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A pinch and a punch for the first of the month.
White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits.
At the beginning of each month, there is an impulse to mark the turning over of a new calendar page with a ritual formula, a small magic to make a clean slate, a fresh beginning. It is not like the New Year, no fireworks heralding the change, no carefully formulated (and soon to be broken) resolutions, just a mumbled recitation of words we learned when we were children.
With these small magics, I conjure brighter days, and pull white rabbits out of hats.
Snow covers everything.
It covers the trees, the grass, it covers cars and the roofs of houses.
It also covers the discarded sweet wrappers, the half-eaten burger, the dog shit.
The snow gives the illusion of a fresh start. Look, I can make footprints where no footprints have been. I am an explorer in unknown territory, the first to leave my mark on this purity. There is a satisfaction in the crunch of powdery frozen whiteness under my boots.
Soon, though, it will melt. The whiteness turns to grey slush, and nothing is changed. It is all still there underneath.
Time is a strange thing.
It is by no means an original observation that the perception of time passing varies according to what we are doing: an hour of boredom at work drags by more slowly than a whole day of fun with friends. But also strange is the perception of time passed. This thing which I remember doing mere weeks ago - how can two whole years have gone by? And yet parts, at least, of those years were slow enough when I was living through them.
Now today is finished, and so much left unfinished.
I remember, I remember.
A friend's description of her grandchild reminded me of my young self, sitting for endless afternoons in the garden, watching insects so small my mother would not believe they were not imaginary. I'm almost, almost sure they weren't. I did have imaginary friends, but imaginary insects are a different matter.
It wasn’t much of a garden, though there were always roses. My grandmother’s garden was more of a jungle and an adventure. I still dream I’m playing there sometimes – odd dreams, where I seem to be trying to hide from someone. From whom, I can’t remember.
Today is the sixth anniversary of the beginning of my love affair with the internet. It marks the day when I discovered that it was possible to interact with people I had never met, and possibly never would meet; people who were thousands of miles away, eating breakfast while I was having dinner, enjoying summer while I shivered in winter chill.
In those six years, I have loved and been loved by (and, alas, sometimes lost) some wonderful people. I have learned so many new things from them, and I am grateful for the technology which makes this sharing possible.
I was recently reminded of a Zenna Henderson story, when a phrase from the story came into my head in an unrelated context and teased and nagged at me until I gradually remembered the story. So of course I had to dig out the (battered, yellowing) book which contained that story, and re-read it.
And then, of course, I had to share the book with a friend. Who, as it turns out, had been looking for one of the other stories in the book for ages. And loved the whole book, sellotaped spine and all.
I love having bookish friends.
Today I learned pearl knotting. It wasn't easy for someone with my lack of manual dexterity, but it was satisfying to slide the knots down tight against the pearls and see the necklace starting to take shape.
I couldn’t use my first choice of pearls because they simply would not go on to the thread, and even with the second set I chose I needed help from the teacher to get them threaded. This wasn’t entirely because of my clumsiness: there seemed to be a general problem with threading this batch of beads.
Still, I have a pretty necklace half-finished.
When is cheating not really cheating?
I set up a prize draw to celebrate six years of BookCrossing, promising a prize to the person whose name was first out of the hat. Among the people who entered were several who really could do with some cheering up. None of these was the name I selected at random.
I decided I would draw some further names for consolation prizes, and when the first three names did not include the people needing cheering, I added them to the list.
No-one lost out, and it may bring a smile to some faces.
Like moths to a flame.
What is the fascination which fire holds for us?
I am certainly not immune to it. It started with the matches I surreptitiously struck in the rickety old toilet at the bottom of the garden. Or maybe it was the flickering flames of the coal fire as I held my doorstep chunk of bread towards it on the toasting fork, and watched the red breath of dragons at play in its depths.
Sometimes the flames almost got away from me, as when I so very nearly set a camp site alight one hot dry summer.
When I was at university, no student room was complete without at least one wine bottle with a candle stuck in it, the wax dribbled artistically down the sides. We may have thought it bohemian and sophisticated, but I think we mostly just liked playing with fire.
