Welcome to the World of Taupe

 

465c6bb805adc12ac9ae3bd36facaa8a

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.

 

 

c-a-canda-beige-trousers-size-44

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

monsanto01-1024x683

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.

black-magic-spells

Anger – Week 46 of the 52 week short story challenge

1530357_10152089700299381_1925049430_n (1)

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.

 

 

 

holding-on-to-anger1

One Character – Week 39 of the 52 week short story challenge

1266923_10151818491754871_1047027520_o

There was a girl I knew at school.

Her name was Karen.

I didn’t know her well – we were in different classes and in different streams.

In an effort to be non-judgemental the streams were named after colours, but everyone knew that Red was the top stream, Blue was the middle stream and Green was the bottom stream.

I was in Red class, Red stream – eventually. During the first few days of my attending secondary school they managed to lose my records and so I was put in Emerald class, Green stream.

Not only that but they put me in the remedial class.

It was quite nice at first. We had our own little room in the old part of the school. We had a lounge area, some tables and a small kitchen area where our teacher – Mrs W – made us warm (but not hot) drinks.

We also had biscuits.

My friends were  a bit jealous.

I spent the first day colouring in.

I spent the second day colouring in.

I spent the third day colouring in.

Mrs W could see that I was getting a little bored and allowed me to cut out pictures for the others to colour in. The scissors were blunt ended.

This was when I met Karen.

She had a mop of mousey curls, a squint and her school uniform looked as if it had been made for someone much smaller and older. She was a quiet girl; most of my companions were quiet apart from one girl who rocked in a chair and occasionally screeched.

Mrs W and I learned how to calm the girl down after a few days.

My Mother did not think that I should be spending my formative years colouring in so she went into school with me after my first week.

The headmistress; a large, round woman who wore a lot of pale pink Crimplene, listened to my Mother with a patronising look on her face.

‘I’m afraid all mummies think that their girls should be in a higher set.’

My Mother, red hair sparking, said that she wasn’t moving until the demon headmistress had phoned my primary school and asked for my records to be sent over.

The headmistress phoned and was put through to my old headmaster; a lovely man who was so respected that he had a street named after him many years later. I liked him and he liked me. He told the headmistress about my academic achievements and even said he would drop my records over on his way home.

I was promoted the next day.

Being in the top class of the top stream was hard work and there was very little colouring in.

The scissors had points though.

One of my new classmates knew Karen. She wasn’t very nice to her; sneering at her old clothes, and on one occasion when Karen failed to respond to her teasing, this girl even pulled Karen’s curly hair.

My new best friend Georgina, and I pulled the nasty girl off and I took Karen back upstairs to Mrs W, who was quite pleased to see me.

She even let me make Karen a warm drink.

I wanted to know why the nasty girl had picked on Karen, and I got the answer from another girl who had been to the same primary school.

Karen lived in a children’s home.

That was why her clothes were old and didn’t fit.

That was why no one had sorted out her squint.

That was why she was so quiet.

I am ashamed to say that apart from saying ‘Hi’ in the playground or in the school dinner hall, I didn’t see much of Karen after that.

I was too busy being the school rebel and avoiding the headmistress.

Every morning at assembly (I went through an atheist stage where I pointedly refused to sing hymns and kept my eyes open during prayers), I fantasised about running up the steps to the stage and pushing the headmistress off.

In my fantasy she bounced like a giant rubber ball.

She bounced down the school hall and out of the double doors, finally fetching up against her office door.

It was just a fantasy.

Luckily the deputy headmistress took me for English and had my back when things became awkward – usually about my interpretation of school uniform.

Time passed.

I took my ‘O’ levels and I passed.

I went on to the local Tech to do my ‘A’ levels and I passed again.

After a brief flirtation with drama school, and working in bars, I ended up volunteering in a children’s home.

I began to understand what life must have been like for Karen.

The home was run by an older couple who treated the children fairly well but it was always an institution – never a home.

After three months of volunteering, I got a permanent job as a houseparent at another establishment. The staff team was younger; less rigid and I began to understand how we could change things to make life better for the children and young people we were caring for – and we really did care.

I spent ten years working in children’s homes.

I never forgot Karen and I did my best to make sure that those in my care had clothes that they liked – and that fitted.

I took them to medical appointments and I did my best to sort out issues at school.

Most of the staff I worked with tried to make the children’s lives as close to a home life as possible.

Sometimes we succeeded.

I qualified as a social worker and I watched as the homes were closed down because the current thinking was being ‘in care’ was unacceptable. Children were sent home to parents who didn’t know how to care for them and didn’t really want them anyway.

Some children were fostered and life improved for them. There were others who no amount of good fostering could help.

In those cases the children drifted into disaster and the foster parents became disillusioned.

It was while I was taking time out to raise my own family that the scandal broke in my home town.

The officer in charge of a children’s home was arrested for child abuse.

Physical, sexual, financial, psychological – you name it. He did the whole lot.

He was the officer in charge of the home where Karen was placed.

It wasn’t a life for her and the other children she lived with.

The abuse went on for years until someone had the courage to stand up and shout.

It wasn’t Karen.

The officer in charge was found guilty and sent to jail.

So was his wife and two other members of staff.

I’m sorry Karen.

Sorry that I wasn’t more of a friend to you.

Sorry that I didn’t understand what you were going through.

I never forgot you though, and now I understand.

That was why your clothes were old and didn’t fit.

