The wardrobe

The wardrobe towered over the cheap hotel room; a citadel keeping watch on those below. Elaine felt uncomfortable under its scrutiny. A grand piece of furniture like that – imposing in its finery of polished walnut, carved lintels and shiny brass handles – had no place in such a small, shabby room; the best she could afford in her haste to escape their disapproving faces. She fidgeted on the pillows wondering how anyone managed to manoeuvre the wardrobe through the narrow doorway. It must have been an exhausting feat of strength and endurance. She was certain the wardrobe must have done its best to prevent its arrival into this unsavoury situation.

Now, it commandeered the back wall encroaching an intimidating distance across the drab and grubby carpet. Elaine could not settle under its reproachful gaze. The wardrobe stood, austere and unfriendly, in admonishment; it was clear it did not belong in that room. She, tiny and unimportant, fitted perfectly in the miserable gloom of the place but the wardrobe, oh no, it was too good for its surroundings; beautifully crafted, made for higher purpose.

Elaine turned her back to it and switched off the lamp. Sleep would be difficult with the monstrous wardrobe mocking her from the shadows. In the dim light, she was aware it looked down on her in a superior, knowing fashion. She closed her eyes tight, tried to forget its presence. The flesh on her back began to creep. It was worse with the huge thing leering behind her. Elaine turned again; she would meet it face to face. It would not beat her into supplication.

In the darkness, the wardrobe sneered. It recognized she was unworthy of its attention, a nothing, a disappointment. It knew everyone expected more and she had let them down. It was no surprise she had ended up in this dismal place. The wardrobe wanted nothing to do with her. To be crammed into a lowly hovel was insult enough, it would stoop no lower. It would not share space with a pathetic individual. The wardrobe seemed to grow larger. It pressed against the walls and ceiling. Elaine slid to the far side of the bed until she reached the cool, far edge. She pulled the covers tighter, making herself a small ball; giving the wardrobe further territory. It was going to crush her, suffocate her; it would be master.

In panic, Elaine lunged for the light switch. The wardrobe loomed above her in the dusty glow. Its polished surface reflected loathing and disgust. It knew she had failed. Failed to get a degree. Failed to be a good wife. Failed to make her parents proud. The wardrobe filled the room, squeezing out the air. Elaine’s chest constricted. She tried to catch her breath but only managed quick, rasping gasps. She could no longer bear to see the wardrobe; to feel the weight of its scorn. In desperation, she covered her face with shaking hands and submitted to the cold, hard wood, smooth against skin as it smothered her.

 

 

 

This story is what my imagination does when I spend the night in an unfamiliar room with a large piece of furniture! Have you ever slept in a room where you have felt unsettled?

 

 

 

Remember your inner child

I wanted to share part of a letter from the poet Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930–October 28, 1998) to his 24-year-old son, Nicholas.  This letter speaks to my heart. It is a long extract but worth reading. The final lines are a lesson for us all and a statement to live by.

 

“Nicholas, don’t you know about people this first and most crucial fact: every single one is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child…It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was. But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

A walk in Seville

I walk under an azure sky in sandy, crumbling heat. A round, fierce sun beats on my neck; burns like standing too close to fiery flames. The light is bright; clear, bold, everything sharply defined. Colours shine; shades of gold, red, orange and blue. Tiled surfaces glint in jewelled patterns; mirrors reflecting. Smells of garlic and frying fish, of dry, dusty earth, of sour, cloying drains catch in my nostrils. Here, no fresh, cooling rain washes away dirt and odours.

P1030524

Everything is alive, vibrant, noisy. Musical chatter of Latin voices lisps and slides through the air. Cars beep and roar, mopeds hum and mew. In market displays, baskets of cherries, peaches and pineapples topple and overflow; a painter’s palette. Sweet, ripe smells mix with metallic rust of bloody sheep heads, eyes glazed and sightless. A string of rabbits hangs, sad and lifeless. Here, life and death coincide.

