Three Questions

  1.  Catherine, why have you been so quiet so far this year?

I haven’t been quiet!  OK, as far as this blog is concerned, yes, I’ve been silent, but I’ve been pretty active with my work with vulnerable adults, reviewing books and music and writing for different websites and magazines.  I’ve also been typing up notes for a novel that is slowly coming together.

2.  Who is rocking your world right now?

My husband of course!

I’ve just reviewed a hilarious collections of memories and short stories (What Is It With Me? by Danny C Hall), I’m addicted to the latest album by the Afro Celt Sound System, The Source.  I’m also loving the BBC drama Broken, written by Jimmy McGovern which explores issues of faith and poverty in the north of England in 2017.  Compelling viewing.

3.  What do we have to look forward to?

I’ve started to write translations and put my own spin onto them.  And of course I’d like to finish the novel I am working on.  I have a friend who writes for TV and is working on an exciting project, so more on that when I have more on that.  Otherwise I am continuing to write for magazines but also I am putting together some short stories and hope to get back into writing more fiction this year after having a factual year last year.

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MIMIC

There he is, shuffling around in circles, tucked up warm inside that long, padded coat. He followed me back here two hours ago, back to my house, as he does several nights per month. I always pretend to not notice. I pretend I don’t see him, but I do. I pretend he doesn’t scare me, but he does.

He did.

A quick flick of the curtains and I can see he is getting ready to leave. I look over to where my mobile phone lay on the coffee table. 22:51. I looked back to the shambling figure outside. He always walks in circles and pats his grimy beany hat before he leaves.

He patted his hat.

I grabbed my red bag – the bag I had prepared, leaving my usual blue bag on the settee. I put on the green coat that I had bought two weeks ago, deliberately shunning my black coat. In fact, everything I was wearing, including the hat covering my hair, had been bought in the last month, in several different charity shops. I had been careful to not visit any charity shops I had worked in previously, before Jim and I went our separate ways.

The stranger walked away. I couldn’t keep calling him “the stranger”, so I called him “Jim”. It was as good name as any. Besides, he looked like a Jim.

Quietly, I pulled the door shut as I left, hearing the local click home securely. I loved that sound. My footsteps were silent in the cheap trainers as I followed the path Jim had taken. The wind seemed to blow through the thin trousers, but I knew this would not take long, and then I would be home and safe again.

No one was going to interrupt us. He led me out, from my street at the edge of the town to the dilapidated buildings from where a petrol station once operated. The sign had been painted over several times by different businesses that each had hoped to turn around the building’s fortunes, but had all failed, miserably and quickly, leaving the stone shell fit only for failed lives to fill.

I’d known many of them; Sammie, Dave B, Dave C and Dave H. Dave was a common name on the homelessness scene, as well as Nick and Gary. Gary P, Gary T and Gary H. I knew them all. I knew them all, I’d worked with them all and I knew their stories. I’d given them the best part of my life.

No one was there for me.

I’d gone to the badminton club, to the local arts group, I even went to the Women’s Institute, and I gave up. No one noticed. No one cared. I used to go back home each night and closed the curtains, terrified. I’d spent the best years of my life terrified – or what I had thought were the best years of my life.

He used to leave his mobile phone at his flat, so he could deny he was anywhere near me. He used to wear old trainers so I’d never hear him coming. He was always careful in everything he did. The police could not touch him, not until they had evidence. They were nice, the officers were nice. They just needed evidence. They got evidence when I was admitted to the burns unit. I didn’t even have to testify.

I thought of all this as I followed Jim, and I did not feel any hint of guilt or trepidation for what was to come.

I stopped behind the low wall that separated the old petrol station from the road. I watched Jim go into the hollow building, to his bed for the night. I didn’t know if he was alone or if others were sleeping there. I couldn’t call it “living there”. They weren’t living, they were existing, and I know the difference well enough.

I stayed hidden behind the wall.

I unzipped the red bag, which was aptly coloured. I took out the pop bottle I had filled with petrol and I unscrewed the lid. Slowly, carefully, I stepped forward, step by step, until I was at the doorway of the petrol station. I poured out the bottle, my eyes taking in the raft of litter that covered most of the floor. I had counted on this – the mess that animals live in. I flicked some of the petrol from the pop bottle into the building, spattering the litter with the strong-smelling liquid. Some of it had leaked onto my gloves. I peeled them off the bumpy, ridged skin and threw them down onto the ground. The box of matches was a little difficult for my webbed fingers to open, and even more challenging was the task of taking out a match and striking it. But I did it, and threw the lit match into the doorway.

