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The hole in the garden was a feature throughout my childhood. A pond they planned and dug together, their dream project, consolidation of their commitment to each other, realisation of the creative unit they had become. Then, unexpectedly, along came me. She said it would be too dangerous, there were terrible stories. He said theyíd be careful, teach me the dangers. The hole filled our weekends. It would follow him loud and angry into the house after heíd been working in the garden. I thought they would finally fill it when I left home. But they didnít.
You never see a sad ukulele player. I got my uke last Christmas and just picking it up makes me extraordinarily happy. Itís small, shiny and beautifully perfect. I discovered the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and went to see them play their quirky repertoire live. I view the online clip of the 1000 Ukes at the Proms playing Beethovenís Ninth and am overcome with a longing to have been part of that audience, strumming along with the masses. My uke has become an obsession and I am determined that one day soon I'll learn to play it.
Things you can do when it snows: it can be the obvious like snowball fights or building a snowman of snow mermaids or polar bears if youíre adventurous. You can create a snow fort or igloo and stockpile your weapons . You can collect icicles and store them in the freezer. You can leave a particularly long icicle hanging from the roof in the hope it will grow. You can stand under a tree and ask someone with a long stick to knock the branches so it feels as if youíre in a snowstorm. Or you can stay indoors.
It was called a stream but most times it was just a stinking, muddy gouge that festered in between the occasional rainstorm which flooded it briefly. It was a forbidden place, sectioned off by the twisted wire fencing that ran the length of the garden and up to the walls of the outside buildings on the bank. The easiest way in was through the narrow gap between the end fence post and the walls, but the excitement of squeezing through was always marred by guilt, fear and the myth of what that place could do to us if we dared.
The roads are icy. Iím working from home. I log on, check my emails, flick into Facebook. I get a coffee and revise the database for my mailing list. I look up interesting addresses and cyber stalk them on Google Streetview. I check my emails again, take a phone call, make tea. I delete unwanted files and update my calendar. I read up how to do pivot tables. I check out the jobs sites. Then I look out of the window and see that, while Iíve not achieved much this morning, Snow, you've managed to change the world.
Iíve been in a mood all day. They moved the office around and Iíve been shunted from my window seat to an aisle position with much through-traffic and bins. It took two hours to move my stuff but will take much longer to settle in. I hate it. I hate the narrow corridor behind my chair that makes people bump me when they pass. I hate the noise of the photocopier across the way. Mostly, I hate my neighbour - the yappy little woman who canít work out that I have my headphones in for a reason.
Thereís a beggar who sits outside my office on an old sleeping bag. She has a handwritten cardboard sign saying, ďno job no money pleas helpĒ. She sits where the wall gives some shelter but where people still have to walk around her, so they have to see her at least. There are always coins in the box in front of her, though Iíve never see anyone put money in there. Iíve never seen anyone talk to her or acknowledge her. I want to take her a hot drink, especially in this cold. But I donít
I am a thief. I enter your home while you are away or sleeping or your back is turned. I tiptoe around the sleeping dog, twitching in dream. I sample your chicken cooked in garlic and tomatoes and tuck your cookery book under my arm. I put on the long skirt and black coat I find in your wardrobe. I have taken the pen you were using, have lifted your laptop and I have filled my pockets with your thoughts and words. From your garden I take the fishing boat, drag it back to the sea and make my escape.
Iím struggling. Itís a midweek thing, I think. On Monday, I set off with a heavy heart for the climb up the hill. Tuesday, I feel better because I can see the top and Iíve at least made a start. By Wednesday I am on top of the hill, can see how far Iíve come and downhill is in sight. Thursday is just a day to get through and I press on because I'm nearly there. Friday is easy; the weekend is within reach. Then I breathe for two days before it starts all over again.
They have taken the last of the furniture and removed the carpets. Your house feels eerily empty and strange. The rooms seem bigger and everything echoes. The noises from the neighbours are amplified and their flushing toilets, boiling kettles and muted voices invade every room. At first I cannot find you anywhere but the longer I stand, the more you reappear ...in the picture-shaped shadows on walls, smudges on doorframes, the pin-holes in the ceiling from Christmas decorations. Then, in the sweetest of moments, I am overwhelmed by a familiar musk scent and you are right beside me.
All around me things remain half done. Unwashed clothes lie alongside the baskets of clean. Dirty dishes clutter the worktops and the draining rack is full. There is not enough food in the fridge to make a decent meal and much of what there is, is furred or inedible.I stumble over the random items on the stairs which wait to be taken up or down to their rightful homes. Wallpaper is stripped to expose patchy plaster. The smears on the window panes blur the view of the outside world. Until J returns my call, my life remains half lived.