That was why no one had sorted out your squint.

That was why you were so quiet.

 

 

 

Recent News – Purged – Week 35 of the 52 week short story challenge.

cdb2c10b225efe25a678afac33eff7b8

‘So what are you going to wear?’

‘When?’

‘To go to your party?’

‘What party?’

‘Doh! You’ve been going on about this party for aaaages! You don’t seem to be looking forward to it much?’

‘Party? Oh. That party.’

‘YES!!! What are you wearing? Have you bought anything new?’

‘Should be red really but at the rate things are going it might be black.’

‘Boring. What kind of food will there be at this party?’

‘Hmmm. Plenty of sour grapes. Maybe a bit of humble pie. No jelly and ice cream I’m afraid’

‘Yuk. Will there be drink?’

‘Well, the main person in the party doesn’t drink – and he’s a vegetarian too.’

‘Fruit juice and dips then?’

‘Probably.’

‘You don’t sound very excited about going any more. Will there be lots of people going that you know?’

‘Yes, but not necessarily people that I want to spend time with.’

‘Why are you going then?’

‘I suppose you were going to find out eventually anyway. I’m not allowed to go to the party now.’

‘What!’

‘Not just me. Lots of people have been told that they can’t go.’

‘But you told me that you paid money to be in this party. Are they going to give you your money back?’

‘Doesn’t look like it. They’ve made a lot of money out of people like me and none of us can get our money back.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because the people in charge of the party have decided that we aren’t welcome, and that we’ve done something wrong.’

‘What did you do? Was it really bad?’

‘Not really. I shared someone else’s ideas on Twitter and unfortunately there were some words in the ideas that the people didn’t like.’

‘You shouldn’t have shared them then – not if they were bad words.’

‘Ah, but they only became bad words a couple of weeks after I had shared them. I’m not psychic – as you know. Some of the other people in the party have used much worse words than me and they are still allowed to go.’

‘That’s SO unfair!’

‘I know. At least I know why I’m not allowed to go. There are many who haven’t been given a reason.’

‘That’s even more unfair. I bet they are upset.’

‘Some of them are angry, but some, especially the older people; they are very upset, especially as they have been told that they won’t be informed of the reasons why they can’t go until the party is over.’

‘Can’t you stop them?’

‘Oh, we are trying but every time we try they make up a new rule to stop us.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Ermmm. I know. You know in football – you have to score goals to win.’

‘Everyone knows that. What’s it got to do with your boring old party?’

‘Suppose every time you went to score a goal you found that someone had moved the goal posts closer together so that it was harder to get the ball between the posts?’

‘That’s cheating!’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re always telling me that cheating is wrong.’

‘Yes.’

‘What about the man? You know, the vegetarian man who doesn’t drink booze?’

‘Oh, he hates cheating too. He really wants us to be there. He’s very cross that we are being stopped from being a part of it all.’

‘Why doesn’t he tell the nasty people off then?’

‘He doesn’t like being nasty to others. He is a very kind and honourable man.’

‘I don’t like the sound of the other people though. They are bullies. You always told me to stand up to bullies.’

‘Yes, and I have been standing up to them. There are more of us standing up to them than they realise.’

‘I don’t think I would want to go to a party with them. Can’t you start up a new party and not invite them?’

‘We could  – but the party belongs to the party members – not to the bullies who keep changing the rules to keep us out.’

‘What happens next?’

‘I’m not really sure – none of us are that sure. We have to keep trusting that good will win over evil.’

‘Like in fairy stories?’

‘Yes – but this is real.’

‘Does that mean you can’t have a happy ending?’

‘Not necessarily. We can’t give up though.’

‘I’ve got an idea.’

‘I love your ideas.’

‘Let’s have our own party. With jelly and ice cream. To cheer you up.’

‘Okay. What shall we call our party?’

‘You choose.’

‘I name this party – the Purged Party.’

‘That isn’t a very nice name.’

‘It isn’t very nice being purged.’

 

party

Loneliness – Week 34 of the 52 week short story challenge

BIbVJoRCcAAZ0Db

Dear Diary

I am writing this because my new counsellor has suggested that putting my thoughts on paper would help me with my anger issues.

Anger issues.

That’s what the judge called them anyway. My counsellor says that I got off quite lightly as most people who cause that level of criminal damage will get a prison sentence – even if it is only suspended – and some kind of community service.

My counsellor wants me to start from the point where my issues first emerged. So here goes.

I wasn’t very happy at school. Things weren’t too bad when we all wore uniform and were supposed to look the same.

Except I never did.

Being ginger was bad enough, being overweight and ginger was worse but being unfashionable, overweight and ginger meant that I was the butt of jokes from my fellow pupils and even some of the teachers.

Sixth form was a nightmare. Having always felt comfortable in my uniform, I turned up every day in a suit, smart shirt and tie. I stood out from the Goths. the Emos, the lumberjack shirts and skinny jeans. I was the best-dressed pupil in the school and put most of the scruffy teachers to shame.

My counsellor says that I might have felt less awkward if I’d had siblings to talk to – or even a father – but there has always only been me, my mum and my grandma. They like the way I dress.

I wanted to go onto university – Cambridge or Oxford – and to study politics, philosophy and economics like so many of my  political heroes did. I didn’t do well in my ‘A’ levels though; I was thrown out of the debating club for losing my temper with someone who just would NOT accept my opinions.

