Welcome to the World of Taupe

 

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WARNING – this one really is totally fictional – my family is wonderful.

I suppose the rebellion started seriously on my fiftieth birthday, although my sister-in-law Lizzy had been winding me up from the moment she first appeared in our front room clinging coyly to my younger brother’s arm. She simpered and paid saccharine compliments to my parents; pretended to be interested in my little sister’s doll collection and when she wasn’t talking, she was gazing at my brother with puppy-dog eyes.

They were all smitten.

I wasn’t.

Lizzy seemed to realise this very quickly and whilst she was always ‘sweet and lovely’ to me when anyone else was present, her comments inevitably held a barb.

‘I do love your hair that colour – it suits an older skin – what dye did you use?’

I hadn’t dyed my hair at all.

‘Of course, you’re at the age now where purple is the only bright colour you can get away with – although it makes you look a bit …washed out.’

She was only three years younger than me and a good five years older than my little brother.

When I first met her, she reminded me of Amy from ‘Little Women‘ – self-centred and obsessed with clothes, hair, make-up – oh and did I mention – herself? She snatched my handsome and charming brother from under the noses of several younger and much nicer girls but unlike Amy, age did not improve her behaviour.

She was always attractive; big brown eyes, curly dark brown hair that settled itself into the kind of tousled curl that we all tried to achieve with perms but ended up in tight corkscrews for a month before dropping into sad waves. Her figure fell into the realms of petite but with an impressive cleavage, a tiny waist and pert apple bum cheeks that perched themselves seductively on my brother’s knees . She did try sitting on my father’s knees once, but the look my mother gave her made her shoot up and settle on the sofa with an apologetic ‘Oops’.

I was in the last stages of planning my wedding when Lizzy started seeing my brother. I made it quite clear that I was in charge and didn’t need any assistance (apart from my mother) but Lizzy was insidious. Once she realised that I had not fallen under her spell, she whispered ideas into my mother’s ear, knowing that they would be passed on to me as her original thoughts.

No. I did not want a horse and carriage to take me to and from the church – and while we are at it – I wanted the church up the road that I had passed every day on my way to school – not the overblown cathedral in the centre of the city which had no parking and was the wrong denomination anyway.

Nor did I want a flotilla of teeny bridesmaids in varying shades of deep pink tulle and crystals.

I had plumped for a lunchtime wedding with an afternoon reception, so that we could drive off to our honeymoon hotel in daylight. Lizzy (via my mother) felt that this was rather cheap and that we should have a disco and evening buffet. She had pointed out to my mother that the afternoon reception could be for close family and the evening event could be opened up to the rest of the family and ‘our’ friends. She even drew up a list  of who should attend which event but she missed a trick with this because my mother – instead of copying the list in her own hand – gave it straight to me with slightly pursed lips.

Not surprisingly Lizzy had excluded my favourite relatives from the afternoon, and bumped up the numbers in the evening by including a host of unknown people who were ‘dear friends’ of my brother – who looked at the list and shook his head in puzzlement after only recognising one or two names.

I won.

I had the elegant old black and silver Bentley for my wedding transport, we married in my favourite church, and my best friend and little sister were my only bridesmaids –  in blue silk dresses that matched the cornflowers in my bouquet – and could be worn again for parties and special occasions.

We made sure that all the relatives were invited to my afternoon reception, together with good friends that we knew. Lizzy sulked throughout but I didn’t care. She was eventually persuaded not to wear white.

It was my day.

Of course, when Lizzy married my brother – it was the event of the century that put my brother’s bank account into the red and milked every possible penny out of Lizzy’s elderly father as well.

It was pinker and frillier and more over the top than your average gypsy wedding; Lizzy had difficulty walking in her overblown and diamante-encrusted dress. Even my brother – who usually took Lizzy’s whims with heavy pinches of salt – was a little perturbed by her excessive Bridezilla demands.

To be fair, she didn’t shout and swear when thwarted; her little lips formed a semi-permanent pout, her little feet stamped a tarantella until my brother and her father consented and stumped up more cash.

I escaped being maid of honour in florid pink frills, but only because I was heavily pregnant with my first child at the time. Lizzy had been heard to mutter that I got pregnant deliberately just to spoil her wedding.

I didn’t but I almost wished that I had.

The one-upwomanship continued; I had two boys with gas and air, Lizzy had two girls by elective sections because she didn’t want ‘down there’ messed about with. My boys were bright, funny and very active, her girls inherited their mother’s hair and pleading eyes, as well as her methods of getting their own way. Males were putty in their hands and even my mother gave in once they lisped ‘Pwease Gwandma?’ and fluttered their eyelashes at her.

Should you really use mascara on the eyes of three and five-year olds?

My husband (not in any way influenced by me of course) had a deep and profound intolerance for his sister-in-law but lately I had found a new ally in my never-ending battle against Lizzy; my little sister was now a willowy teenager with Gothic tendencies. She loathed everything that Lizzy liked and was openly rude to her in a way that I envied and could never rebuke her for. This usually resulted in my sister being sent to her room by my father, whilst Lizzy sobbed prettily into a lace handkerchief and was attended by my doting (and slightly cross) brother and the two mini-Lizzy girls.

