Theatre – Week 19 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I may have a long standing reputation as a drama queen.

As a child I was rather good at flouncing; at throwing up when cross or crossed, and at storming out of classrooms when peeved by a teacher. My second and third years at primary school were spent sitting on the swings in the playground, singing to myself.

My big brother called me Sarah Bernhardt. I went to my Mother for an explanation. She said it was a compliment and to be grateful that he didn’t call me Sarah Heartburn. It took a few years and many books before I understood that insult.

In my fourth year I met my match. Mr Williams was a legend. He was stern; he used an old plimsoll on naughty boys, he reduced naughty girls to tears, he loved music, drama, poetry and he was determined to sort me out.

I think I threw one wobbler in that year and it was very quickly nipped in the bud by Mr Williams steely glare.

He cast me as the Artful Dodger in Oliver. I had a top hat and built my part up until it almost eclipsed Oliver himself (cast because he was a sweet looking waif with blonde locks but couldn’t sing for toffee).

I was a hit; Mr Williams was over the moon, the caretaker told my Father that I was ‘a card’ (I had to get a parental explanation for that one too but I felt that it was complimentary).

Our next production was a dance drama about Hell – guess who played the devil! There were hosts of tormented souls writhing rhythmically in leotards and me – clad in pink cord jeans, a black shirt and a fetching pink cord cap with devil’s horns (made by my Mum). It was received so well that we were invited to perform it at a competition held at the local teacher training college – run by nuns and attended by naive young ladies from the Channel Islands. Some of the mothers were a little unsure about how the nuns would take it.

We were supposed to be on first due to our tender years – everyone else was eighteen years and over – but there was a mix up with the time our coach was supposed to arrive and we got there in time to be the last – and apparently most classy – act.

It was my primary school swansong. Mr Williams went off to be a deputy head teacher at another school. I nagged my parents into letting me attend a private school with two of my friends.

It was not a success. The long bus journeys made me throw up on arrival at school every day. At my previous school I had been considered ‘snobby’ because my Mum would not let us speak in the idiom of the estate – ‘I goes to ‘im and ‘e goes to me’. Glottal stops abounded at our school. At my new school however, I was considered to be ‘common’ because I lived on a council estate and wasn’t driven to school by my parents or the au pair – the what?

Half a term later and an interview with the school head, who told my mother that I spent most of my school days crying, being sick and drawing pictures.

Private education was not for me and I returned to the safety of the local education system but to a different primary school as it was felt that returning to my old school without Mr Williams to guide me, would be a bad idea.

Not quite as bad an idea as attending a school where the headmistress and I took an instant dislike to each other. Where Mr Williams had brought out the best in me – she brought out the worst. I came very close to being expelled for my insolence and lack of respect. My Mum hadn’t helped by insisting to all her children that respect had to be earned.

A change in family circumstances meant that we relocated to other side of town and I started at a senior school – for girls. No boys at all. Just girls.

Due to a mix up in education records, I was put in the remedial class in Green or bottom band; Green, Turquoise, Emerald and Emerald (R)emedial. For three days I had a lovely time drawing pictures for my classmates and helping them colour in. Boredom set it then and I complained to my Mum.

Another head teacher’s office interview and the sneering, balloon-like head teacher who said that ‘all mummies think their gals have been put in the wrong class’. A quick call to my previous school and I was promoted to the Red band – not just the top band but the top class of the top band. Colouring became a thing of the past. I maintained my hatred for the head teacher however, and had fantasies about jumping up onto the stage during assembly and pushing her off – just to see if she really would bounce down the aisle. I controlled the impulse however, but did have a book running on which of the usual suspects would faint or throw up during assembly.

Established drama went out the window during my senior school days, and with it a possible career in singing after the miserable music mistress told me that I shouldn’t bother auditioning for the choir.

I concentrated on being a rebel without a reason and a dead loss at games – except for hockey where I was a whizz at the bully-off. My school uniform had reached total anarchy level by the time I was fifteen.

