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

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‘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.’

 

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2nd Person Perspective – Week 20 of the 52 week short story challenge

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This is for you. Leeroy, Ray, Chris, Nicky, Sarah, Kim and Mark.

In ten years of residential social work I came to know hundreds of children and young people.

The actual list is a very long one.

When I started work as a twenty-one year old volunteer in a small group children’s home, I was very naive.

I learned about bullying.

I learned that the abuse of children didn’t just occur within families.

I learned that whilst telling the truth was important to me, it wasn’t important to others who were older and in positions of power.

I met you Leeroy, and I won’t forget you. You were a small ginger-haired boy whose mother was too confused by her mental health issues to look after you. Plucked from your familiar but disorganised home and thrust into a huge, rambling house full of loud and angry children. You might just as well have had ‘victim’ printed on your forehead.

You bore the brunt of the fury of a family of six children. They aged from four to fourteen and had been taken into care due to their parents drug and alcohol dependencies and chaotic lifestyle. They were very protective of each other and had quickly learned to store up grievances to tell their parents when they visited every other Saturday afternoon.

Their parents were quite happy that their children were in care. They had no food or clothing bills to pay, no having to get up to take the children to school and no responsibility – which left them free to drink and party – provided that they were sober enough to turn up once a fortnight for the visit.

Although I was only a volunteer, I did my best to look out for you when I was in the house Leeroy.

I couldn’t be there all the time though, and I would often arrive to find you in tears having been set upon by your tormentors. I complained to the manager. He was too afraid of the family and their parents to do anything.

In the end I phoned your social worker and told her what was going on.

Of course there was no mention of the bullying in the log book – a work of total fiction.

Your social worker listened to me and a foster home was found for you, possibly because it was easier to move one small victim of bullying whose mother couldn’t fight for him, than to challenge the warped but effective dynamics of a family who had learned to manipulate the system so well.

You were eight years old then and you would be a grown man of forty-four now.

I never found out what had happened to you; I got a real job in another children’s home after three months of being a volunteer.

This job couldn’t have been more different. The home was modern; purpose-built to house up to sixteen boys and girls. The staff – including the officer-in-charge – were young and enthusiastic.

I was allocated two boys  – Ray and Chris – to ‘keywork’. You were rather scary Ray; coming up to your sixteenth birthday and about to move into the ‘Leaving Care’ programme which would see you moved into a bedsit and kitted out with the means to look after yourself. The material means that is. You were always very volatile Ray and whilst I learned quite quickly that you were also easily distracted, I found myself on the receiving end of your anger too many times. I tried to form some kind of a relationship with you but there had already been a family who rejected you and too many earnest key workers by the time we met, and there was a collective sigh of relief when we sent you off into the big bad world.

Oh but Chris, you couldn’t have been more different. You had started at senior school; a sweet-faced tubby boy who could have been another victim if it hadn’t been for a strong and united staff attitude toward bullying. Like Leeroy, you had a mother who couldn’t cope with life and you had been brought into care in order to relieve you of the responsibility of looking after her.

My job was to teach you how to play, to be less serious, to focus on your own needs and to leave others to deal with your mother’s demands.

Whilst Ray taught me about violence and aggression Chris, you reminded me that children in care need to be given the opportunity to be children. We had fun. We went to the Isle of Wight on the ferry, and spent the day on the beach watching the boats and eating sandwiches and ice cream. I introduced you to the library and to Roald Dahl.

I read ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ to you and your two roommates – into the early hours. You didn’t want me to stop and stayed awake whilst the other two were snoring. When I finished the book and left the room I found Ray and another older boy asleep in the corridor outside. They had been listening too.

You did well Chris; at school and in the foster home that we found you. We were never encouraged to keep in touch though, in case it prevented you settling into your new life.

It was one aspect of the job that I found hard.

Turn the time forward ten years; my husband and I are in an electrical store looking for our first CD player. My husband is talking to the manager – who looks a little familiar. Tall, slim and immaculately dressed.

