Tag Archives: memory

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.


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.


1976 and all that

It is 1976 and I paint my toe nails Californian Poppy red and my father says I am a tramp.

It is 1976 and my friend Karen is dating a Northern Soul DJ, he says his wife doesn’t understand him and our 14 year old mouths try out, for the first time, the flavour, taste and texture of this sentence.

It is 1976, we play swingball in the back garden, within days the parched grass is trodden down to dust.

It is 1976, I walk past the only punk record shop in town and want with every fibre of my being to go in, but too fearful, simply walk past as often as I can believably contrive, hoping that someone inside will notice me and see beyond my convent school uniform.

It is 1976, two older girls get expelled from school for piercing each others ears with darning needles and slices of cucumber. We talk about it in whispers in the playground.

It is 1976, there is some Royal Jubilee, but my family, Irish, keeping our heads down during the whole of the mainland bombing campaign do not get involved and do fly flags of any sort.

It is 1976 and I am teaching myself to like coffee and smoke cigarettes, I apply myself to the project with focussed concentration.

It is 1976, the Sex Pistols get to No 1, the record is banned, but I buy a copy & keep it hidden. I play it when my parents are out, I threaten my brother and sister with violence if they ever tell on me.

It is 1976 and I buy a pair of wedge espadrailles – they are so heavy that each time I walk, I twist my ankle over, but they are the first shoes I have ever bought myself and so I continue to walk and fall until the soles themselves fall apart.

It is 1976 and it doesnt rain, we watch people waiting for water at stand pipes on Nationwide and wait for the water to run out in Norfolk.


On the third, or maybe, fourth night of enforced, unwanted wakefulness, when sleep itself, the very notion of sleep seems lost forever, she begins to list all the other lost items in her life and when she used up her fingers, begins to count on her toes.

Left hand

1. A husband, lost on a winters’ day when waking she looked and saw a strangers’ face om the pillow next to hers. The loosing took more planning, more time, more effort than seemed possible once the decision had been made.

2. A grey velveteen rabbit, sewn by her grandmother, its button eyes, slightly uneven, giving it a constantly surprised expression. Left on a number 82 bus and never handed in, despite her insistence that her mother called at the lost property office week after week. It was years before she gave up hope of its return.

3. A diamond ring, borrowed without permission from the other grandmother, worn to impress a man who might have become her husband, but didn’t. Her grandmothers’ dementia saved her from the shame of ever admitting the loss.

4. A lipstick, pillar box red, the one worn when she feared invisibility, a statement color. A lipstick more exciting than she felt she could ever be. It’s loss was somewhat of a relief, allowing her to embrace pale rose, a more fitting shade.

5. A cat, black and white, 5 years old. For years afterwards, she would carefully examine any similarly colored animal until one day she realised that the cat, her cat would have long been dead.

Right hand

1. A friend, a friendship that lasted through school and college and small children and on hno sleep and no money but slipped away, quietly, almost unnoticed when there was nothing left to complain about anymore.

2. A car, but only briefly, in those days when life seemed to consist of lists and tasks and don’t forgets. Parked on a day when her head felt so full that there was space for nothing else. A patient attendant walked from floor to floor with her until the car was found. No longer lost.

3. A t-shirt, out-sized, fabric softened by years of washing to become the perfect sleeping garment. Lost, madly, mysteriously within in her own home. Some days, she opens a drawer, digs into a cupboard, and is momentarily convinced that today will be the day when as mysteriously as it vanished, that it will return.

4. A key, not her own, a key to someone else’s house. She kept it, hanging uselessly on her own key ring, even though she never planned to open that door again and then one day she noticed that it no longer hung, next to the spare shed key.

5. A school duffle coat, bottle green, bought to grow into and finally, after several foiled attempts – returned from the bus stop, returned from the corner shop, returned from the bridge over the canal, thrown by Andrew Snell into the same canal. He believed it to be bullying, she wanted to kiss him with gratitude.

Left Foot

1. Her flat stomach, lost slowly, gradually. Baby 1, baby 2, a weakness for chocolate biscuits eaten noiselessly straight from the packet, middle age, middle spread. She misses the taut flesh, but not enough to do anything about it.

2. A black thong, expensive, lacey, frivolous, worn for the man who gave her the key, also lost. For weeks afterwards, she tortured herself, imagining the underwear dropping from her bag in front of a colleague, a neighbor, her husband. She examined faces for knowing expressions, but nothing changed and finally she relaxed. Felt safe.

3. The collected poems of Sylvia Plath – Shunted from bag to bag, dependent on her outfit, a talisman against boredom in the days before touch screens and I- things. She considered buying another copy, but found herself satisfied with “Take a Break” and “Hello” magazines.

4. A job, one to which she was so unsuited that she expected to loose it every day, practiced appropriate expressions of regret, dismay, made sure that she kept nothing important, irreplaceable in her desk draws, just in case. The actual loss was something of an anti-climax after all.

5. Her virginity, it weighed heavily on her 16 year old self and she gave it up happily to Nigel, he of the moped and the racing green hand knitted jumper. In retrospect, she wonders if he also lost her virgin status during their inept fumblings in his mothers’ bed.

Right Foot

[ Getting tougher now, but sleep feels nearer now, mustn’t stop now]

1. A breast and appropriately a right breast, enumerated on this right foot. She thought she would miss it more than she did, but by the time it went, she could look at it only with loathing, betrayer, mutant, mutating. No real loss at all.

2. Her youth, it seemed to leave her in one single day. She went to bed and woke, middle aged, as if the fairies had stolen it while she slept. She searches for it, in mirrors, in perfumed pots and jars. It has remained, defiantly lost.

3. Hope, its loss is etched on her lips, permanently downward turning now even when she smiles. The ghost of loss bleeding through her smirk.

4. A child, birthday still remembered but distantly, maths needed to work out the date. Sometimes overlooked until the day is half, two thirds, three quarters done, but then recalled, the day paused and then the memory put away for another year.

[ Stop, stop now, focus on the last toe, the smallest, nail painted, soft pink – an easy loss, a nothing loss]

5. A five pound note, a small amount, inconsiderable, unimportant, perhaps not lost at all, perhaps put away, hidden, safe against a rainy day.

The photograph

it was in the drawer next to his bed


next to this bed, the last bed.

Not the real bed, not the marriage bed.
Not even the interim bed, the one he moved into when she died, the spare bed, the spare room, when we wondered why, he said
“because, in the big bed, I am lost, floating, all at sea…………rudderless”

We marveled at the poetry, coming unexpectedly from of such a prosaic man.
We didn’t know then that language, sense, meanings were unraveling, it was not just in bed that he was lost, floating, all at sea.

The photograph creased, handled, the paper softening, edges curling, placed, neatly in a box with everything else,

False teeth,
reading glasses, arms snapped, not needed on this voyage
key ring to a house, long gone to pay for this last bed
a copy of the racing post
three Christmas cards
a tube of smarties
2 lighters from before, before he forgot that he smoked, forgot how to smoke, forgot.

But the photograph, the girl, pretty, posing, poised,
No-body that we know
And too late to ask, not just by days, but years and years and years as he floated, compass broken, rudder snapped, captain at the helm as the ship went down

I fragment,
You fragment,
They fragment,
We all fragment.

But the photograph, important enough to move from home to homes to here carries some weight, some significance, some something,

So, we take it home and unsure of what to do, place it in the drawer beside the bed and sometimes wonder who and where and mostly why,

But generally, we forget.