Lit match after lit match fell through the doorway, the doorframe like a window into a world of fire, heat and anger.

Walking away, I felt just as numb as though I had watched an explosive television drama.

Drama.

Life was nothing but drama.

But now it was all over and I could return home.

Once my front door lock had clicked shut, I closed my curtains, switched off the television and picked up my mobile phone to text a friend I had met last week. There is a salsa class at the church hall and I want to go with a friend. It was time for me to get a life.

 

Another one of my “dark” writing group stories.  It’s not yet complete but it’s getting there.

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Jealousy

 

Sarah knew how to make someone jealous. It was deliberate, it always was. She knew what she was doing when she invited us all around to her house, showing off, setting us all off against each other.

Of course, I smiled throughout. It’s what we do, isn’t it? Sarah and Wendy had just been on holiday together. Morocco, and Sarah brought out all the holiday snaps on her phone as well as in an album. She said to me, later in the kitchen, that she knew I couldn’t afford to go, that’s why she hadn’t asked me. She went to touch my arm, but I moved away. I pointed at the new, obscure picture her young niece had drawn that was held to the refrigerator by two magnets. Yes, Sarah had said, Gracey had drawn what she thought Aunty Sarah looked like on a camel as the safari group trekked south into the Sahara.

‘Nice,’ I smiled bravely, and I went to join the others in the living room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the willow pattern ornament had been glued back together successfully. I had told Sarah so. The others were pouring over pictures of the interior of a Bedouin tent. It looks musty to me.

‘It was,’ Sarah said. I didn’t realise I’d spoken out loud. Sarah passed me a drink of sparkling soda water. ‘We kept our clothes on when we went to bed. Goodness knows when the blankets were lash washed.’

‘They smelled a bit,’ Wendy interrupted.

‘A bit?!’ Sarah laughed. ‘They reeked!’

There they were, giggling together like hyenas. What’s worse is the others joined in. Why, I do not know. Pack mentality I suppose. I didn’t want the others to think I was rude or unsociable, so I stayed and I smiled and I sipped my lemonade, eyeing the other glasses. All the other glasses in the room looked identical to mine, but I knew they weren’t. I could smell it, of course I could. And I knew where Sarah hid the bottles. She thought I didn’t, but of course I did. Last year, I’d pretended to go to the toilet when she went to pour herself another drink. She’d had quite a collection, so she didn’t miss two bottles I’d managed to sneak into my bag when she went to the toilet. I’d needed consoling after losing my job that morning, and chit chat just didn’t cut it.

Chit chat was all I was left with now. Crumbs. A remnant now that Wendy had come along. Perfect Wendy with her office job and perfect hair and perfect dog. Sarah said that she and Wendy have stuff in common. I’d asked what stuff. Sarah couldn’t really answer, but that was where the line was. I’d crossed it, and now I was only invited around when other people were there. I suppose some people just can’t handle having a normal friend and normal friendship.

 

I was a bit distracted when I was at writing group and wrote this.  Still, it’s the start of something.

 

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VINDICATED

The pound of rancid flesh hung high from a piece of string. Open-mouthed, the gaggle of children froze beneath it, looking up. From my corner, up in the rafters of the decaying building that had once been a family home, I breathed a stream of hot air down onto my upper lip. Disturbed day after day by the marauding youngsters, I got no peace. For my solitude to continue, I knew I must draw these dementors into a trap, and so I set one.

Driven from my job as I had been driven from every job, I had moved out from my shallow end terraced house next to the cemetery and out to the edge of town where the aftershocks of the failed steel industry were easy to see. Grass had grown over tarmac and ivy weaved its way up chimneys. Nature was busy reclaiming the land that had been stolen by avarice and ambition.

Ambition – that delusion after which we all chased like innocent puppies running towards their mother for feeding time. That bubble in which we all lived, for which we all lived, keeping up hope even after to government decimated employment sectors one by one; ship building, coal mines, call centres, the steelworks. Bit by bit, our traditional as well as our modern jobs went, followed by the vocations of teaching, nursing, firefighting and policing, all swamped with unnecessary bureaucracy, regulation and targets, the joy sucked out of even the hardiest. All that was left were cafes to prop up the elderly and their care workers.

