Tea with friends

Sue sat looking over the neat rows of flowers and sharp-edged lawns. It was hot inside so she had flung the windows wide. Cool air soothed her softly-lined skin. She looked down at her veined, wrinkled hands; spun her wedding ring round with her fingertips. Bill would have liked this garden; orderly and easy to care for. He’d always moaned about their place. The hedges, orchard and meadow were unkempt; difficult to control. He would have liked this small, tidy flat too. Less to maintain than the old, sprawling farmhouse they’d bought when first married. Forty-eight years they had spent there, not all of them happy. Sometimes Bill had reminded her of their home and garden, uncontrollable and wild. His depression, his drinking, his temper.

There had been good times. The early days when the children were small. Raising a family in the countryside. Cricket and badminton on the meadow. Hide and seek in the orchard. Apple and plum pie. Busy, happy times with people around. As the children grew up, moved on, made their own lives, things got difficult. Bill became introverted, quiet. He drank lots then. He shouted at her; impatient and irritated. The names were cruel; meant to cut, to cause pain. A flying fist could hurt too. Not often but enough for her to be afraid; to become a child, a mouse. Bill was certainly able to control her.

Still, she missed him. This flat was too silent. The days ached with empty hours. She tried to find things to do, to fill the spaces. She cleaned, read, went for walks, watched TV, spent hours staring out of the window. Everything seemed pointless on your own. The other residents were friendly but so, old. They spent their days in the communal lounge gossiping; discussing the comings and goings. She wasn’t ready for that life yet.

Sue sighed. When Bill died of liver disease, she’d discovered there were debts. Their savings were gone. The profits Bill had made from selling his building firm had gone too. She’d found herself without the home she loved; sold to pay everything off. Lucky to keep enough to rent this retirement flat. Not the place she’d envisaged for her final days. She was a young seventy; fit and trim. Years ahead of her, all being well. She shouldn’t be stuck in this home for the elderly. She should be in her farmhouse; her family around her. She wanted to move nearer to the children, but there had been nothing she could afford. Mark regretted he had no space for her. Five kids in a three-bedroomed house. Sarah had just started a family. She didn’t expect to move in with her and a new baby. No, she never wanted to be a nuisance.

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Sue rose in a daze from her chair. She glanced at the clock. It would be Fred, her next door neighbour. A sweet man who loved gardening. He looked after the communal gardens. Three days a week he knocked at eleven. Brought her flowers cut from the beds; chrysanthemums, dahlias or sweet peas. She loved brightening the flat with their colour and scent. Sometimes he stayed for a cup of tea. Not always. He took some persuading. Sue had come to rely on these meetings. An unexpected friendship had developed over a cup of the aromatic, amber liquid. On the days when Fred was too busy, or too shy, to come in she felt disappointed. Today she would insist he stayed. She hurried to open the door.

 

Another day had passed without visitors. Sue sipped her tea and nibbled at a garibaldi. Crumbs fell on the table and her knees. Brushing them off carelessly, she sighed into the hushed emptiness. She picked up the red leather case hiding quietly under the pile of newspapers. The tablet Mark had bought her.

“We’ll be able to talk face to face, Mum,” he said, guilty about how rarely he could visit, “It’ll be as if we’re actually here in the room.”

“That sounds great,” she replied, “but will I be able to use it?”

“Of course, it’s easy. I’ll teach you.”

Sue had agreed to keep him happy. Now she talked to her family several times a week. At other times, the tablet sat mute and forgotten. The grandchildren had shown her how to play games and search the internet. She couldn’t muster any enthusiasm. Sarah had even joked about online dating.

“About time you found someone to care for you…all those years you put up with Dad,” she hugged Sue tight.

“Don’t be daft. I’m too old for all that!” Sue shrugged.

“You’re the one being daft, Mum,” Sarah admonished, “You’re still a very attractive woman. A great catch. What about your neighbour? Fred, isn’t it?”

“Now you are being silly…he’s not my type…we’re friends, that’s all.”

She’d seen an advert for a dating site on the television. Beautiful blue-eyed blonde with a handsomely dark man. With looks like that you wouldn’t need help finding someone. Bill was a good-looking man. Broad and strong. Those painfully deep eyes. Troubled eyes. She could almost see his soul. She remembered how he had made her feel that first meeting. Bill walked in the pub; assured, confident.  Her legs jellified. Happy in his skin, he was then.

“That’s the girl I’m going to marry,” he had announced to her best friend, Janet.

Arrogant sod. Anyway, that was past. Bill was gone. She was alone. Lonely. Maybe she should try a dating site. Start thinking about the present. The future. She typed ‘dating for old people’ on the touch pad.

 

Sue opened the front door. Fred stood; sweet peas clasped in front of his chest. He was a short, round man with bald head, rosy cheeks and kind, blue eyes behind his spectacles.

“Hello Fred.”

“Good morning,” Fred said, holding the bunch out to her.

“Thank you, my favourites,” Sue smiled, taking the flowers, “better get these in water. Will you come in for a cuppa?”

