Recovered

The following short story was written as part of the writing 101 challenge.  It is the third part of a trilogy Lost and Found being the first two parts.

The bloke from the gym delivered it.  He was a big grim faced bloke.  One of those who was probably grim faced all the time not just when delivering dead men’s leavings.  He said it was the stuff out of your locker.  That they were sorry for the delay, they hadn’t realised…  Of course, it was my fault.  I forgot to tell them.  Well there was so much to sort out. Insurances, banks, will.

It’s surprising really.  After all, you spent so much time at the gym honing that glistening body to perfection, you’d think it would be one of the first things I thought of.  But anyway, it’s sorted now.  Membership cancelled, bag of locker contents duly returned in three Morrison’s carrier bags.

I didn’t even know you kept stuff there.  I have to say it all smelt a bit rank. In one of the bags was a blue towel, that still felt slightly damp.  It had black mould growing in its folds. Another bag held a pair of your trainers.  Perfectly white still, like you hadn’t run anywhere in them.  They are wrapped in the white vest that accentuated your tan like nothing else did.  Come to think of it, you were always tanned. How come?  Not the sunbeds surely?

The other bag held bits and bobs.  A half empty packet of chewing gum; A sweat stained wrist band; Ten pounds twenty in cash; The photograph of us together on the beach that some poor stranger was commandeered into taking.  We’re both throwing our heads back laughing ‘cos the man’s bald head was sunburnt to a crisp.  It’s not very flattering of either of us, but I’m glad it’s the one you chose to keep in the locker. Happier times.

At the bottom of the bag I found two other photographs. Both of the same blond and curvy woman. The sort of woman you professed to detest.  You hated it if I wore too much make-up or revealing clothes.  You said you liked a woman with some decorum.

In the first photo she’s standing against some bit of gym equipment, possibly a cross-trainer.  Leaning against it, her long legs brown and bare, and trainer clad feet crossed at the ankles.  She’s wearing very short grey shorts, and a shocking pink top.  Her head is tilted back, lengthening her throat. You can just see the blond mane curling down her back. In her left hand she’s holding a bottle of water, while her right arm is draped over the machine in that casual elegance that always eludes me.

The second picture is a close up of her.  I can see her features clearly. No bruises. Fat ruby lips, upturned nose, too far apart eyes.  She’s pouting and looking up at the camera in a ghastly parody of Princess Diana looking innocent.  Innocent this girl is not.  There’s a scrawled telephone number written on the back in some dark pencil, I suspected eyeliner, but can’t be sure.  No name though, so I gave her a name.  Jezebel.

The dust had settled a bit.  Bruises, sores and soul healed, and I was ready for a new challenge.  Seeing those pictures was the catalyst that started me on the keep fit regime, so I joined the gym.

I’d been a couple of times before I bumped into Jezebel.  Literally. I nearly bounced off her enhanced boobs as she turned the corner at precisely the same time as I turned from the opposite direction.  She smiled and said sorry.  I looked her in the eye and asked brusquely

‘Do you know who I am?’

‘Err..no, should I?’ she said in an unmistakably Brummie accent.

What can I say, I was flustered. Perhaps I should have just said I was your partner, see if there was any reaction, but my mind had gone into melt down, stymied by her guileless smile, so I just mumbled something like

‘mm.. well… maybe not.’

She, understandably, looked a bit confused (she looked like the sort who was easily confused anyway to be honest) as I brushed past her and hurriedly went and shut myself in the nearest loo to think it through.

I was angry. Angry at her.  Angry at you.  Angry at myself. Hurt and humiliated.

I’d confront her.  That’s what I’d do. Grab her glossy locks and pull her off whatever she was on and find out what she was up to with you. I’d slap her, punch and kick her just like you did to me. I’d push her over and see her blood run. I thought about how it would make her hair sticky and red.  How those spider lashed blue eyes would roll back in her head.  I could picture it.