When I am painting is when I am happiest. I live the smell of the paint, my endorphins go up at the shiny slicks of paint and I delight in the colours that accumulate on my clothes, on my hands and sometimes in my hair. When C was young I would take her to the studio with me and these times have become rays of sunshine in her memories of her childhood. I used to set her up with a canvas of her own, put the music on and we spent hours painting and being happy. I miss that studio.
A hot day. Kate and I are driving back from the funeral. At first, still sombre, we talk about the ceremony and the people. Then we speculate how weíll die. Suddenly weíre discussing a scenario involving giant fireworks and going out with a bang, up in the night sky, friends and family watching from earth. We laugh until weíre crying. When I see the cherry stall, we stop and buy two bags full. The rest of the journey is silent. We eat the cherries, one by one, and spit the stones out the windows as we go.
I told him about this 100 word thing. At first, I read some of my writing to him. Later, I let him read entries online. He reads a piece of fiction and asks did it really happen because he doesnít think it did. I say no, itís just writing. He says heís confused because he knows some other pieces are about real life. I say itís just about writing. Tonight, he tries to read while Iím still typing. I yell he canít just do that; he has to wait to be invited. I donít understand how he doesnít get it.
Sometimes you give away more about yourself than you mean to. She asks how long my journey to work takes. I say twenty two minutes. She says wow twenty two minutes exactly? I say on an average day. I tell her itís five minutes to the edge of the village, two minutes to the main road, seven minutes down the longest stretch, five minutes along the shortcut, then three minutes through the housing estate. Who knows why I have worked this out - maybe itís a control thing. I know the people who are checking my maths will understand.
Dogs I've known: Dusty, a mongrel and already grey. Her teeth were little, sharp and pointed outwards. She stank. The rest were black Labradors with tails that cleared tables when they wagged. My memories of Patsy are thin but she was fat, round and slow. I remember Bonnie more. I tried, and failed, to train her: ďsitĒ,ďstayĒ, ďpawĒ. She would follow us in the swimming pool, choking on water, her claws scratching us as she paddled. Cyra was the one they had when I left home. Completely untrained, mad, annoying. I was glad to see the back of her.
Swans are the gangsters of the lakes. They float around with their smug mate-for-life necking credentials; their Royal protection status; their white-as-snow purity; their paparazzied fame on postcards and calendars. Swans, with stupid bendy necks, preeny beaks and hissy little fits, they do this ridiculous thing above the water: this proud ďlook at me, look at me,Ē graceful stuff with their slow movements, delicate rearrangement of feathers and arrogant gaze while under the water their scabby webbed feet are frantically paddling, battling with weed, fishing wire,abandoned supermarket trolleys. Do not be deceived, they are evil.
Sometimes itís hard to see beyond what is immediately around you, to look at the bigger picture, step outside the bubble to a place where you can assess things rationally. My grandmother always had a way of doing this. I remember telling her about my boyfriend and how he was driving me mad with his neediness, his text messaging day and night, phone calls, leaving notes around all the time. She said it wasnít his neediness that was the problem, it was mine. I realised she was right so I left a note telling him it was over.
This headache has been building all day. At first I am aware of it in quiet in-between times. I get on with things - folding washing, making soup, baking a cake. I try to ignore it and stubbornly refuse to take anything for it. It's like a persistent child wanting to be noticed. It drones, bangs its little fists on me and finally, it presents a full-blown tantrum. It is loud, incessant and unbearable, hitting all the right nerves until I can do nothing but turn my attention to it and try to soothe it, soothe it, soothe it.
We play the will-we-won't-we-make-it game. There's a mile long queue of people hoping to get onto whichever Eurostar train is running. The website says to cancel if our trip isn't necessary. How do we decide that? It's taken ten years for us to swallow our pride and to make an attempt to mend bridges. When she came over in the summer we tried to talk about what happened without causing it all to happen again. Now it's time for the return journey. It is more than just a trip. Will-we-won't-we make it?
In the walkway between buildings that leads to the club, where posters drip in the rain, is where the alley cats hang out, hissing and spitting, pissing up walls, fornicating and fighting. When the door opens and Eliza spills out, along with the light and the music, they follow ... wall to tree ... tree to fencepost ... to wall ... to tree ... all the way home. When the front door shuts behind her, they slip to the highest branches, to the window, to watch her undress, get into bed and finally turn out the light. Then as one they melt into the night.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Feel the fear
and do it anyway.
Feel the FEAR. Do it.