Later, I learned to use candles for more solemn purposes. Nothing seems to focus prayer and meditation as well as looking into the heart of the flame.
Beautiful stuff, fire. Yet, out of control, it is the most frightening of elements, and I feel for those who are suffering its destruction this week.
Why is it that the people who are least confident about their own abilities, talents and personalities are generally the most capable, talented and likeable people I know?
Oh, there may be exceptions. I am sure I must have at least one or two friends who have learned to value themselves properly, if only through the frequent reassurances of those who can see how wonderful they are. I can’t think of any, though.
Yet the world is full of people who are confident and self-assured, who think they are the bee’s knees, with very little justification.
It doesn’t seem right.
I have never been anyone’s best friend. Well, that is not strictly true. It is more accurate to say that I have never been the best friend of anyone with whom I was not also in a relationship, and that’s not the same thing, no, not at all.
(Oh, what a lot of negatives! That rather sums it up, doesn’t it?)
I’m not sure why this should be so. There have been people who have been close to me, but they have always had someone else who was just that little bit closer.
Does it really matter? I guess not.
There are some people you just don't expect to die. Sarah was one of those.
Even when she was diagnosed with cancer, death didn't seem a real prospect. After all, this was
. If Death came calling, she would tell him not to be so silly, offer him a nice bit of vegan cake and get on with her knitting. She wouldn't put up with any of that nonsense.
And now she has gone. Too quickly for goodbyes, and that is also like her. No messing about, just get on with whatever needs to be done.
I'll miss you, Sarah.
Refrigeration is a wonderful thing - quite
wonderful, you only realise when you don't have it.
One of my clearest memories of my grandmother's house is of a refigerator plentifully stocked with icy-cold tomatoes and cucumber. I seem to recall that we didn't have a fridge at home at that time, and when we did get one it was somehow powered by gas.
Later, fridgeless student days saw carrier bags of milk and butter dangled out of the hall of residence windows, a cooling trick which was, of course, useless on the hot days when refrigeration was most needed.
Cinderella 2 – The Palace Years
So, I got my Prince Charming. Very nice, very romantic. What they forgot to mention was that I also acquired the in-laws from hell.
If I’d given it any thought, I would have realised that their Royal High-and-Mightinesses wouldn’t be best pleased at dearest Char’s choice of bride. They had a selection of suitable young women lined up for him already, though I’m not quite sure how they expected him to choose one from the two dozen almost-identical titled pampered darlings eager for princesshood. I don’t suppose it would have mattered much which he married.
When he went rushing off after the ball, they were alarmed at the possibility that he might opt for someone other than one of their carefully chosen coterie, but consoled themselves with the thought that I was, at least, clearly wealthy.
Look at the dress she was wearing – a designer model for sure, my dear. And did you
that carriage? All gold and diamonds – how ostentatious!
Imagine, then, their dismay and disgust when Char found me in my ragged dress scrubbing the kitchen floor. Not only was I not one of them; I was not even a moneyed commoner.
Char, however, was besotted. I think he rather liked the idea of rescuing a poor little working-class girl and dazzling her with the high life.
The wedding took place with more haste than their Majesties would have liked, so much so that there was gossip about the likely arrival of a new little prince or princess in the next few months. This proved not to be the case. And after the wedding there was little opportunity for baby making. We hardly had a chance to talk alone, let alone anything else.
The in-laws maintained a polite façade at the wedding.
Char’s twin sister Charmaine made an elegant if distant bridesmaid. Queen B (her given name was Betise, but no-one ever used it) was cordial in that stiff, fixed-smile way in which the upper classes simultaneously conceal and reveal their disdain, and his Majesty led me clumsily round the dance floor for a few awkward minutes before returning to his ale.
Once the guests had gone, it was a different matter. When Char was in the room with us, they limited themselves to sly looks and subtle verbal digs, but the moment he left us alone they started in on me.
While Char had been around, they had been using my given name, Ella, but as soon as the door closed behind him I became once again Cinderella, Cinders, that contemptuous name with which my stepsisters had mocked me. Indeed, the resemblance of the Queen and Princess to my stepsisters was remarkable: the same sly, taunting tones, the same scornful looks, and above all the same sharp, strong fingernails with which they pinched and prodded me. I felt as helpless as I had done back at my father’s house, cleaning out the ashes from the fire and scrubbing the kitchen floor.