She’d look like you did the day I fought back.  A rag doll. Limp and lifeless.

Suddenly I recognised your jealousy reflected in my eyes, green and fizzing with danger.  I appalled myself.

I hadn’t thought this through.  I hadn’t even got any proof of infidelity. Maybe he knew her before he knew me.  Maybe she was a relative, cousin perhaps. And so what if you’d had a fling. You’re nothing but dust and memories and there’s nothing I can do to change the past.

I left the gym and have never been back.  To this day I don’t know who she was.  What she meant to you. If you treated her better than you treated me.  I don’t want to know.  You still had my picture in your locker.  You were still mine when I killed you.

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Tell Father Christmas not to bother

October, and already the shops are filling with Christmas ‘cheer’.  For the first time this year though, for us, Christmas is cancelled.

Now, I’ve often thought about cancelling it before. For a start, there’s the hassle of Christmas shopping.  Fighting through hoards of harassed people to find gifts that you know will be gratefully received, but will probably be stuck at the back of the recipients cupboard for all eternity. The queuing to pay, only to eventually be served by thoroughly cheesed off staff who have had their brains fried by the constant loop of ‘Jingle Bells’, and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. Frankly, you’ve only been in the shop for ten minutes and you would willing smash the damn tannoy yourself.

Then there’s the long heated discussions about who is going where, and when.  Which mum is coming to us this year? When are we going to see brothers/ sisters/nieces/nephews… ?? Are they coming to us or should we go to them?  Who’s staying over? Will they want lunch the next day as well??

Once decided, there is the happy task of food/drink shopping.  You park in the one spot left in the supermarket car park. The little one.  Next to the bollard that you scrape as you pull in.

You get a trolley with wonky wheels that insist on going in the opposite direction that you want to, which makes you swear loudly, turning heads and forcing mothers to cover their children’s ears. The supermarket is packed with people all standing chatting in front of the aisles that you want to go down. The shop has run out of just about everything you’d planned to buy, and you know you’ll have to repeat the visit again before the big day. Yet still you end up paying over a hundred quid and having a trolley load big enough to feed an army, and somehow you’re going to have to find room for it all in the cupboards when you get home.

You’ll guess I’ve never been a big fan of the run-up, but I do love Christmas eve, when the wrapping is finished, the turkey is ready for popping in the oven the next day, and we sit down to watch ‘Carols from Kings’ with a glass of sherry.

I love the morning itself often dragging everyone else out of bed early.  Even when my daughters were young, they were never ones for getting up at the crack of dawn it was always me waking them

‘lets go and see if Father Christmas has been!’

He always had.

The smell of Christmas dinner cooking while we ate mince pies and drank Bucks Fizz. Playing with the daft games.  Eating chocolates.  Lighting the Christmas pudding with Brandy.  Falling asleep in the afternoon.  Eating some more.  Drinking some more. Playing raucous board games ‘til two in the morning.

Yes, overall, I pretty much enjoy the actual event.

But as I said, this year, for the very first time, Christmas is cancelled.

Our doctor daughters have so far been lucky with their shifts and have always managed to come home for Christmas.  This year though, it’s their turn to work, one has to do a long shift on Christmas day and the other on Boxing day (though they live and work at opposite ends of the country – just an unfortunate coincidence!).  So me and my husband will be on our own.  For one reason or another, we won’t be seeing any other family either.  It will be very weird.

Of course, we’ll try and get together at some time, either before or after the ‘big day’, and I’m determined that ‘our christmas’ will be exactly the same as everyone else’s whether it fall on the  1st December or the 1st January.   I’ll still have to do the shopping and the wrapping. We’ll still have the tree, and the presents and the turkey, and it will still be brilliant.  And I keep telling myself it won’t matter when we do it, as long as we’re all together at some point.

But secretly, whilst being really, really proud of my hardworking daughters, I’m still very sad that I’m having to write to Father Christmas and tell him not to bother to come on the 24th!

