writing

Decorum 2.0

A few weeks ago, when I wasn’t self-isolating and could leave the house, I went to my Saturday group and wrote a piece called ‘Decorum’. It was ok, but I think this piece – written a few years ago now – is better. So enjoy it! Decorum the second!

Shh, thank you, thanks, shh please. Well, I’ve always known this day would come: the day I say goodbye to my innocent unworldly young girl, and instead say hel-lo to a beautiful confident woman – still young though, I hasten to add! Though the clock is ticking darling – you got in there just in time, Simon! Ha ha! I’m only kidding: she’s still got a few good years ahead of her left.

Anyway, time now for a few helloes: hello Janice and Eric, all the way from Swansea, and hello to Patricia and Iain, all the way from Ozz-traylia! G’day, I should be saying. Or good arvo, I suppose. Or even, give us our ashes back, you load of criminal bastards! Ha ha, no I’m just joking. Still, thanks for making the effort to come. I wish I could say the same about Lucy and John, who only live in Peterborough, but there we have it. And last of all, hello to Samantha and Luke, who were the last to reply!

I am delighted, on a serious note, to see Mike and David here as we’re very welcoming of all sorts, we are, and I am very pleased you feel comfortable enough to come together, considering what my Shelly’s mum thinks of your lot. Still, like I say, Shelly and I are please to allow you here because we’re absolutely fine with what you two get up to – but don’t go getting any funny ideas, Simon, Shelly and I do want grandchildren at some point!

And very last and finally, a special hello to Chy – Che – Cheese-ome? Is that how you say it, Nicole? Cheese-ome? You know, your black friend! What’s her name? Cheeseym? Chisom? Lovely. Well, welcome here Chisom, we’ve got some nice music for you later, some nice Stevie Wonder. Hope you like it! I’m sure you will: you’re all such good dancers! Sorry? What’s that, Nic? Broken her leg? Oh well, you’ll enjoy swaying, like Stevie Wonder himself! If anyone fancies sitting down, then do please keep Chisom company – she’s the one with the lovely white teeth, but they all have, haven’t they? What’s that, Nic? Get on with what? Ok, I suppose that’s enough helloes. You can’t boss me around Nic, I’m not Simon! Watch out Si, ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ has given her orders!

Anyway, welcome everyone. I hope you’re enjoying yourselves! After all, Shell and I remortgaged the house to pay for this, so no ruining the tablecloths! Simon very kindly offered to pay half, but as the father of the bride, it is my duty, and he’s not exactly on his six-figure salary yet, is he Nic? Actually, and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this, but he’s not on any salary at the moment, so I’m sure they’ll welcome any cheques for them, but he’s promised to get over his back thing and get a proper job because my little Princess doesn’t want to be a working mother! Anyway, Nic, if he can’t provide in the meantime, Mum and Dad Bank plc is open 24/7 darling, so don’t worry about anything. And even though Jamie had a good job and his own flat, you chose Simon and me and mum couldn’t be more prouder of you. So this is for Simon and Nicole, who love each other and that’s all that matters!

So now we come to the cards: this one says “congratulations on your wedding day” from Jean McLean – Donald’s name conspicuously absent, I notice! See Nicole, that’s how not to be married! And a cheque for £25 – well, that’s err, very kind of you, especially after he’s taken everything. So thanks then, Miss, Mrs – well, Nic, she’s kept the name, I don’t know what to bloody call her – and this one says “congratulations on your happy day” from Rob Jenkins with a £100 John Lewis voucher – that’s more like it! – and this says “best wishes on your life together” from, err, I can’t quite read it. Not from you, is it Chesse-ome?! And there’ no cheque, so maybe it’s best I don’t know who it’s from, eh Shelly? And this one from the Campbells says “massive congratulations”, and in it they say they got you a toaster. Well, they’ve already got a Dualit twin sandwich toastie maker, so it’d better be a Kenwood at the very least!

And, princess, while we’re on the subject of presents, me and mum have… dun dun da! Bought you the bungalow next to ours! So now you’ll never be too busy to see your old dad! Yes, darling, really! Riiiight next door, yes! Although it is detached – we want grandchildren, but don’t want to hear how they’re being made! Ah, my princess is so overcome, she’s crying. Don’t cry, Nic: we’ve still got the photos to go and that make-up artist cost an arm and a leg. So, while Simon’s STILL unemployed you won’t have to worry abpout the rent on that nasty London flat – you’ll be back in Surrey with us! Nic, love, I haven’t made the toast yet, don’t go downing all that wine. Anyway, Nic, me and mum are so proud of you, and hope we never have to do this again, so you’d better behave yourself Simon! I’ve got my eye on you! No ending up like the McLeans – that’s right, isn’t it Jean? Real miserable on your own. Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, please raise your glasses to the happy couple, our next door neighbours and parents of our future grandchildren, the lovely Nicole and her husband Simon!

writing

Decorum

Another Saturday session, another hour of free-writing! Again, we will forgive any typos, errors or mistakes, as this was all typed in an hour. Spark word was ‘decorum’; here is my piece:

The summer Eleanor returned from her Swiss Finishing School, was the summer Isabel decided she would kill her. She had always suspected grandam had preferred Eleanor, as she was prettier and daintier and younger. For even though they were twins, Eleanor had taken her sweet time in being born and had arrived after midnight. As such, they had separate birthdays, and Isabel always thought grandam put more effort into Eleanor’s birthday plans than to hers. 