Things went downhill steadily after that and the principal told me that I would have to leave the course because of my anger issues.

The situation made me feel low and alone. Why couldn’t people ever see things from my point of view? Even when I shouted at them to get their attention?

My GP signed me off with social anxiety and suggested that I take up some hobbies to try and help me relate to other people. She gave me a list of local groups – one of which was a political group that I liked the look of.

It took a great deal of courage to attend that meeting but the people were very welcoming. Most of them were older than me – middle-aged and pinning their hopes on a party leader who was also middle-aged.

I threw myself into the group. I walked the streets putting leaflets through door; after the first couple of occasions I got into arguments with passersby who wouldn’t agree with my opinions.  I was encouraged to stay behind at headquarters and put leaflets into envelopes after that so that other people could deliver them safely.

A red-letter day approached. Our leader was visiting the branch and I would get the opportunity to meet him – perhaps even get my photograph taken with him. I was so excited and my mum and grandma clubbed together to buy me a new suit, a crisp white shirt and red tie. They said I looked the business and the leader couldn’t fail to be impressed with me.

I met the leader. I had my photograph taken with him. I tried to tell him my ideas on policy and how he should take me on as a member of his campaign team so that I could advise him. He wasn’t mean to me but he didn’t really treat me with the respect I know I deserve. He shook my hand, wished me luck and then moved on to the next group of people who were waiting to meet him.

I felt gutted. This man was my hero and he completely failed to see my potential.

The only bright spot in that day was the commiseration I received from a couple of other people who also felt they had been slighted by the leader. They were closer to my age, they took me out for a drink after the meeting and told me that there was a splinter group forming that would be supporting a different candidate for the leadership.

They made their candidate sound like the only person who could save the party. He was young; a family man who had policies that I liked the look of. My new friends told me that I would be a valued member of the new group and that this was the way of the future.

They collected me for the next meeting. No one had ever done that before. I’d always  had to make my own way to the meetings and back. My new friends introduced me to other new and important friends who let me have my picture taken with them. I already had a Facebook page and had even ventured onto Twitter but now I was being shown how to use social media to support and promote our rightful leader during the election process.

I put the pictures on my Facebook page. Now other people could see how important I was and what a valued member of the party I had become. My mum and grandma were very impressed and told all their friends and our family about it.

With other members of my new team, I attended political rallies. I met our prospective leader, and he made me feel very special. He gave me an important role. I was to get myself a seat near the front of the room at each rally and cheer my head off whenever he spoke. I took it upon myself to boo and jeer when the man I used to respect was speaking. I glared at his supporters and if I was challenged I told them that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

The opportunity of a lifetime arose when I was asked to be part of an interview for a news special on TV. They said that there would be three young people – one for the old leader and two of us for the new leader (to be). We would be asked to give our opinions about why we thought our candidate would make the best leader.

This was my glittering prize.

The day came and I my friends took me to the studiom. I sat around a small table with another lad and a girl while the cameras rolled. The girl spoke first – she didn’t say a lot but I agreed with what she said. The other lad was to speak next and then me.

I felt like I was going to burst. I knew that my mum, my grandma and all their friends would be watching. This was my moment.

The other lad spoke. He was calm and relaxed. He smiled. His words were reasonable.

They made my blood boil.

My turn.

‘You’re talking rubbish!’ I said. ‘Everyone hates your candidate so he’s going to lose.’

There was silence.

My carefully composed statement had vanished. My face was red with embarrassment and anger.

I looked over to my friends. They had vanished.

The girl who had been in the interview with me gave me a dirty look and walked off. The other lad laughed and said ‘Is that the best argument you can come up with? Pathetic. Just like the bloke you are supporting.’

It’s a good job he moved fast because I wanted to hit him so much.

There was no sign of my friends when I came out of the studio. I had to go and draw the last of my benefits money out of the bank in order to get a train home.

Mum and grandma were very kind. They said my new suit looked very smart and that the other two young people looked very scruffy by comparison.

I tried to get in touch with my new friends but there was no response to my calls or texts.

Then I got the letter. It was delivered by hand but I wasn’t quick enough to see who put it through my letterbox.

I was told that the interview had been embarrassing for the party and that I had let them all down by my stupid and aggressive response. They asked me not to come to any more meetings and that my membership would be suspended because I had brought the party into disrepute by my actions.

I went to my room to calm down. I looked on Facebook and Twitter but all I could see were people laughing at me. I was alone.

A plan hatched in my head. I had some money tucked away in my sock drawer. The money was spent on spray paint. Blue spray paint.

I went down to the party headquarters. It was Saturday night and there was no one there. I sprayed paint over all the windows that I could reach. I left the cans in a heap by the front door, went home and went to bed.

The police came the next morning and arrested me. My fingerprints were taken and matched up with those on the cans. I wore a hoodie but forgot my gloves. There was CCTV footage of me buying the paint in the hardware store, and the pub opposite the headquarters had more footage of me spraying the windows.

There weren’t many people in court that day; mum came but grandma wasn’t well. My guilty plea made the process much quicker. There were cameras and reporters outside the court but my solicitor had advised me not to say anything in case I lost my temper again.

I think that I might feel a bit better now I’ve written this down. My mum says I am a good boy but I’m in my twenties now and I need to grow up.

But how?

Dear Diary.

At least I have you now and I am not so alone.