IMG_20180711_181303

In the gardens, spiky palms, aloe, and agapanthus stand in symmetrical rows. Orange trees drop plump fruits. Strange, enormous trees offer shade; pods drooping like alien lifeforms. Above my head, emerald parakeets squawk and argue. Eurasian swifts dance and sweep through towers and turrets. Here, I am many miles from the soft, green of Welsh countryside.

P1030500 (2)

Exotic buildings hide in narrow, shadowy streets; graffiti artists have been busy sprawling works of art. Faiths and cultures intermingle – Moorish, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Spanish. Melding together to create awe-inspiring architecture. Domes, carvings, arches, bright ceramics and rounded terracotta roofs rise into fresh blue. Here, I am a wanderer in a different land.

P1030444

Like strangers do

This quirky piece of flash fiction is loosely based on a true story.

 

“Well, you know what men are like.” Mum turned to me, broad smile on her wrinkled face.

After half an hour of silence, the remark made me slurp my tea. Somewhat bemused, I scratched at my greying beard, “Do I?”

She nodded knowingly, “Yes, of course you do. They have needs…”

“Mum.” I put my cup down, picked up a newspaper from the shiny coffee table, flicked through it trying to think of a response.

“Take my Tom…” she giggled, eyes twinkling with mischief.

“What…Dad?” I squeaked in surprise.

“My Tom, I said.” Mum’s eyebrows knitted in exasperation, “He has needs…”

“I really don’t think…” I breathed deeply, taking the smell of wax polish into my lungs.

She leaned towards me conspiratorially, “He always likes me to tie his hands together. You know, when we’re in bed.”

The walls of the communal lounge crowded inwards. The chatter of other residents and their visitors hushed. My neck flushed with heat.

“What are you saying, Mum? You’re not talking about Dad, are you?” I saw my father sitting at the kitchen table, balding and plump, working on The Times crossword puzzle, “He’s not here anymore, is he? You must be confused.”

“I’m fed up of people telling me I’m confused. I know what I’m talking about.” Mum shouted, “Who are you to say I don’t?”

She pushed her cup of tea away, milky brown liquid slopping onto the saucer and perfectly vacuumed floral carpet. Embarrassed, I looked down, noticed the pale band of skin on my newly naked ring finger.

“It’s all right, Mum. Don’t get upset.” I reached across to pat her veined hand but she withdrew it in disgust.

“Don’t touch me…” she spat, “If there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s strangers touching me.”

“I know, Mum.”

I sipped at my cold tea. Perhaps I should shave this beard off, I thought, it might make me look younger.

 

 

Chick mother II

Walking down the street in my local town, happy in the company of my daughter just returned from university for the summer, we spotted a baby crow precariously hopping about on the edge of the pavement. Our hearts jumped into our throats as it skittered into the path of an oncoming builder’s van. Helpless at the side of the road, we watched it miraculously dodge vehicle after vehicle. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, we saw a lorry run over the wobbly creature.

“That’s it.” I said sadly, only to see it emerge unharmed the other side.

We tried hopelessly to cross the road to rescue the bird but the normally quiet street had an unexpected rush of traffic. Finally, a car hit the little thing and catapulted it back onto the pavement. My daughter rushed forward and scooped it up. She held it gently in her hands where it looked about, dazed and confused, but seemingly unhurt.

“We can’t leave it here.” she said.

For a few seconds, we stood uncertain where to go, passers-by looking at us as if we were mad. Then, I had a brainwave.

“We’ll take it to the churchyard, it’s only around the corner, perhaps its parents will find it there.”

My daughter looked doubtful.

“It’ll be safe there,” I said, “It’s quiet and there are lots of bushes to hide in.”

We made our way to the churchyard; the baby crow apparently happy in my daughter’s grasp. In a shady corner of the cemetery, close to a protective hedge, we deposited the little bird. It sat on the grass, still a bit dazed. Crows cawed noisily in the trees above and flapped from rooftop to chimney pot.

“Maybe that’s its parents.” I said.

“Mmmm, maybe…” my daughter replied.