Eleanor was due to arrive back at their palatial Georgian townhouse on Wednesday the 15th. It was swelteringly hot outside, in the leafy streets of Regents Park, but inside their house, it was oppressive. Grandam had insisted on keeping the house at a Georgian standard, and so there were heavy draped curtains over the windows, and huge glooming oil pantings which loomed down from almost every wall. Isabel wasn’t sure how grandam had managed it, but the house surpassed itself in being boiling in the summer, and freezing in the winter. The only place to get some respite from the heat was the orangery, out back, and in Eleanor’s room. Isabel held it as further proof that grandam liked Eleanor more: she had the better room. She had been allowed to decorate it how she wanted, and had even been to Ikea. Isabel’s room looked like the Grim Reaper’s bedroom. There was a portrait of hr great-great-grandfather hanging directly opposite her bed, which was dark and menacing and needed a good clean, if truth be told. It gave Isabel the heebie-jeebies. She longed to wash it, or, better still, get rid of it. 

She sat now, in the orangery, drinking a cup of Earl Grey with lemon and listening to grandam go on and on about how much she was looking forward to Eleanor’s return. Isabel swilled the tea around in her bone-china mug, and wished it was a mug of builder’s brew, with 2 sugars. Or, even better, instant coffee. She wasn’t really listening to what grandam was saying. A brief ‘mm’ here and there was all that was necessary to hold a conversation.

“So you’ll do it?” asked grandam, shaking Isabel out of herself.

“Do what, sorry? I was miles away.” Isabel smiled shyly at grandam, hoping that the old woman would think she had just had a momentary lapse of concentration, and not realise she had not paid attention to anything she had been saying.

“Why, organise the party of course,” said grandam. 

Of course! How could Isabel think grandam had forgotten? She had asked, very tentatively, in the April if she could hold a birthday party for her 21st. Her 21st, and Eleanor’s, she thought begrudgingly. Grandam had replied that she would think about it, and no more had been said. Until now. Of course, there wasn’t long to go, today was the 15th of August, and her birthday was the 31st

“You’e such a good girl,” said grandam. “Young Eleanor will love it.” It still rankled with Isabel that grandam referred to Eleanor as ‘young’ Eleanor. Eleanor, named after their mother who had died shortly after childbirth with her only children, loved it of course.”I’m named for my mother,” she would tell strangers, then, bottom lip a-qivering, would tell them, “she lives with angels now.” There was no chance of Eleanor ever being confused with her mother, as her mother was long dead, but grandam still stuck the prefix ‘young’ onto Eleanor. Isabel wasn’t sure if that was just to remind her that she was the older one.

With Isabel’s birthday being the 31st of August, and Eleanor’s being the 1st September, they had been in different year groups at school. As such, they had different friends, and different experiences of the place. Isabel remembered being the youngest in her form, struggling to keep up with the ones born almost a year before her, whereas Eleanor had breezed through school, along with all the lucky autumn babies. 

It was Eleanor’s good fortune to be that one day younger that had secured her a place at finishing school in Switzerland. Not that Isabel would have wanted to go to finishing school – all those elocution lessons and walking around with books on your head left her cold – but she wouldn’t have minded leaving grandam’s company for a year or two. 

“I’ll like it too, grandam,” argued Isabel. Grandam smiled at her.

“Of course you will, dear. But it will be dear Eleanor who will be the belle of the ball. Imagine! She might meet her future husband at this party,” Grandam’s eyed twinkled at Isabel. 

“I might meet mine too,” said Isabel, objectionably. She disliked Eleanor being referred to as the ‘belle of the ball’. 

“Organising such a big party in such a short time will be difficult, you know,” warned grandam, but Isabel’s mind had run away with her. She would have a circus-style party, with jugglers and tightrope walkers and fire-breathers. Everyone would be dressed up as clowns, but she would wear an elegant ballgown, to show it was her 21st, and…

“Young Eleanor’s debut is a very improtant event,” continued grandam. Isabel’s face fell. Oh. It was a party for Eleanor. Of course. “I thought we could have it on the 31st of this month, what do you think?”

