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Scotland -just the two of us and the dog, warm and cosy in our cottage overlooking Wigtown Bay and the Galloway hills beyond. Every place visited and every person met is clamouring in my head to become a setting or a character – magical sunrises, mysterious, holy sites, an American scholar with wild hair and crazy ideas and a church steeple-jack who likes to hunt. It’s all very inspirational and I want to get on and develop some of my ideas, but two things are stopping me (make that three things, if you count the fact that I am stopping me).
My job takes up a hell of a lot of my time, days in the classroom and evenings preparing, marking, doing admin. My favourite car journey game is to plan what I could do instead of my job (which I love, don’t get me wrong) which would give me more time to write. Currently dream me is setting up a gîte complex in southern France, where like minded folk, into middle-age and beyond, without the ties of small children to holiday with, come along to partake in writing or painting weeks, their evenings spent imbibing fine wine around the poolside.
The second thing stopping me developing my Scotland ideas is that the break afforded me the luxury of time to write with no distractions. I managed to get another two chapters of my Tudor novel finished. I am now on chapter fifteen and feel that I am probably three-quarters of the way through, since it is for children. However, I have a secret dread that it will only ever, in reality, be two-thirds complete, because I keep adding more to the plot and I seem to be seriously crap at editing. Developing this skill could be my New Year resolution.
Frozen fingers tapped painfully at the keyboard. The house had stood empty for just eight days, but that was long enough for the cold to seep into every brick. Twenty-four hours of the heating on at full blast had not been enough to warm the old place up and she was feeling arthritic and numb from sitting at her desk, unmoving, for so long.
Coffee – that was the answer.
She rose stiffly and hobbled to the back staircase. Taking care not to lose her footing in her old slippers, she clung to the banister as she made the steep descent.
Martin shifted position. His flat feet were beginning to ache. He’d been standing here for two hours and his toes had lost all feeling from the extreme cold. Not once, in the whole time Martin had observed diligently through his trusty binoculars, had his mark left the cosy comfort of the saggy old sofa in his grimy cave.
Boy was Gripper Noggins one bone idle goblin!
Martin had watched while Gripper drooled over, dribbled on and disgustingly devoured the grey doughed hedgehog pizza that his wife had dished up straight onto his lap, not being a great believer in plates.
Eva had not thought about her for two weeks and suddenly there she was in her rear view mirror, driving along in that oh so sporty little number.
Eva frowned, lips curling in a distasteful sneer.
It was reassuring that most of the strong, intelligent women Eva worked with also disliked Zara. As Eva pulled into the parking space she decided it was because Zara was so very much a man’s woman.
It had taken two years of Eva’s best Machiavellian plots for the boss to finally begin to see past Zara’s fluttering eyelashes and view her through their eyes.
Excitement and fear - this would be a totally new direction and, she had to admit, she was not generally known for getting out there and doing anything on her own.
Shy and loud – her confident, professional pose gave camouflage to the introvert inside. Well, most of the time anyway.
What if she didn’t like the others? Oh well, it was only for a week, anyone could stick it out for that long – couldn’t they?
Twelve hours ago she paid a deposit for the residential writing course. She now had months to worry through a full range of what ifs.
Last night I bought the wrong house. It didn’t have enough rooms. There was something else wrong with the house but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly, other than a vague feeling that its window frames were too old. They were made of metal, just like the old RAF blocks we were housed in as first year students.
I often dream of houses.
One is a huge timber framed house. It is beautiful but there’s always a converted attic which wants me out. There’s a mirror which watches me and there’s a constant, all pervading feel of evil.
A sharp stab of pain screwed Lucy’s heart into a ball and tossed it into the corner. This didn’t normally happen to her. Usually she coped.
It was caused by his obvious joy. Mick was brimming over with love for this new creation and it brought home to Lucy the fact that she could never give Adam the delight that shone in Mick’s smile.
She had once, briefly, a long time ago, though the pleasure shared proved transitory. They thought it would last, but at the seven week scan everything fell apart with the words, “I’m afraid there’s no heartbeat”.
“What do you know about zombies?”
“What do mean?”
“You know, like in horror films.”
“Well, they’re not real you know.”
“Ha bloody ha! How do they work? I want to write a zombie character.”
“They’re very slow moving, ‘cos of the rigor mortis.”
“Is that true?”
“What’s to be true? They’re not real!”
“They bite you, you die. You get back up seconds later to spend your afterlife as a zombie.”
“Can they be killed?”
“You can seriously slow them down by dismemberment.”
“But that won’t kill them?”
“No, you have to destroy their brain for that.”
Before travelling north everyone said; “Oh, Hogmanay, that’ll be great,” but Dan knew they would most likely just stay in and watch Jools Holland.