Written as part of the Writing 101 challenge – ‘think about an event you have attended and loved and you’re told it will be cancelled – your voice will find you’.

Dear writing 101 pixies

Today you asked me to pick up a book, turn to page 29, see what word jumps out at me, and write a letter using the word as inspiration.  Now, I’ve got lots of books, I could’ve chosen any… history, plays, novels, poetry, even creative writing tomes, but today the writing gods led my hand to Marina Lewycka’s ‘We are all made of glue’ (one of my favs… if you haven’t read it, do!).

I’ve had a rough count of the words, and there’s around about 350 on that page, and do you know which one took my eye first?  Well, do you?

‘Hard’

‘Now that’s fates hand working if ever I saw it’, I thought.

To be honest, it made me chuckle.  Of all those words that could have leapt from the page ‘hard’ seemed the most apt for a writing 101 challenge.  Not that, generally, I’ve found the pieces hard to write.  On the contrary, as each day and challenge passes, generally I find the ideas are forming quicker and the words are spilling from my keyboard in a smoother stream.

But it is hard sometimes to find the time.  Even me, in my retired state finds it hard to fit writing in every day.  Something has to give. So the housework doesn’t get done, or we get in to an unmade bed at night, or we have a quick, thrown-together-with-left-overs dinner in the evening.

Sometimes, I look at the challenge that arrives in my inbox first thing in the morning, and sigh heavily.

‘Phew, I could do with giving it a rest today’ but nonetheless, I see all the others in the commons writing brilliant stuff, and know I need to keep up.

The other thing, that I am truly finding hard, is the change that’s taking place on my blog. Up until recently, all I had posted was ramblings and rants based around my chaotic life.  Not so long ago, I took the plunge and diversified into adding some photos and poetry (that was very hard.  I had to suck my teeth and take the plunge – glad I did though, nothing but nice comments about it so far, and met some brilliant new followers).  And now, since taking up your challenge, I have been writing fiction and sticking it up on the blog.

I’ve always written short stories.  I like writing them, and think they’re generally ok.  But they weren’t really for public consumption.  Now though, everyone is getting to see the warped contours of my imagination.  Again, nothing but complimentary comments, but at least one person was worried that one of them was non-fiction. For the record…no, I haven’t murdered anyone!

The hardest thing is seeing how my precious blog is changing. Morphing into something it wasn’t supposed to be.  I’m publishing things on there that I wouldn’t have dreamed of sharing before starting this course.  I look at the home page and hope that people are not just reading the first post, but having a look around to see who I really am.

Ok, hopefully you’ve got the gist. I’m finding writing 101 hard in all sorts of ways. Nonetheless I’m loving it.  Yes, it’s hard to go straight to my computer and start tapping away first thing, but my head is now brimming with ideas and I can’t wait to get them down on the page.  Yes, it’s hard to see my blog growing up. But it is becoming varied, and with any luck, more interesting. I’ve certainly gained lots more followers since starting, and have had some lovely comments.

So thank you pixies. You’ve made me realise that my writing really does benefit  from daily practice, and that with a simple prompt my mind can fly. That if I’m brave enough to share all of it, I’ve got friends out there who will comment and give some constructive criticism where necessary.  It’s been an enormous boost to my confidence, and motivation.

Now I feel empowered. If I keep at it I feel sure my blog will grow and blossom, and it’s all thanks to you.

Best wishes

Kaye

Found

Entering the mausoleum that was once our home I smell you immediately. I’ve only been away for a while and yet your animal scent has grown and blossomed in the rooms like you are still here.

You are not.  I know that.  I saw the coffin wheel away behind the curtains and the smoke curling from the crematorium chimney.  I can feel the hole you have left in the universe.

‘How sad’ they said ‘too young’ and they put their arms around me while I tried to grieve.

It wasn’t easy, the funeral. I wonder if you were watching from wherever you are now. You are not an angel that’s for sure.  It was odd, being there amongst your friends, your family, your colleagues, and knowing that I was the only one who really knew you.  Knowing what I knew.