“But that’s my birthday,” wailed Isabel.

“It will be a joint party, for both of you,” said grandam sharply. Isabel felt depressed. It was her birthday on the 31st, Eleanor’s was the day after! It was her special day in the year, and now it was ruined ruined ruined by having to have a stupid party for stupid Eleanor, returning from stupid finishing school.

“Stupid,” muttered Isabel, but was saved from having to explain herself by the arrival of Eleanor.

Eleanor stood in the doorway of the orangery, perfectly erect. She had on a green linen sundress, and white lace gloves. She carried a small attaché case and smiled meekly towards grandam, who came flurrying over to embrace her.

Eleanor was stock-still while grandam pawed at her, and only when she had been released did she incline her head slightly towards Isabel.

“Good afternoon grandam,” she said, in a voice that rang high and clear. “Good afternoon Isabel. Is it not a  fine day? I do believe I shall take a nap. Travelling does weary one so.”

“Oh, darling, I’m so happy you’re back!” enthused grandam, taking the attaché case off her and holding her by the gloved hand. “It seems to have done you a world of good.”

“Why, I believe it has,” said Eleanor. “Please be a dear and take my case to my suite. I wish to talk to my sister.”

Grandam, trembling with excitement, left the room with the case. 

Eleanor sat down next to Isabel.

“Hello sis,” she said, in her usual voice. Her voice wasn’t rough or common by any means – they lived in Regents Park – but it didn’t have the sonorous tone that she had used before. “I hear you’re organising my debut. Jolly sporting of you.”

“Shut up,’ scowled Isabel.

“I’ll shut up,” said Isabel in a low, threatening tone, “when you make me the star of the party. Everything is to be about me, you hear me? I want pictures of me everywhere, and everyone to talk about me. You make that party the best party there’s ever been. It’s such a shame it’s on your actual birthday but – “ she levelled her face next to Isabel’s. Isabel could see the powder on her nose. “May the best granddaughter win.”

It was then that Isabel decided Eleanor should die. She would kill her, and at her party. There would be no more young Eleanor.

Grandam sailed back into the room.

“Everything going well?” she trilled.

“Fine, thank you,” replied the twins in unison.

all about me, writing

Imbolc / Nature

Today is February the 1st. Which means it’s my day, St Brigid’s day! It marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, so is considered by some to be the first day of spring. Also, it’s my name day. Me me me. So go and celebrate! Happy Imbolc!

Coincidentally, the spark word at my Saturday writing group was ‘nature’. So I’ve written, as per, a 1 hour story about nature. This one actually has an ending of sorts, though it is MEGA CHEESY. Apologies about that.

Here is ‘Nature’, in all its glory:

“…Take them twice a day, Mrs Godfrey, and that should heal up in no time,” smiled Dr Ray at the ancient woman with the most horrendous toe fungus he had ever seen. She smiled back at him, then slowly shuffled her tiny body out of the surgery. 

Ray shuddered to himself as the for closed behind her. Feet were the worst. He’d never been keen on them; even when his girlfriend showed off her pretty painted toenails, he recoiled a little. Still, the next patient was not an 88 year old lady, it was a 32 year old woman, so unlikely that she would be suffering from foot-related fungus. You just never knew, however, he reminded himself. You just never knew.

After he had signalled for the next patient to come in, he watched as the door opened and the most beautiful woman he had ever seen entered. She had auburn hair which fell in pre-Raphaelite ringlets around her cherubic face, which was porcelain-white, and makeup free. She wasn’t small, and wasn’t big either. She was just perfect. He felt his mouth dry, so took a deep drought from the glass he kept by the photo of his girlfriend. Amber was pretty, sure, but she paled into insignificance next to this goddess.

“Miss Hamilton?” he asked, once he had gathered his composure.

“Mrs,” she corrected him, a tiny smile playing on the corners of her lips. “But please, call me Fiona.”

“Fiona,” he said. He rolled the word around in his mouth a few times. It was delicious. Fiona, Fiona, Fiona. “What can I do for you today, Fiona?”

“Well,” she started, then stopped. 

There was a pause for a minute, then Ray asked, “is everything ok?”

“Ye-es,” said Fiona, still hesitating, then she sat upright, looked at Ray with her deep violet eyes and asked, “is it illegal for your husband to steal your baby?”

“Sorry?!” spluttered Ray.

“My husband. He’s stolen my baby.”

“Right,” said Ray, trying to compose himself, and wondering what to say next. Fiona was clearly very vulnerable, and he longed to embrace her, to take her cares away. But he had no idea, no professional idea that is, of what to do next. He was stumped. Eventually, he asked, “is it your husband’s baby?”

“Oh yes,” said Fiona in that angelic voice she possessed. “I’ve only ever been with two men, and the first one was in my teens. It’s definitely my husband’s baby. But he’s stolen it.”

