Tag Archives: Women

Horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 2


 

All morning as she stares at the computer screen in front of her she is vaguely aware of the usual background chatter, like a radio playing In another room, she can, if she concentrates pick out individual words, even whole sentences, but, she can just let it drift over her, a comforting and familiar chorus of low level annoyance, hunger and a moment or two of anxiety.
The pony has, as usual, been pushed away for the better grazing by the bigger horses.
Alice is worried about something strange, unfamiliar in the hedge.
Oliver wants to know that she will be there soon to bring them back into their stables.

Talking to animal or having animals talk to you, is not, she muses, when she takes 5 minutes to walk away from her desk, all its cracked up to be.

The messages the horses send her range from the dull, at least if you’re human – The grass here is better than the grass over there, To the mysterious , odd almost impossible to translate thought pictures about some equine deity and clouds and the smell of earth and then sometimes the downright horrific, the pony she passed on the road, screaming out its pain and fear from a cancer that nobody had diagnosed.

Her own horses, she can generally cope with. She works hard to keep them safe, secure, spends some time every day sending them messages of reassurance and maintenance and mostly, they manage to keep their voices quiet, try not to bring on the headaches that leave her pale, shaking and unable to meet the eyes of her colleagues and neighbours.

Local pets, the ones she knows live nearby, the ones she passes on her way to the corner shop recognise her, see her as something useful to them, a translation service they utilise when other forms of communication with their own humans have failed them.
“ tell them I don’t like chicken cat food”
“ The collar they bought me is too tight”
“ I get lonely when you go out all day”

These massages are easy to deal with, there are simple ways to pass these on without drawing attention to herself, but there are others which cause more difficulty to her and which sometimes she decides that she can’t hear, doesn’t understand and then she feels disloyal, dishonest. She feels as though she has let them down, those eyes, of cats, dogs, rabbits, budgies and above all, horses, expecting her to sort it out, make it better.

“ Every bone in my body aches now…let me go “
“ when you are not here, your new boyfriend locks me in the garden for hours and forgets to feed me”
“ you love the baby more than me, I hate the baby, I scratch the baby whenever your back is turned “
“ I don’t like you, but you feed me, I prefer the lady in the next house but one “
“ I didn’t mean to kill the hamster, it was an accident”
“ when you ride me, you are too heavy, you hurt my back, please stop”

She has become adept at passing on information to the humans, the other humans in ways that keep her safe.
She is not mad, knows that all of this is not usual,not normal and not something that she should be drawing any attention to, any time soon.

So, instead, she offers up tentative suggestions, wonders out loud if an owner has ever considered a change of feed, if they could use a dog collar that doesn’t fit her dogs.
Some times she takes direct action, scooping up a cat used a football and stealing it away to rehome it far away away from the man who wants to punch his boss but instead kicks his cat across a room.

Her neighbours feel a distance in her and so keep their own distance. She leaves so early in the morning, arrives home after dark, clothes mud spattered and humming with the aroma of horse and dog, that almost nobody ever really notices her and if they do meet she is polite, pats their dog, asks after their cat. They do notice that she never remembers to ask after husbands, wives, children, but after all, they rationalise, if they think about her at all. She has no parter, no family, no life that they can see, poor soul and then their phones ring or a child calls out or the east Enders starts and they forget their train of thought and they only think about her again when they notice how well their tabby kitten looks since they took her advice and changed his brand of cat food.

At night,when she lies in bed, the weight of sleeping dogs a comfortable pressure against her knees, she can, is she chooses to reach out and touch the minds of all the local pets.

The spaniel next door but one, Lord of the sofa now his family have gone upstairs to bed, he stretches full length, yawns, farts and falls asleep.

The grey cat who has discovered a nest of mice and is lying in the flower bed, belly flat against the damp earth, waiting patiently for the first one to poke its nose into the night air before he pounces.

The chickens at number 7, roosting in an unruly bundle of feathers, mad, blank chicken eyes closed as they doze and plot where to hide tomorrow’s newly laid eggs.

She lies quietly, almost asleep herself, closing her mind to the other stories, the ones she does not want to hear, not tonight , not any night.

She lies quietly, so close to sleep herself and tries to forget the face of the man at work, the man who sits two cubicles away from her , the man who explained today, how he is training his pitt bull to hate black people, and as he talked she could hear, a roaring bark of dismay and incomprehension from his dog who wants to love everyone and be loved.