Fred’s cheeks reddened further, “Well…I don’t want to put you to any bother…”

“It’s no bother. We haven’t shared a cup of tea for a while. Come in, I’ve got custard creams,” Sue insisted.

Fred wiped his feet briskly on the mat and followed Sue inside. He looked around the small lounge and nodded with satisfaction.

“You display them so well,” he said.

Sue studied her flat. It was like an indoor garden with vases of cut flowers on every surface. She smiled broadly. Bill wouldn’t have liked it; dropped petals and pollen, vases gathering dust, damp rings on the furniture. But this was her home and she could do what she wanted.

“I’ll just get these sorted and put the kettle on. Make yourself at home,” Sue pointed vaguely towards the table and went into the kitchen.

Fred pulled out a chair and sat quietly down, folding his hands in his lap. He could hear the chime and tinkle of tea things being prepared. Earl Grey; their favourite. In a teapot, sugar bowl, milk jug and two pretty bone china cups with saucers, very civilized. Sue made the perfect cuppa. His favourite times of the week. At least, when he found the confidence to come in. He sat still and silent, wracking his brain for things to say. It had been a couple of weeks since they’d last had tea together. He’d missed their chats. He must have some news for her.

Sue entered carrying the tray. She put it on the table and sat down opposite Fred.

“So, what have you been up to?” she asked.

“Well, not a lot…been busy in the garden. The veg patch is going well. They’ve agreed I can sell any surplus in the common room,” Fred said, blushing with the effort.

“That’s wonderful,” Sue enthused, “I knew you’d been too busy to share a cuppa but I’d no idea.”

“You haven’t been walking in the garden lately,” Fred said, “so, you wouldn’t have seen…”

Sue poured the tea and offered the plate of biscuits. She felt a little ashamed. Embarrassed. She hadn’t been walking much lately. She’d hardly been out of the flat. Fred’s reticence had been her excuse for not asking him in. Poor friend she had been. Too busy setting up her online dating account, scrolling through possible matches, making lists of pros and cons, arranging meetings. Her first date was tomorrow. Whatever would Bill think of her? Silly tart probably. A hot flash swamped her body. He was dead. She had to stop being a child, a mouse. She had to start living her life.

Fred noticed her reddening, “I didn’t mean to…”.

He slurped his tea quickly to cover his awkwardness.

“Fred, you haven’t offended me…I’m the one who’s sorry,” Sue apologized, “I’ve been busy. I’ve missed the garden. I’ll make sure to come and see your patch soon.”

“That would be lovely,” Fred smiled, “I hope everything’s…all right?”

She seemed distracted. He was worried. Sue saw his discomfort; felt he deserved an explanation.

“Well, to be honest…. I’ve been feeling rather lonely. I miss Bill. His company. I suppose.” Sue explained, “I haven’t adjusted to being on my own.”

“Course not, these things take time.” Fred agreed, “When Anne died, it took me a good two years to feel…like I was managing.”

“I’m not managing, not…happy,” Sue said, “Anyway, Sarah suggested a dating site and I’m giving it a go. My first date is tomorrow night, Charles, his name is. He’s a bachelor, sixty-eight, plays tennis, likes fine dining, does amateur operatics, looks handsome in his photo…”

She tailed off. Fred was far away. In a different place. He didn’t know what to say. He felt sad, as if he’d lost something.

“That’s lovely. He sounds an interesting man. Just right for an active, attractive woman like you.”

“It’s only a first date. You’ll have me getting married next!” Sue laughed, half-heartedly, “I’m… not sure I’m doing the right thing. Seems disloyal to Bill.”

She fiddled with her wedding ring.

“Bill is gone. You deserve some happiness.”

Fred removed his glasses, wiped them, put them on, sipped his tea. He looked around the room. A rabbit searching for a bolt hole.

“Thanks, Fred. You’re a good friend,” Sue leant forward, patted his hand.

Fred rose, swept crumbs from his trousers.

“Must be going. Thanks for the tea…Good luck for tomorrow.”

He left hastily, no backward glance or wave.

“Poor Fred,” Sue smiled to herself, “I’ve embarrassed him, baring my soul like that.”

She began clearing the tea things.

 

The room was a shambles. Dirty plates and glasses smeared the coffee table. Newspapers and books sprawled over the sofa and floor. A pile of laundry, of unknown cleanliness, hunched in a corner. She hadn’t expected this. They’d had a lovely evening. Fancy Italian restaurant; wine, roses, music. Charles, immaculate and handsome in a pinstripe suit. They had talked and laughed. She’d readily agreed to come back for a drink. To think he lived in this mess.

“I was in a rush tonight,” Charles said with explanatory shrug, “Please sit down, I’ll make us coffee.”

“Tea for me, please,” Sue said, “Earl Grey if you have it.”

“Afraid I don’t, coffee man myself…may have some English Breakfast hiding in the cupboard somewhere.” Charles said, “Will that do? No pot I’m afraid…have to make it in a mug.”

Oh dear, that was not ideal.

“Yes, that’ll be…fine,” she said politely.