Chris.

Chris who found it much easier to recognise me. Chris who is now the manager of this store, a husband and a father of a baby girl.

So proud of you Chris.

Completely humbled by the fact that you are so grateful to me for doing my job.

And you gave us a very good discount on the CD player.

Nicky, you were the never to be forgotten enigma. A strange boy who had come home from school one day to find that his mother had died, in front of the TV with an empty whisky bottle by her side.

One of the few real orphans I had ever looked after. You were quirky; you had suitcases of your mother’s clothes that you couldn’t be parted from. You were bright – too bright for some of the staff – and I had some of my most challenging moments with you.

Five sets of foster parents did their best to give you a home, and each time you came back to us, more angry and confused.

Officialdom shut the home down, together with several others, and one last set of foster parents had to be found for you. They were almost as quirky as you Nick, and they seemed to be dealing with your behaviour quite well.

I moved on with my life.

I qualified as a social worker and got promoted.

My new workplace was an observation and assessment centre – short-stay allegedly – and with education on the premises, and a secure unit.

Not long after I’d bumped into Chris in the electrical shop, you turned up at my new place of work.

A new admission they said. You might remember him from your previous place; his name is Nick. He is odd.

So you were sent to us because no one knew what to do with you. There were no other foster parents for you now that you were a six-foot seventeen-year old – who had an interest in hairdressing and whose personality had achieved full-blown camp. I found you delightful.

You were no easier to deal with; age and experience had given you to ability to wind up staff and other young people alike. You went through social workers like a dose of salts – especially the young and newly qualified who thought that they could make something of you.

Only you could do that.

You left us after a couple of months and moved into a boys’ residential home that specialised in settling those who were leaving care.

Years on, and the manager of that home is being prosecuted for abusing boys in his care. I would lay money on it that he didn’t try it on with you Nick.

I came across several Sarah’s over the years, but you were the most important Sarah to me.

Neither you nor Kim were easy to look after but then I always tended to have more empathy with the young people who presented a challenge.

Together with Kim, you came to my engagement party, and were extremely elegant in posh frocks and hats at my wedding. Friends and family were asking who you were and how I knew you both. I didn’t tell them you were looked-after children. You were far too composed and assured for that.

You had become friends.

I have no doubt that you sorted out life for yourselves.

Mark – you marked the end of the line for residential childcare for me.

You were so damaged at ten years old, that no end of therapy and one-to-one work could make a difference. We spent time together; we cooked, repaired an old rocking horse, went for long walks and I read bedtime stories to you but nothing I did could break through.

The other staff tried but found you impenetrable. Some of them blamed me because it was easier than admitting defeat.

I took a great many kicks and punches from you and one day it was all too much.

I was married to a man who loved me and hated seeing the split lips, the bruises, the black eyes.

It was time for a change – because I had to admit that I couldn’t help you – and because I had someone who cared about me too much to see me hurt myself anymore.

I’m sorry Mark.

I remember so many more of you from those ten years of working in children’s homes.

We laughed together; and we cried. We went to Butlins and giggled at the wrestling and the knobbly knees contests. We camped in the New Forest and got soaked, played Spotlight up at the Sports Centre and on one memorable occasion all sixteen children I had responsibility for absconded.

Ah, but fifteen of you came back before midnight, so we watched unsuitable TV and cooked fish and chips to celebrate.

From you, I learned how to deal with my own roaring boys.

How to let them know that they were loved – even if their behaviour was horrible.

I read them bedtime stories; we went to the beach, we camped out and got soaked.

My own roaring boys are in their twenties now and to me at least, seem to be quite well-balanced and confident.

So thank you; Leeroy, Chris, Ray, Nicky, Sarah, Kim, Mark – and all the others who touched my life.

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Competition – Week 12 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Bitchiness alert! 

But consider this a therapeutic blog – please?

After all – it’s all fiction isn’t it?