“Do you have any idea where he could have taken it?” asked Ray, wondering why she kept on referring to the baby as ‘it’.

“Oh yes. He’s taken it to hospital. But I don’t want him to.”

“Is,” said Ray, treading very carefully, “the baby sick?”

“Oh yes,” said Fiona, quite cheerfully. “Very sick. We think it’s whooping cough.”

“Then surely a hospital is the best place for a sick child?” suggested Ray.

“No, no, not at all,” said Fiona, suddenly very firm. “It’s not natural.”

“Not,” repeated Ray, “natural.”

“No. I don’t mean – “ she held up her hand to stop him interrupting, “I’m not a lunatic!” she laughed a terrifying tinkly laugh. “I’m not at all against medicine. Not at all. But they’ll pump it full of chemicals, and I just want nature to care for my child.”

 “Nature,” repeated Ray.

“Yes,” she was earnestly nodding her lovely head. “I just want nature for my baby. My midwife was Mother Nature herself, and even though my husband told me off because I could have started haemorrhaging when the placenta came out, I survived the birth.” She proudly drew her beautiful head upright. “It was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever done.”

“You didn’t have any midwife at all?” asked Ray faintly.

“I did! I told you, Mother Nature! Gaia, the earth goddess and Brigid, the Celtic goddess of fertility were all the help I needed.”

She’s insane, thought Ray. She’s actually certifiable. All thoughts of wanting to stroke her hair, to hold her in his arms, to cherish and comfort her vanished. She needed help.

“And I tried everything,” she was saying, as Ray zoned back into the room. “I dried out the umbilical cord and gave it to it to suck on. I fed the baby the ground placenta. I lit candles and collected dew and danced. And I’m sure it was working, but husband stole it and has taken it to hospital, where they don’t understand nature at all, and will put chemicals in my baby!” She started to sob. 

“But the chemicals will make the child better!” Ray almost shouted. “You must think of what is best for the baby! You haven’t even told me if the baby is a boy or a girl! How can I help you recover your child I don’t even know its sex!”

Fiona looked at him hard.

“It has a penis, if that’s what you mean, but it isn’t ready to choose yet. Who knows – it might turn out to be an animal, instead of a human. Imagine,” she said, starry-eyed, “if I had given birth to a tiger instead of a human child. Wouldn’t that really be something?”

 Ray couldn’t believe he was going to attempt reason with Fiona, but he did anyway. “Surely the most natural thing is to raise your son – ” here Fiona shuddered – “as a boy, and if he feels he’s in the wrong body later, he’ll let you know.”

Fiona looked coldly at him. “I can see that I’m wasting my time here,” she said stiffly. “I thought you would understand, but you’re just like the rest of them. Telling me to talk to someone, to ‘get help’ – I don’t need any help! I carried that child for nine months, for nine months!” She was screaming now. “And I know it better than anyone! It’s my child, mine mine mine! And he – ” she spat out the word, “has taken it to hospital. To a bloody hospital!” She lay in the foetal position and wept while Ray discreetly phoned for an ambulance. 

That evening, Ray was having glass of wine. His third, but who’s counting? He was exhausted. He listened to Amber as she chatted away, clearing the dinner plates and telling him all about Samantha in HR, who’s covering Jan on maternity leave, and is such a bitch. 

“I’m sure she’s cheating on him,” she continued, as she sidled on the sofa next to Ray. Ray blinked. 

“Who’s cheating on who?” she asked, a little blearily.

Amber clucked. “Samantha, the next HR person. Her boyfriend, Joe, he’s really nice. I met him at a conference once and – oh, did I tell you? I got my toenails done today.” She pulled off her socks and wriggled her dainty toes at him, which had a covered of pale lavender on the nails. Ray was suddenly very glad to see her feet.

“Your feet are lovely,” he said, in all honestly. “I’ve never told you before.”

“Thank you!” beamed Amber as she slid her feet back into her socks. “And how was your day? I’ve waffled enough about me.”

“It was – ” Ray considered. “Interesting.”

“Oh?” said Amber, wide-eyed. “How come?”

Ray was tired. “It just was. Come on,” he said, standing up and taking her hand, “let’s go to bed and let nature take its course.”

Amber giggled. “I love it when nature takes its course.”

“So do I,” said Ray. “Sometimes.”

writing

Travel

Another hour, another semi-story! Spark word was travel, here is the resultant mess. Again, only written in an hour, so please forgive any mistakes, but enjoy!

“I’m bored,” said George, kicking the back of his mother’s seat. “I’m bored. I’m bored. I’m bored. I’m bored.  I’m bored bored bored bored -“

“Ok George, keep your pants on,” said Liz, turning her attention again to the satnav. “It says left here,” she told her husband. 