There were chores to do in town, so with a backward glance and a quiet good luck, we left the baby crow.

Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the cemetery. Our chores completed, we had both looked at each other and said, “Do you think we better check it’s all right?”

The baby crow squatted on the grass, a few hops away from where we’d placed it, pathetic and vulnerable.

My daughter looked at me pleadingly, “It’s going to die, Mum. It’s too young to look after itself, probably fell out of the nest. We have to take it home.”

“It might manage…” I said, unconvinced, “They advise you to leave baby birds.”

“Mum, we’ve already moved it because it got hit by a car. Now we have to look after it.”

I sighed. I had known the moment we rescued the bird that it would end up coming home with us.

“You stay here and hold it while I pop in the pet shop to see if they have a spare box.”

The lady in the pet shop was very kind, finding me an empty dog biscuit box and filling it with straw for the crow to sit on.

When I returned, my daughter was sitting on a bench, with the crow quite comfortable in one hand, expertly thumbing through internet information with the other. She had found out what to feed baby crows and how to care for them.

“They tame very easily and are pretty much impossible to release into the wild once rescued.” she added.

“Great.” I said. I didn’t really want to add a pet crow to our menagerie.

The baby bird flapped anxiously when we put it in the box but settled once the lid was firmly closed. I drove the car round to the churchyard so that we didn’t bump the box too much. We went to collect my son from his piano lesson.

“We rescued a baby crow. It got hit by a car. It’s OK, just dazed…” my daughter told him excitedly when he climbed into the back of the car, “It’s in a box in the boot. We’re taking it home.”

“Great!” my son said. Crows are one of his favourite birds.

All the way home, my daughter and son provided crow facts.

“Ring your father and tell him to get the spare chicken coop ready in the barn for our new visitor.” I said.

My husband had made the coop comfortable, so we transferred the baby crow straight into its new home as soon as we got back. It sat on the floor, purple-black feathers a bit crumpled and piercing blue eyes surveying us with interest. We gave it some water and left it to calm down and settle in. Birds are highly sensitive and can die easily from stress.

A couple of hours later, I took the crow its first meal – tinned dog food. I had brought up a baby bird once before, so I knew that a good way to feed it was to use a cocktail stick. The crow snapped its beak hungrily at the smelly meat and was soon gobbling it up. After its meal, it helped itself to water from the pot we had given it and gave itself a good preen. This little crow was a fledgling, far more developed than little Chickpea had been, but still not quite ready to manage alone. It stretched and beat it wings to exercise them and hopped about clumsily. It jumped onto its perch and wobbled there for a while. I estimated it would need another week or two to learn how to use those wings properly and fly.

The next two weeks involved regular feeding of dog food, grains and peas. There was also exercise time; the baby crow learning to hop from my arm up to the top of the coop. A few times, I took the crow into the paddock to encourage it to fly, hoping it would join the cackling crow family that roosted amongst the trees, but it gripped my arm tightly refusing to leave me or climbing onto my shoulder. I wanted to be able to successfully release the crow back into the wild but it looked more and more like the bird was becoming tame. It called for me whenever it heard me outside the barn and when I came in, it fluffed up hoping for a scratch.

The crow was growing bigger and stronger. It no longer wobbled and could fly with confidence from perch to perch. Its feathers were beautiful and sleek. Its eyes still a piercing blue. We had decided it was a jackdaw because of the eye colour and size. Although all adolescent crows have blue eyes, our crow would keep this colour. Jackdaws have pale blue eyes; bright eyes to frighten off competitors.

My dilemma was how we were going to continue to look after this lovely bird. It was able to feed itself happily from a dish and would catch live insects it found on its travels around the barn. However, it wouldn’t leave me or fly away. My nephew came to the rescue. An avid bird lover and keeper of many different species in large cages and aviaries, he agreed to take the young crow.

We were sad to see it go after two weeks under our care and attention but we knew we had found the ideal solution. We would be able to visit whenever we liked and the crow would be able to live amongst other birds in a more natural environment.