She lies quietly and just before she drifts into sleep, decided that she will change jobs soon, move on to somewhere else, somewhere new.

At 4.45 the alarm jolts her awake again.


Number 56- that’s the house where the old lady was eaten by her dogs.


The old woman at 56 was eaten by her dogs.
This is a true story, perhaps.

Ruth was my neighbour and this is my 20 year too late apology.
I’m sorry your dogs ate you after you died.
In fairness, they didn’t actually eat you, just nibbled around the edges, but by that time you had been dead for 3 days and they were hungry.
I’m sorry that I didn’t pay more attention, didn’t do something when I noticed that you were failing, didn’t pop round, offer to get some groceries in, make that phone call to social services.
But, I didn’t because I was younger and selfish and besides by then you smelt a bit and your house smelt a lot, so I stayed away and I’m part of the reason why number 56 is still known as the house where the old lady got eaten by her dogs.
It’s a great line, a pinging start to any narrative, but, it’s not the only story about you and it’s not even the best story about you.
This one is.
I don’t know it all, so I’m going to make some bits up, sex it up a bit, give it a narrative structure, a bit of plot pruning.
Lets run with it, it won’t be any less honest than the story of the lonely old woman eaten by her dogs when her body sat neatly on the sofa, undisturbed until someone, someone better than me, noticed the milk bottles piling up on the doorstep.

Ruth worked all her life in the boot and shoe, but not on the factory floor, not her, not a clever girl like her.
And one day, when I made an assumption, she was quick to correct me, not in the factory and her body gave a tiny shudder, not with the machines and the shouting and everything that goes with factory life, not her. She worked in the offices, in accounts, had her own desk ,moved money and numbers around. A nice clean job, a job with prospects,a job that made her parents proud.
She was sharp at school, could have gone to grammar school, should have gone to grammar school, but and there is a world of pauses in that but, a litany of regret, but, she was offered the boot and shoe, a decent job, clean hands, sitting down work.
So, she finished school on the Friday, started work on the Monday.
She liked the work, like the rows of figures, enjoys her own ability to move numbers around, see patterns, instinctively know when a row of added up just right.
Her ledgers were neat, handwriting clear and crisp, often she worked her sums in ink, was brave enough to do without the faint pencil marks the other girls used in the days before auto correct and predictive spelling and even tippex . Back in the days when mistakes stared you in the face, might even mean the difference between keeping a job and loosing a job.
At school she had held herself apart, worked hard and survived the taunts of snob and the mutters that one day she would get above herself.
If she hoped that work might be different, that she might find another type of young woman,ambitious, clever, eager to get on, she didn’t show her disappointment, didn’t seem to mind her loneliness, her continued isolation.
The problem, the growing problem was boys or more accurately now, as she was suddenly 16 and 17 and 18 and 19, young men.It wasn’t as if she was shy around them or scared or made awkward , they simply seemed to have no relevance,and they, feeling this , simply kept out of her way.
And then the other girls began to drop away, ritual letting go always the same, the initial coy display of the engagement ring, white gold and a chip of diamond,too small to call a solitaire, then the wedding plans, the homemade wedding dresses made by that clever cousin and sometimes daringly in 1950s provincial life, a registry office and then …..pouf….gone in a puff of rice and confetti , never to be seen again.
Ruth kept working, got promoted, offered the chance to go to night school at her own expense to train as a bookkeeper and she grabbed at it, because by now, she had a plan and was patiently, steadily working towards it.
And then, in 1963, her uncle George died and to her and everybody else’s surprise left her 1,000 pounds.
A very large amount of money indeed and the assumption from everyone around her, mother, father, younger brother, was that she would do the decent thing, keep a few pounds for mad money, buy herself a dress or two and dutifully hand the rest over to her parents, but she didn’t.