A Small Political Intervention – Week 31 of the 52 week short story challenge

28166-1wh4k6c

I’ve always liked people who have a twinkle in their eyes. A wry smile rather than an ear-splitting guffaw. A sense that there is more going on behind those eyes than you might think.

I’ve already written about my renewed interest in political matters (Week 29 ‘To Thine Own Self Be True‘) but recent developments require a small updating.

I am officially a registered supporter of the Labour party – having forked out my 25 quids and refrained from using threats, bad language or failing to support the aims and objectives of the Labour party.

Twitter has become a bit of an obsession and I am sure that I retweet far more than I should but I haven’t had any rude comments – so far.  I follow quite a few comedians and writers, organisations dedicated to preserving wildlife, the Green party (I promised the  young Master of Science and all things Green that I would – although I don’t follow him on principle in case I see something that a mother shouldn’t.) I also follow my wonderful cousin Ali Sparkes who writes brilliant children’s books and my friend Mark who runs a business cleaning ovens, houses and offices.

The number of people I follow – and who follow me – has increased threefold in the last couple of weeks. The bulk of my Twitter acquaintance has come about because of Jeremy Corbyn. I have also discovered the joys of muting and blocking – the Twitter equivalents of Pacman – and a satisfying way of getting rid of Twitterers who are rude, threatening or trying desperately to get other people into trouble.

As a new Labour party member, I took it upon myself to find out who the MPs were, who they represented, those that were brave enough to sign up for Twitter, and what kind of tweets they put on.

My conclusions are:

  • some Labour MPs are exceptionally hard-working and use their Twitter accounts to publicise events and good works in their constituency areas. They don’t put negative tweets on. You can learn about them as people and MPs from what they write.
  • some Labour MPs use their Twitter accounts as a weapon to disrespect other members of their own party  – and other Twitterers. They moan about bullying and abuse but are quick to make threats, abusive comments and tell HUGE great porkie pies in order to whip their supporters up into a frenzy. You can learn about them as people and MPs from what they write.

I do my best not to retweet stuff with lots of bad language; I know that tempers run high and there are times when a good swear helps but not in writing and not in a place where it can be used against you.

Fellow Twitterers that resort to personal insults get blocked (after I’ve had a sneaky peek at their profiles). Someone had a look at mine and commented that I wasn’t worth bothering with – phew!

Apologies to the nice chaps out there but most of the really aggressive and abusive Twitterers do seem to be ‘ bully boys’ of a certain age who have little else to do but make nasty comments and cause trouble. Block!

I like Jeremy Corbyn because he doesn’t do nasty. Even when faced with the most biased interviewer or Cruella de May herself, he remains calm, reasonable and polite.  People complain that he doesn’t defend himself in PMQs but this is merely because he doesn’t have to stoop to the personal insults, cackling and hectoring of Cameron, May and their supporters. The silly Labour boys and girls who join in with juvenile and disruptive behaviour fail to understand that they are making themselves look stupid. Who wants to elect an MP who behaves like a spoilt child and a bully?

I certainly don’t.

The trouble is, we have become so used to politicians being arrogant, rude, insulting, lying, claiming ‘honours’ for friends, and being totally out of touch with their constituents, that when an honest man appears, a man who doesn’t wear Savile Row suits, uses public transport or rides his bike, AND is a vegetarian, we don’t know what to do.

We don’t believe him.

Politicians are not allowed to be honest and trustworthy. They are supposed to have deep dark secrets concerning the source of their wealth, their illicit affairs and their unsavoury habits. We have been overtaken by career and hereditary politicians who are looking for fame, glory and power. Especially power.

No.

Enough now.

There are good politicians out there. People who have gone into politics because they want to make changes for the good. Because they want to help disabled people, disenfranchised youth, immigrants, people living below the poverty line – anyone who needs them really.

People like Jo Cox MP.

She may not have agreed with everything the leader of her party did and said, but she would not have sworn at him, accused him of persecuting her or threatened violence to him. She tried to achieve change through positive words and actions. Other MPs would do well to look back on her works and learn from them.

Aggression, violence, lies and threats solve nothing. Using them to try to harm Jeremy Corbyn is pointless; he shrugs off such behaviour like the impotent drops of poison that they are. We give people the power to hurt us and somehow, Jeremy has has the skill of diminishing that power – wherever it comes from.

I shall continue to Tweet and Retweet. I don’t know if Jeremy will win the leadership election – I really hope he does and that the Labour party pulls itself together and upholds the aims and the objectives that it so keen for the rest of us to uphold. I hope that the silly boys and girls on the back benches stop squabbling,  work for their constituents and support their leader as they should – he was democratically elected after all and the Labour party embraces democracy – doesn’t it?

The Referendum has already caused hurt and harm throughout the land – and I don’t care what the Brexiteers say – they had no idea of the devastation that a Leave vote would cause for all of us.

Now is the time for the Labour party to unify behind their leader, not indulge in petty fights and name-calling. Time to earn trust and expect nothing more than respect for good works.

It is a time to be honest, to understand the meaning of integrity.

It may not be Jeremy Corbyn who leads Labour into a General Election in 2020; there are other MPs in the wings who are not ready to lead just yet but given time…

They are the MPs that listen and learn, that fight against discrimination and prejudice, that put themselves out to combat injustice.

No more nastiness please?

JS96096800

 

 

To Thine Own Self Be True – Week 29 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

 

 

12507090_10153836052469871_7656341691285248823_n

This week’s title was actually F*** You but I thought that might be construed as being a little aggressive so I amended it a bit. This isn’t really a story as such – a bit of a rant maybe so skip on out of here if you aren’t interested in what I have to say.

