Tag Archives: childhood

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.


Nanowrimo day 11. A silver clarinet and a grade 8 certificate circa 1978.


Many students who enter these exams have taken a course of music lessons with a private tutor, although some are self-taught. Often this is a way for children to receive music training over and above what is provided at their usual place of learning, although private lessons are also popular with adults who turn to music later in life.

 

Music exams are set in both theory and practical aspects. The theory examinations are taken by pupils of all instruments and typically cover areas such as musical notation, construction of scales and composition.

 

The practical exams concentrate on the particular instrument favoured by the pupil, for example piano, guitar or flute. They cover elements such as playing set pieces, technical work including scales, sight reading, aural, musical knowledge and improvisation.

 

In the United Kingdom the music exams are graded from 1 to 8, with Grade 1 being the entry level, and Grade 8 being the standard required for entry to higher study in a music college. Additionally, Trinity College London offers an Initial level qualification at Entry Level 3 of the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework, and ABRSM offer a Prep Test qualification as a useful preparation before the Grade 1 exam. LCM offers two Step exams at this level and VCM offers four Introductory grades aimed at those in the first 18 months of learning.

 

The clarinet used to live in its little leather case on a shelf in her teenage years bedroom, nestled next to her unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, Her thesaurus and from age 15 onwards a beautifully colour coded revision guide, which often took so long to execute that there was little time left actual revision, but the ritual of preparation was all, stood in for actual revision, made her feel as if she was taking some control.

But the clarinet was different, there was no need to put rules of practise up, no need to set a timetable, playing the clarinet was itself enough reward.

She could and would play for hours, her body twisting around the notes, moving at one with the sounds, lost in the music.

 

And of course, with this level of commitment came exam success, lots of success, grade 1,2,3 on so on and so on. The certificates carefully framed, climbing up the wall, notes and scales nailed, techniques captured, a personal history of skill, of practise, of achievement.

On occasions, she found her mother simply standing there, a duster in hand, looking up at the framed music grades, her lips moving while she read the words, her fingers pressed against the glass.

They would smile, a little awkwardly and then her mother would go for cliché 27

” well, this isn’t getting anything done ”

Cliche 35

” here I am wool gathering away”

Cliche 58

” heavens, I really need to get on”

Sometimes the girl wonders what would happen if she put out a hand, stopped her mother leaving, halted the constant cycle of cleaning and cooking and clichés and asked her what she was actually thinking about when she stood looking up the proof of her daughters’ unexpected, unasked for musical prowess.

 

Over their evening meal she feels their eyes on her, her mum and dad, watching her carefully, hardly daring to breathe, the very look she will wear herself in the future, in her future as she stares at baby elephants and Komodo dragons and rare, rare butterflies on expensive, glossy as the brochure holidays.

She knows her parents are confused by her, not the intelligence, they are, after all, perfectly smart people themselves with drive and ambition to see her better than them, more successful, a fuller life, but, it’s the music that puzzles them, not the music itself, they are children of the 50s and 60s, have bought LPs, been to concerts, have favourite musicians, it is the actual making of music, the idea that someone, their daughter, could learn to make tunes, string notes together, look at a page of dots and dashes and decode them into the music they hear on TV adverts. This is what puzzles them, this is what seems so hard to understand, this is what makes them shakes their heads, wonder out loud where the talent came from.

 

She remembers her first music lessons, a 5-year-old who chose the clarinet on the basis that it had such a neat little case and was at a scale for her to manage and not feel dwarfed by.

Her mother was pleased, she had dreaded the violin, the screeching of strings in pain or a piano, a trombone or God forbid,  a harp. Items that would fill the house, not with sound but their very physicality, a harp would take over the sitting room,ma trombone would only be playable on the upstairs landing.

 

And of course, it is the era of James Galway, he of the golden flute, the catchy tunes, a clarinet isn’t  a flute, but it’s close enough and seems quiet ,containable, another tick in the box labelled ” stuff we do that our parents didn’t do with us”, alongside, ballet, swimming and Brownies.

 

At first she approached the clarinet, the weekly music lesson in the same slightly distracted but compliant way that she met every new activity her parents presented her with.

It’s not as if she actively disliked anything, but really she was perfectly happy drawing, painting, inventing complex social stories for her large box of plastic jungle and farm animals.