She took every penny of her savings, £400, scrimped together over ten years of living quietly at home and bought,outright the house she lived in for the rest of her life.
It set her even more outside the world of other young single women, distanced herself from her family, raised eyebrows when she moved into the neat terraced house with all her possessions not even half filling the little van that the office manager borrowed one Friday night from the factory and there she settled.
Woke up each morning at 6am, ate her two slices of toast at the table with the wipe clean table cloth, once a cheerful green gingham pattern which over the years faded to a uniform yellow green.
Smoked the first 2 cigarettes of the day, the cigarettes she smoked until the time she became too wobbly, too frail to make the short journey to the corner shop at the end of the street and by then she was nicotine coloured, cigarette thin herself.
At first, the radio kept her company and then later, when she could afford it, she bought the first of her televisions and later still the dogs, always in twos and always loud, barking, energetic types .
Dogs that never got walked but roared around the tiny back yard, throwing themselves against the gate whenever anyone walked past.
She stayed in the same job until retirement, went to the same office, moved numbers up and down columns and became middle aged and then older, but always capable, hardworking, a good, sharp mind that watched the world and felt herself outside of it.
We lived next door to each other for ten years and I never saw a visitor walk to the front door and , never heard a phone ring, and never, ever noticed her to go anywhere except the corner shop for cigarettes and the co-op for a small carrier bag of groceries, mostly, I guessed dog food and bread.
I was young, even though then I thought that I was all grown up, too busy leading a life to see that hers was fading.

So, I’m sorry, I’m sorry Ruth, my neighbour, I’m sorry that I didn’t do that tiny thing, knock on your door,offer to pick up some shopping.
I’m sorry that I didn’t make that call, get some help.
I’m sorry that when the dogs barked for 3 days without, it seemed , stopping for breath, I’m sorry that I did nothing, just turned the stereo up and cursed you and your unruly, noisy dogs.
I’m sorry.


Number 34- The Harrisons live here.


Number 34 – The Harrisons live here.

And I know this because there used to be a China plaque on the wall next to the front door, the 3 little pigs, in a circle, trotter to trotter and in the centre and brick house with neat cloud of smoke billowing out of the chimney and red gingham curtains at the Windows and underneath, the legend “ The Harrisons live here”.
I sometimes wonder what inspired them to choose that particular plaque or if someone else, someone with a sharper sense of humour or a streak of unkindness had gifted it to them and if so, why had they taken the time and effort to drill holes, find rawl plugs and put it out there for everyone to see .
Because the Harrisons, mother and son were fat,not quite the stare at in the street fat, not shut ins with a shadowy feeder, but fat enough to make crossing their legs a distant memory, fat enough to mean they wore jogging bottoms to cover up the joggling bottoms and crucially fat enough to make the jaunty name plaque move from comedy to quiet domestic tragedy in less time than it takes to eat a family size bar of dairy milk.
I used to walk past their house at night, and although I tried not to stare, tried not to judge, somehow I would find myself transfixed.
Curtains open, lights on and both of them, mother and son planted on the green leather sofa, those sofas with the strange nobbly green buttons which see to have no function except to make the sofas simply uncomfortable, staring straight ahead at the TV, back in the days when TVs lived on tables and sideboards and had not learnt to climb walls and become slim line.
They each had their own end of the sofa, the remote in clear view and democratically placed in the very middle of the space between them.
But, it was the tray meals that I couldn’t help but stare at, I would find myself slowing down as I neared the tiny front garden, trying to calculate if I was passing at the right time and feeling a moment of small victory if I saw them, trays resting in more than ample stomachs, sometimes the odd item placed on the shelf of bosom or man boobs and their hands clutching forks, creating the perfect circle.
Plate
Up
Mouth
Down
Repeat
They never seemed to look down at the food, but stared at the television screen and when I think about it, try and capture that image of their evenings together, I don’t get any sense of conversation , just the noise of cutlery on plates, the gentle or maybe loud enjoyment of another meal and always the TV, filling the spaces.
And, yes, afterwards, I did try and recreate what they looked like together, evening after evening, tried to understand how she had felt, what had made her do the thing she did.
But I couldn’t and I still can’t.
It’s not the suicide that bothers me, I don’t have a high moral stance, each to their own I say, but to kill yourself that way, it just seems too uncertain, too tricky, too bloody painful.
She did it one day when he was out at work, climbed to the top of the stairs or maybe she was on her way down, less effort that way, less far to travel.
She jumped from the top stair, landed in the hallway.
She was the first thing he saw when he got home, she fell awkwardly, partially blocked the front door, he only managed to open it by giving it a good shove.
And just in case,in case people called it a tragic accident, a domestic disaster, she left a note,telling him exactly what she planned to do and why.