‘It isn’t,” he countered. “I checked the route before we left and we turn off at the next junction.”

“Well, the satnav says…”

‘The satnav’s wrong!” snapped Greg. He’d been driving for a little over three hours now, and was starting to feel the effects of the second cup of coffee he’d had before they’d left. 

“Mummy, can we turn the radio back on?” asked Phoebe. The radio had been turned off during a particularly heated discussion over temporary traffic lights and whether or not they’d be better going round the back streets. 

“In a minute, darling,” said Liz.

‘Why not now?” chipped in George. “It’s boring in the car. I’m bored, bored, bored, bored -“ 

“Because I said in a minute, darling – it really is left here, this is the turning.”

“It isn’t, I assure you,” said Greg, through gritted teeth.

“Ray-dee-oh,” chanted Phoebe. “Ray-dee-oh, ray-dee-oh…”

George joined in and the two children enjoyed a good 30 seconds of repeating the same word over and over, until their dad turned round furiously and bellowed at them for the love of God to shut up. They shut up.

It had been that turning. Shit.

They drove in silence.

At the motorway service station, and after a well-deserved trip to the bathroom, Greg was feeling more optimistic. Yes, they were now on a slightly different route, but as long as they carried on going south, that would be all right. Where was Dover? South. Where was he heading? South. All fine, he consoled himself. What’s a scenic route anyway? The ferry didn’t leave until the next day, and they had no rush to be in heir bed and breakfast. As long as he went in vaguely the right direction, he’d find it, eventually.

Liz came over to where he was sitting, holding Phoebe’s hand. Phoebe was clutching a bag of crispy M&Ms  – the kind that no one else liked – and singly softly to herself. 

“Have we got the next part of the journey worked out?” she asked, then stopped. “Where’s George?” she asked, her voice pitched higher than usual.

“He’s with you,” said Greg, then realised the idiocy of the statement, for George was not with Liz.

“Is he though?” shrilled Liz. “Look at me, Greg, how many children am I currently holding, eh? How many?”

“One,” said Phoebe helpfully. Greg shot her a murderous glance.

“That’s right Phoebe, I am holding one child. Tell me Greg, how many children do we have again?”

“Two!” squealed Phoebe, delighted to help her mother out yet again. 

“Right again, Phoebe, we have two children, Greg. One, two. I take Phoebe to the toilet; that’s one child; you take George to the toilet; that’s two. How hard is that?”

“Well, he can’t have wandered far,” said Greg, beginning to panic a bit. “We’re on a motorway. It’s not like he’s got out onto the road…”

‘I’m not worried about him walking out onto the motorway!” screeched Liz. “I’m worried about him being taken by someone!”

“Why would someone take George?” asked Phoebe. “Do they want him for something?”

Liz was saved from answering by the tugging on her sleeve. 

“Hello mummy,” said George. “Who wants to take me?”

“No one wants to take you,” said Liz.

“Mummy, why are you crying?” he asked.

“Because I’m happy,” explained Liz through her tears. 

“That doesn’t make any sense mummy,” said Phoebe, confused. 

“It’s something grown-ups do,” said George, with an air of great knowledge. “Daddy’s done it too.”

“Have I?” said Greg.

“Yes, daddy, don’t you remember, it was when you were on the phone that time to the credit card people -“ 

“Ok!” said Greg, making as much noise as he could. “Who wants to go and buy a doughnut?”

“Me!” said Phoebe and George.

“I don’t want a doughnut,” said Liz in a dangerous voice. ‘I want to hear about the time daddy cried because he was happy.”

Back in the car, George and Phoebe were tucking into their doughnuts. The radio was playing and the mood, in the back at least, had lightened. In the front of the car, the mood had considerably dipped.

“I said it was that turning,” said Liz, for about the fifteenth time. 

“And I said I’m sorry,” said Greg, again, for about the fifteenth time. 

“Good thing we can afford a trip to France, isn’t it,” said Liz.

Greg gripped the steering wheel.

“I told you we’d talk about it later.”

“£60,000, Greg!” 

“I know how much it is,” he said, staring intently at the road.  

“That’s a lot of money,” piped up George. 

“Isn’t it just,” said Liz. “We could have gone to Disneyworld with all that money – would you like to go to Disneyworld?”

“Yay!” said George and Phoebe together. 

“Or would you rather play silly spinny round games?”

“No, I’d rather go to Disneyworld!” said George. 

“See, Greg,” said Liz, “even a six-year old child can budget better than you can.”

“Shut up,” muttered Greg. ’Shut up, shut up…”

“Mummy,” said Phoebe, out of nowhere, “where are we going?”

“To France,” Liz answered shortly.

“Oh right,” said Phoebe. Curiosity satisfied, she went back to licking jam off her fingers and humming.  

‘To a charming little village called Roulette -“ Liz continued.

