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Look at it Another Way

Although you stand and stare at the oranges and wish they would choose themselves, they cannot. You go on like everyone else. And although you feel so very alone you are not.
The man on your left holds a cabbage not knowing if this was the kind his wife used to buy.
‘Do I like these ones?’ he whispers.
The confident woman with the beautiful coat and expensive perfume who annoys the shattered young parents by whizzing too fast past the tiny pink baby clothes in case she breaks down and cries for the children she never had.
No… You are not alone.

But you never tell. They never tell. Strangers with trolleys and their other lives – dodging and ignoring, choosing and organising the life they are left with, such as it is. Sleepless nights, big empty beds, screaming babies, no babies, never any love, too much of the wrong kind of love, too much to do, nothing to do. Just coping… not coping. Pretending.

Of course, you tell yourself, you have suffered the most, no one hurts like you, they all have it so easy, more money, more support, more years, better health and you were unlucky.

On the other hand, who would you swap with? Who would you be if you could?
When you look at the man with the cabbage – do you want his despair? His beautiful cottage by the sea with the half-papered wall where his wife collapsed?
Do you want the children who never sleep and a marriage that cannot cope?
The wealth of a woman whose womb didn’t work and the husband who will work until his heart gives in?

Alternatively you can dress all in black, drive a mobility scooter, a wheelchair, pull a trolley carrying oxygen behind you. Wear a badge that says: “I hurt. Look at me. Do you care?”

However, the chocolate and the TV and the big blue sky and the baby in the buggy from a party who is telling his mother he sees a dog and the man who offers to take your trolley back for you and your favourite song on the radio when you get in the car and … a memory. A good memory. Things that mysteriously push at the back of your throat and awaken your spirits, keep the living just good enough…

Still. Just the same. Making do.

(This was a bit of a freewrite – of sorts. I gave myself the challenge of writing something that had paragraphs beginning with Although, But, Of course, On the other hand, Alternatively, However and Still.
I know you are not supposed to begin a paragraph with ‘But’, but I like breaking rules!)

My Guest Blogger Returns!

Back in early February 2010, Gemma was one of the first (if not THE first) to review the first book in a fabulous new teen fiction/young adult series by the ever winsome Tamsyn Murray (If you don’t believe she’s winsome, just follow her on Twitter!)
(You can read Gemma’s review of My So-Called Afterlife here or on Amazon.)

Gemma

Gemma, aged 15 and 3/4

Now it is time for Book II – Hooray! (that’s a cheer, not the name of the book) and Gemma has again been impressed enough to put down her laptop/guitar/mobile phone/hair-straighteners/boyfriend/pencil/paintbrush/camera, etc. and write an enthusiastic response.

I’ll shut up now and let Gemma get a word in…

MY SO-CALLED HAUNTING, by Tamsyn Murray:

First off, I’d like to say a big thank you to Tamsyn Murray, the lovely author, who saw I was a bit upset on twitter and decided to send me the book to cheer me up. It certainly did. (: And I’d also like to say sorry this took so long to write!

Now, the serious bit. I was so excited for this book – I read the first one in a matter of hours and when Mum told me that Tamsyn was sending me the second one, I was over the moon.

My So-Called Haunting

The Second 'My So-called...' Book

As soon as I’d read the blurb I knew it was going to be very different to My So-Called Afterlife. Reading on, I noticed the storyline seemed like it was aimed at a slightly older audience, dealing with much more mature issues (such as gun crime, gang culture and psycho boyfriends… To name a few.. Without giving too much away.. ) I’m not sure whether this was intentional…
Anyway I really liked it and I was glad to know I hadn’t grown out of it!
The characters still have massive personalities – Skye is just as loveable as Lucy, and I found Mary, especially, HILARIOUS. (was that just me..?) The plot is just as gripping, just as exciting, and was the same emotional rollercoaster – I laughed out loud, I was genuinely spooked and I just managed to hold back my tears. The whole way through, I was hooked and I absolutely cannot wait for the next one!
Lastly, I want to say I LOVE the new cover design. It looks lovely, and although you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover I would definitely pick it up in a shop.
Okay, it’s over and out from me now, thank you again for the book Tamsyn, and hurry up with the third one!

Giraffe


Gemma Carter, 26th September 2010


Thank you Gemma!
Love Mum xxx

Here’s an example of Gemma’s unbelievable drawing talent and imagination.
(Sorry – couldn’t resist a bit of parental bragging!)