We lived within our means and tried not to feel envious when Lizzy boasted about their new house with its hot tub. On the rare occasions we were invited round, we sat nervously on the edge of their slippery pale pink Italian leather suite and prayed that our rambunctious boys wouldn’t break anything. The house (a five-bedroom detached with integral garage and a be-decked and be-paved garden because Lizzy didn’t do gardening) was a monument to pink, silver and black. Every room had at least three mirrors so that Lizzy could admire herself from every angle; after all, the small fortune that hadn’t been spent on the house or female clothing, was invested in Lizzy’s improved cleavage, her nipped chin and tucked buttocks.

Sitting there, in my cleanest jeans and said purple shirt, sipping a glass of very dry Prosecco and glaring at my reasonably well-behaved sons, I realised that envy was the last emotion that Lizzy caused me to experience. I decided not to fight against something that meant so little, and as I tried to relax back against the spiky, sequined scatter cushions, I knew that this was not what I wanted in my life.

Back to my fiftieth birthday. My parents had offered to host a birthday party but Lizzy jumped in and said that it would be too much for them ‘at their age’ and as they had just finished decorating their newly built orangery, she and my brother would be delighted to host the party.

How could I refuse? Well, I could have done but not without upsetting my parents and my not-so-little brother. Good living and business dinners had given him a paunch and a more than slightly pompous air. He had taken over his father-in-law’s accountancy business and appeared to be making a go of it. To think that I used to have to help him with his maths homework!

We dressed in our best. My husband and my older teenage boys were pried out of their jeans and into clean chinos and shirts. I wore a dark green lace dress that had been sitting in my wardrobe waiting for a suitable event. We collected my parents and sister – the joys of having a people carrier – who were also glammed up a bit. My sister had changed her Doc Martens for a pair of red sparkly Converse boots and was wearing black velvet instead her customary leggings and an oversized tee-shirt.

I coveted those Converse boots.

We thought we were attending a family affair so finding the driveway full of upmarket cars was a bit of a surprise. Lizzy seemed to have invited most of the local gentry and other influential people – to my fiftieth birthday party.

I smelled a rat and so did my husband and little sister.

We were ushered into the ‘orangery’ which Lizzy had now renamed the ‘Atrium‘ as there were no indoor orange trees to be had. The table was laid with a range of vol au vents and dainty finger foods. A hired butler circulated with a trays of drinks and an expression of extreme disdain.

To quote my youngest son – ‘This is a bit posh Mum. When can we go home?’

Once we were all settled with drinks in our hands, Lizzy tapped a fork on her glass to get more attention. She shimmered in silver lame that matched the window blinds and smelled – rather metallic.

‘Thank you all so much for coming here today to celebrate my older sister-in-law’s fiftieth birthday. Come over here dear, and let me give you this very special present.’

She beckoned to me, and reluctantly I handed my drink to my husband and went to join her centre stage. She handed me a gloriously beribboned and wrapped box. I actually felt a little excited, and having moved aside a platter of very pink King prawns, I put the box on the table and undid the ribbon.

As I lifted off the lid I glimpsed something that cut me to the core.

Taupe!

My least favourite colour.

Taupe.

The colour of old age; of sensible clothing, of a farewell to fun.

Taupe.

A memento mori shade.

I started to put the lid back on, my face in a rictus grin.

Lizzy yanked the lid out of my hands and like a magician, simultaneously pulled a garment out of the box.

I wish it had been a rabbit.

It was a cardigan.

A taupe cardigan.

Accompanying it was a pair of taupe Crimplene slacks.

Even my mother didn’t wear Crimplene – or taupe.

Lizzy laughed her affected little laugh and patted my hand.

‘Well, you are getting on now. You really should dress your age.’

Words failed me – which was just as well because they didn’t fail my little sister.

She pulled the offensive garments from Lizzy’s hands and threw them on the marble floor. She stamped on them with her sparkly red boots, emptied her glass of champagne and then swept the entire platter of King prawns – Rose-Marie sauce and all – on them as well.

‘You can stick your world of taupe crap where the sun doesn’t shine Lizzy. My sister is far too young for that rubbish and you know it. You are a pretentious prat. No one really likes you, your children are spoilt brats and you’ve ruined my brother.’

My little sister turned revealing the red flashing LEDs on her heels, and stalked out of the room. My husband and sons followed her out, meek in the stunned silence.

Mutely, I followed too.

When we climbed back into the car, my little sister handed me a gift-wrapped box.

A pair of sparkly red Converse boots with bright purple laces and flashing heels.

Goodbye to the World of Taupe.

 

 

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The End – Week 52 of the 52 week short story challenge

Well.

I did it.

52 weeks of short stories, blogs and the odd poem or two.

I was a little late sometimes – so the gaps between postings is sometimes less than a week – sometimes more – but I did it.