Charles disappeared into the kitchen. Sue surveyed the seating and decided the armchair looked the safest. Pushing magazines and clothing aside, she perched elegantly on the cushion edge. Bill would have had forty fits. The muddle, the chaos, the grime. Wouldn’t have stayed for one moment. His body aching and twitching from desperation to clean up. Life was chaotic too. Bill couldn’t cope when things didn’t run smoothly. A black mood would smother him. Then he would drink to forget. Hiding under an alcoholic blanket. Anyway, Charles seemed a nice man. They’d had fun. More important things than a tidy home.

A shriek brought her back to the room; dreadful wailing from the kitchen.

“Everything all right in there, Charles?” Sue called in concerned tones.

“Marvellous.” Charles replied returning with two steaming mugs, “My part in the Mikado…must keep practising. I do love to sing…can’t help myself…all day long.”

Goodness, Sue wasn’t sure she could put up with that racket.

“Lovely…” she said as she took the mug of tea, “Thank you.”

She tasted the dark, murky liquid. Awful; bitter and strong. He must have squeezed the teabag. This wouldn’t do. Couldn’t work. She’d laugh about it with Fred, over a delicious pot of Earl Grey in the morning.

 

Sue was worried. Anxiously, she checked the clock again. Half twelve. Fred should have knocked ages ago. She wondered what could have happened. He never missed his days. Always on the dot, she didn’t know how he did it. She sipped at her teacup. Fragrant, delicate…and cold. Something was wrong. Quickly she rose, slipped on her cardigan, checked for her door key and left the flat. Two doors down, she knocked decisively. Silence answered.

“Fred!” she called, “Are you there?”

There was no reply.

She hurried down the stairs to the communal lounge. Old folk sat comfortably around the room edges. The buzz of chatter ebbed and flowed like road traffic. Quiet settled when they noticed Sue. Unusual for her to come in here, kept herself to herself.

“Hello dear,” said Mrs Jackson peering over her knitting.

“Hello…” said Sue distractedly, “I’m looking for Fred…”

“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Mrs Jackson’s face lit up with gossip, “Last night, he had a nasty fall…in the bath, think it was.”

“A fall?” Sue interrupted, “Is he all right? Poor Fred…”

“Ambulance came. He went into hospital…” Mrs Jackson continued, a nodding hum of agreement rippled from the chairs.

“Sit down dear. Have a cup of tea. You’ve gone very pale…” Mr Francis hobbled out of his seat; offered his place.

“No, no thanks…I’m fine,” Sue said, backing out of the lounge.

 

She found herself in the garden. Fred’s haven; where he worked so hard. Alone. His vegetable patch looked calm and organized. Sue’s insides were in chaos. Dear Fred, such a reliable friend. Always there for a cuppa and a chat. His pleasant face and quiet conversation reassured and supported her. Without him, her life would feel empty, be empty. Fear pushed tightly in her chest. If Fred was to…She didn’t know how she’d carry on.

How shallow and stupid she had been in her loneliness. Online dating, looking for a new partner, someone distinguished like Charles. A disappointing let down. Someone tall and handsome like Bill. An abusive drunk. She hadn’t noticed what she had. A good, kind man. She walked through Fred’s flower beds. Bright dahlias danced in the sun. The scent of sweet peas filled her nostrils. Sue smiled. She wasn’t a child or a mouse. She knew what she must do.

 

The hospital smelt of disinfectant and stale food. Fred was in Green Ward, just off Yellow Suite. Sue was reminded of diarrhoea and sickness. Whoever chose such colours? She clasped her bouquet nervously. The nurse had told her Fred’s condition wasn’t too serious. She edged her way along the ward, glancing at each bed; examining the inmates shyly. There was Fred, thank goodness. Lying still and quiet, thoughtful expression on his face.  Leg raised in plaster, empty teacup on the bedside table.

“Hello Fred,” Sue said.

Fred turned to face her. A smile spread across his features.

“Sue…how lovely to see you,” his cheeks coloured, “fancy ending up in here. I’ve been an old fool.”

“I’ve been the fool…” Sue said presenting the bouquet, “Now, it’s my turn to bring you flowers.”

Fred looked at the dahlias, chrysanthemums and sweet peas.

“From my garden?” he asked.

“Our garden.” Sue said, “From now on, we’ll care for it together.”

“Together?” Fred’s eyes wore a question mark.

Sue took Fred’s hand.

“Yes. Together.” She smiled, “Now, how about a nice cup of tea?”

 

 

It’s never too late to find true love. I hope you have some romance in your lives on this Valentine’s Day!

If

I have never taken part in a blog challenge before, and never thought that I would, but A Frank Angle sent me a very polite, personal invitation and I thought this poem was appropriate. Thanks for the invite Frank.

 

If

If we could open ourselves for exploration,

to read and decipher like a map,

a foreign country to discover.

Then you might place your feet on fresh soil

and I might walk new pathways.

For a while, travel a road together,

reach a place we recognize.

 

 

Read more answers to the If Challenge in the comments on Frank’s post. Perhaps you’d like to have a go at the challenge too? Details are here.