The Crap Sponge

I have this sponge. No one can see it. But I know it’s there. I call it the crap sponge because it’s there to deal with and soak up all the crap I have to put up with in life. Lots of people have one but mine is quite big. Sometimes I feel it getting heavy but I can usually carry it.

When I was three the Fairy Sponge Mother visited me and said I had to have an even bigger sponge. I was going to need it, she said. Sure enough I had a lot of crap to deal with that year and was grateful for the greater crap-soaking-up capacity.

Throughout my childhood I went around with this invisible but heavy sponge full of crap and found that it was a bit of a hindrance but I hid it well, I think, and was especially sensitive to others who looked like they might be struggling with big sponges.
My capacity for taking crap has come in handy throughout my life and I am normally very willing to put up with other people’s crap because I recognise a small crap sponge carrier when I see one and am only too happy to help out.
Unfortunately two years of extraordinarily heavy crap brought one onslaught after another and I fear my sponge is now full and painful and beginning to leak.
I have heard that even crap sponges have a remarkable recovery rate if left to dry in the air for a while. So I’m wondering whether my poor sponge is allowed a break. I’m actually quite fond of it, we’ve been together so long now.
It may be tricky because the other sponges in this house are oddly shaped and can be a bit unpredictable.

Maybe a crap holiday would help. Perhaps a crap movie… I’ve seen how other people leak when they watch crap films. Then afterwards perhaps my crap sponge and I could go to bed with a crap book.

A THRILLING Evening

Old Max, currently with his grey-whiskered snout slumped on the edge of his basket, had seen her haring around like this before – usually every morning when she couldn’t find things – so although he wasn’t enjoying the panic and unease, he wasn’t too unsettled. Instead he yawned noisily and raised his eyebrows hopefully at the bag of shopping on the kitchen surface opposite him.

Marie, meanwhile, felt hysterical.
After dumping the shopping in the kitchen she dashed to the stairs remembering an open window in her bedroom but changed her mind and decided to check all the downstairs doors and windows first.
Think! Did I lock the front door?
She ran to check and then, momentarily paralysed by fear, couldn’t decide whether to turn right or left. The panic was clouding her judgement. She realised she was crying too.
Come on! Keep it together! Where now?
She hastily formed the layout of the house in her mind and darted towards the backdoor and the garage.
Before she even opened the backdoor, however, a chilling draught forced itself mournfully through the gaps in the tattered old oak and the cold, smoky night air flooded her nostrils, mixing with another smell – a sweet sickly smell. It was a smell from the past that swamped her with foreboding.
A thud of fear walloped into her and she baulked at the thought that the garage may already be a place of danger. So she didn’t open the back door to check, instead she locked and bolted the door, feeling like she was taking forever with sweaty, trembling fingers. Then she dropped boots and shoes onto the doormat in front of the poorly fitted draught excluder in a lame attempt to slow down any entry.

The autumn sun was long gone and the windows were inky-dark. Before pulling down the kitchen blind she saw nothing but interior light, her own reflection and an immense insoluble blackness. She would have no visual warning of any impending approach on her house. Her skin pricked and her mouth was sucked dry. She fled from the kitchen. Room by room: she ran in, looked at windows, checked catches, closed curtains, turned lights on and then turned them off again.
‘No. No. Off. Off is better,’ she said to herself.
Marie thudded upstairs but as she stepped onto the unlit landing she was thrown into temporary blindness and she halted, terrified by the thought of potential horrors waiting in the dark.
Again she smelled that sweet sickly smell and now an overwhelming feeling that she was not alone on the landing.
Instinct told her to go back to the kitchen where there was Max and hopefully safety. She could slip into the pantry, curl into a ball and hide until it was all over.
‘But I need to shut the window…’
Her fingers walked along the wall to where she knew the light switch was. She wanted to flash out the dark corners and she cursed herself for not replacing the bulb at the top of the stairs. She flicked the switch anyway knowing it was futile but to her shock the light came on.

The light came on…

‘Oh my God, someone’s replaced my light bulb…’

‘Who’s there?’ she hissed.
Her chest rose and fell quickly as shallow, panicky breaths took hold. She heard herself panting.

Buying a run down old farmhouse had not been so great after all. She had never felt so vulnerable. Just because she was the one with a big house, there was no need for this….

CRASH!

There was a bang and the sound of splintering glass from downstairs. Marie let out the longest loudest scream of her life. She couldn’t stop. She screamed until her breath ran out and then she screamed again. She had completely lost control. She finally collapsed on the landing. And that’s when she saw the box…

They’d been here.