We’ve all been saying what a lousy year 2016 has been  – and to be fair to those who died and those who grieve for them – it has been pretty lousy.

Good things have happened too but as always – we overlook the good and dwell on the bad.

So let’s not.

In 2017 I do not intend to set myself any resolutions – because I invariably lose interest in them or forget about them until April – by which time it is a bit late for this New Year and too early for the next.

Last year I finally settled with my ex-employer and used some of the settlement to join a gym. On our induction day I met a rather wonderful young woman who has become my personal trainer and motivated me to lose almost two stone and improve my fitness to the point that I only need my walking stick for urban route marches – I use the hiking poles for more foot-friendly territory. I’ve also started  Pilates classes – I can actually kneel on my arthriticky knees, and my balance has improved to the point where I rarely fall over – unless Scooby gets under my feet!

Regaining my fitness and losing weight is an ongoing aim – and after the Christmas and New Year hiatus it is back to the gym tomorrow – with a vengeance.

2017 also brings an end to my being a kept woman – I will be earning a crust again soon and able to make a financial commitment to our household again. The best thing is – it still leaves me time to spend with my lovely Hub, get back to editing the stuff I’ve written and continue with the gym. No office politics to contend with and I don’t have to answer the phone within three rings – so ner.

I’ve made some new friends in connection with my re-awakened political conscience – lost a couple too but we are all entitled to our own opinions and I will follow the path that feels most natural and logical to me.

I don’t believe in greed and selfishness – especially when it causes suffering to others.

I want the NHS to belong to all of us – not to big businesses who only care about their profit margins.

I want us to help the homeless, the sick and disabled, those who really cannot find appropriate work and those who have had to come to our country in order to escape warfare and persecution.

I will continue to fight prejudice and narrow-minded ignorance – wherever I find it.

We have a duty to protect our earth and the creatures that live upon it – for our children and for our children’s children – ad infinitum.

That will do for now. The discipline of finding something to write about once a week has taken hold  again – and together with nine years of successfully winning NaNoWriMo – 2017 could be the year that I finally tidy up my writings and look for an agent.

Onward and upward – what doesn’t kill us makes us strong.

A Christmas Story – Week 51 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

― Louisa May AlcottLittle Women

 

When I came across ‘Little Women’ at the age of seven years old (I was an advanced reader) I found it difficult to understand the situation that Jo and the other March girls found themselves in. We always had presents at Christmas; we weren’t rich but neither were we poor. We weren’t particularly vain – especially not my older brother – and we too had a Mum and a Dad.  The thought of taking breakfast to a poor family confused me. Did we know any poor families? We lived on a council estate but everyone on our street, everyone at school, on our estate. They all seemed quite comfortably off – except perhaps one woman who lived in the flats and got quite cross when my friend and I babysat for her and didn’t eat all of the shop bought scampi and chips she left for us – she was only gone for an hour and in those days young girls often babysat babies for an hour or so.

As for breakfast – would a poor family really appreciate my bowl of Shreddies or  Ricicles? My brother’s Cocopops or the porridge my Mum sometimes made (until the advent of Readybrek – but more of that later).

I was aware of the fact that not only did the March family live in another country, they also lived in a different time. A time when long frocks and white gloves were the accepted mode of dress. A contrast to my own – tee-shirt and shorts in the summer, jumper and cord jeans in the winter. I was only ever dragged into a posh frock on special occasions. Ah, but Jo and I did have something in common – we were both tomboys.

My Christmases as a child were much of a muchness; although a couple of occasions stick in my mind. The year when I still believed in Father Christmas – especially after he brought me a shiny blue scooter. I must have been at school then because my Mum kept the diary entry I wrote for school – complete with a reasonably good drawing of said scooter.

The year when everything went wrong. It started with my Dad having problems with the Christmas tree (not a real one) lights malfunctioning. Whilst he muttered at the lights, twisting each bulb in an effort to find the dead culprit. The rest of us kept quiet as we hung up paper streamers and dusted off the Chinese lanterns that came out of the special box every year. On the day itself things went VERY wrong. My Mum cooked the turkey without removing the giblets; she melted the plastic colander with the Brussels Sprouts, too much brandy was put on the Christmas pudding and it ignited rather too well. Mum cried, Dad shouted, the dog got excited and bit Mum because she was hitting Dad with a rolled up newspaper.

Another memorable Christmas was the one when Dad brought home a bottle of Advocaat and a cocktail mixer. This was a large glass container with a battery-powered whisk in its silver metal lid. We had Snowballs that Christmas – and not the cold and wet ones that you chuck at each other either. After Christmas when Mum and Dad had returned to work and I was left to the not so tender ministrations of my older brother and sister, I decided to utilise the cocktail mixer and make my own Snowball. I hadn’t actually seen what my Dad put in the glass container – so I worked my way through our depleted alcohol stocks and put a bit of everything in. Then I whizzed it. Then I drank it. Then I felt a bit funny – and hungry.