Wait a minute.
Does this ring true? Do you really, truly believe that someone could actually commit suicide by jumping from the top of stairs in terraced house.
Really ?
Such a well padded,almost cushiony woman, surely she would land softly, perhaps even bounce.
Tragedy flicking over in a split second into a prat fall, the shameful hobble into the kitchen for ibuprofen and the bag of frozen peas. The slow, painful collection of that note, pushing it deep into a dressing gown pocket and then weeks later left to disintegrate on a 40 degree white wash cycle.
Or, is something else happening here ?
How reliable is this voice, this story/storey teller ?
Am I about to shoehorn in some clumsy,heavy handed reference back to the little pigs, make a statement that its not just a wolf that can blow your house down, suggest that behind the stone cladding of this midland terraced house that lives of quiet desperation are lived out and sometimes, just sometimes not lived out at all ?
Or, am I simply mistaken, fooled by a urban street myth, wanting to believe a story rather than a prosaic truth, a fat middle aged wOman who lost her footing and fell to an undignified death.
Or, was I lied to, sucked into a story told by another neighbour who Wanted, just once to be the bearer of something, something so tragic that some glamour, some essence of a truth that should be true, needs to be true would somehow cling to them, give them the authority, the gravitas of an undertaker, the heavy knowledge of the coroner, the status that this much proximity to misery brings.

I don’t know, I wasn’t there.
You don’t know, you weren’t there.
But, if there is a truth, this is what I want it to be, that on that morning, the last morning, when she stood on the top stair, balanced on the balls of her feet, poised like a diver, waiting to make that dive.
I want the truth to be that as she leapt into space, before she twisted and turned, before she banged and bumped and finally landed, before that, in that split second, she felt lightness and weightlessness and for that second she flew in the air,gossamer in an impossible breeze.

The house has changed hands twice in the last 10 years,finally, just a few months ago, someone removed the little pigs plaque, but if you know where to look, you can still see the drill holes in the brick work, still see the faint outline of the chimney and the cheerfully billowing smoke.


NANOWRIMO 2014- day 16- The blue leather bible continued


A leather bound bible …..continued.

Whenever they leave his family home, laden after a visit with home made jams and cakes and flowers, she feels a weight drop from her as they get nearer and nearer to home.
It as if the weight of history in his every family possession has been pushing down on her. Nothing comes without a narrative, a back story, a reference to somebody or something or somewhere that she knows nothing about.
She longs for objects that have no history and often finds herself in children’s clothes shops, picking up armful of girls dresses and tights and t shirts that smell of unused fabric and haven’t been bent or twisted to the shape of a long procession of other children.
The girls don’t need these clothes, but their lightness, their simplicity….just a t shirt, just a head band make her feel As light and clean and straightforward as the pile of rustling garments too.

It drives Nick mad, this constant buying of new when old, well made, serviceable exists and can be easily excavated from home, dusted down and used again by a new generation.
He sees her shopping, her interest in the new, the shiny as a little common, a little suburban, a little off.
She only knows this because of one row, one terrible row, when words were thrown like hand grenades and where ever after there remains a bad taste, a sense of language that can never be undone, sentences that cannot be put back, a Pandora’s box of hurt and truth, honesty and lies.

Over the years, objects travel from his parents home to theirs, luckily, at least for her, the differing scale of the houses means that no one seriously expects them to give a good home to furniture so vast that it would be a simple choice of furniture in and the family out, perhaps living in a tent in the garden, but small objects slip in when she’s not looking, a carved mirror, an ancient, but of course, still functioning weighing scale, lamp shades, pictures, boxes of photographs, a rocking horse, this at least had a shabby beauty and is much loved by the girls until sadly outgrown and shipped off to younger, smaller cousins.

She begins to understand that she is far more her mothers’ daughter than she would like to believe, that she has her mothers’ instinctive dislike of the old, the hand me down. For her husband these are heirlooms, proof of his family’s’ longevity, their sense of continuing generation after generation, but for her they smack of making do, of hard times, of taking what you’re given and being grateful.

The shabby, serviceable, sensible stuff reminds her of those tough years after college, still living in terrible houses, still eating potato curry and learning to live with challenging wallpaper, while trying to ignore the voices that whisper how everyone else is doing so much better, is exhibiting, has an agent, is selling, is up for an award…..sneaky voices late at night or in that time between day and night when everything seems so much worse.

The bible is something else though.
It belongs to her, has been passed onto her and there is an expectation that she will conform, will pass it on to her first born daughter and so on and so on.

The bible has only come to her by default, given her husbands’ family and their inability to produce enough female heirs to ensure that the blue leather bible owned by a great, great, great, great grandmother and always passed onto the firstborn daughter.