Something claw-shaped was hanging over the edge of the box. It was limp and hairy-looking. In the half-light she couldn’t see if it was black or brown. She wasn’t at all sure what she was looking at and she didn’t want to find out.

They had won.

The house was so quiet.
She heard Max’s doggy toenails clicking on the terracotta kitchen floor and the welcome tinkle of his dog tag as he came closer, with a questioning whine.
‘The shopping!’ She remembered the Pyrex oven dish she’d bought.
Of course! The dog had pulled the shopping off the kitchen surface. That was all.

She started as her mobile phone rang. Marie took it from her pocket and sat at the top of the stairs, angled so she could keep an eye on the box. She looked at the screen of her phone.

Christina calling…

Marie trembled.
Max came to the foot of the stairs, desperate for her to come down.

‘This is it Maxy. Do or die, my friend. Let’s just say we’re not in, huh?’
Marie dragged in a shaky breath before answering.
‘Hello?’
‘Mar-ieeee!’ a voice screamed at her, ‘are you ready for the fright of your life?!’
Marie sobbed, admitting defeat.
‘I’m bringing them over now,’ the voice continued. ‘Look out – there are eight of them this year. Jack and Lola insisted on bringing a friend… Okay kids? Lets go have a Halloween party at Auntie Marie’s house!’
Marie held the phone away from her face as the noise of over-excited children roared through the earpiece.
‘Oh – and I left some strings of glow-in-the-dark skeletons and lanterns and shit in your garage and some of my infamous gut-sticking eyeball cakes in your oven when I came round earlier. There’s a box of fancy dress on the landing too. Get dressed up before we arrive!’
‘But, Chrissie – there’s – ‘
Click. Christina hung up.
‘- there’s broken glass… ’ Marie finished her sentence pointlessly, put her head in her hands and screwed her face up in desperation.

‘We don’t really like Halloween, do we Maxy?’

Permission to be Quiet!!!

This week I’m feeling rather cross.
A little matter concerning the education system has riled me (again).
Our 15-year-old came home from school very upset on Monday, saying that she has no chance of achieving a good grade for her GCSE English next year because the speaking and listening assessment that she took this year went very badly. She is very shy, had to perform in front of the whole class (plus a teacher who frightens her) and says she went to pieces. She has had her results and is cross, upset and frustrated because she says they are very poor and are worth a massive 20% of her final GSCE English exam grade.
Twenty percent!?!
I too am angry, upset and frustrated. We are waiting to hear if she can re-take.

BUT WHY?

Why put children through this? Some children are shy. I was shy at school. Being able to stand in front of a room full of people and spout a load of stuff about a book you have read is no measure of how good an English student you are. Neither is taking part in a role-play situation proof that you can read and understand.
Teenagers are very self-conscious and very afraid of making fools of themselves at the best of times. It’s a trillion times worse for the shy ones. Let the natural performers perform and let the quiet ones be quiet.
Which brings me onto me!
I was incredibly shy at school. Two different teachers forced me to take part in two different school debates (You could have powered the National Grid from my trembling) and several different music teachers forced me to perform in public on various different occasions. On every occasion I was terrified to the point of being ill, hated the experience, regretted doing it, performed badly, felt I’d made an arse of myself and never wanted to do it again. It didn’t make me less shy – it made me more shy. And repeatedly my school reports were full of comments about how I didn’t participate enough in class. ‘Too reticent’ was the favourite.
Why do shy people need to change? Why does everyone think we need saving? ‘Bringing out of our shells’? Why should we be more outgoing, more confident? Why make us get up and dance at parties and then say ‘ Ooh, look – that’s better! You’re having a nice time now, aren’t you?’ Don’t. We hate it. We go home and lie awake all night and wish we hadn’t made such an idiot of ourselves and make a mental note to avoid bossy people who try to change us in the future. We retreat even further.
I don’t go around telling noisy people to shut up and sit down. I observe them and enjoy our differences.
So that’s what I’m cross about this week and every week. Differences.
Let’s all be different and marvel at each other.

AppleBasket

We're all different

Now go away and leave me alone.

Happiness is Not a Constant Thing

(Hold onto your hats – this one has sexual content)

You sit on the edge of my jacket, with your back to me, doing up your shirt buttons. I look at the way your hair is cut around the back of your ears and want to cup my hands around your skull and draw your warm face towards me. I need you to spend more time with me.
‘Happy?’ you ask, half-turning so that we can almost, but not quite, see each others’ faces and patting my bare thigh in the absent-minded way one might pat a dog.
‘Mmm, yes,’ I answer quietly and then offer a small gentle laugh as evidence.

