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Mr Grey sat on the bench in front of the house. Not watching, not waiting, just sitting. When the neighbour walked out to the shop he stared at the ground and pretended not to notice. He smoked skinny cigarettes that he rolled between stained fingers, flicking the butts into the neglected flowerbed. About ten thirty a funeral cortege rolled slowly past, a single occupant in the limousine. He followed it impassively with his eyes, all the way along the street until it disappeared under the railway bridge. He closed his eyes for a moment, then he rolled himself another cigarette.
The pine cone on my dressing table continues to open and close with the weather, even after thirty years, though there are no longer any seeds within falling from between the scales. We were holidaying in France, 1979 I think. The campsite was hot, dry and sandy beneath the pine trees though we were more than a mile from the sea. We had long days of getting sunburnt on the beach and sitting in the café playing pinball with french boys, me pretending to be grown up like my sister. Before we left I picked it up as a momento.
Watching University Challenge this evening, we miss Bamber Gascoigne, though not his tendency to favour the Oxbridge teams. I wonder what he'd make of all these 'new' universities. While their friends support them from the audience earnest young people with scarves and cuddly toys answer questions about obscure stuff: Canadian states, latin names for strange part of the body, magnetic flux and 13th century fresco artists. We like it when we can answer a few, and give each other a round of applause, even more enthusiastic if we get something that they don't know, then we feel a little smug.
"So I offered this bird fifteen quid for a blow job, but she never came back to me."
The voice floats over to us from the next aisle. It was addressed to Manny working next to me, the speaker didn't realise I was there.
Sometimes, if I keep my head down and get on it is as if I become a little bit invisible and I get a glimpse into this whole other world. Mostly the men at work do just talk about football, but just occasionally I get to see the shabby side of the male psyche.
If you chose to home educate your children you should first be aware of the rigorous demands on your constitution. In the name of encouraging curiosity you will let your children fall into ponds, climb very high trees, bring home dead animals and melt stuff with matches. You must be prepared to drink bad tea in draughty village halls while they charge around with other wild children hitting each other with sticks. You will never have a moment's peace and the noise will echo around your head for years after they have left home. But it will be worth it.
Little rituals are what make your life your own she thought, things that makes it unique. Tea in your favourite mug or your lucky socks when you go for an interview. I just have more than most people. The cupboards are always tidy before I leave for work and the milk bottles on the doorstep must be in a straight line. I do sometimes have to check twice that the cutlery is all in the right slot in the drawer. But more recently there are days when I can't leave because the plates still seem dirty even after three washes....
As he turned the corner he realised he was lost. He must have got off the bus at the wrong stop. Streets of identical semi-detached houses stretched in all directions. His shoulders slumped in desolation and he sat down on the nearest garden wall. It started to rain, a drizzle that left a fine mist on his hair and blazer. He was hungry and could smell the chip shop on the main road. Then he saw a figure coming towards him, pushing a familiar pushchair. He smiled nonchalantly as they approached. "Thought we'd come meet you" said his mum.
"I'm off to Patrick's, can I have tram fare?" The bag has her book and her contact lens stuff. I am always telling her off for sleeping in her contact lenses when she stays over with friends. "Will you be back tomorrow," I ask. "Of course, he has college on Monday," she reminds me, irritated at my forgetfulness. She ties her hair back, shoulders her bag and is out the door before I can interrogate any more. Walking swiftly to the end of the road she glances briefly behind her, climbs on the back of the motorbike and is gone.
Mrs Mousely watched the train pull out of the station, wishing that by sheer force of will she could make it stop, or even just travel more slowly, so that Evie would miss the plane and her plans would have to be abandoned. It's not that she wanted to spoil things, but it was hard to see her go even though she thought she was ready for the moment. As the platform emptied the voice over the loud speaker announced the arrival of the next train. She waited for it then allowed herself to be swept away by the crowd.
21 today. Passing landmarks in life always seems to be a moment for nostalgia, for looking at old photographs and remembering the children that my now adult offspring used to be. They did not live the life I intended when we started out and they have not become the people that I imagined they might be. They have, instead, become themselves and live a life of their own creation. The need to make things perfect, to protect them from life's difficulties, has passed. Though I fancied myself as indispensable they manage perfectly well without me. My work here is done.