Your mum, god, how she cried, while I cried regretful tears.

I spent the hour or so while the vicar droned, thinking about the first few months.  That’s why I went back to the beach.  It was wonderful.  You were wonderful.  I was swept off my feet by that smile, that smooth muscular body, that easy charm. Days in the sand and nights in the sheets. No rows. No fights.  Just love.

Well, that didn’t last long did it? How could you be so jealous when you were the beauty. You were the one that turned heads, while I skulked alongside you mousey and timorous. Yet, the green monster lived in your flat hard belly.  A demon that reared it’s head and slipped it’s chains whenever I was late home from work, or went out alone.

Do you remember the first time? That first slap of the cheek? The red weal it left?  The ‘I’m so sorry’s’? The kiss and make up? And I believe you were sorry. Certainly your eyes filled with tears and concern, and you seemed terrified I’d leave.  But of course, I didn’t. Couldn’t. Loved you.

It makes me laugh now when I think of that first red weal. I was aghast and tried to cover it with make-up so I wouldn’t have to make up some story of falling against a door handle like I used to when my first boyfriend left love-bites on my neck.  I didn’t know that that was nothing. Ha! Just a bit of red on the cheek. Childsplay.

I could soon cover up a black-eye and a split lip with the dexterity of a make-up artist working on a sci-fi film. The broken ribs were different.  They didn’t show of course, but I could hardly move after that time you shoved me down the stairs. Still went into work though.  Always did.  Kept smiling.  I still had you after all.

I will never stop regretting what happened that night, but you were so angry.  Been drinking again. I’d just stopped in to Tesco on the way home to get some milk and managed to miss the bus. I couldn’t get on the next one.  I was only three quarters of an hour or so later than usual, but still you started on me. Accusing me of all sorts – meeting up with other men, being a ‘slag’, oh goodness, all the usual stuff and more.  I never got over how you had the body of a god and the mouth of a devil.

So here I am, back at the house.  Sitting on the bottom step of the stairs. The one that split your skin open like a berry when your head hit it.  You didn’t feel that though.  Of course you didn’t.  You were too surprised that I fought back.

You shouldn’t have started on me in the kitchen.  I was tired and wet, it had been a foul night of rain and high winds, and I was looking forward to a cup of tea and a biscuit before I started cooking for you.  I’d bought steak because it was your favourite, and all you could do was question and accuse. Then slap and hit. So I stopped you.  Before the punching and kicking started. The frying pan was still on the hob.  Still greasy from the night before.  You’d been home all day and hadn’t washed up. Typical.  It took a few thwacks with it before you fell.

You weren’t supposed to die.  I never had.  All those beatings and I’d only been out cold once or twice. Yet the first time I fought back, the first time, you had to go and die on me.

Christ I miss you. I miss the making up. I miss your laugh at our favourite TV shows. I miss your out of tune singing in the shower. I miss you beside me when I walk to the park.  Your smile. Your touch. But still there’s your scent.

I go to our bedroom and find your clothes still as you left them. Rummaging I find your favourite sweatshirt and hold it to my face. Its’ the one you wore when we played tennis together that time.  You hooting with laughter at my complete ineptitude. You telling me how you loved me despite my being a clutz.

Laying down on the bed clutching it’s soft fabric to me, it’s empty arms embrace me with the tenderness you lost, I’ve found you again.

Written as part of the writing 101 challenge

The Fall

Thomas needed to pause and take a breath before going in. He was very nearly late, but shouldn’t appear flustered.  It was seeing her name.  It burned his eyes and took his breath away.  Of course it was no surprise, but it had reminded him of her wedding day.

Gloria had gone to him, along with her boyfriend, and begged him to marry them.  Her parents wouldn’t agree to the marriage, and he could see why.  He thought the boy an unprepossessing lump, sitting there on the sofa next to her with his arms covered in celtic tattoos.