In my final year the games mistress suggested that I should take the opportunity to attend drama lessons at the local Tech College. This meant no more games, no more black nylon leotards and faded red wraparound gym skirts. No more inept tennis, netball or rounders lessons. No more miserable trudging round the 440 yard running track. Thursday lunchtime saw me on a bus to town and a brave new world.

Andrea Morris saved me. She saw something in me that Mr Williams had seen. Andrea encouraged me and instilled a lifelong love of the theatre and of Shakespeare. I lived for my Thursday afternoons and the more adult atmosphere of the Tech College, where I got to rub shoulders with gas fitters, bricklayers and very worldly ‘A’ level students.

Needless to say, the plans for me to attend Girls Grammar College to take my ‘A’ levels were abandoned and I became a full-time (ish) student at the Tech the following September. Signed up to study Drama and Theatre Studies (‘O’ and ‘A’ level), and English Literature and Sociology ‘A’ levels.

Sociology got bumped in favour of Art  ‘A’ level which also prevented me doing any more ‘games’ as Art was considered to be aesthetic rather than academic and took place from 1300 hours to 1800 hours on Wednesday afternoons – when we were supposed to be doing circuit training in the college gym.

I went on to drama school  after the Tech – to Andrea’s old drama school in Birmingham – and the drama queen became an assistant stage manager on every production I could wheedle my way into. I loved doing the lights, building sets, making props and finding things from obscure sources. I did a bit of acting too and some spectacularly bad dancing.

The unemployment rate for female assistant stage managers who couldn’t drive, didn’t have a family connection and weren’t prepared to have sex with an ‘important’ person to get a job and an Equity card, were about 98% at the time I left drama school.

So I worked behind a bar and when that ended catastrophically, I became a social worker.

“All the world’s a stage”

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)

All the world’s a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances; 
And one man in his time plays many parts, 
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, 
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; 
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel 
And shining morning face, creeping like snail 
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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A Country Never Visited – Week 17 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Assembled at the train station on a sunny July day; bowed under the weight of rucksacks and tents and all doing their best to look cool and avoid being hugged by their attendant parents.

They were a motley crew.

Four boys and two girls with an intermingling of relationships that had already raised parental eyebrows. Trisha and Lea were best friends, which was just as well because Lea was now going out with Colin, who had been Trisha’s first ever boyfriend. Trisha had started going out with Tim just before Christmas but by New Year she had dumped Tim for his best friend Wayne. They remained friends despite this because Tim was a nice guy.

The sixth member of the group was Kevin, Wayne’s cousin and the only real birdwatcher in the group, although Tim, Wayne and Trisha did at least have their twitcher’s cards on them and a list of birds and animals they were on the lookout for.

In the early planning stages of this trip there had been brave and foolhardy ideas about hitchhiking the 450 miles north but the mothers of the two sixteen year old girls felt that they were being permissive enough in allowing them to spend a whole fortnight camping with four eighteen year old boys.

Seats were booked on a train to Waterloo; tube stations identified in order to get them to Kings Cross station where they would board a train for Aviemore and an eleven and a half hour journey in the relative comfort of a reserved compartment.

It would have been comfortable if Trisha and Wayne hadn’t spent the previous day sunning themselves at an outdoor pool. Trisha had fallen asleep and woke up to find that her entire left side was turning lobster-red. Wayne had been slightly better covered and it was only his legs that were burnt.

Sitting down hurt. Walking with a heavy rucksack on sunburnt shoulders hurt. Trying to avoid contact with humans or carriage walls in a small compartment filled with people and luggage was impossible. Trisha and Wayne were not known for their good humour anyway but pain and anxiety made their situation worse.

It had all seemed so exciting. Going to another country – okay, so it was Scotland and joined onto the end of England – but it was still unknown territory. Kevin and Wayne had come up with the idea of visiting the Cairngorms. Although only a half-hearted birdwatcher, Trisha did not want to be left behind and neither did Tim. The idea of her daughter going away with three boys met with resistance from Trisha’s mother but Lea came to the rescue and Colin, kind calm and reasonable Colin who had no interest in birds, deer or even camping, agreed to accompany her.