The keys just weren't there, where they were supposed to be. I was more annoyed because I hate it when other people lose the keys, and I am usually so careful. I searched, I emptied my trolly, I asked in the cage if I had handed them in by accident. I made excuses to myself about being so tired yesterday. All day I walked round going over in my head the end of the preceding day. It was still raining so before I left I went to put my jacket in my locker ... and there they were in the pocket.
The man stepped out , oblivious. Just wandered across even though the lights had changed. The bus slowed, only slightly. The people on the pavement barley had time to react, but barely reacted. Then the man stopped and held up his hand, like a traffic policeman or a lollipop lady, as if he had the authority to arrest the traffic. The bus jerked, lurched, jerked again, and stopped, within a few inches of the man. Two girls across the aisle screeched in alarm. He took a few meandering paces across the tarmac, obviously unsteady on his feet. Then we moved off.
Dark Matters Exhibition, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. the room was shadows and light, revolving and changing, figures and images coming in and out of focus, moving around the walls. we stood mesmerised. two women, one inside the smoke, the other seeming to hold or pull the smoke away. two horses, ghostly, riding in opposite directions. centrally the shape of a deer antler towered, one minute appearing protective, then threatening, the angle of the light distorting your perception. wisps of cloud drifted above the scenes, the figures small and vulnerable when set before the vast forces of nature ranged against them.
I am a demon cyclist. Like Cruella de Vil chasing the puppies in her car, bloodshot eyes flashing, hair flying wildly, dishevelled and frantic, I race up Oxford Road. I jump red lights, dodge around buses, weave in and out of standing traffic. Then a nice smooth run as I join the cycle track up past the university, only the odd straying student to beware of. I hit a red at the RNCM but make my way to the front of the queue. The fumes choke me but I am determined to make it. Don't you just hate being late.
The birthday card sits, threateningly, on the fireplace. It portends the disappointment to come. There have been years when things have gone quite well; friends came, candles blown, cake eaten, but the excitement and anticipation of childhood have mellowed into a cynical disenchantment. Too many years when there was no one to invite, when there was nothing that she wished for. Sometimes I am glad that she is so un-acquisitive, that her happiness is something much more intangible. The trouble is that it's very intangibility makes it all the more elusive. We try to keep things low key nowadays.
Well, you see, I first rode a unicycle when I was eleven. I did a circus workshop thing, and I just got on and rode it, as if it was meant to be. People look at me like I'm a bit crazy sometimes because I use it as a means of transport. I see it as my mission to make them a more normal part of life, not the gimmick that they are currently. It's not as hard to ride as it first appears, really it's no more difficult than learning to walk, and even little babies can manage that.
The cat watched him through the window, as if she knew what he was up to. The grass was sodden with dew so he stomped down the garden in his wellington boots. In the shed he found the spade, it had a coating of rust pitting the surface and a bit of dead bramble tangled round the handle but it would do. He decided on a spot behind the compost heap and cleared away the leaf mulch and some fallen branches. The ground was soft and easy to break open, it wouldn't take him long to get it deep enough.
It was a dark and stormy day, the rain came down in torrents. Word passed swiftly around the office concerning the atmospheric conditions causing disgruntled mutterings amongst the postmen as they waited to leave with their laden bags. Where ordinary people make polite conversation about the weather for Royal Mail employees it is the subject of serious discussion. The weight and duration of any potential precipitation, the rise and fall of the temperature are always of great interest. A day is judged as 'good' or 'bad' based on the moisture content of your shoes at the end of the shift.
It's funny how you can tell that poetry is poetry even when you can't understand the words. It has a rhythm unlike normal speech, patterns within the language that are there over and above the meaning of the words. But then I wonder if it is really possible to translate a poem. The words are so carefully chosen, for the nuances of meaning that come with intimacy. Surely when translating the words what you are doing in reality is writing a whole new poem, even if the author themselves translates it. Language is just so much more subtle than that.
A piece in the news about people changing their names attracted my attention. It is not something I will ever do. I was resistant to getting married because I did not want to change my name. For some reason it never occurred to me to just keep my name, I didn't know I could, I thought it was part of the legal process of getting married. I kept my married name after the divorce for a while, because I didn't want my children to think I wanted to separate from them too, but now I use my maiden name again.
The woman has tightly tangled curly hair. She strikes up a conversation with a woman she thinks she knows. The woman glances up but keeps her attention firmly on her newspaper. The woman with the curls keeps chatting, oblivious to the fact that the other woman is ignoring her. She shifts her laden pushchair into the aisle, standing in the way and repeatedly telling the driver that she wants the next stop. The bus brakes and her pushchair rolls away down the bus. As she rescues it she continues all the while her one-sided conversation with the unresponsive woman.