Neither Dan nor Sarah really enjoyed the day much. It just served to remind them that they were an insular couple, who didn’t make friends easily. They kept a fairly infrequent contact with those they did count in their small circle.
There had been parties once, with fancy dress, dancing and laughter. They’d spent the end of every year having fun, but that was before. Now the most fun was watching the fireworks over Wigtown Bay.
I’m worried about the progress of my novel. I’m on chapter 15, but the story has a life of its own and grows in such a way that it now feels as if I will forever be only two-thirds of the way through.
I tried going back and editing sections. I sent the two versions to trusted friends without saying which was which. Everyone liked the original writing more than the edited and it has left me in a quandary, since I read that you must edit, edit, edit.
I guess my first aim must be to finish, finish, finish!
If someone suggested that Sam trade in his adulthood for a second childhood, he'd run a mile. It’s not that he was unhappy as a child. As far as he could remember he’d had a great time, with a few not so good moments. Still, he wouldn’t want to re-live it and it wasn’t as if he’d change anything. He’d still play outside his block of flats, roam around the huge park, ride his bike, make dens and occasionally do something really stupid and dangerous.
Then again, he was all too aware that he could never turn the clock back.
Sam once wanted to have powers of telepathy and telekinesis, like characters in his favourite TV show. He felt that, like them, he was actually the next stage in human evolution. As an adult this feeling remained with him. It didn’t always endear him to others, but since he couldn’t actually read minds he tended to plough on without any regard to the feelings of his friends, family and colleagues. Luckily they excused his arrogance and thoughtlessness. They just put it down to what had happened to in his youth. That time when everything had changed. When time stood still.
Michelle wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news to her boss. He was viewed as something of a maverick in their company and didn’t take well to new rules.
“But we all have to wear them Frank. It’s for security. You know this. We have to know who works here, who’s a visitor and who might be here to kick someone’s head in.”
She was aware that she was using her ever so patient, mother of a six year old, voice, but honestly, it was just like dealing with her son Jamie at times, only Jamie largely followed her instructions.
“I think everyone here should know me by now.” Michelle wondered if Frank knew how pompous he sounded at times. “I can see no need for me to wear one of these… name tags.”
Frank dangled the plastic covered security pass by its chain, opened the top drawer of his desk and let it fall amongst the muddled detritus of his work life which resided there. Shutting the drawer firmly he looked at Michelle smugly and continued;
“If that’s all Michelle?”
She uncrossed her legs and smoothed her skirt as she rose, clutching her folders to her chest.
Back in the general office she felt a gnawing irritation. Why couldn’t he just wear the damn security pass? It wouldn’t kill him to conform once in a while.
As she made her way back to her own desk she took the opportunity to glance around the room at the girls under her supervision. She spotted Claire hastily minimise the page she was looking at on the internet.
“While the cat’s away, eh Claire? I don’t know how many times I’ve told you about company policy on internet use.”
“Sorry.” Claire shrugged at Michelle, who saw her roll her eyes.
“Well you’re obviously not particularly sorry, but you will be when you are disciplined for letting some nasty virus loose on the company network. That’s why we have these policies you know. They’re all there for a good reason.”
She sank into her chair. Was it only her who could see the point? If they didn’t have these rules the whole place would be in chaos and it wasn’t as if she made them up. She was just the messenger, passing on the e-mails she received as office manager, but they treated her as if she was some little jobsworth.
Little Hitler – she had heard someone say it under their breath once. What was her name? Sharon? Karen? She didn’t last long. Straight out of school and couldn’t hack the workload. Was constantly receiving messages on her mobile phone. Michelle had had to let her go.
She knew she had the reputation of being a bit of a rottweiler. It wasn’t that people disliked her. They respected her and she could be fun. With a drink inside her she was the life and soul of the office party, but she had very high standards and so few people met them.
“Michelle, these invoices need to be shredded and put in the security bin. Be an angel will you?” Frank had a tendency to treat her as one of the office girls rather than a manager. It riled her, but she never let it show.
As she leant over the shredder she muttered under her breath.
“Of course Frank, there’s nothing I’d rather do more. It’s not as if I’m busy or anything.”
A document fell behind the machine and Michelle bent down to retrieve it. She heard the alarming grinding sound seconds before she felt the tug on her neck.
“Oh shit!” She tried to stand but found she couldn’t. Her security tag had fallen into the shredder and was slowly pulling her down. She tried to pull the tag out, but the chain seemed to be winding round some unseen thing inside the shredder.
“Er – someone, anyone, could you give me a hand?” Michelle tried to get the attention of the nearest person, but could not turn round to see who she was calling. Unfortunately it was Claire.
“Oh my God!” Claire squealed to the entire office. “There’s justice for you. The bloody shredder’s only gone and eaten Michelle!”