I can vaguely remember the day you came for an interview. Our boss Barry showed you round the office as if you were his most prized possession. Unbeknown to us he had met you at a different office and persuaded you to apply for the job.

And to be fair, everyone in the office agreed that you were very young and attractive; with more than a passing resemblance to Cameron Diaz in her Charlie’s Angels incarnation. At the time we thought we were paying you a compliment but we later found that it was a comment guaranteed to wind you up.

Not surprisingly, Barry gave you the job – but you didn’t have much in the way of competition.

Introducing a young, blonde female into an office of largely middle-aged (and in some cases aggressively menopausal) women might well have been Barry’s way of brightening up his surroundings. Whilst we all welcomed you; there were some – and I include myself in this – who wondered if there was a brain inside that regularly coiffed head.

It didn’t take long to find out.

Nope.

Well, there was natural cunning in evidence…

There was also the ability to charm every red-blooded male within a five mile radius – even those senior managers who oozed sleaze as they patted you on the shoulder and leaned just a little too close when looking at your computer screen.

Trying to teach you how to actually do the job wasn’t easy.

It took patience and the ability to overlook the fact that you were very good at evading work.

You had come from a receptionist’s post where the most mentally taxing issue was working out the whereabouts of people in the building and whether they were ‘available’ or not.

I have to admit that your phone voice was okay – except for  the constantly niggling ‘we was waiting for you to call us‘ or ‘you should of called us earlier‘.

Other less critical staff members put it down to your youth and the fact that you came from a ‘rough’ part of the town.

But me…

I gritted my teeth and tried to close my ears. Luckily you spent most of your time working – and I use that word loosely – in the smaller office.

Your dog got run over a couple of weeks before Christmas and Barry, being the big softy that he was, told you not to come into work until you felt better.

Whilst we were all very sympathetic about the dog, but this was the animal that you came into work complaining about how smelly it was and how it barked at you all the time.  We didn’t expect your mourning to last well into the New Year however. No mention of the poor dog on your return but you regaled us with how merrily you had spent the festive season. Your roots had been done, your nails were newly lacquered and you were wearing a beautiful white wool coat that fitted you like a glove and must have cost all your Christmas money.

The only sign of grief was when you went in to see Barry to explain why you had been off work for so long. It took but a few tears and dainty sniffles – he didn’t ask for a doctor’s certificate or ask you to take the time off as annual leave but patted your hand and told the rest of us to be kind to you – you were refreshing your mascara in the toilet at the time.

Some of us who had covered for you over Christmas and New Year were not feeling too sympathetic as you boasted about your ability to twist Barry round your little finger.

Not an ability that I ever acquired.

Despite having known Barry for several years before he became our manager, he still made me take annual leave when later in the year my husband was rushed into hospital with kidney stones and I had two small children to take to school and collect. He didn’t think my circumstances met his criteria for compassionate leave.

I was still rankling from this when you and your long-suffering boyfriend decided to buy a house together.

For months the offices were inundated with pictures of potential houses. I’m all for youth and exuberance but you really overdid it. You spent more time toting your estate agent specs around the offices than you actually did at your desk. Even total strangers coming into reception asking for advice were cajoled into giving it instead.

A sigh of relief went round the office when you finally completed the sale.

A collective groan went round the office when you decided that you needed our advice on everything you bought for the house – from toilet brushes to cutlery to the colour of the paint for the garden shed. There was far more but those of us who showed less enthusiasm were ignored after a while.

Hooray.

Then we moved from our offices to a different building where we were given one big room with a glass partitioned office at the end for Barry.

Needless to say, you picked a desk where you could simper at Barry whenever he caught your eye, but positioned so that he couldn’t see the amount of time you were busy on FaceAche chatting with your friends while your office mates were busy with the extra work you were making.

Some of your colleagues covered for you.

Some of us didn’t.

We were asked to carry out an audit on the work we were doing in order to justify our jobs. We were aided in this by the IT department who ran stats on each of the computers as well as the telephone logs.