Trisha had some doubts about Lea and Colin joining them. She had quite liked the idea of having all three boys to herself so having to share the experience with Lea irked a little. Trisha’s interest in Colin was far removed from romance now but would Lea start making passes at her current boyfriend?

Wayne was more handsome, more intelligent and very attentive. Perhaps too attentive at times. Perhaps veering into possessiveness occasionally, and of late he had shown signs of the angry outbursts inherited – or learned  – from both his parents.

Wayne’s mother was prone to throwing things when angry: saucepans, plates, knives, any projectile that came to hand. His father was more of slow burner whose ire was inflamed by alcohol  and whose temper led to at least one night in a cell to cool off. Trisha’s arms had already been coloured with bruises from Wayne’s controlling hands but she pushed those incidents to the back of her mind because she loved him – and she knew that he loved her because that’s what he said when he saw the bruises.

It wasn’t bruises that were bothering her now though. She had grabbed a window seat thinking that the padded arm rest would be less painful against her sunburn. It was fine while she was awake but the long journey and a restless night meant that she kept dozing off and banging against the unpadded wall.  Wayne sat next to her with a silent Tim reading NME because he thought it made him look like a musician – which he wasn’t. Lea had nabbed the other window seat, Colin dozed happily by her side and Kevin, his nose buried in his bird guide, was oblivious to everyone and everything.

Trisha woke in pain as the train went round a bend and Wayne’s full weight fell against her. She pushed him away angrily. Confused by sleep, he started to argue but the presence of four other people stopped him and he moved an inch away from Trisha and crossed his arms like a sulking child.

By the time they passed over the border, tempers in the compartment were simmering. It was too dark to read by the tiny interior lights and too dark to look at scenery. The others did their best to doze but Wayne and Trisha couldn’t get comfortable and were snapping edgily at each other.

Eventually Trisha could take no more and stepping over outstretched legs, she went in search of the toilet.

It was occupied.

She rested her head against the cool of the windowpane. Standing up – even with a full bladder – was less painful and irritating than being back in the compartment. The sun was coming up and being able to see the beauty of the mountains and trees at last, had a calming effect on her.

The toilet door opened and a man came out.

‘I’d give it a few minutes if I were you.’ he said with a grin as he walked back down the corridor.

Torn between holding her breath and having an embarrassing accident, Trisha chose the former and filling her lungs, dashed into the toilet.

It was a relief on many levels when she got back out to the corridor again. Reluctant to return to a compartment of sleeping or grumpy companions, she carried on looking out at the scenery. The train stopped for signals and there, barely feet from the track, was a squirrel. Not just any squirrel but a red squirrel. Her first.

The sight made her incredibly happy. Especially because she was the only one of the group to see the squirrel. She turned round and saw a bleary-eyed Kevin emerging from the toilet.

‘Kev! Look! A red squirrel!’

He rushed over to the window, even then, taking care not to get too close unless he bumped into her sunburn. They looked at the squirrel, and the squirrel looked back. It was a magic moment.

The engine started up again and the resultant noise made the squirrel bolt for the safety of the trees. Kevin looked at his watch.

‘We should be arriving at Aviemore in about twenty minutes. I suppose we’d better wake up the others up.’

‘Do we have to?’ said Trisha.

Kevin, reasonable and sensible as always, pulled a bus timetable out of his pocket.

‘The first bus to the campsite leaves at ten o’clock. I think we’ll all be much happier once we’ve had something to eat and stretched our legs. The station buffet should be open when we get in.’

Trisha smiled and followed him back to the compartment. She woke Wayne with a gentle kiss on top of his head. Showing rare self-control, she sat down next to him while an excited Kevin told everyone about the red squirrel.