This is where the Readybrek comes in. I wasn’t usually allowed to make my own because of the  kettle (not electric but the whistling type that sits on the hob – our house must have been a health and safety nightmare) but my brother and sister were still asleep. I was too impatient to wait for the kettle to whistle so my Readybrek was rather stodgy but a spoonful of honey helped.

I put the empty bowl in the sink and went back to playing with my new Christmas toys. There was a knock at the door and despite having been told NEVER to answer the door on my own – I did. It was only the milkman. As I bent forward to pick up the milk bottles I was very, very sick  – all over his shoes. His cries of disgust brought my siblings running. My brother cleaned the milkman up and my sister cleaned me up.

My cocktail experiment was discovered and I was banned from the alcohol cupboard. We swore each other to secrecy but the milkman grassed us up. I never liked him. We used to take it in turns to go out to his milk float and pick some nice biscuits for tea. My brother and sister always seemed to come back with chocolate digestives or custard creams but I came back carrying a packet of plain-looking sugary biscuits that I wouldn’t eat. My Mum was puzzled by this and accompanied me to the milk float, standing by as I asked for a packet of nice biscuits. Without a thought the milky picked up a pack of the hated biscuits and handed them to me. I looked at my Mum sadly. She laughed and handed them back.

‘Those are NEECE biscuits. Not nice biscuits. Which ones do you want really?’

I pointed at the milk chocolate digestives. Success.

I wonder what the March family equivalent would have been?

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A Creation Myth – Week 50 of the 52 week short story challenge

Harry sat in the middle of a grassy lawn.  He was surrounded by beautiful flowers and fantastic insects.

He frowned with concentration as he picked out the colours and shapes.

Every object had to be different, and he smiled as he placed them on the grass and watched them come to life.

Other small gods occupied the lawn, each intent on their own marvellous creations.

The Big Benevolent One smiled as he wandered past looking at their labours.

His fingertips touched Harry’s head.

Harry looked up and smiled back.  He was very happy.

“Good job Harry.  You can move on to something bigger now.  Some animals and birds perhaps?”

Flushed with pride at such a compliment, Harry collected more materials and set to work.

He started small; a mouse and then a brightly coloured lizard.

Placed carefully on the grass, the mouse shook his whiskers and scurried off to make a home.

The lizard took his time. He stretched and let the sunshine warm his shimmering skin.

“Time for something bigger now.  I shall call it Dog and it will be my friend.” Harry said to himself and was just putting together the items he needed when he heard an unfamiliar sound.

The Big Benevolent One was standing in the corner of the lawn staring down at Milo; a slightly larger god who had put together some especially clumsy-looking cactus plants.

There was an ominous rumbling.

“You can do better than this Milo.  Look around you. Look at the colours and the shapes. Move on to something beautiful or you’ll have to spend time making rocks.”

Milo frowned. He hated making rocks. It was boring, hot and the other larger gods shouted at him.  They had only a few more days to finish the Earth after all. and everyone was working as hard as they could.

Except Milo, who just wanted to lie under the trees and watch everyone else working.

The Big Benevolent One moved on to admire someone else’s work and Milo sulkily picked up some brown clay.

He rolled it idly between his hands, then on a piece of flat stone until it grew longer and thinner.

He started another, and another until the stone was covered with a number of long thin brown snakes of varying sizes.

Harry glanced over at the snakes; all blind and hungry and dull.

He got to his feet, picked up a handful of pieces left over from the lizard and walked over to Milo who felt that he had done enough and had fallen asleep.

The snakes were given jewel-bright eyes and long forked tongues.  Harry striped their brown skin with green and white, red  and blue for the big ones, and for the last he covered the brown with yellow and white stripes.

Stroking the warm skin as it came to life, Harry smiled.

“You will be a corn snake and your name will be Dave.'”

Hearing the sound of the Big Benevolent One approaching, Harry got up and returned to creating Dog.

Milo woke and looked at the fabulous snakes slithering around happily in front of him.

“Well done Milo!  Take a little break now.  Usually only lazy gods make snakes but you have done well. ” The Big Benevolent One patted Milo’s head but looked across at Harry and winked.

Harry was happy, especially when Dog came to life, wagged his tail and licked Harry’s face.

Milo snored in the sunshine.

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Justice Being Done – Week 49 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

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‘Is this going to be another one of ‘those’ conversations?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Go on then. What’s the problem?’

‘Justice isn’t being done is it? Politicians, the rich people and big businesses get away with doing bad things – that isn’t justice is it?’

‘Not to us. But then we don’t make the rules and hold the power do we?’

‘Surely there are more of us ordinary people than there are politicians and rich people? Why do they have so much power and we have so little?’

‘Are you sure about that? That we don’t have any power?’

‘Huh, this is another of your trick questions isn’t it.’

‘Maybe.’

‘I hate it when you say that. It means that you are going to turn out right and I’ll be wrong – again.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Stop it! You always make me work so hard when you’re like this.’