Her mother in law presents it to her one wet November evening, trying for but missing light, not a big deal, nothing important.
Just a silly family superstition, but she can hear the tone, the need to keep this line going and as she has already produced one girl for the family and is busy cooking another one, she guesses that her mother in law feels secure enough to pass the book on now.

She has never really managed to find a home for the bible, it isn’t grand enough, quite old enough to be displayed, but is clearly too old to be left to fight for survival on the plain wooden shelves that fill every alcove in this final house and besides this book needs the gravitas of a library, a long line of leather bound worthies, not really ever expected to be read but simply there, in its right and proper place.

The bible has lived in boxes, in the back of cupboards, was part of an installation piece in the late 90s, has been photographed and used to dress an small shaker style table and more recently has ended up at the bottom of her bedside table, not quite forgotten, but part of the detritus of a home and a marriage.

It only leaves this resting place on Wednesday night because she is knocked sidewards by a migraine, can hardly see when desperately searching by touch for painkillers, she manages to empty the bedside table onto the floor and leaves a muddle of books and tissues and lip sticks and random sheet of paper and unfortunately no pain killers at all, but, surfacing the next day, she sees the bible and because her eyes are sharp after the darkness of her head ache, she notices properly, for the first time, the subtlety of the binding, the attractiveness of the shade of blue.

She looks at the book more carefully, notes the tiny crabbed notes all over the text, the yellowed slips of paper that threaten to fall out.

It is she decides a beautiful shade of blue, she will have another nap and once she had fully recovered from this migraine, she will take the bible to B&Q and get them to paint match the shade, it will , she decides look just fantastic on an accent wall.


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.


Nanawrimo day 10. A unmade bed circa 1983. Made from reclaimed pallets and found mattresses.


When she sits up in bed in this bedroom, this now bedroom, this 2014 bedroom, sometimes, just sometimes it takes a moment for her to orientate herself, to actually see which bedroom, which year, hell, what decade.

There have been many bedrooms, some shared, some solitary, chaotic, tidy, large, small.

This bedroom, the 2014 model is probably both the neatest and the nicest. Furniture picked up on day trips to Brighton, a stuffed swan that moults the occasional Snow White feather onto the Arctic white duvet, heaped with grey white pillow slips. Sometimes she is amazed that there are so many shades of white, so many names and that she can name them, can move confidently around a Farrow and Ball paint chart, is quietly surprised that she cares enough to choose one shade of white over another.

 

In the past, that other country, all bedroom walls were painted white, just white, in large industrial sized tins, marked economy white paint and applied quickly often to cover up more serious horrors underneath.

 

And it’s that first white bedroom that she remembers now, 19 Argyle St, Norwich. Escaped from student halls, student houses into her own tiny house, part of a row of terraced homes, snaking around the new high-rise blocks. Built by the Mustard Kings to keep their workers warm, to keep them close, A few short steps between home and the factory, out before the hooter, home at lunch and thenlater a wave of workers heading home for tea.

 

The bedroom in this house has remained untouched,floor still covered with  Lino patterned to resemble floorboards, which then she saw as simply tacky, but now she recognises the meta texturality and feels a concept coming on, the lino marred/improved with mysterious gouges where nobody would set furniture and the wallpaper, an eclectic mix of shepherdesses, roses and brown trellis.

From this bedroom,this now, 2014 bedroom, she sees this wallpaper with different eyes, kitsch, post modern, ironic. She might even seek it out for  knowing feature wall decoration, but then, white paint was the only answer. Everything, walls, doors, dado rail, skirting boards covered with layers of cheap white paint, reducing the room to a dazzling cube, a box of nothing and in the centre,exact centre, dead centre, centre stage……

The bed, the bed that even now, her shoulders, hips and elbows remember, the ghost of an ache, the memory of a stiff neck, the feel of pillows burying her face, the warm weight of too heavy quilts, needing a superhuman effort on a crisp winter morning to kick out, unfurl body from foetal curl and …..leap, leaping, sometimes creeping into another day

This bed, that bed, the White room bed was about  so many things,secrets and gossip and whispers and truths and lies .Slept in at a time when sleep came easy, not need to lure it in, chase it down like a frightened faun and then grabbing hold, trying to stop it leaving. A time when simply rolling over, a deep sigh was enough to push her into a dream time, a sleep time, emerging a glorious 8 or 9 or 10 hours later, binging, gorging on sleep, before she even knew that sleeplessness might be more than just a life style choice

 

That bed welcomed her when unthinking, dressed or not, day or night, she fell into it and into sleep, comfortable enough in her own skin that anyone could join her for cups of tea or cuddles or badly rolled spliffs or even sleep.