‘Happy’?
Happy? What? Right now? Happy with that quick hump?
Or happy with life? With this situation?

Six months ago, on the bitterest of January days as we bent over hot cups of coffee, when you first touched my fingers across the table, I felt a warm, fluid flush of life to my belly. I felt desirable, passionate, obsessed, was always laughing. In the next three months I enjoyed the excitement of secrecy and of being wanted.
‘I NEED to see you,’ said your texts. ‘I WANT you. I have to be with you NOW.’
But when did I feel happy?

Am I happy now? No.

My body is betraying me. It tells me to reach for you, to plead with you, to get you back inside me. As you were heaving up and down on me, sweating at the neck and breathing your hot breath onto my face, your pheromones swam up my nose and into my brain, flooding my limbic system with messages of desire and pleasure. I delighted in your even features as your glazed eyes looked at me, but didn’t really look at me, in the throes of your orgasm and the animal-me wanted to scream, ‘Yes! Stay inside. Give me your sperm. You are a good mate.’
Now my groin aches with unfulfilled sexual need and I want to push my hips into yours and squeeze you into me but you are gone. Done.

Now I don’t like you.

I stare at your back. The back of your shirt. Your stupid, grey shirt – you silver-backed gorilla, turned away from me, so at-ease with yourself, so pleased with yourself. So happy with yourself and your pulling success, your leadership success. It won’t last though. Happiness is not a constant thing. Maybe when you get back to your car, someone will have keyed a big scratch along the bodywork. Maybe back at work there will be mutiny in the ranks or the stocks and shares won’t play ball in your favour anymore.

An aching left buttock draws my attention to the fact that half my bare arse is on the wet ground while you are as neat and dry as when we arrived.
I feel damp and messy from the deed and the location and even though it is a warm July afternoon, I shiver and hug myself.
‘You’d better get dressed,’ you say, slipping your shoes on and standing up.
I shuffle into the middle of my ruined, grass-stained jacket and feeling suddenly self-conscious, wrap my cardy quickly around my shoulders before reaching for my underwear. My clothes are crumpled and scattered. You didn’t care where you threw them as you undressed me. Yet your clothes are neat and won’t betray you.
I want you to stay and hold me, warm me, talk to me, but you are waiting to go. The moment was over for you the second you groaned ‘Oh yes!’ and looked up for your pants.

When did that, ‘Oh yes!’ start? I wonder… Was it about the same time you did away with conversation, eye contact and hand-holding?
And when was the last time you said my name? Asked how I am?
These days, if a quick tongue in the mouth and a simultaneous two-handed tit and arse squeeze hasn’t got me damp in the first minute, you don’t take your time with looks and words, you simply push my knickers down and lick you finger.
You sure are a man confident that your needs will be met…

I say I won’t get a lift with you this time – I will walk along the canal. I see surprise in your face, but the relief – oh, the barely disguised relief!
I’m up, half-dressed and feeling awkward as you kiss me politely on the cheek and leave, jiggling your mobile phone at me, as if to say, ‘I’ll be in touch.’

The canal path is quiet and empty but for a short round man walking his short round dog. The man has a large bent nose and no hair and swings left-right-left-right as he walks towards me. I’m tall and wearing city-clothes and I’m suddenly concerned that he hates people like me. My legs crease as I approach a bench and wait for them to pass. I want to look occupied, so I read your crude text from 2 hours ago:
‘Your [omitted] smells divine and turns me on. Fancy meeting in the woods by the canal?’
I text a reply:
‘You smell divine, but so does bacon and I’ve given up pigs.’
I don’t send it.
I get to my feet and hurl the mobile phone into the canal.
In all those six months, he didn’t even bother to find out my address. The idiot.
I don’t want to turn and see if the phone sinks in case I see it floating on the surface all grimy and unwanted. That would be awful.

The man watches me walk away. ‘Bloody hell, Missus!’
I have shocked him. He chuckles. It is a contagious chuckle and I smile without looking back.
‘Bloody hell indeed,’ I giggle.

Happy?

Ecstatic.

But it won’t last.

N.B.
The title for this came about after listening to an interview on BBC Radio 4 last week with the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. When Jenni Murray asked if, despite a challenging life, she was happy, the Duchess paused and said slowly, ‘Happiness is not a constant thing.’ I knew that she was going to say that and said it out loud along with her and then wrote it down.
I’m not sure she would have been happy to have inspired a story about sex though!
(It wasn’t entirely what I intended- the characters kind of took over!)