‘Just making your brain tick over a bit. There are far too many people sitting around and complaining about how unjust their lives are. Do you really want to be one of them?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Really?’

‘Okay then. What do I do to see that justice is being done?’

‘You make sure that you understand what justice is and what it isn’t. Justice is fair and reasonable; it isn’t about taking revenge, killing or persecuting people because of their race, religion or opinions. It isn’t about getting your own back. Sometimes though, it can be blind.’

‘So the people that say its justice when something bad happens to a horrible person  – they’ve got it wrong have they?’

‘They might be getting it confused with karma – things happening as a consequence of their own actions.’

‘Karma is a bad thing then?’

‘More good than bad really. It has roots in ancient Indian religion – Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism – more isms than you can chuck a stick at really. The important thing to remember is that good acts should have a positive effect – like paying it forward.’

‘I saw that film. It made me cry. I hate films with sad endings.’

‘Everything makes you cry. So karma can be good or bad – in the words of John Lennon; ‘Instant Karma’s gonna get you…’

‘I remember that song as well. That was about bad karma.’

‘It was.’

‘What about that other thing then? That German thing?’

‘Schadenfreude?’

‘Get you!’

‘Is that what you meant?’

‘Yeah. What’s the difference between justice, karma and schaden-thingy?

‘Schadenfreude is more to do with how you feel about the consequences of other peoples’ actions.

‘Do what?’

‘Say you asked me for my last fiver, I refused to give it to you and then we found out that it was a forgery. You would be laughing your socks off at me wouldn’t you?’

‘You bet.’

‘Well that’s schadenfreude.’

‘Isn’t that a bit mean though?’

‘You can’t have good schadenfreude; though when famous people set themselves up as paragons of virtue and then get caught out drink driving, or taking drugs or beating up their partners, I think it’s okay to feel a bit of schadenfreude without feeling too guilty.’

‘That seems like justice to me.’

‘Erm – we-ell.’

‘Go on. You have to admit it.’

‘It can be seen as justice, karma and schadenfreude, I suppose. Justice is supposed to be objective whereas the other two are more subjective – it depends on how you feel about the person its happening too.’

‘This has got too heavy for me. Lend us a fiver?’

 

 

Justice

just behaviour or treatment.

“a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people”

fairness, justness, fair play, fair-mindedness, equity, equitableness, even-handedness, egalitarianism, impartiality, impartialness, lack of bias, objectivityneutrality, disinterestedness, lack of prejudice, open-mindedness, non-partisanship”

Karma (car-ma) is a word meaning the result of a person’s actions as well as the actions themselves. It is a term about the cycle of cause and effect. According to the theory of Karma, what happens to a person, happens because they caused it with their actions.

 

Schadenfreude lit. ‘harm-joy’) is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures.

 

Instant Karma

by John Lennon

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin’ to do
It’s up to you, yeah you

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin’
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin’ at fools like me
Who in the hell d’you think you are
A super star
Well, right you are

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Ev’ryone come on

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev’ryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you’re ev’rywhere
Come and get your share

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Strange Small Town – Week 48 of the 52 week short story challenge

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It was a funny little place; lacking the charm of the nearby yachting village or the charismas of the larger and well-know yachting town upstream. As teenagers involved in the sailing scene, we were dismissive of the place. It was ‘touristy’; shops decked out with brightly coloured buckets and spades, inflatable rings and airbeds, rock with a generic county name through the inside and boxes of fudge and toffee bearing pictures of grazing ponies.

It was a place for passing through and rarely stopping. A place inhabited by holidaying grockles and nouveau riche who had bought their holiday homes without realising that the town was quite a way from the sea. Our village, the village where we stayed in the summer, sailed out to the castle and camped in the boat park. Apart from the yacht clubs and the pub, there was nowhere else to spend your money and any other entertainment or supplies good be acquired in the big town – without having to pay over-inflated tourist prices.

I remember one summer in particular. I still have the photographs of us all lounging outside OUR yacht club – there was great rivalry between the two clubs. Hair stiff and bleached from hours sailing, half-worn wet suits (it was easier to leave the bottom half on and wriggle out of the top).  Clutching half pints of rough cider and feasting on freshly made crab sandwiches. Nothing else really mattered that summer.

One of our group had very rich parents who owned a holiday cottage across the road from the pub. We took it in turns to sleep there or in hastily erected two man tents in the boat park once the clubs were closed. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be there but provided the tent was packed away before the morning sailing started, the older members of the club turned a blind eye.

Not that it was peaceful sleeping in the boat park; people ignored the sign ‘Frap your halyards’, and a s a consequence the night was punctuated with the sound of unfrapped halyards tinkling against masts. Hedgehogs and foxes rustled their way round the boats, looking for dropped sandwich crusts and half-empty crisp packets. The sun disturbed our fretful dozing and spurred us on to collapse the tent and stagger across the road to the cottage for coffee and toast.

The summer came to an end – as it always does  – and we departed to our various courses and jobs. That summer could never be repeated anyway. In moving on, we jolly sailors lost touch with each other and other entertainments replaced the joys of sailing.