‘Trisha spotted it first.’ he said. ‘We’re really here. It must be a good omen. Just think, ospreys, golden eagles, dippers, even ptarmigan if we can get up on to the mountain.’

HIs enthusiasm did the trick and the thought of breakfast and the final leg of their trip  to the campsite galvanised even a tired and sullen Wayne.

The station buffet was open – just  – and fairly basic but the food was hot and there was coffee to wake them up.

The bus trip out to the campsite was uncomfortably bumpy; they weren’t the only campers and there wasn’t much room for all the luggage in the boot. It overflowed into the aisle and fell against Wayne’s sunburnt legs so that he was gritting his teeth by the time they arrived.

It was worth it though. The campsite was at the foot of the Cairngorms; well supplied with toilets and showers, a shop selling food and mementos, and the three pitches they had reserved were grassy and level. The sun shone and tents went up quickly – mostly due to Kevin’s expertise and the compliance of Colin and Tim. Wayne argued about everything  –  because he could – Trisha and Lea sat on a blanket and looked at the scenery having decided that this was the most practical help they could offer.

Looking back years later, Trisha remembered seeing the ospreys after a long, hot trek to Loch Garten. She remembered sitting by a waterfall watching the dippers. It was blissfully cool under the trees by the river’s side. There was the happiness of time spent at Loch an Eilein on the hottest day of the year when they were all feeling lazy and content, mellow on cheap cider, bread and cheese from the camp site shop.

They never made it up the mountain; the golden eagles stayed hidden and by the end of the fortnight entente was no longer cordiale.

Lea and Trisha fell out. Fuelled by cheap cider, Trisha decided  that not content with taking up with Colin, Lea was after Wayne as well. Wayne, equally fuelled, felt that Colin and Tim were after Trisha. Tim and Colin were confused. Lea took it out on Colin. Kevin – who had come for a lovely bird watching holiday and not to be surrounded by anger and jealousy – was sad and disillusioned. They had to tough it out because their tickets were booked and none of them had enough money to buy another ticket.

The journey home at the end of the fortnight was worse than the original trip; none of them wanted to spend nearly twelve hours in the same small train compartment with hastily packed tents and rucksacks. Tim and Kevin were the only people on speaking terms. Trisha was wearing her hair down in order to hide the black eye and swollen cheek. Wayne made no attempt to cover up the livid scratches left by Trisha’s nails after he punched her when she wouldn’t shut up.

They were rescued at the journey’s end by their parents and taken home with piles of dirty washing. Goodbyes were short and definitely not sweet.

Trisha and Wayne’s relationship continued for another couple of weeks until he decided that head butting her was the only way to get her to behave. His mother had suggested a good slap, his father had suggested getting engaged. Trisha’s mother looked her daughter squarely in the eye and told her she was worth far more than this.

Wayne shouted, threatened and cried when Trisha ended it. She lost contact with Tim and Kevin as a consequence because they were Wayne’s friends after all. In the rush of getting things sorted out so that she could start at college to do her ‘A’ levels, Trisha lost contact with Lea and Colin too.

There were lessons learnt in that other country; it was a place of great beauty and Trisha had no regrets about going there. Perhaps, if the six of them hadn’t gone on holiday together it might have taken longer for Wayne’s violence to emerge. Perhaps, Trisha would have borne more than the bruises, bumps and black eyes.

Many years later she heard that Wayne had married. That he had children and a wife who often wore her hair long to hide the black eyes and the bruises.

She saw the red squirrel though. She had to go to another country but she saw the red squirrel.

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In the presence of presents

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When Gap Boy and Uni Boy were younger, buying presents for Christmas and birthdays was simple.  I could let my imagination run riot in the toy shop – avoiding the pink aisle and the weapons of mass destruction.  We worked through Lego and K’nex whilst Tilly, Tom and Tiny watched from the toy box – we had Rosie and Jim too – as well as a plethora of other character spin offs from whatever children’s programme the Red House book club was flogging that week.