 

Stuck in the mud

Today, I have a confession. Despite my writer’s resolutions, I haven’t had a good start to 2018. Yes, I have tried to write something every day – a bit of poetry, some thoughts and a few story ideas. But no, I haven’t worked much on my novel. If I’m being really honest, I’m feeling a little stuck with it. Like the gooey mud I trudge through daily to look after my goats, the bare pages suck and cling to my pen making progress slow. Like the grey, gloomy skies above, thick with rain cloud, my mind is a blank, heavy mass.

There is plenty of material to work with, I think,  but I cannot seem to organize it in a coherent way. My scribblings stretch across numerous notebooks, scraps of paper and sticky notes. I have part chapters and sections on my computer, along with completed ones. My method so far, if it can be called that, has been some sketchy planning and then writing with the flow. This has helped to develop some interesting ideas but also plenty of disorder. My writing style seems to have uncovered a secret me that I was unaware existed under my skin – a messy, uncoordinated me. Normally a fairly neat control freak, I seem to morph as a writer into a scruffy, chaotic hoarder.

Before I can carry on with my novel, I need to put this right. I need to find order so that I can get some clarity. My aim over the next week is to gather all my writings together in one folder. Then I think I’m going to continue my novel writing in one place – a large notebook. Once written in the notebook, I can transfer it to computer ready for editing. I’m still old-fashioned and write much better with a pen in my hand first time round, though I’m fully aware this is a much slower process.

I’m off to Ireland soon to visit a friend – on my own, what luxury! There I will have space, time and quiet. Surrounded by lush, green mountains, I hope to tackle more sections of my novel and come home feeling that I have achieved something. So, I have a deadline (which is good for me as I’m sure part of my problem is only being answerable to myself). I have to get sorted before my trip.

Wish me luck!

 

Is it just me or have you ever got stuck with your writing? Are you a muddled writer or highly efficient and organized?

Four lads go out for the day

Another poem using material gathered on my recent train journey.

 

Four lads go out for the day

 

Posing, strutting,

rubbing crotches

along the seat.

Shouting, braying

billy goats on heat.

 

Throw our cans,

crunch of tin,

on the luggage rack.

Furtive, frightened glances,

give ‘em a smile and wink back.

 

I’m a big man now.

Did anyone see?

Only me mam would

be ashamed of me.

 

A boyo’s day out,

rampage in the city.

Shake our tails,

feathers wide.

Don’t we look pretty?

 

Throw our wrappers,

plastic rustle,

on the dusty floor.

Tutted annoyance meets

with snorted guffaw.

 

I’m Jack the lad.

Look at me ‘ere.

Only me dad would

clout me ‘round the ear.

 

Attracting attention,

standing out

from the rest.

Silver-backed apes

beating our chests.

 

Throw a quick f-word,

sharply crude,

in the stuffy air.

Young kids in the next seat

but we don’t care.

 

I’m a foolish child.

Hear me loud.

Only me parents would

be so proud.

 

 

‘Tis better to have loved…

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem In Memoriam A.H.H, spoke from the heart about the loss of his friend and the grief he felt.

On Boxing Day, we had a car accident in a surprise snowfall. My husband lost control, despite driving at a sensible speed for the inclement weather, and the car skidded. As we danced a graceful pirouette, a full 360 degrees across to the opposite side of the country lane, time seemed to elongate. I watched in horror, completely powerless; thoughts of dread that my son or daughter might be injured or killed filled my mind. “It’s all right…Hold on everyone!” I said aimlessly. I braced myself against the seat as the car returned to the correct side of the road and landed with a gentle bump against a fence post. When we stopped, the relief that everyone had escaped without harm was immense. Walking the three miles home through freezing sleet, feet slopping and slipping on the wet snow, I felt protective of my two children and husband. I led the way, torch in hand, fussing about our insufficient coats and footwear. I needed to regain some sense of control. It felt as if I had nearly lost everything that mattered to me, everything that I loved, and that shook me far more than the accident.

When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare. I stood watching as my parents and brother descended an escalator straight into a sheet of plate glass. Every time I had this dream, I would awake crying and shaking, believing that it had happened. I was alone; I had lost everything. Since having my children, I regularly experience anxious dreams. A multitude of horrible images where they have been maimed or killed in all number of horrific incidents. When they were babies, I would imagine falling down the stairs with them in my arms. These nightmares leave me feeling drained and afraid. There is nothing I can do. I have opened myself up to this vulnerability; I have no control over what may (or may not) happen to my children. I love them and this involves the risk of getting hurt.

A few days ago, my lovely old dog had a funny turn. My husband and I returned home from searching for a replacement car and he ran excitedly to greet us, then collapsed trembling and letting out a long stream of urine over the carpet.  As we bent down to help him, he looked up at us with confused, frightened eyes and we both burst into tears. We thought it was the end for him. He is nearly sixteen; his weak heart makes him pant continuously and he stands on shaky legs, often falling over. Miraculously, it was not the end and he recovered, carrying on much the same as before. I realize this cannot continue forever, of course. Every day, week, month spent with him is a bonus.  Soon, we will have to face the heartache of losing him. We made the decision to get a dog; to let him become part of our family. We allowed ourselves to love him and must suffer the pain that is to come.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why choose to have partners and children and bring pets into our homes? Why do we allow ourselves to love when we know it will mean pain and loss at some point? Would it be better to protect ourselves from this pain; to avoid love?