The village never lost its charm for me; enhanced by discovering that one of my favourite authors had written a trilogy of books loosely based on family life in Little Village and Big Village, with the Island across the sea playing an integral part. I made subsequent visits; with friends, with groups of children I was responsible for, and ultimately with my own husband and family. It became a place of pilgrimage; somewhere to go and lose the troubles or celebrate happiness. There was a stark contrast between the still quiet waters around the harbour and the crashing waves out on the
Spit. Waves that were so ferocious that year in and out, new methods of prevention had to be found to prevent the sea encroaching on the houses nearby.

I found out very early in our relationship that my husband had also sailed from the village – though at a different time from me – and that he loved it as much as I did.

 

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Winding the time clock on, our children became adults and needed less entertaining on holidays, so when the opportunity arose to spend two summer weeks in a cottage in ‘my’ village, we jumped at it. Part of me was worried that the village would have changed, that it would no longer be the magical place I remembered – that we both remembered.

It was like stepping back into a time capsule. The pub was still there – although it had added an extra wing and a conservatory – but the cider was just as good and the sandwiches – made from freshly caught crab – was wonderful. We could see the boat park from our bedroom window; people were still neglecting to frap their halyards, and although we didn’t have the credentials to venture into either of the yacht clubs, we didn’t need to sleep in tents either. I had my favourite author’s books on my Kindle and delighted in spotting thinly disguised landmarks as we walked the dog along the harbour side and around the various beaches.

It was a wonderful fortnight. We caught up with family and friends; the tiny backyard was the ideal venue for a family get together in the sunshine. The dog loved his seaside walks and I achieved a lifelong wish. I had sailed out to the castle on many an occasion – and  came back the same way, but I had never walked the mile and a half along the shingle bank, nor taken a ride on the little ferry boat that tied up at the harbour wall.

The strangest revelation of our holiday was the exploration of Big Village.

It wasn’t full of grockles and holiday shops anymore. Charity shops rubbed shoulders with a wine bar and a delicatessen. The Co-op was stocked with normal food and there was no sign of sticks of rock or boxes of fudge. At the suggestion of friends, we ventured further to the beaches further away from Little Village, and found some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture along the sea view.

Big Village wasn’t such a bad place.

On our last day we met up with our lovely friends for a long and leisurely brunch in the sunshine at a cafe on the beach. A very happy start to the process of packing everything back into the car and heading North for home.

It was good to go back to Little Village and find it just as beautiful and enchanting as I had found it before. Better to still was to roam around Big Village and find that it wasn’t such a strange small town after all.

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A Magic Spell – Week 47 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I am your one magic spell – and you have one only.

You cannot hurt or kill anyone,

Nor profit financially.

History cannot be undone,

Mankind’s basic physiology must remain unchanged.

Me: So, I can’t get rid of mass murderers or dictators or those who ruin people’s lives?

Spell: Definitely not.

Me: And I can’t change history so I can’t undo the referenDumb.

Spell: The country spoke – apparently.

Me: When you say ‘physiology’? Can you clarify?

Spell: Race, colour, creed, preference, appearance – nothing can change.

Me: I wouldn’t change that anyway but…

Spell: Yes?

Me: Can I change attitudes?

Spell: Perhaps…

Me: Then I can ask for a world where people can live peacefully; where wealth is distributed more evenly, where education is available for all, where we look after the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable and the young?

Spell: You can ask.

Me: You said I had one magic spell. How do I make the spell work?

Spell: Abracadabra doesn’t work, neither does clicking your fingers I’m afraid. You can put those sparkly red shoes away as well.

Me: It was worth a try.

Spell: That’s a part of the spell.

Me: Trying?

Spell: You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try.

Me: It won’t be easy will it?

Spell: Nope.

Me: Persistent.

Spell: Yes.

Me: No matter what?

Spell: No matter what.

Me: On my own?

Spell: Oh no. There are many of you, but you have to find each other and work together.

Me: Are you absolutely sure we can’t get rid of the really nasty people?

Spell: Why stoop to their level?

Me: So nothing unpleasant then?

Spell: Nope.

Me: But we can do it?

Spell: Jez. We. Can.

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Anger – Week 46 of the 52 week short story challenge

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For the purged

‘So,’ he said, ‘What makes you feel angry?’

I looked at him with the kind of face you pull when you really can’t believe that someone has asked you such a silly question.

‘You know better than anyone what makes me feel angry.’

He laughs. ‘I know what I think makes you feel angry but I don’t know if they are the same things. Tell me? I really want to know.’

I shrug and take a deep breath. I hate these word games but we have to play them so I might as well get it over with.

‘Child abuse, adult abuse, domestic violence, abuse of power – particularly when it is well-paid MPs and greedy members of officialdom taking money and services away from those who desperately need them. Let’s face it – abuse makes me angry – in any form.’

He nods calmly, infuriatingly calm in fact.