I was raised in an atmosphere of mild politics. My Dad was a shop steward for the Union of Shop, Distributive, and Allied Workers (USDAW) when he worked for Sainsburys, and my Mum was secretary to her branch of the Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) when she worked for British Rail (before privatisation). At that time men working for BR had four free rail tickets per year and discounted tickets for themselves, their wives and families. Women working for BR only got these perks for themselves and not their families. My Mum fought for parity and my Mum won.

When the Social Democrat Party was formed, Mum was one of the first people to join because she didn’t like the way Labour was heading. After seven years the SDP merged with the Liberal party and Mum reverted to her Labour roots. She was very involved in social security tribunals and managed to overturn many unfair and arbitrary decisions made by other more ‘qualified’ panel members. She had a strong sense of justice and remained interested in politics all her life.

Her legacy to me was ‘To thine own self be true‘.

In my teens, my own dalliance with politics was more than a little mercenary. I joined the Southampton International Socialist group when I was fifteen. I was studying modern history and like so many other teenagers, thought that communism was the answer – for a very short while. SIS was quite glamorous; they were all older than me, bought me lager and lime in the pub and tried in vain to get me to stand in the precinct in town and sell ‘Socialist Worker’.

I had expressed a desire at the time to be a journalist – or a social worker.

By the time I had left school and started on ‘A’ levels, my interests had moved  dramatically, and to the NUS and the local students’ union. I participated in events and activities and by the time I was in my final year I was elected (unopposed) as Entertainments Secretary. Not that any of my events ever made much of a profit – some of them made an outstanding loss – but they were always entertaining.

I attended the Blackpool NUS conference in 1979. I met the Goodies and was present when Keith Joseph was discovered lurking up in the balcony. We stood up as one and hissed at him, refusing to go on until he left. It was all rather exciting at the time.

Politics were put on hold for a couple of years as I dallied with speech training and dramatic art, and a close encounter or two with my local pub.

A twist of fate and a couple of soda siphons led me back to social work and a job on the lowest rung of the ladder as a houseparent.

12832292_10153968173184871_6842323297142003647_n

On my first day at work, the deputy officer in charge stopped me as he was leaving.

‘I need to have a word with you – tomorrow.’

Panic!

What had I done wrong?

I barely slept that night and could cheerfully have thumped him when I discovered that he just wanted to ask me about joining the union – NALGO (National Union of Local Government Officers – later absorbed into Unison). I joined. More out of relief than anything else.

In 1984 we went on strike. It was almost as exciting as going to conference. We were out for three months in total and there was an atmosphere of camaraderie as we sat outside on picket lines with our tents and camping chairs. I was working in a children’s home and whilst agency staff were employed to ‘look after’ the children, in reality the children spent more time out on the picket line with us.

NALGO paid our wages and we thought we were making an impact.

We weren’t.

The strike fizzled out when the weather turned bad. We returned to work without realising how much damage had been done. Homes were closed. Junior staff like me were redeployed but senior staff found themselves passed over for promotion because of their disloyalty in going out on strike.

The cost was high; a lovely man who had been a driving force in our protests became so depressed by his demotion and lack of prospects, that he took his wife and son out for a drive in the country, drugged them both and rigged up a hosepipe to the exhaust.

All three of them died.

They weren’t the only ones who died as a consequence of the strike. I promised myself that I would never go out on strike again.

Life moved on and I managed to avoid union membership or too much political involvement bar voting in local and national elections. I usually voted Labour – except for the year when I didn’t like the candidate and was persuaded by my eldest son to vote Green. My husband has his own preferences but we decided a long time ago not to argue over politics – so we don’t.

Then I came across Jeremy Corbyn. I liked him. Compared to the glossy, posh-suited politicians he was a breath of fresh air – although he had been around for a long time apparently – quietly rebelling against the Blairite MPs who were only a step away from the tories.

My sons introduced me to social media; the eldest to Twitter and the youngest to FaceAche – although he unfriended me very quickly.

‘Mum! Stop liking my posts!’

We use FaceAche now to keep in contact with friends and family mostly. My husband and I share a page so it is an eclectic mix of both our interests.

I came off Twitter for a while because it was becoming my favourite waste of time.

I don’t always like what I see on FaceAche. I skip over or hide anything that I find unacceptable and I expect others to do the same if they see anything they don’t like amongst my posts.

It came as something of a shock when a family member disowned me because of poor Jeremy Corbyn. Apparently she saw him as the spawn of the devil and responsible for all that is bad in the world. I was given a choice. Stop putting my thoughts and opinions on FaceAche or be unfriended.

It hurts when someone you have known all your life turns their back on you.

To thine own self be true.

I am in my 50s now and have many years of social work under my belt. It’s a shame if others are upset because I won’t do as I’m told just to make them happy, but I think I have earned the right to know my own mind by now.

Then came the Referendum.

My eldest son is a Master of Science and a PhD student. He spoke very eloquently in defence of staying in the EU, knowing that EU funding is responsible for most of the research carried out in this country. He showed me where to find information on the possible effects of leaving the EU and I posted them on my page – with the proviso that no one HAD to read it if they didn’t want to.

Scroll – scroll on.