As the boys got older and diversified, all my good intentions about not allowing guns or electronic toys went out of the window; Uni Boy became a Gameboy fanatic (subsequently progressing through a vast range of must-have Nintendo products) and Gap Boy’s latent killer instinct would not be suppressed. The boy would shoot anyone with anything given the opportunity – including his mother  (on Mothering Sunday) with a BB gun.

I thought that Hub was easier to buy for; I bought him things that I was sure he’d like but it took several years of him gratefully accepting my weird purchases before the penny dropped and I noticed that most of his presents were still in a brightly patterned gift bag a year later (he would never give or throw them away for fear of hurting my feelings).

I inherited the tendency to overbuy from my Lovely Mum.  Neither of us ever felt we had given enough and as a consequence we would shower each other (and other people) with shedloads of goodies.  I do miss Mum’s hastily wrapped bags of delight.

Increasing age and a modicum of maturity opened my eyes to the perils of inappropriate present giving and I decided to let Hub have more of a say in what I bought – as in ‘you order the bits you need for paintball and I’ll wrap them up‘. Birthdays and Christmas are less imaginative now but mutually happier and there are fewer festive filled carrier bags hanging around.  UB and GB now request filthy lucre instead of presents, or as in GB’s case, get us to drive to the motorbike shop and pay for his protective gear.

Hub had a big birthday.

Big birthdays call for extreme measures.

A brand spanking new marker for paintball – his first ever because he’s been good and only had second-hand stuff before.

UB announced that he couldn’t get home for his dad’s birthday due to Uni commitments but suggested  that we meet up in Manch for an evening meal.  He then came up with the even brighter idea that we should go to Manch on the train.

Hub loves trains.

As I don’t drive, he spends a lot of time ferrying me about in the car.  He loved my birthday weekend in York because we went on the train and he got to look at the scenery and relax.

We decided to invite Bezzie Mate up for the birthday celebrations as we love his company, he loves trains too and he has become an integral part of our family.  We did ask GB if he wanted to come but the joint perils of using public transport and spending the evening with his older brother proved far too repellent. He said that he would stay home and look after Scooby – who’s minding who?

UB booked the restaurant and as the family train expert, gave me a potted version of the timetable and texyed me a list of his own  commitments. I booked train tickets (not with the cheapest online source according to UB but what the hell) and baby we were ready to go!

BM arrived on Hub’s birthday with a beautifully wrapped box containing marzipan and a Spiderman helicopter  both of which brought a huge grin to Hub’s face.  His marker had arrived in time for me to wrap it and he’d completely forgotten about the melon vodka that UB and I had bought him.

The builders were still busy in the kitchen when BM arrived but he was able to see the glory that was the sparkly granite worktop being fitted before the three of us left to – catch a bus to town!

Hub made a beeline for the back seat; memories of schooldays obviously flooding back.  I prefer the front seats especially if there is a bell to ring nearby and a pole to grab hold of.  BM and I followed Hub but after a few moments of hideous bumping and the full blast of the sun, we all relocated to more comfortable and less sun-drenched seats.

We were travelling to Manch in the rush hour, so needless to say, the train was packed and it was standing room only.  Nearly everyone sitting down on the train had a laptop or tablet of some description on display.  Hub and I managed to get seats at the next stop but BM was so wrapped up in looking at HIS tablet that he preferred to stand.

Manchester Piccadilly station brought back memories of my misspent youth; my Lovely Mum worked for what was then British Rail, and as a consequence I got four free rail tickets per year and quarter-fare the rest of the time. This came in very useful for a homesick eighteen year old who had relocated from the seaside South to a land-locked Birmingham and the delights of drama school. Ticket inspectors often failed to clip my ticket, giving me the opportunity to make more journeys home (and back), usually on the through train but sometimes via Euston and Waterloo.

Large train stations and the Underground held no fear for me in those days as I lugged my hefty sailbag southwards and to home – or reluctantly back to the cold and endlessly damp Midlands and my tiny bedsit.