‘So how does it feel when someone who doesn’t even know you accuses you of ‘abusive behaviour’ then?’

That makes my hackles rise.

‘The alleged ‘abusive behaviour’ was accidental and it was not aimed at any individual, and doesn’t meet any prescribed criteria of abuse anyway.’

I can feel my face getting hot and red.

He nods. Still calm.

‘But somebody felt offended by that behaviour. Somebody felt strongly enough about the abusive behaviour to complain about it, didn’t they?’

‘No. It wasn’t like that and you know it wasn’t. The powers that be were after us because they disagreed with us. They were frightened of the power that we held due to our numbers and so they sought to cut those numbers down – by using underhand – and I think illegal methods.’

He frowns. ‘Illegal? How do you mean?’

‘I never gave anyone permission to go trawling through my social media accounts. I only gave them the details because they said that the information was needed to communicate with me. I don’t think that the person who originally made the form thought that the data would be used in such an underhand way. That kind of Machiavellian process comes from someone with a particularly devious and hateful mind.’

He is still frowning and I can see that I have him on uncomfortable ground. So do I press him or back off? I look over at my lovely friend; the one who supported me when I had to battle against authority before. She gives a very slight shake of her head and I back off. He looks down at his sheaf of papers again.

‘I need to ascertain whether or not you feel any regret over your actions – and whether you would be likely to make this kind of comment again.’

This really makes my blood boil. My friend is desperately trying to catch my eye and calm me down.

‘All I did was retweet something that someone else said – and unfortunately that same person added hash tags on the end of the tweet that I hadn’t even noticed. I subsequently found out that the words in those hash tags were banned from use three weeks later. I regret not noticing those words now but as they were banned after they had been used, I had no control over the action. Would I be likely to make that kind of comment again? No. Nor would I be so foolish as to allow anyone to have access to my social media accounts.’

‘That wasn’t quite what I was asking for.’

‘That is all you are going to get from me. I am the person whose reputation has been defamed, I lost my vote as a consequence of this underhand behaviour and now you expect me to grovel and apologise? Forget it mate!’

It is at this point that my friend puts her hand on my arm and turns to the young man.

‘Please don’t take it personally, we both know that you are trying to sort things out but I don’t think the people who started this realise how much harm has been done – or what a horrible position you are being put in having to go round and sort out issues that are of someone else’s causing.’

Although I am angry, I know that she is right. This earnest young man is not responsible for causing my anger. The people who did that are too frightened to face us because they know what damage they have done. It was intentional. All part of a noxious plan to put the wrong person back in power. I am still seething but I am back to a simmer rather than a boil.

‘I can offer you membership but this incident will stay on file.’

This is not fair but there is a bigger picture here. This ‘staying on file’ is intended to insult me and make me feel so angry that I stand up and walk away – if you don’t want me then I don’t want you. But that is exactly what they want. They failed to get rid of enough of us to win at the first attempt, so now they are trying to alienate us with this additional slight.

I look across at my friend and she nods.

‘Okay. Do what you want. I want to be a member so that I can help to get rid of the people who are attacking the vulnerable people and making them suffer.’

His shoulders slowly sink back down to a normal level and he seems surprised that I have capitulated so easily.

‘It isn’t just about me you see. I have to remember that there is a bigger picture. I really don’t care about what your boss and his deluded friends think of me. My thoughts are my own and will stay that way if there is any chance that they’ll be used against me again. There is one thing though…’

My friend looks worried and so does the young man.

‘Not only do I love the Foo Fighters, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the Stranglers, but Lemmy from Motorhead will always be my hero. So ner.’

It ends in laughter and more than a little relief. I don’t see it as stepping down. There is work to be done and I need my freedom in order to support others.

And then I stepped out of the shower.

 

 

 

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Near Death – Week 45 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘Hello?’

‘Hello? Can you hear me?’

I’m pressing the button on this pendant I wear around my neck but nothing happens. Usually when I press it I get a crackly voice from the other end telling me that I have come through to the ‘We Care Service’ and what did I want?

I don’t use it often because I have difficulty hearing what the woman is saying and now, when I really need it there is nothing.

Not even the reassuring beep that tells me that although the line is busy, they will get back to me as soon as possible.

Nothing.

I can just see the clock from here. It’s still early; six o’clock and the time when I would usually be up making my first cup of tea. something to set me up for the day as I sit and listen to the news on the radio.

I could watch the news on the television that my granddaughter bought me but I prefer to listen early in the morning. I don’t want the intrusion of strangers in my house yet.

Today I would welcome anyone to my house.

Today even the lad who has been burgling houses in our area would be welcome. I would tell him where to find my money, my wife’s jewellery, my medals even, if he would call 999 as he leaves.

The floor in the hallway is cold. I should have had carpets fitted but my wife was always proud of these tiles. Minton she said they were and she wouldn’t dream of having them covered up with some old carpet.

I could have had the carpets fitted when she died, when there was only me to think of but every time I look at these tiles I think of her.