Gloria’s Bambi eyes welled up with tears as she explained

‘they just don’t understand.  Mikey is standing by me.  He wants to look after me, and the baby’

She whispered the final words, and shot a glance at the boy, who appeared unmoved.

‘I’ll be eighteen in a months time’ she continued ‘I want to have the wedding then. Mum and dad won’t be able to do anything about it then’ she finished, triumphantly.

Thomas couldn’t believe that this boy was capable of looking after himself, let alone a wife and child, but apparently he had managed to get himself a job as a labourer and, in response to Thomas’s questioning, mumbled that he would be able to afford a small flat on the local estate.

Thomas had known Gloria since she was a baby, and he didn’t like to think of her living amongst the dreary council terraces. Gloria’s well-to-do parents had found their faith when she had arrived seven weeks prematurely, and while she was fighting for her life, they were finding comfort in prayer.  But, as is the way of things, they attended Church every week for a couple of years, then it became just Christmas and Easter services, and eventually dwindled to nothing, but he still bumped into them in town occasionally.

Looking at her, he marvelled at how Gloria had grown from such a scrap of life into such a beauty.  Her golden skin was lit in multi-colour under the stained glass of the study window and she looked the antithesis of Mikey.  She was smartly dressed in grey trousers and loose jumper that just hinted at the curves beneath, and her glossy dark hair was snatched back from her face with a flowered band.

‘Surely she could have found someone more suitable’ he thought.

She would not be deterred though, and some two months later, there she was blinking up at him innocently with her white veiled eyes. The boy standing next to her, shuffling, and fiddling with his carnation.  She was attended by two young bridesmaids, princesses in their bright pink dresses, carrying baskets of rose petals and between them stood a small pageboy, looking sheepish in a football shirt.

‘So common. Must have been his idea’ thought Thomas in an uncharacteristic moment of venom.

He noticed that the sparse congregation were mostly the couples friends, young people dressed up to the nines. The girls uniformly wearing explosive ‘fascinators’ which seemed to be the in thing in headwear that year, and the boys all wearing suits and ties, many, he suspected, for the first time in their lives.   There was an older couple in the second row whom Thomas took to be the boy’s parents, and he spotted Gloria’s parents sitting discreetly at the back both soaking up tears with a tissue. He wondered if she knew they were there.

He managed to smile and say his lines, controlled the urge to flinch when he pronounced them man and wife, watched Mikey kissing her somewhat over zealously, and then paid careful attendance to the signing of the register. But, watching her afterwards, laughing and grinning at the camera amongst the ominous grey stones of the churchyard, the big meringue of a dress only just camouflaging the bump, he feared for her.

After the wedding he saw her occasionally at the shops, where he would watch her from a distance, admiring her ability to look graceful and serene even when she was pushing her screaming child.

Then quite out of the blue, she rang and asked if he would perform the child’s baptism.  He knew that for him to agree to take the service she really should be attending church regularly, nevertheless he jumped at the chance to see her. He offered to give her and the proposed god-parents the necessary short lessons and arranged to visit her home the following Thursday for the first session.

He wasn’t quite sure why he was so excited at the prospect of seeing her again, but he knew that she seemed to stir urges in him that he had long forgotten. It was only after spending some time in front of the mirror, even splashing on some cologne that he had won in a lucky dip, that he set off to visit her in the shabby flat.

Opening the door she smiled warmly, lighting up his world. As he entered the surprisingly tidy living room he noticed Mikey was perched on a chair in the corner. Nodding, he lifted his cup, in a sort of strange ‘cheers’ welcome that Thomas suspected may have come from spending too many hours at the pub.