 

But, the clarinet is different, she quickly understands that this is a solitary skill, something she will always be able to turn to. It is not a secret, not really, but practise, repetition, scales played up and down hour after hour create a space which no one tries to fill with anything else and its only when she creates this space that she realised how desperately she wanted this secret, almost secret time.

 

And, it’s easy, the clarinet is not difficult. Something she would never admit to her parents or even the procession of music teachers she worked with over the years, making music, moving her fingers in the prescribed ways to create the notes is not hard.

Compared to her painting which never really feels under her control, even when she does exactly the same, day after day, there is no guarantee that the work will be the same, no guarantee that today she will be able to create what she managed to create yesterday.

 

She works her way through the grades, the music becomes more challenging, practise takes up more time, other children drop by the wayside, worn out by school and music and guides and fencing and drama club and….and…..and.

 

But she stayed with it, sailed through grades 6 and 7 and then she is facing grade 8, the final music exam, after this there is only real music, college, possibly a professional career.

Other people, parents, teachers, music teachers, youth orchestra leaders are keen, suggest several colleges that she could audition at, only she knew that she wouldn’t , couldn’t, shouldn’t.

 

Even at 17 or 18 she knew herself, knew that her nature was not completest, that in adult life she would drift, easily distracted, perennially enthusiast but often falling away.

But this, this solid achievement, grade 8 in the clarinet,  is proof that she can, in fact has, stuck with something, seen it out.

 

The clarinet stays with her, is sometimes played, but as an adult she has less need to create secret     and safe places to hide in and besides that, she knows that this achievement doesn’t really count, doesn’t really signify. It’s nothing compared to heroic and often failed battles to control paint, shade and line.

 

Music is simply about following rules and practicing until the rule becomes second nature, a collection of lucky genes, the right shaped fingers and lungs have allowed this to happen.

 

The clarinet mostly lives under her bed now, occasionally taken out when a guest remembers that she has musical talent, but generally it gathers dust, but cannot be thrown out.

 

The certificates, on the other hand, are filed carefully in the grey box of important stuff, the box she will rescue in the case of a sudden house fire.

 

She’s really not quite sure what this says about her and has decided that it’s simply part of her internal mapping, as little worth questioning as the geography of her home town.


NANOWRIMO Day 5 – the small wooden giraffe


Kenyan Wood carving

 Carving in wood is a traditional craft amongst the Wakamba people of Kenya. Some have emerged as true masters. We have selected the best. All our carved sculptures are signed by the artist. Expert packing and creating for shipment is free of charge.

 Don’t forget: should you require an item not already in our catalogue, we are happy to search out items on your behalf. Simply let us know your requirements and we will get straight onto it. Our customers have been suitably impressed when we’ve delivered the most obscure examples of African arts and crafts.

 

For years she hid the little giraffe away, at the back of her wardrobe, in the pockets of little worn best dresses and later, when she reads Sherlock Holmes, she discovers the notion of hiding in plain sight and the giraffe takes up permanent residence in a cluttered and disorganised box of other toy animals.

She tries not to notice it, has taught herself to look through it whenever, rarely, she needs to search for something, someone else in the small animal box.

Occasionally, accidentally, she picks it up and the waves of guilt and anxiety, as strong as the first day, when she ran upstairs, ignored her mothers’ shouted greeting and buried the giraffe deep under her mattress, heart pounding, mouth dry, run through her body, making her drop the wooden toy as if it is burning hot.

Although when she packs up her bags and boxes to move to Art School, she carefully packs the giraffe, even wraps it in a scrap of fabric to keep it safe on the carefully planned journey along the A47.

In the student bedroom, it lives on the window sill, next to a quickly discarded alarm clock, sometimes buried under a clutter of clothing, balanced precariously on piles of books she means to get around to reading, lying on its side when too large a movement from the bed causes the little toy to fall over.

The giraffe moves with her, from student halls to shared houses, to a brief spell in a rural squat and then on to slightly nicer and nicer houses that are really homes until now, it is here  in the house that she calls our home. The home where children are born, where builders are plied with tea and chocolate biscuits, where dinner parties evolve from giant bowls of pasta to homage to the blessed Jamie and Nigella and where stuff, pictures, furniture, quirkiness is chosen with care, deliberation to make a statement of taste, of belonging, an actual, not virtual, constantly changing status update.