Thirty-odd years later, laden only with a ladylike Primark rucksack and accompanied by two of my favourite men, Manchester Piccadilly was a delight, even if one of the travelators wasn’t travelling – until nature called.

Thirty pee to pee!

To add insult to injury the toilets stank of other people’s stale pee – and worse.

It took a sit down and a takeaway coffee to restore my equilibrium.  Hub and BM found my ire most amusing. They frequently gang up on me like a pair of naughty schoolboys but I forgive them – usually.

UB phoned as we were drinking coffee and teasing each other on FaceAche.  His meeting had overrun and his train had been cancelled so he would be going straight to the restaurant and could we please stop messing around and get there first in case they let the table go to someone else. Suitably chastised for our levity and wondering how the al-seeing eye of UB knew we were messing about, we packe dup and drank up.

I would have gone for the taxi option, but Hub and BM were excited by trams (and the ticket machine) so we took the Metrolink. As we passed the Manchester Eye I had to kick Hub to shut him up because he started talking about the chap who had occupied the Eye in protest against being recalled to jail for breaking his parole.  You never know who might be listening on a tram, and to my wary eye there were several fellow passengers taking an unhealthy interest in what Hub was saying. He was oblivious to it all. He loves trams.

We got off the tram before the heavies did. Hub had to use his mobile satnav to find the way to the restaurant, which was under the shade of the Beetham Tower and alongside the canal.  Our progress was slow but enjoyable; BM was happy-snapping the surroundings, Hub and I were just happy looking and lapping up the atmosphere of a balmy Manchester evening.

We were on time. Our table was inside rather than out on the crowded terrace.  We ordered cocktails, including one for UB who had texted to say he was on the Metrolink and would like something sweet, fruity and very alcoholic please.

It was a wonderful evening.  The food was great and the cocktails even better. When he found out that it was Hub’s birthday, our lovely waiter Guillaume bought over a surprise brownie pudding complete with candles and a glass of champagne – on the house.  More cocktails with dessert, UB and I were torn between two drinks so we ordered both and took turns slurping through separate straws – that’s my boy.

Despite having return tram tickets, I persuaded my men that a taxi to the station would be a better option given our varying levels of inebriation.  Many cocktails made all three of them very amenable.  UB’s train left shortly after ours so he packed his parents and his funny uncle safely aboard  and waved us off with that curiously old-fashioned look on his face.  He’s always been much older and wiser than us.

The journey home was only marred by a yoof with very cheap earphones broadcasting his boom-boom repetitive dance music to the whole carriage.

Hub rested his eyes.

BM was engrossed in his tablet.

I smiled the happy smile of the slightly intoxicated and tried to work out where the hell we were.

Disembarking was an experience.  The clothing of our female companions was – skimpy – to say the least – and although it was a Thursday, there must have been something exciting going on in the town centre (or cultural quarter as the PR merchants have christened it) as most of the yoof were headed in that direction.

Another taxi and home to a shiny, shiny kitchen, a very happy Scooby, a slightly disapproving GB (aren’t you all a bit old for this?) and much needed sleep.

Just in case you were worried that GB was left out, Hub, BM, GB and I went off to our favourite curry house for dinner the next night.  UB hates curry.

Hub says it was his best birthday ever.  He had more cards, more messages on FaceAche, presents he really wanted and a good meal enjoyed with some of his favourite people, not to mention the bus, trains and tram.

I’ll think he’ll cope with the nifty fifties now.

 

‘Auntie Glad’

It is Thursday and Thursdays are always good days because Auntie Glad used to visit on Thursdays.

My father was the youngest in a family of thirteen.  Gladys was the eldest and when their parents died, my father went to live with her and her husband.

She was always Auntie Glad to us as children; she was warm and cuddly, interested in all that we did, a loving sister-mum to our Dad and very supportive to our own Mum.

Not a ‘real’ grandmother in the truest sense of the word but to us she was better, and Thursdays were always the best.