 

Of course, the room did not start with the bed, the bed came later, before that there was just a mattress on the floor, easy to reach out for ashtrays, books, half eaten slices of toast, everything she could ever need just a stretched hand away.

 

But she grew to see that she deserved better, needed more, some permanence, some hint of structure and so, the pallet bed was born, timber and space reclaimed, made hers, made by her.

 

She had no car, but in the ramshackle, do it yourself community in the terraced houses, she knew a man who owned a hearse, which turns out to be almost the perfect shape to transport pallets and so, for several weeks, he would kiss his lady, pat the dog and wave a slouched farewell to children, some his own, and friends and the mad boy who lived in the back bedroom who only ate brown rice and then only late at night and the two of them, man and a woman not his lady,  would go a pallet hunting.

 

The pallets piled up and finally she knew she had enough to make a princess bed, so rounded up the men and formed them into a chain gang.pallets from garden to staircase to emptied bedroom, ready for transformation.

 

In her mind she could see her new nesting place, off the ground, big enough for impromptu tea parties, wide enough for a many lovers as could be tempted up the wooden staircase, past the chipped paint and into this room.

 

The bed,when she has finished, is vast, takes 2 mattresses, many pillows, a heap of nesty duvets.

She lashed the pallets together, using rough rope, a life raft, something to cling onto in a stormy sea of desire and doubt and deception.

 

The bed was perfect, she haunted jumble sales, found old lady bedding, hand embroidered pillow cases, a precious feather quilt, sheets in stripes and checks and dubious colour choices.

 

She found candles to balance in chipped willow pattern saucers, balanced on corners of the giant bed and then stuck frangipani and frankincense joss sticks , chosen more for their names than their actual smells, in the half melted wax dripping from candle to saucer to sheets. Generally, she avoided major fires and incendiary incidents, just the occasion singed pillow and a slight aroma of burning feathers.

 

And this is the bed she discovered how to love, how to love love itself, how to love those other sweat slicked bodies in that perfect moment when experience outweighs ignorance and before bodies themselves have begun to droop, to slide.

Yes, there was a lot of sex in this bed, the best sort of sex. Playful, self-congratulatory, caught in mirrors left artfully to lean against walls, catching a glimpse of twined, entwined, engulfed.

But it wasn’t just about sex, there was a lot of other love in this woman made bed, the obligatory gay best friend, pots of earl grey tea and smudges of nail polish left on the sheets, when they became too raucous painting each other’s toe nails.

 

And of course there were the friends, in a house with dubious heating, it made perfect sense to cuddle up under feathers, an intimacy of language, shared secrets, half shared desires.

 

And the good nights on her own, reclining on her royal barge bed, held tall by a tower of pillows, the book she should have been reading and the book she actually was, the crumpled packet of chocolate biscuits and cigarettes, always cigarettes and an ash encrusted saucer.

She would writhe against the sheets, feeling not solitude,but space, room to move, room to grow.

Sometimes, she would read all night for the pleasure of seeing the sky lighten, the street lights click off and then, satisfied by her lifestyle choices, would burrow under the duvets and sleep until lunchtime.

 

And then she remembers the other nights, lying alone, in the days when sometimes, just sometimes being alone felt like the worst thing possible. Her stomach a knot of misery,head thrust Under pillows, blocking out this nights pain, this nights recriminations.

A loop of loss and pain and loneliness.

 

When finally, the little mustard houses are, ironically, knocked down to provide low cost housing for ordinary workers, the bed is left behind, the only piece of furniture in an empty house. She rationalizes that it’s only student junk, that it’s too hard to get the pieces down the steep narrow stairs with the killer sharp bend 3 steps from the bottom, that it will not fit into the new flat.

But actually, she knows she cannot share this bed with anyone else, it is too heavy, but it’s not the wood that weighs it down.

 

Several Saturdays later, she makes the pilgrimage to IKEA, buy a collection of blond pine struts that will, after several attempts, become a bed, but never the bed and decides that from now on her bedding will always match and tone in with bedroom walls that will never be white again and that she is simply too old to light candles near a bed.

 

The irony of that last decision only becomes apparent 25 years later.