This woman has dreadlocks, going grey at the roots, and everyone is hanging on her every word. Her poetry tells of her grandmother in a rocking chair and the lessons at her knee, her grandfather's hands and the donkey he rode, the luscious fruits of the Caribbean, and a long boat journey to England to an unknown mother. Her voice has righteous anger tempered with long experience, patience and humour. She merges her life into the poetry and, from time to time, the poem into a song, "won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom?" The audience sing along.
A siren sounded in the distance but somehow he knew that it was not coming to his rescue. He stood back in the corner of the room and tried to calm himself. In only a few minutes they would be there and he was supposed to be in control, at least of himself if not the situation. The door opened and the men filed cooperatively to their desks. He took a deep breath and began handing out the assignments. "Well Mr Manson, I'm sorry, but you'll have to re-write that essay, it's really not up to your usual standard."
It's a macaroni conspiracy. You go to the cupboard and invariably most of it has escaped from the packaging and you have to sweep it up from the shelf. Or there is only that stuff that you bought in an emergency and it was never very nice, far too starchy so it stuck together when it cooked, so it was left at the back uneaten. Or you've got a lovely new packet, specially bought for tonight and the packet bursts and spills its contents across the kitchen floor. But a good cheesy sauce can effectively cover all manner of sins.
Waiting in the waiting area are ten or so people. Mostly they have come to get blood tests. The sign by the ticket machine reads 'if you have an appointment please do not take a ticket but wait to be called' but people take a ticket first, then read the notice. I don't read my book, but just sit clutching my form, because I anticipate being interrupted at any moment. A nurse says it is going to be a while as I am the last appointment and suggests going for a coffee. I wait an hour and forty five minutes.
Even in the age of IVF multiple births twins are still a curiosity. People have romantic notions about closeness and sharing and private languages and reading each other's thoughts. Even when they are one boy and one girl people will still comment 'oh, they don't look very alike', without understanding anything about the nature of twins. But I have them too. I don't wonder if my older son misses my younger daughter, but I wonder if the twins miss each other. I want there to be a bond between them. But they are more concerned with getting on with life.
The anxiety started to build as we waited for the tram. Creature was convinced we were 'late', I said I bet there would be hardly anyone there yet. It was half past by the time we got off at Market Street, though we were reassured to see the place across Piccadilly Gardens, right where she thought it was. It was crowded inside so I asked and was directed towards the back. We weaved through the bar, were briefly concerned at the sight of a random group of middle aged blokes, and then we saw the signs on the tables, 'NaNoWriMo'.
Maggie's Farm was over one of the bridges, well out of the town centre, where the rent was cheaper, you needed to know where it was to find it. In the 1980's the wholefood cooperative movement was still a minority interest, healthy eating was for ageing hippie ... 'the brown rice and sandals brigade'. You could buy aduki beans and dried figs, and weird white stuff called tofu that tasted of nothing much. But it was a refuge from the modern world, all wooden shelves with home-made labels and smelling of herbs and spices. I nearly ended up working there.
You know we had the nicest afternoon, even though town was busy. Celia got a lovely coat in the sale in Debenhams and we had coffee and cake in Café Nero. Afterwards we were just having a little browse round Primark when this girl goes barging past and nearly knocked me over. Only young she was, no respect, didn't seem to even notice we were there. I pointed her out to Celia, and she thought the girl was probably a shop lifter, trying to get out before anyone caught her. What is the world coming to. I blame the parents.
Today I don't want to write 100 words. I can't be bothered. I have sat and stared at this stupid little empty square. I am tempted to just write 99 and see if it will tell me off. Because I seem to be doing everything wrong today. I chose the wrong day apparently to feel pissed off and taken for granted. Because today was the day when I was supposed to be strong, competent, supportive parent. Today I get accused of being unapproachable and judgemental. When I am asked for help i have never turned any of them away. Ever.
This is the last one for now. I am off to do NaNoWriMo. This was a test to see if I could apply myself to writing something every day. I have frequently struggled to write, so it has not been the encouragement I hoped for. I am reminded of Camus' novel The Plague, in which a character spends the entire story trying to decide on the first line to his book. I am worried that I will end up trapped in exactly the same problem, toying with words trying to find perfection and paralysed, unable to write anything at all.
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