Anyway, DO it - feel.
FEEL the fear. The fear.
Do. Feel the fear.
Feel the ... Feel the ... Feel the ... Fear.
Feel the fear and do.
Feel the fear and do it anyway, feel the fear.
And feel , feel, FEEL.
The fear. Fear. FEAR. Do.
Do feel the fear. Anyway.
Do. Do. Do. Do. DO.
Feel. Feel. Feel. FEEL.
Fear. Fear. Fear. FEAR.
Feelthefear anddoit anyway.
Feel any way.
Feel. ANY. Way.
I see her face, a white oval among the dense canopy of forest, hovering, bobbing, then disapearing into the darkness. Above me the moon and stars hide, occasionally peeking between the lush branches. Inside me, staring into the night, I feel bravery swelling in my chest, my fists clench stubbornly. I glance behind me at the safety of the small town bathed in the orange light of the lamposts. I smirk and feel my legs tense in anticipation of the chase. Then I'm running, leaving all sense behind, leaving my fate to the chance of the night and the forest.
The dream had been playing for a while before I managed to wake myself. It was fully formed, very clear, it had a beginning and a middle. I had been feeling warm and happy but now, awake, I am petrified. Like everyone else, I had mastered the suppression of spontaneous dreaming - or thought I had. Now I feel deeply ashamed that I allowed myself to engage with a dream that I had not purchased legally or paid tax on. I donít need to get my daily MindScan report to know that the penalty for my indiscretion will be unbearable.
There is much that goes into making good legs. They should be long, slim, well balanced and shaped. You do not need oversized knees that knock against each other while you walk, or which press together painfully when you lay on your side. Thighs should be slim. There is nothing worse than rubbing thighs especially on summer days when trapped sweat stings the skin, or grittily when you're at the seaside. Ankles should be slim, nimble, not puffy from cellulite or retained fluid. Heel skin should be soft, uncalloused; toenails should not be thick and horny, but translucent, shaped, demure.
I sit in bed at my sister's. She told me the little dog vomited in her bed twice last night. Now it appears in my doorway, tail wagging, head cocked. I try to glare it away. It continues to wag and stares back. I do it again. It cocks its head, stares, wags. I slide down so it can't see my face. It scuttles to my side of the bed, stares, wags. I growl. It scuttles back to the door. I lunge at it. It slowly backs out, does a brave little bark and, courage depleted, runs down the stairs.
We walked to the boulangerie to buy a Buche de Noel. I had brought a traditional Christmas pudding from England but I was being encouraged to embrace the French way. I chose from the list of different types - glacees, chocolat, ganache, espresso - paying twenty euros for a pretty chocolate one decorated with a plastic house, fence and holly leaf. On Christmas day there was enough for a small slice each. It tasted like Swiss roll. Afterwards, I cooked the English pudding, drenched it in brandy, lit it and served it with clotted cream. To me it tasted just like Christmas.
When it comes to saying goodbye at the end of the trip, we have to decide where to do it. In fact I begin my goodbyes in my head long before the physical parting. This comes of all the goodbyes in my past: returning to boarding school; journeys back to our lives in exile from our homeland; children leaving home. So the shutting down process probably began at the start of our holiday, a chink that grew as time passed. Now you walk with me to the station. We hug, make small talk and hug again, before we finally part.
Five steps lead up to the door, each one painted a different colour. The house number "twenty nine" is nailed on the door post. The nine has a nail missing and hangs at an angle. You can see where someone painted without removing the numbers - a dark green outline under the top layer of white. The four glass panes in the top panel of the door are frosted and dusty. You can't see through. I ring the doorbell which seems intrusive inside. A dog barks and I hear her muffled voice shouting. I wonder if she will remember my name.
From the window of the train I see amidst the concrete buildings and gloomy urban spaces: a lamppost with a delicious tangerine-coloured head topped by a legion of vicious anti-pigeon spikes; a gloomy terrace behind a pub with room only for three metal chairs and a small round table and I wonder who ever sits there but I admire their effort; a vegetable garden, the air above it artistically strung with flags on twine, to keep the birds away but making it like a secret mini-festival in a space that can only be seen from the trains.
Today, on this last day of the year, these pages will be filled with renewed hope, promises of changes, goals set and higher things to achieve. Hearts will be drumming to the thrilling beat of a chance to make a difference, to alter direction, to become somebody. It is time for reinvention, a new start, the Phoenix from the ashes. As the chimes ring in the New Year, a million dreams will take off, white doves into the night, while I resolve to keep this feeling alive and for this to happen every day of my life from now on.
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