Most of our friends and family were of the same mind. There were more casualties though; a friend who felt that it was her role in life to put opposing posts on my page in order to give more ‘balance’. The posts were totally subjective and not well researched so they were deleted. And reposted. And deleted. I had to block and unfriend in the end to save my sanity. It was not a decision I took lightly.

To thine own self be true.

The murder of Jo Cox MP was shocking and showed so clearly how easy it is for political hatred to influence the most vulnerable in society so that they can commit such heinous crimes and believe that they are doing the right thing.

Such a waste of a life.

The Brexiteers won.

There was an increase in racist attacks almost immediately – as if the outcome was an excuse to persecute and harass anyone with a different skin colour, accent or surname.

I was accused by another family member of being a bad loser because I wasn’t happy about the outcome. I didn’t feel that those who had voted to leave on the grounds that it would stop us being ‘over run’ by immigrants and ruled by the EU had really looked into the possible economic and environmental impact.

I was getting very fed up with being told to ‘get over it’ by people who had caused chaos without knowing fully what they had done.

Said family member stated that ALL remain campaigners were being horrible (by pointing out that leaving the EU wasn’t going to happen overnight and that there were going to be a lot of casualties). I dared to argue and was told that I should stop playing the victim and that I was full of hatred.

To thine own self be true.

Block and unfriend.

I have never felt myself to be a victim of anyone or anything. My Mum taught me to stand up for myself and the things that matter to me.

There have been times in my life when the strength of opposition has been huge – but never totally overwhelming – due largely to the support of my husband, friends and family.

I don’t hate anyone or anything – except maybe spiders. And Brussels’ sprouts.

To hate you have to want to kill – it takes quite an effort for me to exterminate a spider so I couldn’t kill a fellow human being however repellent their behaviour is. I certainly don’t hate anyone just because we see things differently.

The current Labour situation angers me. I despise bullying and the abuse of power. Liars and arrogant politicians who ignore their electorate are equally despicable.

The behaviour of certain Labour MPs, the Parliamentary Labour Party  and Labour NEC goes beyond despicable.

Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t bitch about his fellow MPs or about the opposition. It drives them mad and they do their best to goad him into a response that can be spread around the media like wildfire.

I’m back on Twitter.

I joined Labour to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Labour NEC changed the rules.

I joined Unite so I could vote as an affiliated member and vote for Jeremy Corbyn.  Labour NEC changed the rules. I will stay with Unite though, I like their policies.

I joined Labour as a registered member and paid my twenty-five quid so that I could vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Labour NEC set a timescale of forty-eight hours to register and used a woefully inadequate website that constantly crashed due to the huge numbers of people trying to register.

It took me eight goes but I got through in the end and I have the email to prove it.

Many of the people who became registered voters are on low incomes and are having to go without to pay their twenty-five quids.

I feel humbled by those who have made this sacrifice in order to see that justice is done.

A nice woman set up a crowdfunding site to for those who couldn’t afford it. She raised over fourteen thousand pounds but the NEC have told her that she has to shut it down because it is ‘buying’ memberships and against the rules.

Not sure how you can buy memberships for people who have already joined the Labour party but needed to stump up and extra twenty-five quid in order to vote.

I have learnt much from Twitter.

I have learnt that it is better to block than to bicker with people who are out to cause trouble. Using the ‘Mute’ option on Twitter is also very satisfying.

I now know the truth about the Blairites who are doing their damnedest to distract people from the Chilcot Report – and who are behind the whole ‘get rid of Jeremy Corbyn‘ campaign because they know that he will not defend the part they played in the Iraq war.

I have witnessed the arrogance of people who spread lies about death threats, bricks through windows, homophobia and anti-semitism – without realising that they will get found out in the end.

The media (most of which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch) has forgotten the meaning of impartial reporting – especially the BBC.

The total lack of compassion shown by those who will vote for nuclear missiles that cost billions of pounds but jeer at the poor and the disabled.

I hope that Jeremy Corbyn overcomes the obstacles; that he remains leader of the  Labour party, that the NEC and PLP finally realise that it is the members that they answer to – not to the media, big business or Blair and his acolytes.

I hope that those who choose to support Jeremy Corbyn have the opportunity to serve their constituents well. There are many more bright stars waiting in the wings.

Jeremy Corbyn is an honest man; a man of integrity, a rare thing in a world of lies and political spin.

To thine own self be true.

 

11822419_10153488833089871_4590536743154505311_n

Ending at Sunrise – Week 28 of the 52 week short story challenge

SUNRISE-microsoft

As the sun sinks down below the horizon, she picks up her bag and checks that all the contents are there.

She already knows that nothing is missing. She has a list and checks it several times as she packs her bag each day – just in case.

Order is paramount.

Her flat is small and immaculately tidy. A place for everything and everything in its place. The cutlery and crockery from her evening meal have already been washed and put back in the cupboard.

She does this every day.

As part of her routine, she looks in the mirror, making sure that her hair is brushed and that she has no lipstick on her teeth.

Not that anyone would notice if she did have lipstick on her teeth.

Her lipstick is pale. She tried a brighter colour once but her mother told her that she looked like a tart so she wiped it off quickly.

Her mother is gone now and there is no one to comment on her lipstick or how she dresses, but the spectre of her mother’s past stops her from making any changes – ever.

No one looks at her as she walks in through the staff entrance; she has become invisible to her customers and fellow workers.

She knows them all though.

She listens to their conversations but ensures that no one catches her eavesdropping. That would be against the rules. Her rules.