The giraffe lives on the window sill of the window on the first floor landing now. It has lived there so long now that it has become almost invisible. Her eyes glide over it, not seeing, not even noticing the signs of wear and damage that it carries now. A missing ear where it was thrown against a wall in some moment of early 20 angst, a burn mark to its side from the days when she and everyone she knew still smoked and it is in fact this sharp longing for a cigarette, something she thought long abandoned, which actually makes her really see the giraffe for the first time in years and even to pick it up and hold it in the palm of her hand.

The longing for a cigarette, although surprising is not completely unexpected. It is a conventional cliché and the whole evening has been one of cliché. The children sent to his mothers’ for the evening, the lack of lighting and bustle, the silence and then the sentences

“We need to talk……I need to talk…….It’s not you, it’ me…..”

 

And afterwards in the silent, empty house, as she prowls from room to room, longing for a cigarette, for anything to stop her screaming and smashing things. She knows, in the clichéd plan of survival, that her next step should be the phone call, the arrival of the gay best friend, the gin, the family sized bar of Dairy Milk, but instead, she finds herself standing staring out of the window, the wooden giraffe in her hand and she is immediately transported back to that summer, to that day of shame and its  little understood actions.

Looking back now, with decades to understand, she knows that the Wilkinsons were simply in the first wave of  a new sort of middle class to hit the suburbs. Conscious of design rather than durability, travelling abroad and not on package deals, allowing a degree of artistic untidiness to creep into their living room and of course stripping wood back to nudity, they seemed fantastically glamorous, almost other worldly and she was caught like a moth, returning again and again to the light of their home.

Her mother was suspicious, cautious, tried to rein in the friendship, but it was impossible to keep her away.

She remembers the girls’ first day at school, Lucy, in her class and her sister, Maisie, one year above them . It was their blondness that first attracted her, that almost white, sun lightened hair ( the result of 3 weeks of running wild on a Greek island, she later discovered) which fell down their backs in glorious wildness, no neat pig tails, plaits or french twists for  them. She wasn’t even sure if their hair had been combed that morning.

Walking home alone, a rite of passage which had only been granted this year after much deliberation and discussion on the possible risks and dangers, she saw the golden girls walking ahead of her and she simply joined them and when they turned into their front garden so did she and the friendship continued, until of course, it didn’t, as easily and naturally as that.

The 2 girls never questioned why she was their friend, they seemed happy to have here there, always agreeing to their plans, sharing her pocket-money, smuggling the forbidden Barbies and Sindys into their bedrooms for orgies of dressing and hair styling and in return they share their parents copy of the “Joy of Sex”,the 3 of them staring silently at the many,many illustrations.

This book simply makes their mother completely fascinating, she finds herself staring at her when they all sit around the scrubbed pine kitchen table, the mother smoking, using a saucer as an ashtray, drinking bitter smelling black coffee and offering the girls clumpy lumps of home-made flapjacks. The mother wears jeans and not just for gardening or heavy work, often has bare feet and on summer days, her breasts are almost visible under almost see through tops.

She cannot help but compare this woman to her own mother,  the mother who cooks the evening meals to a strict un-changing routine, roast of Sunday, chicken curry (with raisins) on a Monday, chops on a Tuesday, shepherds pie on a Wednesday……..Her mother who changes bedding on a Monday morning, always attends parents evenings, checks pockets before washing anything, keeps an up to date birthday book and guiltily feels dis-satisfaction, although she never dares to find the words, even in her own head, to actually articulate this dis-satisfaction.

She likes Lucy and Maises’ house, cannot help but notice the differences between the 2 homes and over a period of weeks, she begins to pop tiny things into her pockets, a glass marble from a large jar of them on the kitchen window sill, an empty packet of cigarettes, rescued from the waste paper bin, an odd earring, found on the bathroom floor.

These treasures and she is clear that they are treasures, are hidden in her bear shaped nightdress case, taken out late at night, stroked gently and then hidden away again.

She is careful to take things that have no real value, are really rubbish and unlikely to be missed and so she can, with a clear conscience, not call this theft, can square it with her own parents’  moral code, but then she sees the giraffe.