One week later, I am happy to say that the crow is settled and enjoying its new home. It roosts every night on a perch with its bird buddies. I feel privileged to have had another close encounter with a wild animal but I hope I’m not needed as a chick mother again any time soon.

Chick mother II

Somehow, I managed to lose this post from my page after putting it up earlier today, which means I’ve also lost comments from my readers. Sorry about that – I’m still not an expert at blogging – but here it is again!

 

Walking down the street in my local town, happy in the company of my daughter just returned from university for the summer, we spotted a baby crow precariously hopping about on the edge of the pavement. Our hearts jumped into our throats as it skittered into the path of an oncoming builder’s van. Helpless at the side of the road, we watched it miraculously dodge vehicle after vehicle. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, we saw a lorry run over the wobbly creature.

“That’s it.” I said sadly, only to see it emerge unharmed the other side.

We tried hopelessly to cross the road to rescue the bird but the normally quiet street had an unexpected rush of traffic. Finally, a car hit the little thing and catapulted it back onto the pavement. My daughter rushed forward and scooped it up. She held it gently in her hands where it looked about, dazed and confused, but seemingly unhurt.

“We can’t leave it here.” she said.

For a few seconds, we stood uncertain where to go, passers-by looking at us as if we were mad. Then, I had a brainwave.

“We’ll take it to the churchyard, it’s only around the corner, perhaps its parents will find it there.”

My daughter looked doubtful.

“It’ll be safe,” I said, “It’s quiet and there are lots of bushes to hide in.”

We made our way to the churchyard; the baby crow apparently happy in my daughter’s grasp. In a shady corner of the cemetery, close to a protective hedge, we deposited the little bird. It sat on the grass, still a bit dazed. Crows cawed noisily in the trees above and flapped from rooftop to chimney pot.

“Maybe that’s its parents.” I said.

“Mmmm, maybe…” my daughter replied.

There were chores to do in town, so with a backward glance and a quiet good luck, we left the baby crow.

Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the cemetery. Our chores completed, we had both looked at each other and said, “Do you think we better check it’s all right?”

The baby crow squatted on the grass, a few hops away from where we’d placed it, pathetic and vulnerable.

My daughter looked at me pleadingly, “It’s going to die, Mum. It’s too young to look after itself, probably fell out of the nest. We have to take it home.”

“It might manage…” I said, unconvinced, “They advise you to leave baby birds.”

“Mum, we’ve already moved it because it got hit by a car. Now we have to look after it.”

I sighed. I had known the moment we rescued the bird that it would end up coming home with us.

“You stay here and hold it while I pop in the pet shop to see if they have a spare box.”

The lady in the pet shop was very kind, finding me an empty dog biscuit box and filling it with straw for the crow to sit on.

When I returned, my daughter was sitting on a bench, with the crow quite comfortable in one hand, expertly thumbing through internet information with the other. She had found out what to feed baby crows and how to care for them.

“They tame very easily and are pretty much impossible to release into the wild once rescued.” she added.

“Great…” I said. I didn’t really want to add a pet crow to our menagerie.

The baby bird flapped anxiously when we put it in the box but settled once the lid was firmly closed. I drove the car round to the churchyard so that we didn’t bump the box too much. We went to collect my son from his piano lesson.

“We rescued a baby crow. It got hit by a car. It’s OK, just dazed…” my daughter told him excitedly when he climbed into the back of the car, “It’s in a box in the boot. We’re taking it home.”

“Great!” my son said. Crows are one of his favourite birds.

All the way home, my daughter and son provided crow facts.

“Ring your father and tell him to get the spare chicken coop ready in the barn for our new visitor.” I said.

My husband had made the coop comfortable, so we transferred the baby crow straight into its new home as soon as we got back. It sat on the floor, purple-black feathers a bit crumpled and piercing blue eyes surveying us with interest. We gave it some water and left it to calm down and settle in. Birds are highly sensitive and can die easily from stress.