Bit by bit, I moved my books and my record collection into the crumbling Barrett house, my belongings hidden by the long grass and low, heavy branches of the front and back garden. Bit by bit I rescinded ownership of my dull, immaculate home for this one in the wilds. I could get a tenant any time. Plenty of homeless families would be grateful for my one up one down, and I was sure two homeless families would rub along well inside its four walls.

For I was going Gaugin and the only welcome visitors in my new home were the ravens who sheltered here beside me. I had stolen a sign from an addict’s front door which I hung with a short length of flex from the frame where there used to be a plastic door declaring, “No stupid people beyond this point”.

Yet the little bastards still came. Often, they were the snot-nosed, ragged-clothed, under-nourished urchins bred from chain-smoking, pyjama-wearing, turkey-twizzler eating dullards who didn’t know which cousin however many times removed had been the benefactor of the sperm. Sometimes, though, just sometimes, the rotters who disturbed my peace and sanity were the tanned, well-fed ones in their brand new trainers and vacuous craniums who came seeking adventure. Now that the summer music festival scene had folded, camping in buildings such as mine were the only source of adventure for them before they went back to Mummy and Step-Daddy.

I’d tried scaring them, I’d tried asking them to stop coming to my home. They laughed at me, called me names, sprayed a can of pop in my face. I had no alternative.

Astrid had said, ‘Blinky, just move, Just go. Don’t let them get to you.’

That’s what she always said. Move. Go. Don’t let them get to you.

But it was Astrid who left. She said she couldn’t take it anymore. She’s married to a banker now. Married to a banker. But at least she can pursue her painting. She exhibited in Leeds last year. When she was with, she was always scratching around for loose change to put in the water and electricity meters.

Don’t let them get to you. Go. Move. Well I have rights!

I have rights.

They forced my hand. I have rights and it’s time everybody knew it.

I feel vindicated. When those little brats moved forward towards the piece of rancid meat, to take hold of it, to examine it, when they stood on those floorboards – the ones I had fixed so they would tip, tipping the children down through to the basement, down onto those spikes I had spent many pretty hours sharpening with relish – yes, when they flayed, screaming, impaled on those spikes, I felt no guilt, I felt vindicated.

They were taken from this perilous world, a hellish existence. They had no future; the government and petty, chain-smoking, pyjama-wearing layabouts had seen to that. There was nothing left for them to enjoy; no libraries, no music festivals, no jobs and no love. I had spared them from all of this, and now I can live in peace, until the next gaggle of urchins darkens my door.

This piece was written in a writing group where we were given several words to weave into a story.  This draws on my recent experience in the workplace and walking around dull streets in an area where industry has failed.  It would be easy to drop out of society, but I will keep going and trying to make the world around me a better place.  Unlike this fella!

 

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Meanwhile…

I’ve been a bit quiet as of late here on the blog.  There have been several reasons.

  1. I’ve gained a teaching assistant qualification.
  2. I’ve gained a job doing what I did last year promoting sustainable transport.
  3. I’ve started writing factual articles.  I have had one accepted for publication within the first week of sending out articles.

I will begin work on 100% For Blood again.  I have a good skeleton outline of it now, I just need to type it up and flesh it out now.  I guested as a writer on an American blog called Let’s Get Beyond Tolerance in which I wrote about my experiences living in Belgium in 2014.  I hope to write for this blog again and from it branch out into similar areas of writing.  I’d also like to get into translation work at some point.  More importantly, life is good.  I hope the same is for everyone reading this.

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FIRE FIGHTING

Working on Fleet Street always had a nice ring to it. At parties people would ask for which newspaper I write, and then they would laugh, and then I would laugh. All of us finding some hilarity in the concept of me working on Fleet Street. I did it deliberately, though. No one needs to know my real occupation, what should be my real occupation, which has been stolen from me. Changing jobs, leaving the fire station for a less stressful position at Anchor & Philips Property Developments was a welcome change. Now I was a paper pusher, a call handler and a fire fighter on the sixth floor of an unremarkable office block rebuilt after it was bombed in the Second World War. Thank goodness it was bombed by a German and not a “Jap”. My grandparents had a hard time enough during the war, often relying on the kindness of Russian Jewish immigrants in the East End to get by every day.