Books I’ve enjoyed in Summer 2010

Following a gentle nudge on Twitter from the immensely affable young writer Nik Perring to ‘spread the word of good writing’ by recommending some books, I thought it only right and proper to show you my latest book delights.
Here’s what I’ve read and loved recently:

Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (I know – it should be ‘Traveller’ but she’s American, bless her…)
Not So Perfect by Nik Perring
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology

And two books that my mum lent to me recently and I gave straight back after reading because she’d written her name in them (I can take a hint!):

Wife Interrupted by Amy Molloy
The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

Not a huge reading list from someone who claims to love reading and writing but I only read books in bed at night. The rest of the day I squeeze Writers’ magazines, brilliant blogs and – now it’s a new academic year – my Open University course materials into any time I allow myself.
There’s a lot of accomplished writing on the Internet, particularly flash fiction which is worth rummaging around for.

(Confession Time….
I haven’t finished reading The Bristol Prize Anthology … shhhh…)

Looby’s World

The gnomes would help her with this one, she thought, reaching down into a tussock, picking up Cyril and standing him in the palm of her hand level with her face. To the untrained eye it simply looked like she was pulling up and examining grass.
‘They’re coming to look at me again today Cyril. Going to need a bit of help with the entertainment,’ she said.
‘Only too happy to oblige,’ answered Cyril.
‘I would ask the tree people, but they sang a rude song last time and did you see their totally rubbish wavy branch routine? I really don’t think anyone else was impressed. I was the only one who joined in. Bit boring maybe…’ She gave a short example for Cyril’s benefit with only one arm so as not to drop him.
Number 8 laughed at her and motioned to Number 7 as they walked past on their way to their own house next door. ‘Mad as a hatter.’
‘Shhh,’ said Number 7. ‘Morning Looby love!’
‘Hello Seven,’ answered Looby.

Looby didn’t have names for people. She could never remember them the way she could gnome names. So she gave them all numbers. People were all frightfully stupid. Numbers 1 and 2, whom she had lived with all of her life – so far as she could remember – and were getting a bit wrinkly now, couldn’t see the gnomes and she was getting terribly impatient having to continually remind them who they all were. Still – they seemed pleasant enough and Number 1 made nice mini chocolate cakes for her to share with the tree friends. Numbers 3 and 4 who used to live in Number 1’s tummy and were always getting told off for laughing at her, came and went a lot, especially Number 3 who was going off for a long time soon to learn stuff and get clever at somewhere called Universe City. Maybe if he got clever enough he’d be able to see the gnomes when he got back and would stop looking at her in that painful way like she was a difficult maths sum that needed working out.

Number 4 liked to stay at Number 5’s house quite a lot, where he was allowed to have friends to play. Which was nice for Number 5 since Number 6 had gone to live in the sky. Number 5 was extraordinarily wrinkly and really not clever at all. She didn’t have a clue about gnomes. Number 6 had been good at pretending he knew about gnomes and could see them but Looby knew he could never really see them. He didn’t even put his glasses on for heaven’s sake! All the same Looby had been sad that he decided to live in the sky instead of at the house with Number 5. Once you go to live in the sky people can’t see you anymore. She knew because she’d looked and she never saw anyone in the sky. If anyone could see things it was her.

‘How many do you think I need? I do have to entertain for quite some time when she brings another person round and they have to write a story too so I like to help them to come up with good ideas.’
Cyril scratched his little gnome’s beard and cocked his head like a bird. ‘Percy got you into trouble last time, didn’t he? There was really no need for him to wee in the lady’s handbag. How about Arthur? He behaves. He and Roger could do a nice dance for your visitors. Maybe that would keep everyone happy. Oh and Denis does a great fishing talk. How does that sound?’
‘Denis broke all the biscuits last time and the poor lady had to pretend she hadn’t noticed. Although she did seem to like his knock-knock jokes. Yes, okay, I think a talk about fishing would be very worthwhile. You know, when the lady comes I might see if she wants be called Number 9 – She’s been visiting since Number 3 got out of Number 1’s bottom and we see her nearly as much as number 7 and 8 from next door these days.’
Cyril thought this was a very good idea.

When he heard Looby’s visitors leaving two hours later, Cyril snuck behind a flower pot to listen to how it went.
‘Away with the fairies, that one,’ said the stranger to Number 9.
‘Gnomes actually,’ hissed Cyril crossly.

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