Quite simply, to love is to live. Life is about having relationships with others; to make connections. I have had many moments of fun and laughter with my dog. My children have enriched my life and made it more worthwhile. If we do not allow ourselves to love through the fear of being hurt, then we do not truly live our lives. Having relationships and loving others helps us to grow and learn. It gives us meaning and purpose. There will be times when it brings us pain and loss, but living a life alone and afraid would be unbearable. Life is difficult, we must share it with others – family, friends, neighbours, pets.

I have found somebody who explains it more eloquently than I am able:

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”    Henri J M Nouwen

Going down Cardiff for the rugby

Train journeys always provide inspiration for writers as we get to spend time with a bunch of colourful, interesting characters. We can be observers and eavesdroppers; imagining where and why the other passengers are travelling and creating stories for them. I love sitting with my notebook, listening, watching and scribbling. It helps the journey pass quickly too. I am thankful to my fellow travellers for sharing with me such gems.

Here is a poem based on a conversation overheard on a recent train journey (it would have been impossible not to hear it!). It brightened up my trip and made me giggle. Ideally, it needs to be read in a Swansea accent. Warning: it’s a little bit naughty!

 

Goin’ down Cardiff for the rugby and Linda’s 40th.

Got the T-shirts printed,

lookin’ good girls!

C’mon girls, find a seat, find a seat!

One ‘ere, one ’ere,

one by ’ere, next to me!

Open up them jelly shots, girls.

Get ‘em down yoo!

Have a drink.

Have a jelly shot.

Have a drink, girls!

Oh my God…we got a celeb ‘ere.

Gethin, he is.

We got a celeb ‘ere, girls!

Eastenders!

Quick girls, get down there…

Selfie, selfie.

Get a good’un

for Facebook like.

Don’t mind, do yoo?

He don’t mind.

Gethin he is.

Eastenders!

The teacher, he is…

Do your nails, girls.

Stick ‘em on,

stick ‘em on.

Did mine last night, mind.

Bet they’ll fall off.

‘Ow much make-up yoo got in there?

Good God!

Where yoo sleepin’ tonight?

Top ‘n tailin’ in the

same room.

Share with me,

share with me.

Mind, yoo don’t know what I got in

this ‘ere bag!

Vvvvrrrmmm –

yoo know what I mean!

No, not really like…

left it at home, didn’t I?

Don’t use one, do I?

Don’t need one.

Lucky yoo!

I got a couple of

cucumbers though.

A big one for yoo,

this long!

Come and sit up by us, Gethin.

Oh, c’mon, have a drink.

Have a jelly shot!

Have yoo put that

selfie on Facebook?

With Gethin, selfie with Gethin.

Send it me, send it me!

Gethin, sit by me ‘ere.

Sit by me.

Squish up girls,

gettin’ crowded in ‘ere.

The rugby, see.

Ooh! Squish up!

There’s nice.

Gethin, c’mon, squish up by ’ere love!

Have another jelly shot, girls!

We’ll be fallin’ asleep in the rugby.

God, I need a fag.

Not long now,

not long now, girls.

Them shots it is.

Soon as I have a drink,

I need a fag.

Gettin’ warm in ‘ere, mind.

I’ll be strippin’ off next.

Gethin, I’ll be strippin’ off love.

C’mon girls, have a jelly shot.

Cool us down, like.

Have a cocktail.

I got ‘em, in a tin, like.

Cocktail in a tin.

What in a tin?

No, not a cock in a tin!

Cocktail in a tin.

Better than tinned cock!

Gethin, come by ‘ere.

Have a cocktail, Gethin.

Want a pringle?

Want a pringle, love?

No, a pringle!

I’m starvin’! Should have

made sarnies…

We’ll fill up on cocktails, girls!

My fortieth, right, I’m

doin’ a party.

Butlins.

Brilliant.

That’s class.

I’m havin’ karaoke,

limousine, bubble disco.

That’s a date, that is.

Class.

Date that is, girls!

Gethin, come by ‘ere…

You’ll come to my fortieth, won’t you love?

Butlins, Gethin.

Class.

He’s from Eastenders, he is.

Got a selfie on Facebook.

A celeb.

Are we ‘ere?

Oh my God, I need a wee.

Desperate I am, girls.

Lookin’ forward to this, I am!

I’m free!

No kids.

I don’t get out much, see.

Resolutions of a writer

As the end of the year draws near, it is time to take stock and to think about what lies ahead. We remember the year that is passing – its joys, sadness, successes and failures – and wonder what the new year will bring. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, when we open the back door to let out the old year and the front door to let in the new, hopefully, we let out any regrets, bitterness or disappointment and welcome in positive thoughts, forgiveness and love. It is up to us to decide what to take into the future and what to leave behind in the past. The past is gone and cannot be undone. We can only move forward. The new year provides fresh opportunities. Our lives are wiped clean to begin again.

I have been thinking about my resolutions as a writer for next year. I may not have achieved all my writing goals this year but it is time to start anew. I will forgive myself and carry on.