A couple of hours later, I took the crow its first meal – tinned dog food. I had brought up a baby bird once before, so I knew that a good way to feed it was to use a cocktail stick. The crow snapped its beak hungrily at the smelly meat and was soon gobbling it up. After its meal, it helped itself to water from the pot we had given it and gave itself a good preen. This little crow was a fledgling, far more developed than Chickpea had been, but still not quite ready to manage alone. It stretched and beat its wings to exercise them and hopped about clumsily. It jumped onto its perch and wobbled there for a while. I estimated it would need another week or two to learn how to use those wings properly and fly.

The next two weeks involved regular feeding of dog food, grains and peas. There was also exercise time; the baby crow learning to hop from my arm up to the top of the coop. A few times, I took the crow into the paddock to encourage it to fly, hoping it would join the cackling crow family that roosted amongst the trees, but it gripped my arm tightly refusing to leave me or climbed onto my shoulder. I wanted to be able to successfully release the crow back into the wild but it looked more and more like the bird was becoming tame. It called for me whenever it heard me outside the barn and when I came in, it fluffed up hoping for a scratch.

The crow was growing bigger and stronger. It no longer wobbled and could fly with confidence from perch to perch. Its feathers were beautiful and sleek. Its eyes still a piercing blue. We had decided it was a jackdaw because of the eye colour and size. Although all adolescent crows have blue eyes, our crow would keep this colour. Jackdaws have pale blue eyes; bright eyes to frighten off competitors.

My dilemma was how we were going to continue to look after this lovely bird. It was able to feed itself happily from a dish and would catch live insects it found on its travels around the barn. However, it wouldn’t leave me or fly away. My nephew came to the rescue. An avid bird lover and keeper of many different species in large cages and aviaries, he agreed to take the young crow.

We were sad to see it go after two weeks under our care and attention but we knew we had found the ideal solution. We would be able to visit whenever we liked and the crow would be able to live amongst other birds in a more natural environment.

One week later, I am happy to say that the crow is settled and enjoying its new home. It roosts every night on a perch with its bird buddies. I feel privileged to have had another close encounter with a wild animal but I hope I’m not needed as a chick mother again any time soon.

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

Look at them laugh and relax on the beach,

paddling toes, digging holes, smooching on sand,

slapping on sun cream, sucking on a peach.

These days are our last, don’t they understand?

 

While filthy litter makes the planet choke,

fleeing children starve under smoking skies,

plastic fills the sea from our greed for coke,

homeless bundles huddle, fear in their eyes.

 

Don’t they know the great time of man has passed?

Or do they make hay while the sun still shines?

The wealth and the excess will never last;

protective lotion layer coating minds.

 

Do they bury worry deep in the sand?

Block ears with the sound of the soothing sea.

Like me enjoy the small things while they can;

cover eyes with shades so they cannot see.

If I die

This poem was inspired by the childhood prayer, which I always found rather morbid.

 

If I die before I wake, remember happy me,

a song for each occasion, busy bee.

Forget the eyebrows in the air, tut-tut.

Don’t think of the thankless, if only, but…

Remember the time I fell off my chair,

lay on the grass giggling, feet in the air.

Forget harsh words, regrets and sorry tears.

Remember dreams followed, conquering fears.

 

When my soul is taken away to rest,

remember me as my wonderful best.

Don’t think about things I shouldn’t have said.

Remember the cuddles, snuggled in bed.

Forget the many failings I acquired.

Remember wild dancing round the fire.

Know that I wished to be open and true.

And never forget, I died loving you.

Singing in the train

If life was music, I could waltz and wail

down this grey aisle, sing out my soul and pain.

 

Tap dance on grubby tables, strewn with snacks,

swing high from dusty, laden luggage racks.

 

Vault prickly, itchy, threadbare railway seats,

terrify little children scoffing sweets.

 

Take hold the hands of a dark, handsome man,

share duets, fall in mad love, make some plans.

 

My fellow passengers in quick time clap,

The guard skips along, whistling, his feet rap.

 

‘Tickets!’, his hole punch plays like castanets,

as we rumble on through worldly regrets.