The giraffe is about 5 inches tall, carved from a single piece of wood, the grain in the wood used to suggest the dappling of the animals’ coat. It lives on the pale wood book shelves, staring at the space where in every other house on the avenue sits a television, with the 3 piece suite carefully arranged around it.

One afternoon, when they arrive home from school to find the mother halfway through an intense conversation and a bottle of red wine with 3 other women who look like they could be her sisters, the girls are dispatched to put some music on

“good and loud and leave the door open”

Maisie is allowed to touch the music centre and she simply replays the record which is still circling on the turntable, Joni Mitchell fills the house

“You pave paradise and put up a parking lot”

The girl picks up the wooden giraffe and wanders back into the kitchen, rubbing its soft wood back against her cheek.

The mother notices her and the giraffe and smiles, extends her hand and holds the giraffe for a moment, stroking its neck with one gentle finger and then asks the girl to put it back on the shelf. The girl turns away and out of the kitchen, but doesn’t go back into the sitting room where she can hear Lucy and Maisie singing along, badly, to Joni Mitchell and instead she opens the front door and runs as fast  she can back home, the giraffe clutched to her chest, heart pounding, feeling so evil that she cannot believe that people on the road are not able to see the badness inside her.

Lucy and Maisie are puzzled the next day, have brought her school bag, left in the tiled hallway yesterday, with them. She cannot look at them, can hardly speak to them and simply ignores them,day, after day, after day until they stop speaking to her.

 

And now, standing alone in this  too silent house, the giraffe in her palm, she understands that judgement has finally come. This, today, is her day of reckoning, her punishment. A long time coming, but finally here.

She puts the toy back on the window sill and walks slowly downstairs, wondering if she has the energy to make it as far as the late night cornershop to buy 20 Marlboro Lights.

 


NANOWRIMO 2014 – day 4. The black forest gateau


Black Forest gateau…..part 2.

 

The prawn cocktail comes in 3 identical glass bowls, scraps of prawn and a delicate soft pink dressing. The girl wonders if she can get away without eating the green bits, they look suspiciously like grass or weeds, perhaps they are decorative, not really meant to be eaten at all. She looks to her parents for guidance. Her mother has dipped the very end of her spoon into the sauce and the spoon is suspended between bowl and mouth, almost as if she has forgotten that she is actually eating.

Her father has finished his first glass of wine and is staring into the empty glass.

There is another pause and then when the weight of the silence becomes too much, the girl knows she must say something, do anything to rescue this evening. She starts to talk about school, describing the new french teacher, who is actually french and wears a different cardigan and matching tiny scarf every day.

Her parents pull themselves together, smile over her head and her mother slips the spoon into her mouth, chews carefully and nods

” so tasty, I wonder what they put into the sauce?”

 

Her Father refills both wine glasses and smiles, suddenly becoming completely himself again and her mother raises her glass

” we need to drink a toast, we need to wish your dad a happy birthday” and they do, wine glasses chinking against the thicker, more robust tumbler still half full of Pepsi.

 

The steaks when they arrive are huge, almost completely filling the plates, chips and peas pushed into the small remaining spaces. Her fathers’ garlic mushrooms are served separately, smelling not just of Sunday breakfasts, eggs, bacon, tomatoes, fried bread, but something extra, something unfamiliar, something foreign.

Her mother wrinkles up her nose, pushes the bowl away, will not try even one tiny mushroom, says how much she hates the smell of garlic, reminds him to clean his teeth the moment he gets home.

 

But the child is curious, begs her father for a taste and with that bite, that first taste of olive oil and garlic and some herb, her fate is sealed. She has tasted the foreign, the lightly exotic…and liked it.

 

The chips are different to home ones, thinner, crispier, they cry out to be eaten by fingers, but when she risks it, her mothers’ stare stops her hand before it reaches her mouth.

” you have a knife and a fork, use it, you don’t need to eat like a wild animal”

 

Even at 9 years old, the child knows that this is exaggeration, begins to suspect that there are foods that need to be eaten with fingers, begins to suspect that some foods may even need to be eaten with a degree of wildness, a hunger that can be openly expressed, but, she is a good child, a dutiful daughter and mumbles an apology and then carefully, deliberately harpoons each single chip onto her fork before eating them. They do not taste as good.

