

They may not have fun.

The man has never been to a museum with a child, he is not prepared for the whirlwind of movement, the restless gallop from thing to thing, the urgency of what’s next, what’s next.

The child sees the gift shop, latches onto a leopard head hat, furry,  fully lined, designed for winter days.

It is a ridiculous item on a day when the sun has made the leather seats of the sports car so hot that the mother has spent the whole drive lifting her thighs away from heat, hoping that her wriggling has no sexual message for this borrowed husband in this borrowed car.

It is her third public parenting fail of the day.

“You can have Coca Cola and cake ” she says

The tea room is in the basement, green tiled, cool, surprisingly deserted and there, by the entrance is a panda, a stuffed panda in a glass display case.

Even the child stops for a moment and then walks up to the case and looks carefully at what’s inside. A slightly discoloured stuffed animal, a wall of black and white photos and a small pyramid of less discoloured soft toys.

The woman joins her and then realises that this is not just a panda, this is Chi Chi the panda. This is the panda from her childhood, from her one visit to London zoo, her first memory of watching the grown up news.

She remembers her vigil at the concrete enclosure, with the concrete walls and in the middle a concrete shed and  how she and her brother and sister stared at the sheds’ partially open door, willing the bundle of black and white fur huddled in the furthest corner to come out, to make this standing in the cold actually worthwhile.

The man, the not husband is standing next to her, he shakes his head

“Sad” he says “Poor animal on her own for so many years”

He and the child head towards the counter, they are looking at cake, both eying up the very pink ones with many, many smarties on top.

When they leave the museum, the child is wearing the leopard head hat, growling and snarling at everyone they pass.

They drive away, to return the husband, the car, the A to Z and the frock to their rightful  owner.

The only evidence of the woman’s silent tears are 2 tiny water damage spots on the silk on the left sleeve of the borrowed dress.


Writing about not writing..


It’s been a while…..for a long time I was a writer, I wrote, I blogged, I performed, I belonged to writing groups and attended writing events, I was even a creative writing lead in a secondary school.

And then I stopped, stopped dead, stopped in my tracks.

No longer any sort of writer, not even really any sort of reader.

10 months of nothing.

10 months to slowly build myself back up.

10 months to get to a state where maybe, just maybe there is something to say, something to write, something to read.

Here goes.


NANOWRIMO …..2015…..The Street


INTRODUCTION.

This is the street and these are the people, lift the roof and what do you see ?
Two rows of houses, joined together, ninety eight houses in all.
Terraces, like a hundred, a thousand other streets, might not even be a real street, not even real houses, not even real stories.
This might be fictions, factions, documentary.
This might be about your street, might even be about my street, no street anywhere at all,
But,
Let’s walk down it, terraced houses, two and three bed roomed, it depends where you get your bathroom and the swankier ones, the ones at the better end, the three story/storey ones, the ones with hall ways and bigger gardens, the ones that feel just a little superior to those in the middle and infinitely superior to those at the bed end, the rough end of the street.
Don’t be fooled, this isn’t one street, one community,one set of storeys/stories, there is a lot more going on.
The far end of the street is the best end, near to the bakery, the tiny greengrocer and the nicer corner shop.
These are the houses with the carefully tended front gardens, terracotta pots, plum coloured gravel, farrow and ball slate grey and sage green front doors. These are the houses that have interesting blinds, bird feeders ( and the seeds get changed every day) and on Fridays the organic box company deliver to every other house at the better end of this street .

And then there is the middle, not near anything really, but more likely to get a parking space, not a thing to be mocked in a street where skills in parallel parking are simple survival, unless of course you live at the better end and travel on a cream coloured Vespa or a reproduction vintage cycle, all basket work and leather handle grips.
The middle has few families, mostly singletons one foot on the property ladder or and they are bitter, plant bitter herbs,park badly and don’t invite colleagues for wine or tea, the newly singletons, who with one bad decision, one tiny error, one solicitor not on the ball, have found themselves toppling off the property ladder, found the ladder turning into a snake and can find little comfort from reminding themselves that at least they don’t live at the bed end of the street.
The bad end, nearest to the nasty corner shop, the one with empty shelves, brightly, unlikely coloured alcopops and a roaring trade in dodgy cheap cigarettes and the dodgy cheap people who smoke them congregate there, staring out at anyone from anywhere else, but especially from the better end of their own street.
The bad end features front gardens used as extensions of houses where big dogs and small children vie for space on leather sofas, corners ripped, chewed cushions that sit half in tiny front gardens and half on pavements.
The furniture dares you to walk past, the children and the dogs star and the men smoke dodgy cheap fags and drink dodgy cheap lager and gather in groups around dodgy cheap cars.
Tyre kicking
Bonnets lifted
Starter motors hit with hammers and always a fag on in the corner of their mouths and mobile phones answered in voices that sound angry, even when, probably, they’re not.

It is the kind of street where many people don’t draw their curtains at night and you can walk, looking in, with no sense of apology or nosiness and at the bad end front doors are open until late at night, inviting your gaze and those better residents, their carefully pulled together living space, well, they want your attention, want you to notice that clever juxtaposition of vintage 70s GPlan and a rug they think is is an authentic Kelim from North Africa.
It isn’t by the way.

So, what are you expecting here?
Linked family sagas, holly oaks for the terraced generation, heart warming stories of community and growth. A novel with a geography and a touch of architecture at its centre…….

Not quite.
These are the storeys/stories of the vampire at no 84, the lady who killed herself at no 32, the self taught profiler at no 29 and the carpenter at no 17 who would look for love, if he had any idea where it might be hiding.

The cast includes an afghan hound trapped in the body of a French bulldog, the cats who know where the bodies are buried, the Muslim mother cooking food for children who stay out to late to eat and walk on parts from the man who can’t park, the neighbour who gave up eating, the woman who can’t throw anything away and more and more and more.

Keep reading.


And, so you’re back from outer space…….


After a prolonged and not completely voluntary absence, a combination of some serious health issues followed by the death of all the technology I own………rubiesandduels is BACK!

The blog will be having a much over-due makeover in the next couple of weeks, sharper images and easier navigation…..and a new 30 day writing challenge, so, new contents and  a new look.

 

Watch the skies…….