Thomas really enjoyed those lessons and seeing Gloria regularly brought the kind of familiarity he had only wished for in the past.  She called him ‘Vic’, a shortening of Vicar that made him shiver pleasantly each time she said it.  The company of the young people who were to be the god-parents, and in particular Gloria, was intoxicating to him.  They lived in a different world, one of loud music and easy laughter, one he had never managed to feel part of even when he was younger.  So although the course was generally only three lessons, he used some spurious reasons to suggest having another one or two. Gloria and Mikey both muttered excuses, but he did eventually persuade them.

The day of the baptism, Thomas could barely get through the initial service, his eyes fixed on Gloria as she pacified the baby girl.  He was quietly delighted that her white linen tailored suit outlined her body in a way not entirely appropriate for the church.  Her head was covered by a wide brimmed white hat, with a modest piece of lace drawn over her eyes. He noticed how this pure white outfit accentuated the brown of her eyes, and the scarlet of her painted lips.  Sitting next to that brutish Mikey, she looked delicate as a snow flake.

Yet, Mikey was tender towards her, helping her up the step to the font, smiling his crooked toothed smile down at his young wife and baby.  Thomas noticed too, that Gloria’s mum and dad were both there, obviously reconciled to the fact that this youth was Gloria’s idea of ‘Mr Right’.

‘Happy families’, he thought dryly, whilst an unfamiliar emotion gripped him.

He managed to catch her before they left, and clutching her elbow, drew her into a corner for a private conversation.  She resisted slightly, and glanced at Mikey for approval, giving him a strange knowing smile.

‘How are you these days Gloria’ he said, surprisingly anxious for any hint of unhappiness to prove him right about the boy.

‘Great thanks Vic’ she replied chirpily ‘in fact I’m expecting again.  Can you believe it!  Not got this one out of nappies yet for goodness sake’ she grinned, obviously delighted with the news.

Thomas, on the other hand, squirmed.  A vision of the boy’s grubby hands touching her perfect white form haunted him that night, and for the days following. He began to make special efforts to pass her house, convincing himself he was ‘just keeping an eye on her’.  He watched as she chatted to friends, or hung out her washing.  He saw her in the park pushing the little girl on a swing, and studied her as she paid for her shopping in the supermarket.  To him she seemed the perfect little wife and mother, the perfect woman.

He had never found anyone like that. There had been one or two sweethearts when he was younger, but they were just flings, nothing serious.  It must have been at least thirty years since he had had a lady friend.  The last one, Jennifer, hadn’t liked the sobriety that he insisted went with the job and had flounced off one day declaring him ‘boring’.  Since then he had led a simple solitary life, with only his flock for company.  The old ladies appreciated him, bringing him cakes and the occasional stews in winter, and he had been happy.

Until then.  He didn’t understand the obsession that was taking over his life. Why did just a glimpse of her make his heart pump faster and his palms damp?

‘At my age for goodness sake’, he thought to himself ‘I’m not some teenage boy’.

And then at a fete one day he saw her with him, that Mikey.  They were laughing and smiling together, and when he reached down and kissed her brutally like he did at their wedding, she leaned into him as though he was the only person on earth.  Thomas felt a fibrillation in his chest that made his whole body shudder.

It wasn’t long after that that she rang, and asked to arrange a christening service for the new baby.  Before he had time to think, he had asked her over

‘pop round for a cup of tea and a chat Gloria’

‘oh, can’t you come round here, I’ve got the kids to see to’ she said.

‘well, I’m a bit busy, it would help lots if you could see your way to attending here my dear’

She had sounded a little reluctant but nonetheless agreed to go the following day and Thomas could hardly conceal his delight when she turned up on her own.

‘Sorry can’t stay long, Mikey’s got the kids and he has to go off to work in an hour.  He’s been working so hard bless him. He’s so good’ and Thomas flinched inwardly as he noticed her fondly touching the gold band on her left hand as she said it.

‘Come in, come in, sit yourself’ he said flustering about, pouring tea into his best china cups.  He had bought ginger biscuits, and all the time they were talking business he was thinking how sweet and hot her breath must smell.