 

Her mother eats carefully, bite, put down cutlery, dab mouth, but her father has become expansive, even daring in his eating. He pours the garlic mushrooms over his steak and then, pulls a piece of the French stick from the bread basket and uses it to mop up the remaining garlic butter while refilling only his own wine glass.

 

The parents begin to talk, something about the garden, then a plan to replace a shelf in the sitting room, the child half listens, but bored, begins to look around the at the other diners and realises that they are all like her family.

Neat, tidy, voices slightly hushed, careful table manners and at least half a dozen other  almost bored children, some rocking back on their chairs,one boy, quietly and very neatly, lifting chips from his younger sisters’ plate.

 

The girl turns back to her own plate, remembers her fathers’ ruling about empty plates and with a sense of duty eats up all her peas, which are disappointingly exactly the same as the ones they have at home.

 

Her father finishes his plate, wipes his hands, removes the faint glisten of olive oil and smiles, the smile of a man satisfied. He widens his smile to include his wife and daughter and rubs his hands together

” So who fancies a bit of cake ?”

 

This is what the child has been waiting for, longing for, Black Forest gateau with extra cream.

 

The pudding.

 

It comes in huge white bowls, each wedge of cake floating in a lake of slightly fluffy white cream, with a scoop of fresh cherries balanced somewhere between the cake and the cream and as the waiters walk towards the table, the girl stands up. Her mother looks up and the girl smiles,a wide, confident happy smile and begins to sing

” happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday dear Daddy,

Happy birthday to you”

 

And as she sings, the other diners, noticing the child, her Laura Ashley summer dress, neat blue sandals and her voice, wavering with the strain of carrying this song all by herself.

They smile too and slowly, one, two, three voices at a time, they join in the singing, until, by the end of the final chorus, everyone is singing happy birthday to her father, even her mother and then, the waiters place her cake, her Black Forest gateau ( with extra cream) in front of her and she dips her spoon in and yes, it tastes exactly as good as she thought it would and for the first time in her life, but no the last, she begins to understand the power of food and wine and even Pepsi served with ice and a slice of lemon.


Chubby – Part 1


She remembers the first time she ever pulled her t-shirt down to cover her stomach…a new outfit, baby blue leggings, matching t-shirt with tiny pink flowers, she was pleased, had twirled to show off the shiny newness to her mother, her baby brother……but later…..at the park………..aware of a new feeling that she had no words for, she looked down in dismay at the rounded swell of her belly and tugged harder and harder to cover herself up and later still, trew the top into the far corner of her wardrobe and pulled out the hand me down hoody, passed on from a far older cousin.

She remembers her first book of calories – a free gift with Jackie or My Guy or Blue Jeans, carefully unpeeled from the front cover, trying not to tear Davids’ perfect smile. The book lived in her school bag, consulted daily, within 6 weeks, she had memorised the calorie value of everything she ate, might eat, could conceivably ever come into contact with. The book outlasted David and Bryan and even Donny.

She remembers the aching of her budding breasts, pads of fat on already padded flesh. She tried to disguise them from classmates, pulled her vest this way and that, learnt to hunch her shoulders, be the last to unpeel her sensible airtex top, undress under other clothes and prayed for a miracle, an over night sea change, back to what she used to be.

She remembers the agonies of saturday mornings, Bust Stop and Snob and Top Shop, she the designated holder of coats, grabber of hangars and all the while hoping against hope that she would find something, anything to fit, so that she too could walk along the high street, swinging the coveted new clothes bag, ready to dissect their purchases in the Wimpy bar, burgers eaten with a knife and fork, trying hard not to finish the food on other girls’ plates.

She remembers the phase “puppy fat”, forever confused in her mind with the Osmonds’ song

“This is not some puppy fat lalalalal”

Her mothers’ casual tone betrayed by tightened lips, a poorly held together sigh when she, starving, always starving, reached for another biscuit, another slice of bread.

She remembers another song

“Hey fatty boom, boom”.

The rough boys at the bus stop, the ones from the estate, the ones who went to the new comprehensive would sing it as she, easy to spot, green gaberdine, brown school bag, waited for the bus that went the other way.

She became expert at hiding in the shelter of the co-op, eyes peeled for the bus, ready for a split second dash across the road.