Today, things are different. Ms Kirschner the receptionist gives me a brief smile as she does to everyone who walks through the door. The site supervisor often calls out, ‘Hey, Mr Tamigochi, it’s a bit nippy!’ It’s always a bit nippy according to Malcolm. A shame he wasn’t here this morning. Neither was Ms Kirschner on the front desk. Things didn’t feel right without her curt acknowledgment and Malcolm singing the wrong lyrics to pop songs out of tune. I felt that something was amiss. My fireman’s instincts told me there was a bigger story at play. I pressed the button between the two lifts, but it did not light up at my touch. I jabbed it harder, and then again several times. The cold metal remained dull. Where is everyone?

Footsteps hard and fast ran down the stone staircase to the left of the lifts. I went to greet the worker and ask them what was going on. I stood aside as a young woman in 1940s clothing ran past me. She held a baby close to herself. She called ‘Help me!’ to no one in particular. I watched her push her way out of the revolving door and dash off across the narrow road. I stood back, wondering where the television cameras were and why I hadn’t got the memo. Buildings around here are always being used for television programmes. It’s to be expected really.

But there were no cameras, no sound booms, no clapper boards, no runners, no directors’ chairs, nothing that one would associate with a film or television set.

‘Hello?’

No response. My voice merely echoed around the hallway and back at me.

‘Hello?’

My footsteps echoed almost as loudly as my voice had when I decided to cross the hallway and exit via the revolving door. The sky outside had darkened – probably some cloud or astrological event I hadn’t heard about, but I saw the young woman sitting on the edge of the pavement, her eyes wild, rocking her baby.

‘Can I help you?’ I looked around as I asked her, hoping some passer-by would witness the exchange and my good intentions. Everyone is so suspicious and quick to point the finger these days. No one was around, which was not so strange when at the “boring end” of a street. I stepped forward tentatively. ‘Can I help?’

She stared at me fiercely through dark eyes and curls. It was then I saw the blood dripping from the infant and the red, sodden mess on the woman’s clothing.

‘Bugger orf, bleedin Jap!’

This had to be a set up, with TV cameras hidden somewhere in the street around us. But jokes are usually funny. A distraught young woman, racism and a haemorrhaging baby are not funny. I approached her again.

‘Can I help? I’m trained in paediatric first aid.’ She looked at me as though she did not understand, so I explained, ‘I’m trained in medicine for children.’

I could see she did not trust me, but her concern for the child outweighed whatever problem she had with me. I knelt down and she let me look at the baby. It was his left leg that was bleeding. I ripped open his old-fashioned clothes to expose the break in the skin where a fragment of roof tile was lodged. I pulled off my tie and wrapped it around the top of the infant’s leg, pulling and knotting it firmly.

‘To stop the blood flow,’ I explained to the woman. I noticed the sky above was now black – as black as night – and I had no idea why. Yet the infant’s blood continued to shed itself down the woman’s dress and onto the darkened pavement, however not one cry came from the baby’s mouth. He just kicked his legs as the woman panicked. She saw that my medicine for children was not working, weeping openly through the hand that wiped her eyes and nose. She built like a volcano, finally erupting with a loud wail.

I looked around. No one was there. Surely someone had heard her? Why was no one coming to help? I spun around this way and that, at a loss as to why no one was coming to help while the woman’s screaming grated louder and louder until the baby shattered into pieces on the broken kerb, the blood no longer flowing.

 

My writing group were given a prompt, the hardest we’ve had.  This is the first half of my response.

 

 

 

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ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

No one dares speak its name.  It’s the elephant in the room, everyone tiptoeing around.

Social Media is silent in the din.  It’s the fear.  No one dares  put their head above the parapet to face the firing squad.

Lying in the pale profile bed I tried to open my blackened eyes.  I needed to feed myself.  The nurses won’t help.  They have kids.

I was stupid, irresponsible.  I knew better.  I’d named the root of all social evils – the root of homelessness, criminality and a lack of self-love; lazy parenting.

 

This is one of the 100 Words or Less challenges.  A topic that has come up quite a bit recently in my retraining to work in schools.

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