“I said shut up!” shouted Greg thumping the steering wheel. 

“Why did the car hooter, daddy?” asked George. “Is it broken?”

“I bet it is!” said Phoebe, with real hope in her voice, She had always wanted to break down and be towed away by a big truck.

“Do you bet it is, Greg? I bet daddy bets it is, too! Come on daddy, what do you bet?”

writing

Freedom

More free writing from the Bromley group. I may have got some 80s references wrong, but we only had an hour, so don’t sue me!

As the last strains of Wham’s Freedom faded away on the dansette, Anastasia picked up the needle and placed it at the beginning of the track.

“I don’t want your freedom…” crooned George Michael for the fifth time that morning.

“He’s gay,” said Nina, flicking through a magazine. She was sprawled on her bed, engrossed in Just Seventeen, and bored of Freedom by George Michael.

“No he’s not!” said Anastasia, hotly.

“He is,” continued Nina. “Andrew Ridgeley is his boyfriend.”

“Never!” gasped Anastasia. She picked up a cushion and threw it at her older sister. There was only a year between them, but Nina acted like she was at least five years older. At 15, she had entered the awkward stage of her adolescence where she huffed and puffed a lot, and wore too much makeup. 

Anastasia was 14, and was firmly convinced she was going to marry George Michael. Her middle name was Michaela, and her patronymic was George. It was too much of a coincidence. 

“And anyway,” said Nina, “it’s time for my record now.” She picked up the copy of The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen and made a move towards the dansette. 

“Nah huh, no way.” Anastasia was prepared to stand her ground. “Not until you take it back.” 

“Take what back? That he’s gay? Because he is gay, he’s the gayest gay that’s ever gayed.”

Anastasia felt tears prick her eyes. She was about to say something cutting back, when Nina just shoved her aside and put her record on. 

“Now this,” said Nina, over the plaintive singing, “is music.”

Later that night, Anastasia lay in bed, wide awake. George Michael wasn’t gay. Nina was making things up. Just like her, thought Anastasia bitterly. Ever since she had snogged Owen Holliday at the disco, Nina had been a different person. Crueller. More dismissive of her little sister. More ‘knowing’. 

She and Nina had done everything together. They had moved from the Soviet Union together, learnt English together, tried the New Romantic look together, and now everything was changing. It wasn’t fair. How dare Nina come in with all that ‘George Michael is gay’ rubbish, and expect Anastasia to believe it? How did Nina know? Just because she had kissed a boy, it didn’t make her an expert in all things sex. 

And she had changed how she looked. Gone were the days of the Tippex across their noses – that had been a disaster, conceded Anastasia. They had been trying to emulate Adam Ant, and all that resulted was a bright red stripe on their faces as they had scrubbed away at the liquid corrector. Nina now lined her brown eyes with lots of eyeliner, and smothered her face in white powder. She had bought some black lipstick – black lipstick! – At Miss Selfridge a few weeks ago. She painted every nail a different colour, using the free samples you could get in Woolworths. Nina was changing, and Anastasia didn’t like it. Anastasia didn’t like it at all.

At the same time, Nina was also lying in bed, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. God, she thought, what a day. There had been a massive row over whether or not George Michael was gay – which he soooo was – and their father had come in and shouted at them. They, in turn, had shouted at him, and then he had decreed that pocket money was now cancelled until further notice. There would be no new records from Woollies on a Saturday. He even threatened to take the dansette out of their room. 

No one understood her, thought Nina. How could they? Anastasia was a baby. She didn’t know anything about sex at all. Unlike me, she thought, with a smugness that radiated throughout her body. I do. I’ve kissed a boy. Twice. 

She didn’t reflect on the fact that the first time she had kissed Owen Holliday, their braces got stuck together and they had to wriggle their faces apart, or that the second time, she had had to wipe the dribble from off her chin. She had done it. She had kissed a boy. She was a woman. 

Poor Anastasia, she thought pityingly, not knowing what love was, or what sex is. She was still wrapped up in George Michael, and schoolwork. She was just a child. Imagine thinking you’re going to marry a pop star! Nina let out an involuntary snort at the pure childishness of it.

“You awake?” called out Anastasia softly, upon hearing the snort. There was no reply. Then, “yes,” conceded Nina after she had finished her internal debate over whether or not to answer.

“Me too,” said Anastasia.

“I realised,” said Nina, in the bored drawl she sometimes used. 

Anastasia propped herself up in bed and looked over at her sister. Nina was still lying there, gazing at the ceiling. 

‘Do you think he meant it?” asked Anastasia.

Nina sat up.

“Do I think who meant what?”

“Dad. When he said he’d stop our pocket money.”

“Dunno.” Nina shrugged. “Probably. You know what he gets like.”