The laughter from around the room was humiliating. People were crowding round and more colleagues were beginning to pile in from the rest of building to catch a glimpse of Michelle’s situation.
A sudden parting in the throng revealed Frank standing there with his hands on his hips and a massive smirk on his face. Bending down beside her he whispered softly in her ear, “I think I like this more subordinate you Michelle.” A shiver ran down her spine as he touched the back of her neck. “You know, you could always have slipped the chain over your head.”
He released a clip at the back of the chain and suddenly Michelle found she could stand. She took one look at his face and made a dash straight for the ladies, where she stood shaking, gripping the sink and trying desperately to hold back what threatened to be a flood of tears.
“Michelle, are you OK?” Claire’s concerned face was reflected in the mirror.
“What do you think? Of course I’m not OK. I’ll never live this down.” Michelle dabbed at her mascara and straightened her hair.
“What does it matter? It was funny. People laughed. It’s over now.”
Shrugging, Claire pushed at the door, waiting for her manager to join her. Michelle began to feel a little calmer.
“I suppose so. It will all be forgotten about in five minutes won’t it?” Michelle was feeling more in control. She smiled and stood taller, her back returning to its usual ram-rod position and her head held high.
“Forgotten?” Claire, chuckled. “Not on your Nellie! I for one am going to milk this for all it’s worth. It’ll be brought up at every office get together and we’ll remind you of it every time you start to moan at us."
Laughing and shaking her head, Claire made to leave the toilet. “Look, if it’s any consolation, it makes you more human. Now we all know that even you can make a mistake.” She smiled and Michelle felt for the first time that a connection had been made between the two women. “Oh, I forgot to say. Frank wants you in his office as soon as.” And with that she left.
Alone once more, Michelle slumped against the vanity unit, a sinking feeling permeating from the pit of her stomach. What mileage was her boss going to make from this incident?
She walked into Frank’s office to see him happily clacking away at his keyboard.
“I’ve just sent a complaint to human resources Michelle. These security tags are obviously a health risk. I’ve requested warning signs be put by every shredder.”
“Right.” Michelle didn’t meet his eyes but just shook her head. She had so handed this to him on a plate. He was going to be impossible now.
“And I’ve booked a restaurant for eight o’clock tomorrow night. I think it’s about time we got to know each other better. What do you think?”
“Great. I look forward to it.”
It began when someone left the window open. I thought at first that it was just the wind. Then it dawned on me that a light breeze couldn’t possibly cause the wing on one of the doves on the wallpaper to flap so.
As I watched the fluttering white slap back to the wall, only to peel away once more, it dawned on me that there should be another dove near the loose piece of paper. The green background and the surrounding leaves and roses were there, but there was a definite dove sized gap in the otherwise regular pattern.
Hearing cooing outside, I walked closer to the window. On the ledge a snow white paper dove was pecking unsuccessfully at a scrap of chickweed growing from a crack in the stonework. Rather than reeling back in surprise at the sight of the live wallpaper dove, the actual thoughts which sped through my brain were mostly concerned with the logistical problems a two-dimensional bird might face when attempting to feed.
The flapping behind me increased in volume and was accompanied by a sound like a thousand flautists tuning up. I turned to witness a flurry of white gliding towards me.
Like the first petals floating on a May breeze, the doves, now free and without a care, soared over where I crouched and escaped through the open casement.
It was a wondrous sight.
They rose towards the purple evening in a smooth ascent and I gazed after them until they were confetti heading towards the horizon, keeping pace with the setting sun.
Even now, years later, I sit in my rocking chair in front of the fading green wallpaper, with its empty leaves and roses, and imagine my missing doves are still out there somewhere – tiny apostles of peace.
It is half-past six on a cold January evening and I am stuck outside the Dorchester with my camera held high above the heads of the rest of the paparazzi. My fingers are practically numb with cold and the muscles in my arm burn and cramp despite the fact that my camera was chosen for its very lightness.
Flash, snap – I capture the z-list celebs leaving yet another day bash, with eyes, already heavy under false lashes, now needing matchstick props, and pink goody bags clutched to silicone bosoms as they totter tipsily on towering heels to chauffeur driven limos.
One, who has patently partaken enough of the free bar, turns in my general direction and blows a sloppy kiss. She swings a bottle of Champagne to swig on her journey to the next event – refreshments for the road. Like a bleary eyed bunny she hops in a waiting cab, making a grab for the neckline of her dress which threatens to plunge dramatically.
Flash, snap – I’m there – onto it. Maybe this will be the photo that delivers the pay-off for my cold vigil, the one to satisfy the voyeur’s desire to see their coke-addled idol spilling from a nightclub.
The Tip Jar