The rules are for her own protection. That was what her mother told her years ago when they first came to live in this tiny flat. A flat that was paradise compared to where they had been before.

They are a motley crew, her customers. Some are old and lonely, using the warmth of the place to stave off the return to a cold home. Others are young; student types with their eyes glued to their mobile phones, giggling at something they have seen and sharing it with their friends. Often they have been drinking; loud and jolly, filling the place with noise and energy.

Her colleagues are less varied. They are all younger than her, and carry out their work with a levity born of the knowledge that this job is just a stopgap; a step on the way to something so much better. Except for the manager. He is tense and angry, feeling that he deserves better than this.

Her coat and bag are put neatly inside her locker after she has extracted her uniform and laid it carefully on the wooden bench. She has two overalls and when she gets back from work each day she washes her uniform and hangs it up to dry in the tiny bathroom of her tiny flat.

Taking one last look in the mirror by the door, she smoothes down her overall and pats the pocket where she has put her keys to the staff cupboard.

The shape of the keys reassures her. A token of normality in a frightening world.

Out in the corridor, she keeps her head low as she passes the manager.

‘The disabled toilet needs cleaning and some uni kid has thrown up all over one of the tables. Get it sorted – the staff have been waiting for you to come in.’

She nods obediently as she unlocks the cupboard and takes out her work tools; the mop and bucket, disinfectant and catering size cleaning roll.

Waiting for her to come in?

No one ever waits for her to come in.

Like a spectre herself, she moves quietly round the tables, mopping up messes, clearing away the detritus of a fast food diet, not even wondering anymore how people can waste so much food when there are people starving all over the world.

The tables are clean now; the toilets too.

She surveys her work with pride although she knows that she will have to start over again in a few minutes.

As she takes her mop bucket out to empty it, a young man bumps into her as he leaves the toilet.

‘Watch where you are going old woman!’ he says as he brushes invisible dirt from his ripped jeans.

‘Sorry, so sorry.’ she whispers and then regrets opening her mouth as he looks at her with something far worse than disdain.

‘Get back to your own country you dirty Paki. We don’t want your sort here stealing our jobs.’

Hearing the sound of raised voices, the manager appears and pushes her into the kitchen whilst apologising to the youth. He offers him a free drink by way of appeasement.

On automatic pilot, she throws away the soiled cleaning roll and empties her mop bucket, wiping them out carefully before returning them to the cupboard.

As she pulls another bin liner from the roll, the manager reappears. He does not look happy.

‘How many times do I have to tell you not to wind the customers up? This is your final warning.’

He turns on his heel and goes back to the kitchen. He does not realise that the other staff laugh at him behind his back, or that he is about to be moved to another branch in a less salubrious part of town and will never get the opportunity to deliver that warning.

She knows the signs. She has seen it all before. Another day draws to an end.

As the sun rises, she takes her bag and coat out of the locker and heads home to the safety of her tiny flat again.

every-sunrise-gives-you-a-new-beginning-and-a-new-ending-let-this-morning-be-a-new-beginning-to-a-quote-1

Nostalgia – Week 26 of the 52 week short story challenge – halfway there

brat

The scene in the photograph is idyllic; a long garden with flowered borders and a neatly mown lawn. At the end of the lawn is a large tree and under it, a group of children cluster around a young girl. I am one of those children and looking back up the garden to the house, I can remember seeing all the grown-ups looking out at us with glasses of champagne in their hands.

The house belonged to my grandparents. The celebration was for the twelfth birthday of my cousin Caroline, it is she that is sitting like a queen in our midst. She is chubby for her age and the pink be-frilled party dress that my aunt has dressed her in makes her look like one of those crinoline ladies that people put over their toilet rolls.

She is an only child and spoiled rotten. We are a large family. Our grandparents had seven children and nineteen grandchildren ranging in ages from my cousin Andrew aged fourteen, down to our newest cousin Rachel. She is only a few months old and is back in the house with the grown-ups and half a dozen other under-twos who can’t be let loose in the garden.

One of my aunts emigrated to New Zealand; she and her husband don’t think that Caroline’s birthday party merits uprooting their four children in order to make a long and very expensive journey to England. They are off the Christmas and Birthday card list as far as my grandparents are concerned.

We’ve only had a twenty minute drive to get here and I didn’t think it was worth it either. It was my birthday a month ago and my grandparents didn’t even turn up at our house on the day; they were busy doing something or other with Caroline.

Caroline’s father jumped ship when she was three years old. His wife, my Aunty Suzy, had spent every last penny he earned on Caroline and herself. He had grown exhausted by Suzy’s excesses and, finding a sympathetic ear, went off with his secretary. Suzy and Caroline came to live with our grandparents and the rest of the family were knocked back into insignificance almost immediately

My Uncle Charlie fell out with Suzy some years ago, so he, his wife and their two children are absent as well. Like all his other brothers and sisters, Charlie felt that Suzy and Caroline were running through the family inheritance as fast as they could but he was the only one to stand up to her. Suzy is the apple of her parents’ eyes; she could do no wrong and Caroline has inherited all of her most toxic traits.

My grandparents were not bad people. They loved all their children and grandchildren – just not equally.

I am back in the present day. I am tired and tetchy. I have to juggle a demanding job, a neurotic ex-husband, two daughter at universities and my mother. I don’t want to look at photographs but it is the only thing that makes my mother happy nowadays.