I see her as the young girl I carried across the threshold of our house; as the mother of our daughter, tired but proud in her hospital bed, and then I see her bringing our baby girl home to the bedroom I had so lovingly painted pink in her honour.

She did us proud our girl; married well and presented us with grandchildren. I had never thought of our daughter as being traditional but she named her children after her mother and me. Keeping the memories going she said. A legacy.

I never thought I would outlive her, and her mother.

When I came home from the war my lungs were useless; poison gas, cheap tobacco and a cough that never really went away. As if to remind, I cough now and the pain from my legs wracks my body.

I used to have people who came in to check on me. Cheerful young women who did my washing and made me meals. Someone to talk to four times a day; not as good as my wife, who never seemed to stop talking but at least they filled a part of the void when she was gone.

Now they are gone too. Cuts in social care.

A brisk young woman came to visit me, and decided that my care package was too large for my needs. I didn’t need all this help as I was obviously self-caring. I didn’t need to go out to lunch clubs; the transport was very expensive and they were closing down the day centres anyway. She gave me this pendant but was at pains to tell me that I would have to buy the new batteries for it.

I have batteries in the fridge but I can’t reach them.

I can’t reach the telephone.

I can’t reach the door.

I can’t go on.

I can’t.

I can’t give up.

Today of all days.

I look at my coat, hanging out of reach on the coat hook.

I can just see the poppy.

I should be getting my breakfast and making myself presentable so that when my granddaughter comes to fetch me for the parade, she will be proud of me and the part that I played.

So tired.

All I want to do is sleep.

To sleep and have the pain go from my legs.

What legs?

I can’t feel them.

I should be able to feel them. To feel the pain that has kept me awake at night for over seventy years. There is no pain. Just cold.

I look at the clock again. Where has the time gone? I don’t remember being asleep but four hours have passed since I last looked.

I want to sleep. It’s time for me to join the people who I love and miss. This is no place for old men like me – we may have been seen as heroes once but now we are just a burden on the state – a burden that the taxpayers can’t afford according to that brisk young woman.

So tired.

‘Grandad?’

The sound of her key in the door pulls me back from the place where pain has gone and there is just a soft glowing light that draws me in.

‘Grandad? Hang on in there. I’m calling an ambulance. Don’t leave me Grandad.’

It isn’t time yet. Her hands are warm as she tucks a blanket around me. Her hands are warm like her mother’s and her grandmother’s, and while I long to feel their touch again this beautiful girl pulls me back to the present.

I open my eyes and focus on her face. She looks tired and worried so I do my best to smile as if I was okay. The poppy on her coat is close to me and I reach out to touch it.

‘Not yet then?’ I ask.

‘Not yet. Not today of all days. Love you Grandad.’

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The Year I was born – Week 44 of the 52 week short story challenge

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This is a short, short story today because my fingers are busy doing NaNoWriMo – my ninth successive year with eight successful contributions behind me.

One of these days I will get around to editing the work and looking for an agent. I promise myself this every year but as 2016 has been so lousy, maybe this is the right time to start off a more productive new year.

I could have just worked my way through the Wiki page but when I looked there were only a few things that jumped out and had any influence on me and my life.

My birth took place on a council estate in my Mum and Dad’s bedroom at approximately 1620 hours and while my older siblings were watching ‘Popeye’ downstairs with my Dad. As a consequence my Dad wanted to have ‘Olive’ as my middle name. My Mum had different ideas and she won.

I had a mop of black hair when I was born and strange slanting eyes – so unlike my siblings that my Mum was convinced I had Down’s Syndrome. She eventually confessed her fears to the visiting midwife who told her to stop being so daft.

Very obligingly, my hair fell out a few days later and I turned into the blonde tot pictured a year later in the picture above.

My eyes turned out to be extremely short-sighted but this wasn’t discovered until I was eight years old. I had been a full-time spectacle wearer up until a year ago when I had cataract surgery on both eyes. My lens replacements mean that I only need specs for close work and my long-sight is on a par with the eagles (not the group).

I was born on the day that Berry Gordy Jnr founded Motown records.

A month later the music died when a plane with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper (and their pilot Roger Peterson) crashed into a mountain in Iowa.

Fidel Castro became president of Cuba and women in Nepal won the right to vote.

Barbie made her debut in March; I always had Sindy dolls, although I did briefly own a Tressy – ‘her hair grows’  – well it did until my big brother and I investigated the outsize belly button that retracted her hair. Bald and unloved she went in the bin. We were callous children.

Various things happened throughout the summer – Cyprus gained independence and joined the UN – and the first Xerox machine was introduced to an adoring public. We no longer adore copiers and printers – we just shout at them.

The Twilight Zone premiered on telly and Asterix the Gaul was born.

November saw the completion of the first stage of the M1. It took another thirty years to complete it. More pertinent to me in my later life  – the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN.

I spent ten years working in child protection. Things have not improved over time and now that I am out of the official social care sector I feel sad that my ex-colleagues have so few resources to protect those who so badly need their support.

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