“Yeah,” said Anastasia. She knew what he got like.

They were silent for a while. Then Anastasia said “what’s it like?”

Nina rolled over so she was facing her.

“What’s what like?”

“Kissing,” said Anastasia. ‘I’ve never done it before.”

“Oh that,” said Nina, as if it was passé. “It’s ok. I’ve done it twice you know.”

Anastasia hugged her knees. 

“Have you?” she squealed. “With Owen? Both times?”

“Yep,” said Nina proudly. 

“Are you…” Anastasia made some gesture, but in the dark, Nina couldn’t quite make it out.

“Am I what?” she asked, crossly.

“You know…”

“No I don’t.”

“Are you his girlfriend?” asked Anastasia, a little too loudly. She knew as soon as she’d said it that it had been too loud and ,sure enough, the outline of their father was soon visible in the door.

“Go to sleep,” he said shortly before slamming their door behind him.

The girls didn’t dare talk again, and buried themselves in their duvets, but they couldn’t sleep. They were too excited: Anastasia was excited over Nina’s kissing revelation, and Nina was too excited wondering if maybe she was Owen Holliday’s girlfriend. 

“Are you awake?” whispered Nina after about five minutes had lapsed.

“Yes,” said Anastasia, in an almost inaudible voice.

Again, they were silent for a while until the conversation resumed.

“So,” continued Anastasia quietly, “are you his girlfriend?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“You’ve kissed him twice,” pointed out Anastasia, “and you’ve written his initials on your pencil case.”

“Mm,” said Nina dreamily.

“Do you love him?”

Nina squealed at this.

“I don’t know!” she said, a little flustered.

“You must do,” said Anastasia, very seriously. “You must know if you love someone. I love George Michael.”

“That doesn’t count.”

“Yes it does!”

“Have you ever met George Michael?”

“No, but -“

‘You can’t love someone unless you meet them. What if it turns out he likes stuff you don’t like? Or he smells? Or,” Nina finished slyly, “that he’s gay.”

Anastasia picked up her cuddly rabbit and threw it at Nina.

“He’s not gay!” she said furiously, and again, they both knew that had made a mistake because their father reappeared in the doorway.

He spoke to them in Russian, which meant he was getting really angry. When they had first moved over, he had impressed on them the importance of speaking their new language. Even at home, he had said, when you are playing, you must speak English. The fact that he was speaking Russian meant that he was really annoyed. 

“Sorry daddy,” said Anastasia, and Nina soon followed suit.

He harrumphed. “Sleep now,” he said in English. 

The door closed. The girls lay in darkness.

“I miss mum,” said Anastasia. 

writing

Determination

I’ve recently joined a writing group in Bromley, that meets on a Saturday morning. It is, of course, my New Year’s Resolution (By the way, happy new year!) to write A Heck of a lot more than I did last year. So this group is really good. We meet for an hour of free writing, based on a spark word (we then spend the next hour reading out our work and drinking tea, but that’s by-the-by. The important thing is the hour of free writing). So (hopefully) this will become a weekly thing, where I can post my free writing. I’ve been to two groups, so there’ll – gasp! – be two entries from me today! I’ll update next Saturday with more free writing, but in the meantime, enjoy my work on the spark word ‘determination’.

“Hello! And welcome again to Smash It! The recording smashing programme that has smashed more records than, well, any other. And we’ve got a brilliant show lined up for you today, haven’t we, Sue?”

“That’s right Andy,” said Sue, sashaying down through the audience to join her co-host on stage. “Today we’ve got Jonathan, who’s going to smash the record for the most jumping jacks in 30 seconds…”

The camera panned back to Andy, who smoothly took over.

“We’ve got Rachel and Chinaza, who are going to sing Danny Boy as many times as they can in one minute…”

“Then for our grand finale,” – back to Sue again –  “we’ve got the dogs of Leytonstone Police Station, who are aiming to pop more balloons than any canine can. Like I say, a brilliant show.”

“But first,” said Andy, looking solemnly into the camera, “is a story of bravery and resilience. The ladies of the Buxwell WI have been making jam for more than 50 years. But when their hall was faced with closure, they rallied round in support of one another.” The camera zoomed in on Sue’s face. She was nodding, and looking suitably grave. 

“But Andy, is that all?” asked Sue in mock surprise. She knew damn well it wasn’t all. God, she hated Andy. Hated how he got more screen time than she did. Got more fan mail than she did. Got more money than she did. She hated how she was little more than his foil.

“No, Sue,” chuckled Andy. “There was a fire at the hall, during one of the meetings, where six members had to be hospitalised for smoke inhalation.”

“Mm,” said Sue, nodding thoughtfully again. 

“Then when one of the members was being treated for smoke damage, a tumour was found in her left breast.”

She hated how he said ‘breast’. 