 

Here are my resolutions:

 

Write every day

 

Take my notebook everywhere and write in it

 

Get on with writing the novel

 

Write first and edit later

 

Just write!

 

 

Do you like to take stock at the end of the year? Have you any writing resolutions?

A little Christmas magic

Claire never forgave me for spoiling Christmas. When she got to eleven years old and still believed in Santa Claus, I told her the truth.

“You said it was wrong to tell a lie…but you’ve been lying all this time!”

“It’s part of making Christmas magical…” I tried to explain.

“You’re just a liar!”

She ran up to her room, slamming the door, making the light fittings rattle. I sat, shaken and bereft, thinking I was a terrible mother.

Christmas was never the same after that. Claire never looked forward to it with the excitement and wonder of before. She never put the tinsel fairy on the tree or licked the paper strips for the bright chains to hang around the ceilings. She never joined in with carol singing or stirring the pudding. If I suggested a trip to see Santa’s Grotto at the local shopping centre, she would storm off in tears of frustrated rage. Christmas became a low-key event with little preparation or fuss. The presents under the tree seemed pointless and shallow. The magic had gone.

I waited for the time when Claire had children of her own. I hoped that with grandchildren things would be different.

“Don’t think I’ll lie to my kids like you did to me.” Claire said when this thought popped out of my mouth the day she told me she was expecting.

“Well you know, Christmas isn’t the same for children without Santa.”

Claire tutted and the conversation ended. In my heart though, I hoped she would soften once the baby was old enough to understand about Christmas.

 

It was Christmas Eve. I bubbled with excitement because Claire and her family were coming to stay. I couldn’t wait to see little George. When Claire explained they were moving to the Scottish Highlands, I was upset at the thought of rarely seeing my grandson. It had been over a year since I had visited them in their new home. He had grown into a happy, curious four-year-old. This was our first Christmas together so I had made enormous effort. I didn’t care whether George believed in Santa Claus or not, I wanted it to be special.

The doorbell rang just as I took the final batch of mince pies from the oven. The house filled with their sweet, spicy scent.

“Merry Christmas!” I said as I opened the door.

“Grandma, Merry Christmas!” George replied; his voice musical with its Scottish lilt.

“Hi, Mum.” Claire looked flustered from the journey. She held out a bag of presents, as if it contained something distasteful. “Dan’s got the luggage.”

We settled down to a pot of tea and mince pies in front of the fire. George looked around, admiring the decorations. He stood by the Christmas tree; the twinkling lights cast patterns on his smooth cheeks.

“It’s pretty, Grandma. Mummy doesn’t decorate our house.” George shrugged his shoulders in disappointment.

“You know what I’ve told you, George. Christmas is an old-fashioned tradition. Not everyone celebrates it. We don’t.” Claire said patiently.

“But we are this year, aren’t we Grandma?” George hopped up and down in excitement.

 

That evening, after a warming meal of squash soup and crusty home-made bread, George helped me put the presents under the tree. He jumped with joy and satisfaction as he carefully placed each gift.

“This one’s important, Grandma…” he said putting it at the front, “It’s for you.”

“Oh, thank you George. I look forward to opening that tomorrow.”

I passed him another present, “Where shall we put this one?”

“Who’s it for?” George asked, his brow furrowing in concentration.

“Oh…I don’t know. The label’s fallen off.” I said.

“That one must be from Santa Claus, then. I’ll put it next to yours ‘cos it’s special.”

“From Santa Claus?” I said.

“Yes, he never puts a label on.” George stated, in a matter-of-fact manner.

“So, you believe in Santa Clause then?” I asked, a slight flutter in my stomach.

George looked towards the kitchen, where Claire and Dan chattered happily as they did the washing up. “Yes, I do…but don’t tell Mummy. It’s a secret. She doesn’t believe in Santa Clause, you know.”

I gave George a hug.

“You’re a good little helper.” I smiled.

The magic had returned.

 

 

I hope you have enjoyed my Christmas stories. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog this year. Have a very, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Miracles can happen at Christmas

Once upon a time, in the Land of Dolls, there lived a ragdoll called Rosie. She was a grubby, tatty little thing as she loved to play outside in the cool, fresh air. Her calico body was covered in darnings and mendings where it had been torn by branches, worn on rocks and caught on fences during her many explorations of the trees, insects and animals in her world. Her red woolly hair was tangled with leaves and twigs. Her plain dungarees were covered in many patches, obscuring the original pattern.

“Oh, Rosie, why can’t you be a bit more lady-like?” sighed her mother as she sewed another split in Rosie’s arm with her needle and thread.

But Rosie ignored her mother. She did not care about such things. After she completed her daily chores, she would escape from the house. She wanted to be out of doors under the wide, blue sky where she could breathe and dream. She wanted to sit beneath the pale moon, where she could think and wish. She wanted to lay her head on the dusty earth and listen to the beating pulse of living things. For Rosie had a secret desire, hidden deep within her heart. Rosie wanted, more than anything in her world, to be a real girl.