After about half an hour she said she should go.  They had agreed a date for the service so Thomas knew he would see her again soon, but as she turned to go through the big old oak door of the vestry her fragrance overwhelmed him. He caught her arm and pulled her in towards him. As she cringed, horrified, his mantle of humility fell away and animal instinct, hidden away for so long, took over. Her struggling fired his passion, and it was with complete and utter abandonment that he pushed her down amongst the gravestones and satiated his overwhelming, soul consuming desire.

It was only when she stopped struggling that he noticed the pool of rich red spreading round her head like a halo. The grey slabs, once witness to her joyful marriage seemed now to lean in crooked sorrow.

The horror of it took his breath away, and dazed, he headed back to the vestry to try and calm himself, where in a vain effort to blot out the image of her lying there, he drank wine straight from the bottle and quickly passed out.

When he came to the next day she had already been found, and the police, happy with his quickly improvised alibi, attributed her murder to an ‘outsider’, no-one in the parish being thought capable of such a thing.

He had never suffered such pain before. Every heartbeat was a knock on hell’s door.  His faith, so strong over the years, was sorely tested, and he prayed for hours every day, trying to gain understanding of his own actions.  He seriously considered going to the police, giving himself up, but how could he abandon the good people of his congregation who relied on him and loved him?  He decided it best that God be his judge when the time came.

And now, there she was, in white again, boxed like a beautiful doll. He embraced the knowledge that his future would be full of penance and that the first of these would be to read the eulogy whilst watching Mikey weep, his two motherless children beside him bewildered by her absence.

Thomas gathered himself, and stepped up to the pulpit.

Written as part of the Writing 101 challenge, write a post based on an overheard conversation using foreshadowing.

Home but not a house

I never thought much about it when I was growing up, it was just where we lived, but when I told my husband that we lived over a motorbike showroom that was squashed between an off licence and a salvation army hall, with a bus stop right in front of our front door, he swore there must be a story in there somewhere.

Now I come to think of it, there probably is, but I’m not going to explore that now.  I’ll just tell you the facts. It was an old building in Tooting, South London, probably a warehouse at one time. Certainly, our first floor living room was of warehouse proportions, and a devil to keep warm, especially with the three tall drafty sash windows that lined the front wall.  We used to stuff newspapers in the gaps between the panes to stop them rattling in the wind. We had no central heating, and relied heavily on a two bar electric fire at the end where the sofa and tiny TV stood, and a terrifyingly temperamental paraffin heater at the other end beside the slightly out of tune piano that my sister used to endlessly practice ‘The Elizabethan Serenade’ on.

Next to the living room was the kitchen/diner, always steamy, with a kettle on the boil, and the oven alight to warm the room.  The old radio would be humming ‘sing something simple’ or ‘The Goon show’ while we sat at the table for our tea.

The bedrooms were on the second floor.  My sister and I shared a long narrow room with another newspaper-stuffed sash window at the far end.  The room was decorated with willow pattern wallpaper, and we used to entertain each other making up stories about the little Japanese people that were crossing the ornate blue bridges.  When she got married and left home I was allowed to choose the décor and went for a vivid plain orange paper, which I loved, but it had no stories to tell.

When I was very young we didn’t have a bathroom, and on Friday nights mum took as into town to the public baths where my sister and I shared a soak. Eventually though, my dad did a bit of home bodging and put in a bathroom and indoor toilet – luxury!  Like most of his projects, I don’t think it was ever quite finished off, but he did paint the walls using a feather duster dipped in different coloured paints to give a rainbow effect. This was long before fancy paint techniques were discussed on the TV.  In fact, it was long before any DIY shows were on the TV!

Our home was dusty and drafty. There were lots of stairs and a spider filled basement, which had been used as an air-raid shelter during the war, and which I didn’t dare go in, not only because of the spiders, but also because of the scary stories my sister used to tell me about witches and bogey men that lived down there.  I was so frightened of it that I always sidled quickly past its wooden door to get out into the small walled garden.  I seem to have a vague memory of a corrugated iron Anderson shelter out there at one time, but I guess that must have been taken down when I was very young.