“I visited Buxwell,” said Andy, and – was it her imagination? – Or did he emphasise ‘I’ just a little too long? “To see how the preparations for today’s show were coming along. Let’s go and -” 

“Smash it!” Sue shouted dutifully. 

The audience had also shouted ‘smash it’ at the same time, but they sounded markedly more enthusiastic. 

As the back story of the Buxwell WI played on the screen, Andy went over to the ladies’ society, ostensibly to check if they were ready, but Sue knew it was just so he could charm the pants off them. 

The giggling and going she could hear from the corner of the studio where they were to smash the record for cake decorating seemed to imply that he was doing his usual. 

“And that’s all from me in Buxwell,” came over the speakers. Andy looked at the WI – all simpering and rosy-cheeked – and winked at them.

“That’s my cue to leave,” he said and deftly wove his way back to the sofa, where he could see Sue was glowering at him. He didn’t care. Let her glower. He was going to leave this crappy little show anyway, when the time was right, and settle in his spiritual home of Hollywood. He saw himself giving awards at a lavish ceremony; presenting America’s top reality programme;, being interviewed on the red carpet. Well, he would say modestly, I owe it all to a little place called London, and a little show called Smash It! 

Sue brought him out of his reverie by nudging him discreetly, but sharply. 

“Yes Sue, thank you,” he said instantly, all trace of daydreaming gone, and back to being the consummate professional. For all his disdain of Smash It!, it did bring home the bacon, a lot of bacon, and he knew he was lucky to have it. One poor sod from his art college days had been reduced to the gambling graveyard slot on Channel 5. 

Andy proceeded to the centre of the studio, where there was a mock-up of a country kitchen. The Buxwell WI were already there, laying out their sheets of royal icing out and dusting their rolling pins with flour. 

The unsmiling man from Guinness was there too. Every record that they smashed on Smash It! had to be independently adjudicated and monitored, and there was a dedicated team from Guinness who took it in turns to ensure that everything was above board.

Today it was Ben, who looked really grumpy, but was actually very nice. Sue had been for a drink with him and some of the production staff after the end of the last series. She quite fancied him, in truth be told, but he was married, bad luck. And married to a man as well, worse luck. Nothing ever seemed to go right for her, thought Sue bitterly, as yet again, Andy was centre-stage and she was left to sit on the sofa and smile inanely for the audience.

“Ready…” Andy was goading the audience into saying their beloved catchphrase. “Get set…”

“Smash it!” squealed the audience in delight. 

The hallowed stop watch was produced and the Buxwell WI sprung into action. They had to cover 124 cakes in two minutes to level the record set by some tortured baker in Missouri in 2005, but who wants to level a record when you can smash it instead?

The ladies worked furiously, each determined to outdo the others. They all wanted to look good for the cameras. Mrs Cudham had warned everyone that “the camera adds 10 pounds”, so many were wearing black, or vertical stripes, in the hopes of appearing thinner. The make-up team had worked miracles though: Mrs Gadsby looked almost pretty. Andy surveyed the ageing ladies with something erring on disgust. He knew they had all tarted up for him, and he almost loathed them for it. Foul old things, he thought, as he cheerfully egged them on, shouting encouraging words and sticking his thumb up at them every so often. 

The whistle blew and the challenge ended. The ladies stood panting to one side, whilst Ben totted up the number of cakes they had managed to cover. 132! A new record!

“Ladies, I’m pleased to say you smashed it!” Andy held the liver-spotted hand of Mrs Cudham and raised it in the air. “A new world record, today on Smash It! You know what this means…” he ended, a coy twinkle in his eye.

‘That means you get added to our Wall of Fame,” said Sue, coming over off the sofa to join Andy, a polaroid camera in one hand, plastic medals in the other. 

“Not only that, Sue, is there anything else?”

“Yes Andy! You also get a medal for smashing it!” Sue began looping the striped ribbons over the ladies’ necks, as Andy snapped away with the polaroid. At least, thought Sue, I’ll be in the picture when it goes on the wall.

The photo began to develop, and as soon as the shadowy figures started to materialise, Sue took it from Andy and pinned it to the Wall of Fame. He’d managed to take the photo at such an angle that her hands were visible, but nothing else. Bastard. When she’d taken the photo, he’d managed to include himself in every one. 

all about me, writing

Pastures New

This is my blog.

It isn’t my first blog – that distinction belongs to livejournal (remember that?) in about 2001 – nor is it my first foray into designing my own website – my first wordpress site was www.notyournormal.com, which has my post on ocd that caused a stir on twitter.

But this is my latest blog. It is the blog I have decided to work Jolly Hard on, and give a slightly more cheerful vibe than notyournormal, which had a tendency to veer towards the gloomier side of things.

So you can expect to see more content from me this time around.

Welcome, friend!