After the first week, guess who had accomplished the least?

Half an hour of batting the baby blues, sobbing in a contrived fashion and using every tactic within your limited repertoire, you managed to persuade Barry that you felt intimidated by ‘some’ of the other people in the office – especially those who criticised your grammar and spelling.

Barry arranged for you to attend Access to English classes after work at the local Adult Education Centre. He then took the opportunity to lecture the rest of the office about jealousy and bullying.

We had eight weeks of you telling us about Shakespeare and how we should be reading Romeo and Juliet – like what you were. It was inconceivable to you that any of your colleagues had ever even heard of Shakespeare. Access to English had turned you into a self-confessed culture vulture in only eight weeks. Your own access to English was still limited but at least the spelling improved on your FaceAche posts and the very dodgy emails you circulated.

Those of us with more sense and an awareness of the computer use rules,  deleted the emails without opening them – I really didn’t need to look at pictures of male genitalia  thank you.

The IT crowd picked up one of your dodgiest emails when they were running a security check. You tried to plead ignorance and said that ‘a friend‘ had sent it out on your behalf and you hadn’t even looked at it.

We all got another lecture from Barry on circulating dodgy emails and were warned that a very close eye was being kept on us now.

Then you and your fiancé decided to get married.

It was terrible.

 

If I thought the house buying and fitting out was bad – this was a million times worse.

I could see your screen from where I sat and it was a constant shade of violent pink as you surfed the net for your fairy-tale wedding while the rest of us tried to zone out your wedding wittering.

I didn’t care whether your wedding favours were going to be blush pink, purple or puce. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be finding out first-hand anyway.

 

Even the most doting of colleagues was beginning to get a bit cheesed off with your wedding obsession.

Sales of Black Cohosh from the health food shop increased dramatically and even Barry was seen sneaking a pill or two out of the communal container in moments of deep stress.

(Black Cohosh is very good for menopausal symptoms – allegedly).

The budget for the event of the year climbed and climbed and climbed.

We wondered where all the money was coming from – none of us were paid that much and neither was your fiancé.

When the number of adult bridesmaids requiring designer dresses climbed into double figures, something snapped.

Your husband-to-be called off the wedding on the grounds that it was far too expensive, it wasn’t what he wanted, he was sick of going to wedding fairs and missing his Sunday football, and you just wouldn’t shut up about the (*******) wedding!

You had to have the best – or what you deemed to be better than anyone else’s.

The young man moved back to his mum’s but we were spared the initial fallout because Barry very kindly told you to take time off to recover.

Due to the fact that a couple of your colleagues FaceAche  friends and could see your page, we were all a little surprised that in your grief at being jilted, you had found time to spend some of the wedding money on laser surgery for your eyes as well as several girly nights out and a trip down to that London.

It was noted that your eyes were suitably red and sore when you finally returned and Barry put it down to grief.

We knew different.

Fate took me away from that office shortly afterwards, and into a new office arena where I was better managed, less irritated and far more mellow – for a while.

I heard on the office grapevine that the two of you got back together eventually, and the wedding took place – a much quieter affair because by then you were pregnant and your fiancé had finally put his foot down.

The honey locks reverted back to their natural mousey brown post-wedding; mascara made your lasered eyes water, and you went to work in another office – managed by a hard-nosed female who was wise  to your laziness and unmoved by your sobbing. You eked out your maternity leave as long as you could, and within a few weeks of returning to work had become pregnant with your second child.

This became something of a pattern.

The last I heard you were on your fourth and you weren’t going back to work after this one.

For the record; I never envied you your youth and exuberance. I often asked myself if I would have developed such a deep dislike for you if you hadn’t been so young and attractive. But no, I was never bothered by your external appearance – it was the stuff inside your head that I despised.

It was never a competition even if you thought that it was.

You always reminded me of a poem that I learned at school

For Anne Gregory

by W B Yeats

‘Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’
‘But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.’
‘I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’

I work from home now and am much more mellow these days.

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