Sometimes, but not always, our garden had flowers, once I had a much beloved guinea pig who lived out there, but over-ridingly, there was the huge white pigeon loft which took up pretty much half of the space. When Dad got into pigeon racing, everything else went.  The apple tree in the middle of the grass.  The flower beds.  The guinea pig.  My swing-in-the-door.  Instead, the pigeons became his, and by default, our focus. Trying not to knock the jelly off the window sill where it had been left to set, while we leant precariously out of the kitchen window to see if they were on their way back after a race, or standing outside rattling tins of food to entice them to come down to have their racing rings removed and be ‘clocked back’ became our standard occupations on Saturday afternoons.

Dad’s craze’s and eccentricities were a central part of my growing up, and many of them formed the memories I have of my childhood home. Often when I think back to those times I think of the many Christmas’s when he insisted on decorating the front room with an elaborate spider’s web of crepe paper strips. I have no idea where he got his ideas from, but I have never seen the like since.  I remember being mortified at the time and really just wanting tinsel and paper chains like all the other kids had.  Now, the memory of the ‘ta da!’ moment when we all stood round with our fingers crossed while he cut the strings that temporarily held the strips of paper up, to reveal that they were in fact self-supporting, is a warm memory of home I will never forget.

Written as part of the writing 101 challenge – write about your childhood home with sentence length in mind.

Pass the Pins

My dad used to go to the pub a lot. I think it would be fair to say he liked a drink. As a child, I didn’t necessarily know where he was going, if I asked he’d only say he was going to ‘meet a man about a dog’.  I have no idea where that saying came from, all I know is that I spent many hours excitedly anticipating the arrival of a new puppy that never came.

On Sundays, he used to go to the pub while my mum and nan cooked a huge roast dinner.  We’d always have to wait for him to come back before we ate, but nevertheless we were always pleased that he went because the fish stall used to park outside the pub on Sunday’s, and dad would always come back weighed down with bags of shellfish for us to have for tea.

After the obligatory Sunday afternoon watching a weepy on TV from the floor while Dad snored on the sofa, I’d go and help mum and nan prepare the salad.  No fancy salad bowls brimming with multi-coloured mixed leaves and chopped vegetables for us. Oh no…our salad’s constituted:

a pile of lettuce leaves in a bowl

a pile of tomatoes in a bowl

Some very thin slices of cucumber in a bowl

Some cress in a bowl

Some full length sticks of celery standing up in a glass (how posh)

And a bottle of salad cream

These bowls would be distributed about our gingham-cloth covered table leaving space in the middle for the stars of the show, the shellfish.

Oh how I loved the messiness of the shellfish tea.  Getting pink prawn husks and eggs stuck to our fingers, shelling the scampi (fresh ones the like of which I’ve not seen since), using dressmaking pins to lift the grey ‘lids’ off the winkles and wheedle the curled fleshy bit out, and the peculiar yellow cockles, that looked like the result of a violent sneeze, yet with a shake of salt and splash of vinegar tasted like the finest gourmet food.

I loved to see my fastidious old nan digging in and getting just as mucky as the rest of us, even licking the fishy juice from her fingers like I did.  .

Afterwards, the bin would be full of the smelly shells, and mum would have to take the table-cloth out to the back garden and give it a vigorous shake to get rid of the stuck on bits of prawn antenna and legs, and winkle lids.

There was always salad left over, and more often than not the next day, all I’d find in my lunchbox was a cucumber, lettuce and tomato sandwich, with a stick of celery nestling alongside it.

Those days are long gone, and it seems that, these days, we have become over-sensitised to eating anything that looks a bit strange, or having to do anything as weird as wheedling out a winkle to get our food.  But I remember those family teas as a bonding time. It was the one time of the week, when we sat down and ate together, little was said, and we all got on.