 

A sharp north wind blew across the Land of Dolls, the weather was turning cold. Soon, it would be Christmas. Preparations were taking place in Rosie’s home for the special day. Rosie worked hard alongside her mother and brothers to make the house clean and tidy. She swept the floors, dusted the corners and polished the furniture. She helped with baking the rich, fruity cake and sweet, sticky pies, without once licking the spoon or smearing batter down her front. She went out with her brothers to find the biggest, bushiest fir tree in the woods. She cut holly boughs to decorate the mantelpiece and put candles in every window to welcome visitors with their warm glow.

Rosie worked hard for a purpose. In fact, she had worked hard and without complaint all the past year. This was because at Christmas in the Land of Dolls, a miracle might take place. On Christmas Eve at midnight, the Spirit of Christmas would look down upon the Land of Dolls. The Spirit of Christmas would gaze on every doll asleep in bed, or lying awake in anxious anticipation, and make a judgement. The Spirit of Christmas would decide which doll deserved the reward of becoming real. No doll really knew for certain how or why the Spirit of Christmas made the decision but the story was that, sometimes, a doll would disappear into the Land of the Living. In a puff of smoke, or flutter of stars, or flash of light, a doll known to be of hard-working character and high morals, vanished. Rosie hoped this year she would be that doll.

 

On Christmas Eve, after a pleasant family meal and songs around the fire, Rosie and her family climbed the narrow stairs to bed. They hugged each other tight and said a fond good night as it was possible this was the last time they would see their loved ones. With her tummy bubbling with excited nerves, Rosie snuggled under the covers and waited. She whispered a prayer to the Spirit of Christmas as she lay alert and apprehensive on the pillows.

“Dear Spirit of Christmas, please pick me this year. I am a doll of good morals and diligent nature. I have happily completed my chores all year. I am kind and caring. I love to be out of doors with the living things. I wish I was alive too.”

Rosie listened to the gentle patter of new snow beginning to fall on the roof. She could hear no other sound. The night felt interminably long. It seemed eerily silent and dark and empty. Eventually, her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep.

 

Back in the Land of the Living, Helen sat at the breakfast bar eating another mince pie. Whenever she felt depressed or unhappy, she turned to food. It was a source of comfort to her. What did it matter if she got fat now anyway? There was no baby. There would be no baby. She need not worry about her health. The results had come that morning. Another failure. Their third round of IVF treatment and their last. They could not afford any more attempts. She and Tom had agreed that three was the limit. Now they would have to consider adoption or forget about having children altogether. A miserable time to find out. Christmas Eve. Helen wished that Christmas was over and done with. She did not feel like celebrating; did not want to pretend that everything was good and she was happy and having fun.

Tom had asked her yesterday what she would like for Christmas. He was off buying her a present now. Last minute as usual. He seemed to think a present would make a difference. She wanted a baby for Christmas. She wanted a baby all the time. Helen wanted, more than anything in her world, to have a baby. The longing gnawed at her stomach, a great emptiness waiting to be filled. She bit into a fourth mince pie as if to plug the hole. She understood that there were lots of wonderful children out there deserving a home and parents. But why couldn’t she have a baby of her own? Other women were allowed to get pregnant, feel their babies kick and grow inside them, have their babies suckling at their breasts. She wanted those things too. Some of those women didn’t even want to be mothers. She wanted to be a mother. She was a good person, she had worked hard, got qualifications, made a career as a teacher. A popular, successful teacher. She had spent too long looking after other people’s children, that was the problem. Now it was time for her to have a child of her own and it was too late.

She heard Tom’s key jiggling in the lock and he came bustling into the kitchen, arms full of bags.

“Went a bit mad, I’m afraid.” He shrugged. “Shall I put the kettle on or pour us a glass of wine? Christmas begins now!”

Poor Tom. He was trying hard to be cheerful, to make things right. Helen felt guilty. It was difficult for him as well. He wanted to be a father. She had to make an effort. She forced a smile.

“I hope you bought some more mince pies.”

 

After dinner, they wrapped presents and put them under the tree, then sat together on the sofa sipping mulled wine and watching cheesy Christmas films on the telly. Helen’s mobile buzzed. She picked it up from the coffee table, looked at the screen, switched it off and stuffed it down the cushions beside her.

“What was that all about?” Tom asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Just Mum. I don’t want to deal with it now. Not at Christmas.” Helen’s eyes misted. Tom took her hand in his, entwined fingers and squeezed.

“Shall I get the scrabble out? We’ve got a few hours yet to wait up if we’re going to see Christmas in.”

Helen yawned. “To be honest Tom, I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”

They switched off the twinkling lights and climbed the carpeted stairs to bed. Tom held Helen close under the covers and kissed her good night.

“I love you, darling.” he said, “Let’s just have a really good Christmas.”

“Love you. Night, Tom.”

Helen turned away from him to attempt sleep. She did not want to hurt Tom. She would try to have a good Christmas, whatever that was supposed to mean. She would try not to think about the constant yearning inside her, tearing at her heart and mind. She would try to hide the constant pain. She whispered a prayer to whomever was listening on this magical night, this time of miracles, as she lay alert and apprehensive on the pillows.