I was, of course, given a maid to attend me, as befitted my station. This was an added, subtle torture. Belinda was well aware of the Queen’s feelings towards me, and she knew that she could get away with almost any discourtesy and petty cruelty. To be laced into a corset by a maid who resents and despises you is a most unpleasant experience: by the time I was dressed for the day I could barely breathe or walk, and my stomach was so squashed in that I could only manage a mouthful or two of food at a meal.
After the lacing and the painful hair brushing which followed (I have no idea how she managed to find so many knots in my hair which all required dragging out) I was expected to receive visitors. Every single one of them was an old friend of Charmaine, and the majority had been among the list of potential brides-to-be for Char, so I’m sure you can imagine how friendly they felt towards me. They sipped their tea daintily from their bone-china cups as they murmured how very surprised they were at Char’s choice, adding, “But, of course, first marriages seldom last”.
Even if they had been inclined to be friendly, I would hardly have fitted in. I had so little knowledge of those things which made up their daily lives that they might as well have been speaking another language as they chattered to one another. They might, indeed, have been so many exotic birds twittering and fluttering their bright plumage. What could I possibly have learned of the different qualities of silks and laces, other than how to best mend them when my stepsisters tore their party dresses? I knew nothing of fashion, and they, it seemed, knew nothing but.
I tried my best, truly I did, to look interested. I wanted them to like me, for Char’s sake if not my own; after all, these were the friends of his childhood, so their opinion must matter to him. At least, I assumed that would be the case, though I had very little experience of friendship to guide me. There was Buttons, of course, dear, loyal Buttons who had been there as long as I could remember, but I had never had the chance to play with other children. Father had thought my stepsisters would be sufficient company for me.
In that, he was wrong. They had cared very little for playing with ‘the kitchen brat’, as they called me, and such games as they did choose to play with me were – well, suffice it to say that I had preferred to avoid them, even if it meant cleaning the cellar instead. What playtimes I had were solitary, and I learned to amuse myself. When I had the chance, I would sneak into Father’s library and lose myself in the printed word, storing up stories in my head so I could tell them to myself again in the lonely nights.
Now, in the palace, I once again sought refuge in books. There was an impressive library, the books all leather bindings and gold tooling, with comfortable chairs in which I could almost hide away entirely. I was both amused and appalled to realise that none of the hundreds of books had been touched for a very long time; some had clearly never been opened, and all had a layer of dust which had been years in the making. I brushed the dust off as best I could with the hem of my gown, and settled down to a morning’s reading.
Just as I had managed to drift away into another realm, snuggled comfortably into the soft leather of the chair, and was beginning to forget for a while my unfriendly surroundings, the book was snatched from my hands.
“Lazy little slut!” hissed Queen B. “I might have known I would find you idling somewhere. Stop lolling around and find something useful to do: if we have to have you here you can at least earn your keep. And leave the books alone, they’ll only fill your head with nonsense. You don’t imagine Charming married you for your brains, do you?”
I was speechless. Angry, but speechless. I ran out of the library, down the staircase (nearly tumbling headlong in my haste) and into the palace gardens. I kept running, my face getting redder and streaked with dust and tears, until I reached the edge of the surrounding forest. Not a safe place, or so I had been warned, but I no longer cared. What did it matter if I were eaten by bears or murdered by outlaws? My fairy tale marriage was turning into more of the same nightmare that my childhood had been. So, let whatever might happen, happen.
I took a deep breath and entered the forest, slowing my pace to avoid tripping on the tree roots and fallen branches. The trees gradually grew thicker around me, cutting off much of the light. I didn’t mind. The soft green semi-darkness soothed my eyes. As I walked along, now no more than strolling, I kept thinking I saw movement on the edge of my vision, but whenever I stopped to look there was nothing to be seen. After a while, I gave up on trying to identify the elusive creature, since it apparently meant me no harm, at least.
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