It didn’t always work – sometimes she got it wrong, missed the bus and then of course, it was far, far worse.

She remembers her mothers’ purse, blue leather, gold metal clasp, which had to be teased apart to avoid a tell-tale click. Then, hand in, grab loose change and jump away as if the purse itself was red-hot. Money hidden in her pencil-case or later still ,the special purse, the curse purse.

And after school, the walk down Bond Street, into the sweet shop.

Aztec bars

Star Bars

Spangles

White and brown jazzies

Pineapple chunks and acid drops.

Bags and wrappers jammed into her school mac pockets, hand, dip, reach, mouth and repeat and repeat and repeat.

Then rubbish dumped in the bin not near their house.

She remembers the family wedding. Her outfit, bought 8 weeks before, smocked top, blue Oxford bags and hessian heeled red wedge sandals….but somehow everything outgrown before the date and the loaned dress, mohair, pea green, a- line. The only thing her 30-year-old cousin had that fitted her and her mother fussing round, pulling the fabric, bright, brittle smile, the offer of a scarf to jazz it up and the overheard/half heard/half denied comment

“Perhaps big pants would help – flatten everything out”

She remembers starting to smoke – leaning against the chain link fence at the back of the tennis courts, she and Claire Allen, whose parents had got divorced and who had to eat 2 Sunday lunches every week.

Claire said that cigarettes killed your appetite, killed it stone dead and so she smoked and coughed and wheezed and walking home, afterwards, wondered if she felt  a little lighter, a little thinner.

She remembers school dinners, so easy in the junior school, dinner ladies who saw her hunger, relished in her appetite, happy to dish up seconds, even thirds, if no-one was looking. But now, in big school, it’s a different landscape, another country.

Girls who eat only yogurt, the rebel who has declared herself a vegetarian, the others, already thin, became masters of the re-arranged plate and she took to eating on her own, hands shielding her food, head down, load and leave.

She remembers the Christmas discos – her girls school bussed out into the Norfolk countryside to provide the female interest at a well-known boys school and how when the coach pulled in and the fuggy comfort of Charlie and Tramp and bubble gum lip gloss were swooped for the cold night air and the boys stood either side of the doors and when she and Claire – 2 dinners Claire – stepped down to a chorus of oinks and piggy noises and she knew they were trapped there until the coach came back and fumbled in her bag, fingers discovering Sobranie Cocktails and sugar mice.


Watching the swans with Shane McGowan – fragmentary writings


Years ago, my mother moved to Bray, a seaside town near Dublin and looked for a property to buy. My brother, always a man with grand designs at heart, discovered that the Martello Tower which guarded the harbour was for sale and campaigned, hard, for my mother to make it her [ and his] home.

Later still, I found out that the tower had been owned by a member of the U2 management team and loaned to Shane McGowan for  recovery and drying out.

My mother bought a bungalow.

 

I am standing with Shane, safe in the shadow of the Martello Tower, built to warn the invaders, the interlopers, that others might come, blown across the grey sea, with their own plans to take this poor land.

We are watching the swans, Children of Lir, huddled in the harbour, buffeted against the jetty. Their plumage, snow-white, bone white against the customary grey, brown of the Irish sea, interlopers and alongside them, other outsiders. The yachts, playthings of the playboys of the western world, or at least the western coasts.

These yachts belong somewhere else, somewhere with azure seas, skies that blend, fall from other shades of blue into the gentle swell, not this landscape of hard lines and cold breezes.

Shane discourses, poetry, womanizing, the arts of falconry and warfare.

And we walk in the footsteps of poets and warriors, taking the waters, but not the water of life because Shane is drying out, drying up, moving towards  the years of silence.

I learnt to swim in the other harbour, concrete wall built to trap the sea and in water so dark that we could not see the bottom and so we learnt to swim, a lesser terror than sinking into water we knew had no ending, no sanctuary  for feet, clenched in cold, searching out safe harbour.

We never expected to find this sea swimming pleasurable, water so cold it would

” knock the very breath out of ye”

and in homes where the threat to

“knock the very breath out of ye, see if i won’t”

was commonplace, the sea held no fear for us. The cold a rightful punishment for almost pleasure, our catechism re-inforced

“Who made the world?”