My childhood memories up until the age of about eight or nine are almost completely happy.  Long summer days playing out and winter nights reading my way through the local library.  After proving that I really was reading every book that I took out, the librarian allowed me to take out four books on my ticket, smiling benevolently when I came back in the afternoon for four more.

Not on Thursdays though. Nothing was ever allowed to interfere with Auntie Glad’s visits.

Auntie Glad’s husband and grown-up daughter worked at the tobacco factory, so she would come over to our house on the bus after lunch and go back home on the bus in time to cook their dinner.  Somewhere en route she would buy us sweets.  Three crisp white paper bags containing rainbow drops – not those horrible brightly coloured puffed rice things – but little discs of milk chocolate covered on one side by hundreds and thousands.

Within half an hour the bags were empty: no longer crisp but limp, holed by small wet fingers desperate to get the last of the hundreds and thousands from the corners.

It didn’t matter how naughty we were.  Auntie Glad still visited and she still brought us rainbow drops.

I can remember a miserable Wednesday when I decided to scrawl across the wall with my crayons.  Berated by my mother as she tried to scrub off the marks, I wailed “I wish it was Thursday!”

“So do I!” was my mother’s heartfelt response.  Auntie Glad always used to make things better for her too.

When my mother went into hospital for a minor operation, I was sent to Auntie Glad’s for a week.  It was like being in heaven.  I pottered happily around the house following Auntie Glad and ‘helping’; was introduced to the joys of hot Oxo at bedtime; and watched a film called ‘The Rocking Horse Winner’ which both confused and excited me.  Auntie Glad’s husband and daughter came home from work and brought me comics and exciting little tin boxes that smelled of tobacco and had a sailor’s face on the front.

When Auntie Glad became ill, we went on the bus to see her. She became frail and had something mysterious called ‘shingles’ on her face.  It was always covered by a bandage and we could only kiss her on the other cheek and be extra gentle when we hugged.

I know now that she was in a great deal of pain at the time but she always made the effort to get dressed and be ready for our visits, determined not to upset us by showing us her pain.

Her death hit all of us hard. For my parents it was the death knell on their marriage: she had been the glue that held them together, the role model for my mother, and her understanding of my father’s depression always enabled her to bring him out of his black gloom.

A bright light went out for me.  Every time I thought of Auntie Glad I heard the words of the song ‘Puff the Magic Dragon‘.

Then one night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more and Puff the Magic Dragon, he ceased his fearless roar“.

I know.  It was Jackie Paper that grew up and stopped visiting the land of Honalee, but when Auntie Glad died and there were no more wonderful Thursdays it was as if my own magic dragon had died too.

The Thursdays came back eventually as I discovered that there were other magical people in my world who could also make me happy.

Rainbow drops are still wonderful, even if they no longer come in little white paper bags and Thursdays will always be special days.

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‘Sally Forth’

Her husband held her particularly close that morning as he left for work. She waved him goodbye and checked her watch.  Six fifteen. Shower first or breakfast?

The dog’s soft whine and imploring eyes were a momentary distraction from her purpose. She stuffed her feet into a pair of old suede boots, pulled on her duffel coat and opened the patio doors.  He ran out into the garden with a joyous abandon that made her smile initially, then feel slightly envious. Picking up his lead and some doggy treats, she gingerly stepped out in the courtyard to join him.

There were few cars and even fewer people around at that time of the morning.  The dog performed a ten-second wee, then dragged her back towards the house.  His momentary distraction by a low-flying wood-pigeon nearly pulled her off-balance and she felt the racing pulse of fear begin. The dog seemed to sense that something was wrong however, He stopped pulling and waited patiently for her to open the gate that would let them back into the safety of the courtyard.

Back inside the house, she sat down briefly in order to calm herself.  The doggy brown eyes worked their charm again; he was soon settled with his breakfast and she was free to continue with her own preparations. She checked the clock. Twenty to seven.