My mother, her memories faded by time, looks at the photograph and smiles.

‘That was such a happy day.’ she says as she touches the faded photograph with her forefinger and turns the page of the album.

‘Was it?’ I say, doing my very best to keep my voice even. ‘Don’t you remember what happened after that photograph was taken?’

She shakes her head and I am in a quandary. Dementia has robbed her of her memories and although I want to shake her and share my memories, I can’t and I won’t, but I remember it all so clearly.

Caroline presided over our group because she did that in everything, but as today was her birthday she had even more special powers. She had been given a book on palm reading – when I say given – I mean demanded from her grandparents. She had decided, after reading a few pages and looked at some pictures, that she was now an expert and would read all our palms.

She started with Andrew; technically the eldest but we all knew that he was different. He was quiet, fascinated by insects and animals, and today we would probably say he was at the lower end of the autistic spectrum, but in those days he was just different.

He very reluctantly held out his grubby hand. Caroline looked at it with disgust and made some pretence at tracing the lines without actually touching them.

‘Hmmm, your lifeline isn’t very long. Can’t see you living past your mid-thirties. No children and a failed marriage. You really haven’t got much to look forward to have you?’ Caroline smirked and motioned Andrew to move away from her.

I was the next oldest.

‘Come on Trisha. You aren’t scared surely?’

‘No thanks.’ I managed a brief smile and backed away.

‘Coward! The twins next then.’ She beckons Sally and Tom over, knowing that at eight years old they are still under her power. She fails to find anything interesting in either of their hands and waves them away to join Andrew on the outskirts of the group.

She deals with my four year old cousin Alice in a very imperious fashion, knowing that her mother and Alice’s mother aren’t on speaking terms at the moment either.

Apart from myself, that leaves one child – my beloved baby brother Gerald. He is three years old and a beautiful but frail child. He has spent much of his short life in hospital and we are devoted to each other. Unfortunately he has yet to realise that the golden-haired, pink-clad Caroline is to be avoided. He breaks free of my grasp and runs to her when she offers him a sweet.

Grabbing his hand, she looks up at me triumphantly.

‘Gerry’s lifeline is very short Trisha. No marriage and no children but then he was never expected to last very long was he?’

I pull Gerry out of her grasp and with him under my arm, I carry him back to the house. My mother can see something is amiss and takes me aside. When I tell her what Caroline has said, she calls my father over and he starts gathering up our belongings.

‘Leaving so soon?’ Suzy purrs. The other children – and Caroline – have come in from the garden and Caroline has lost no time in telling her mother HER version of the incident.

‘It’s just a bit of harmless fun darlings. Caroline didn’t mean to upset Trisha, but you have to accept, she does get upset SO easily.’

Nevertheless, we leave, followed speedily by the rest of the family visitors. The birthday tea untouched, the birthday candles on the cake have not even been lit. Yet again, Caroline and Suzy have split the family.

My darling brother Gerry died a month later, and whilst we knew that Caroline was not the cause, I still blamed her for his death, and went on blaming her whenever anything went wrong in our lives.

My cousin Andrew got married just before his thirtieth birthday. We all thought there was a chance of success because she worked with adults with learning difficulties and seemed to understand him. She certainly understood the benefits system. Andrew became very depressed when his bride of a year left him. A neighbour found him unconscious after overdosing on the pills that were supposed to help. He never regained consciousness. Thanks Caroline.

My grandparents were so wrapped up with Suzy and Caroline that they barely noticed our absence. As they grew older and more frail, Suzy put them in a care home. She had very cannily arranged power of attorney for both of them, and had them change their wills so that she was the sole beneficiary. We didn’t even know where they were until they died – within a few days of each other. The solicitor contacted us to tell us the outcome of their wills.

It was just a formality.

It didn’t take Suzy long to run through the money, and then the house had to be sold. Caroline was in private education and the bills for her dance classes, elocution and etiquette sessions had to be paid.

Caroline lost weight; she became willowy and glamorous courtesy of costly nips, tucks, breast augmentation and a nose job. She treated her mother with contempt, especially after their inheritance was no more. Suzy aged badly after this, sold up the smaller house that she and Caroline had moved to, bought a small retirement flat for herself and rented an apartment for Caroline up in London.

‘Caroline has so many good friends in London and she needs to finish her courses if she wants to settle there.’

Famous last words Aunty Suzy. Where were Caroline and her good friends when you were diagnosed with terminal cancer?  If you had gone to the doctor sooner; if you hadn’t spent all your money on Caroline and her wonderful lifestyle, if you hadn’t raised one of the most selfish, hateful women I have ever met.

Suzy died penniless last year and we clubbed together for her funeral; her remaining sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces – even those who still live in New Zealand.

My mother sits in the armchair in my front room. She spends much of her time there in a rosy cloud of nostalgia, looking at pictures of the old days.

The old days.

The days before Caroline got involved in sticking cocaine up her nose.

The days before she got involved in drug smuggling for her ‘good friends’ to pay for her nasty habits.

The days before she was found dead in her rented apartment. The police broke in after the landlord advised that she hadn’t been paying the rent and there were a lot of flies around. No sign of those good friends now.

It is time for another funeral. We have had to club together again. Caroline wanted a pink hearse with horses but we can only afford the basic package. I’m hoping that my mother will have forgotten about the pink hearse and the death of her only son when she cries at my cousin’s funeral.

 

Pink Hearse