“Please let me have a baby of my own. I’m a kind and caring person with good morals. I would be a good mum.”

She listened to the gentle patter of new snow beginning to fall on the roof. Other than Tom’s gentle breathing, she could hear no other sound; the traffic and city noises were subdued. The night felt interminably long. It seemed eerily silent and dark and empty. Eventually, her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep.

 

The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon her lands that Christmas Eve. She gazed on every doll and every human asleep in bed, or lying awake in anxious anticipation. She heard the prayers of dolls wishing to be real. She heard the prayers of humans in need. She had difficult judgements to make. There were many, many dolls in the Land of Dolls that were kind and good and hard-working. There were many, many humans in the Land of the Living that suffered. The Spirit of Christmas had to find ways to connect the souls of these dolls and these humans. To find balance. To create happy endings.

The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon the soul of Rosie the ragdoll who was desperate to be a real girl. The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon the soul of Helen who was desperate to be a mother.

“I wonder…” said The Spirit of Christmas.

 

Tom wiped the sweat from Helen’s brow and kissed her on the forehead.

“I’m so proud of you darling.” he said.

It had been a long, difficult birth but Helen felt elated as she snuggled the tiny girl. She studied the unexpected fuzz of red hair and the strange birth marks, a maze of lines, on her baby’s arms and legs. Where had they come from? She and Tom had ordinary brown hair and not a birthmark on them. Tom said they must both have recessive ginger genes and the doctor had reassured them the marks would fade with time. Helen did not care. She finally had the child she wanted. A healthy, beautiful girl.

“She’s amazing.” Tom smiled, “And a tough little thing. She didn’t give up through all that and neither did you. I was scared once or twice, I must admit.”

“We’re fine, Tom. I’m so happy. I can’t believe she’s ours.” Helen whispered, “We did it. We actually did it.”

“What are we going to call her?” Tom gently stroked the baby’s head.

“You know, I think there’s only one name that suits her.” Helen said, “It popped into my mind the moment she was born.”

“What’s that?” Tom asked.

“Rosie.”

Christmas sickness

This time of year is one of mixed emotions for me.

In many ways, I love Christmas. I enjoy the traditional activities: bringing out the advent calendar; making and choosing gifts; filling the house with pretty ornaments we’ve collected over the years; brightening the dark days of winter with carols and shining lights; finding a tree to decorate; baking the naughtily alcoholic cake and mince pies. It is not a religious festival in our house but a special time to spend together; playing games without the everyday rushes and having to be elsewhere. A chance to say thank you to loved ones at the end of the year.

The difficulty for me is that Christmas is also a time of greed on a massive scale. It brings out the very worst of consumerism. The shops are brimming with cheap, useless trinkets that nobody really needs. The adverts encourage us to spend, spend, spend. People get themselves into debt to provide the perfect Christmas for their families. In my nearest large town, a Hawkin’s Bazaar has just opened selling ready-filled stockings – the epitome of thoughtless excess.  Many of the presents bought at Christmas will end up at the rubbish dump. Food will rot and go to waste.

A few years ago, I found the experience of doing my Christmas shop at the supermarket – where I saw a family with three trollies of food, one of which overflowed with sliced bread – so overwhelming that it left me feeling sick and dizzy. We are using up the planet’s resources at a shocking rate to make this throw-away stuff. It may please for a short time but, a few days after Christmas, it will be forgotten and discarded. What has brought us to this? We have become disconnected from what is important, from the message of sharing love and caring for others at Christmas. We have lost our way. Something needs to change. We must stop buying stuff and be more satisfied with what we have.

Although I have always tried to do a small-scale Christmas, we still have far more than we actually need. We end up on Christmas Day bloated on delicious food and wine. We are spoilt for choice. So, Christmas is a time when I feel sick with guilt too.  I am lucky to have done well in the lottery of life; of being born in a country with a democracy, safe from war and famine. At Christmas, I think of the many people with nothing – the homeless, the refugees, those living in war-torn countries like Syria and the Yemen. So many with far too little whilst the rest of us have far too much.

This is a time of year when I can feel despairing, so we try as a family to contribute in a positive way. We choose various charities to support at Christmas. We have given up buying lots of presents and sending out cards in an effort to be less wasteful. Money saved goes to those who need it more than us. We show our love by selecting or making one or two special, useful gifts, something genuinely wanted. We plan what we will eat so there is no food thrown away. We take part in community events. It seems inadequate; I would like to contribute more and in the new year I want to explore what else I can do.

Last year, I wrote this poem to express how Christmas can make me feel.

 

Christmas sickness

 

I’ve got Christmas sickness,

guilty, weeping conscience

pressing on my chest,

heart about to burst.

 

So, what

do I do about it?

 

Engulfed by greedy consumerism,

frenzied buying madness, I

hang twinkling lights while

Aleppo burns,

engorge cupboards with festive feasts while

Yemen children starve,

stuff stockings with unwanted gifts while a

refugee child dreams of tomatoes.

 

Bury my head in the sand of Bethlehem.

 

 

 

How do you cope with Christmas excess? Are you trying to buy less and get back to the true meaning of Christmas?