Breakfast first and she took the easy way out with cereal and fruit juice.  Knocking back the parade of pills lined up on the counter top, she wondered if she would ever get back to a time when she was pill-free? Pain-free? Panic-free?

The dog joined her on the sofa as she crunched her way through the cereal.  The BBC news provided a slight distraction but the dog’s warmth on her leg, the touch of his silky ears and the occasional grateful lick, all these provided her with the reassurance she needed for now.

She washed up her bowl and glass, leaving them on the drainer to put away when she returned.  If she returned.  How silly! Of course she would return.

Giving the dog a brief hug, she went off for a shower, hoping that the hot water would wash the muzziness away and help her to think more clearly.

The stimulus lasted long enough to help her choose her clothes for the day. Nothing sloppy but nothing too restrictive or uncomfortable.  She needed to be comfortable.  The last thing she wanted to worry about was her appearance but she took extra time drying her hair, applying her brave face and finally, getting dressed. She checked her watch. Had a whole hour and a half gone past?

There was still no need to rush though.  They had arranged to meet at ten o’clock. It took five minutes to walk to the bus stop (ten to allow for her reduced speed of walking).  She had checked the bus timetables on-line and the journey took twenty-five minutes provided the bus arrived on time.  She had a back up  bus going from the other side of the road in case the first bus failed to turn up.  She dared not think any further than that because the panic rally would set in and she’d never leave the house.

Standing in the kitchen, fully dressed now, she checked that everything was there. Keys, purse, phone and rucksack so that she could carry her worldly goods and still have her hands free.  The Midas card that she and her husband had purchased two days earlier so that she didn’t have to get anxious about having the correct money for the bus.  The walking stick.  Her constant companion for the past nine months, only ever replaced by the support and comfort of her husband’s arm.

She went back in and gave the dog another hug, knowing that she was procrastinating.  It was time to go. Her heart pounded as she pulled on her coat, filled the pockets with the items she needed immediately and pushed her arms through the straps of the rucksack.

Locking the door was achievable, so was walking down the garden path to the point where the dog regularly watered the shrubs by the front door. Opening the gate was harder.  She took a deep breath and hurried through, pulling it closed behind with a clang.  The stick!  She forgot the walking stick! Retracing her steps with a speed that had been alien to her for so many months, she unlocked the door, grabbed the hated stick, locked up again and was back onto the pavement before she realised it.

She checked her watch. Only seven minutes to get to the bus stop! Concentrate. Walk fast but don’t fall.  The stick will help you.  She could see people waiting at the bus stop.  Would they ask the driver to wait for her if they saw her hobbling down the road? Would she fall? Would she lie there like a stranded fish; unable to get up, embarrassed by the concern and kindness of other people again?

She put on an exceptionally brave spurt of speed and got to the bus stop with time to spare, joining the queue of elderly people and their walking sticks.  She looked down at hers, feeling less resentful and more grateful for the support it had provided.

The bus arrived. There were plenty of seats. The Midas card worked and as she picked up her ticket and sat down, she could feel some of the anxieties ebbing away; each one a hurdle that she had overcome.

She checked her watch again. On time and only one more obstacle along the way.

As the bus neared town, she felt herself grow cold. As she approached the scene of the accident she grew hot again. For nine months they had driven the other way, had avoided the place where the careless driver had hit her as she crossed the road, throwing her into the air and against a wall, where she lay, winded, confused and in such pain. Nine months ago.

Nine months of struggling to walk again.  Nine months of being too afraid to go out alone in case she fell. Nine months of falling in the house, of not being strong enough to take the dog out for a walk, of needing her husband’s arm to support her.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying desperately hard not to panic. She had to do this.

The bus stopped and opening her eyes, she realised that the danger had passed.  They were at the bus station.  She was safe again.  She got to her feet to join the other passengers and as she and the stick got off the bus she heard a sound that made her smile and banished all the fear. She turned and saw her friend, grinning like a loon and hurrying towards her.

“Sally! You did it! I’m so proud of you! ”