“God made the world”

I wonder what Shane looked at,that winter, when the sea and sky met, bands of grey and brown and white, dirty white, another shade of pale, a million miles from the plumage of those swans rocked against the winter waves.

I wonder if he looked out to sea or turned inward, inland.

Th Italian chipper, our reward, wrapped in cardigans and our anoraks, our knees and lips blued by over immersion in the sea.

The chips, our reward for childhood bravery, child stoicism, we ate them, huddled ourselves against the constant winds, hot, greasy, somehow more delicious the colder we are.

And then, we walk past the Amusement arcade, because nice children don’t go there, licking the tang of salt, sea salt, chip salt from our fingers as the purple fades from our knees, our lips.

I am standing in the shelter of the Martello Tower, taking refuge from a storm, one eye on the horizon, grey and brown and white.

Watching for interlopers.

 

 


The eternal, ever-giving, fun loving clowns…..at the end of the show.


This is the final part of the clowns sequence, I think there is perhaps another segment or two to put into the body of the work, but, the ending has been floating in my head for a few days now, so it’s been written out of time, rather like the clowns themselves.

Out of sight of the children, away from the crowd, the curious onlookers, the clowns’ shoulders slump, the clown dog paws at the legs of the biggest clown, cocks his head and finally, pulling out the biggest crowd pleaser, sits and begs, waiting to be picked up and carried back to the buff coloured bell tent. The tent is dusty, leaning into another broken wall,another ruined space.

The smallest clown stretches to his full height, his upturned palms almost, but not quite reaching to the biggest clowns shoulders and then drops his arms, lets his palms hit the floor outside the tent.

Today, the ground is dusty, dry, a few yellow rocks, yesterday, they walked, trudged up to their knees in deep clay mud, the day before that, on feet that felt every mile of their journey, the stepped over poppies and the remainder of long ignored wheat fields.

Inside the tent, there are 3 steamer trunks, faded blue leather, scuffed brass clasps,

Biggest
Smaller
Smallest

The 3 clowns move in economic unison, balletic exhaustion and each sits on his steamer trunk, while the clown dog jumps or falls to the ground and lies, belly to the air, panting quietly to himself.

There is nothing to say, just the ritual of putting away, packing the tent and moving on.

The biggest clown opens his trunk, removes a tiny jar of cold cream, the packaging worn, letters faded,
P…..something ….D and begins to rub the white cream into his face.

The smaller clown leans down and pulls at his bright red clown shoes, the feet that come out are small, prehensile toes, suddenly released, scratching into the dust at his feet.
The shoes, abandoned, lie next to him, waiting to jump and swoop and cartwheel again……later.

The smallest clown, the junior clown, bustles around the space, still in his stage persona, a little irritating, a little too busy, a little too much.
He pulls off his clown nose, gives his clown bow tie a gentle spin,checks the bulb of the water spraying rose and then is still, finally quiet.

The biggest clown delves into the trunk and pulls out a once gaudy scrap of fabric, the hint of what is left of an over used silk scarf, demoted from juggling to neckerchief and now finally, a rag to remove cold cream.

As he rubs, his own skin, greying, tired begins to appear from behind the white greasepaint, his less than impressive eyebrows, sandy rather than the definition of those painted on with thick black lines, emerge and his nose, surprisingly retroussé under the bright red bulbous nose, is a daily surprise even to himself.

The smaller clown is more careful, more precise, he uses a small mirror, dabs cream onto his face in neat blobs, blends them together, ghost skin, paler even then the moon white, lead white clown finish.

The smallest clown, spits onto the hem on his shirt, notices a little more fraying, a little more fading and then uses the almost damp shirt to rub, rub hard against his skin,feels the pull of the fabric against his nearly beard and spits on the hem again.

The three clowns group together
Biggest
Smaller
Smallest

And stare into the tiny, chipped mirror, their faces distorted by dust and decades of wear and tear on the glass.

Their reflections stare back at them, faces cleaned, almost cleaned of clown makeup, except of course for the row of tears, roughly drawn in thick black line, tracing a path from eye to chin.

The clowns have long since given up trying to remove these tears, in truth they hardly notice them anymore.

And then, with an economy of movement based on long, long practise, they pack away the tent and walk away, down the ruined road.
Biggest
Smaller
Smallest

And a clown dog snapping at their heels.

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