Grandma’s Bowl

  Grandma’s bowl is a deep, rosy pink. Exuberant yellow, mauve, and blue crocus flowers adorn the rim and the hollow. On its bottom is the maker’s stamp, Maling, Newcastle on Tyne - which means nothing to me. What captivates me about Grandma’s bowl is its opaline lustre. Its surface is alive with reflected light. And memories. It was by far the prettiest object in my grandparents’ rather spartan, sepia-toned living room, where its colours were jarring against the palette of brown, beige, and nicotine stains. Grandma used to keep her keys and bits and bobs in it, along with the odd humbug. In the same way as the scent of Pear’s soap, Grandma’s bowl conjures up not her ghost, but her flesh-on-bones presence; if I gaze into it, I can give myself over to believing that all four-feet-ten-inches of her are standing right there beside me. Grandma… Why do the words dart away from me like speckled, cunning fish when I try to describe her? How could I have spent so much time in her company - getting under [...]

By |2022-05-25T06:26:41+00:00May 24, 2022|Reflections|4 Comments

A Dog Walk

Ah… Ginger pom-pom dog approaching, we’d better wait here where the pavement’s wide. Bella, it’s very rude to lick your lips like that, it’s not a snack. Leave… Leave … Good girl. A young couple up ahead, very young, pausing, looking at the view. Young love. Will they still be together in thirty years? Three weeks? The girl, woman, casts her eyes downwards as we pass. She doesn’t look unhappy, just not happy either, as if I’ve caught her midway through a small agony of indecision. Glasses. Pale skin. Long, mousey hair and long, mousey skirt. The boy, man, has dark straggly hair, his faded jeans sit low and loose. They draw closer together, almost imperceptibly, as we pass. Claiming the space between them. The breeze lifts my unbuttoned coat as we round the corner, cools my face, feels nice in my hair. Beyond the rooftops, in the slanting fields, a solitary cherry tree foams white against green. Such bravado. At once vulnerable and defiant. A Range Rover growls by, making me flinch. Smoked windows, bodywork glinting oil-black. The shadow [...]

By |2022-04-26T09:53:16+00:00April 26, 2022|Reflections|8 Comments

Joris en de Draak

“Well, they’re going to have to inject me with enough sedative to knock out a rhino. There’s no way I’ll get in that scanner otherwise.” “It won’t be any different to the tunnel on that ride in Holland…” “What? You mean that godawful rollercoaster? There was no tunnel on that!” “Of course there was! We were in it when the photo was taken!” “Well, how would I know?! I had my eyes shut!” Actually, I had my eyes shut for the entire ride. It was, categorically, the most ghastly experience of my life. Apart from that time when, with two small children in my charge, I was suspended above the French Alps in a halted, solitary cable car, screeching ‘Aidez-nous!!’ at the tree canopy… Or that time in the tatty hotel in Ibiza when we got trapped in a tiny lift, with a sizeable German family and a finite oxygen supply… Or, indeed, that time I got vertigo after climbing to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral with my Dad and, having flattened myself like a starfish against the domed [...]

By |2022-03-22T16:58:02+00:00March 19, 2022|Reflections|0 Comments

January

Oh January, I hate to sound clichéd, but I am relieved to see the back of you. You’re a much-maligned month and I have been your staunch defender. Your arrival is like plunging into a cold, clear pool. Your lengthening days are free of the chaos of purchasing and planning that lays siege to December. You are such a beautifully bare month. My son’s birthday is also approaching. He was born on February 2nd, and announced his impending arrival on the 1st, the pagan festival of Imbolc that welcomes the return of the light. What auspicious timing, along with tentative signs of spring – although I am indulging in a fat slab of poetic licence here. The day of his birth was savagely cold, and spring’s heartbeat was sluggish beneath a skin of ice. Snow fell as I lay with my labour pains, and the weeks that followed, if I had to draw them in crayon, would be scribbles of black, grey, and red. For me, new motherhood was the most astonishing and terrible of things all at once. The [...]

By |2022-02-02T15:19:56+00:00February 1, 2022|Reflections|14 Comments

A Very Peculiar Politeness

One recent afternoon, in the pay & display car park next to my favourite book shop, I was merrily depositing surplus 5-pence pieces in the ticket machine, feeling more and more pleased with myself the closer I got to my fifty pence target. We can all relate to the disproportionate relief of purging a purse or wallet of those low-value coins that you never get around to spending in the corner shop because, being British, you have a horror of being tutted at or, more woundingly still, eyerolled by your fellow citizens in the queue. I was a tantalizing fivepence away from the prize of a parking ticket when the machine, like an unwilling toddler at dinnertime, simply refused to swallow a penny more. I kept offering it alternative, tastier 5p’s, but it was having none of it and, in the end, vomited the whole lot back out at me, triumphantly declaring the transaction cancelled (machine-speak for “now naff off”). Aware that somebody was waiting behind me, I stepped back and invited him to chance his luck with the mulish [...]

By |2022-01-01T18:24:27+00:00January 1, 2022|Reflections|13 Comments

Merry Ex-mas

I spell Xmas with two exes. Friends invariably find my Christmas arrangements extraordinary. Both my son’s father (from whom I am long divorced) and my ex-partner (from whom I separated two years ago) spend the two days of 'Christmas proper' at my house. My ex-husband no longer lives locally. Our son was very young when we separated, and it became a verbal contract that, for as long as he wished, he would not be denied Christmas with both parents. The days of Sean rising before daylight to rip open and summarily discard Santa’s bounty may now be gone, but this family time still matters to him. And so, our atypical Christmases continue. We are able to do this because my ex-husband’s new partner is admirably accommodating of his desire to spend Christmas with Sean. My ex-partner, with whom I now enjoy a robust if frequently fractious friendship, remains single like me, so can choose to still spend December 25th with us. Crucially, he has always got on well with my ex-husband. In fact, his presence can help keep the atmosphere [...]

By |2021-12-30T11:30:29+00:00December 29, 2021|Reflections|4 Comments

My Dog Bella

It occurs to me that the relationship I have with my dog, Bella, is akin to the faintly exasperated affection of a too-long-married couple. Frequently, she regards me with a disdain more appropriate to on-the-turn milk. For much of the day, she appears indifferent to my existence, her interest in me being chiefly a by-product of breakfast and dinnertime, or a need to empty her bladder. Our evenings are a mildly cantankerous contest for supremacy on the sofa, her arsenal of bony leg-pokes and pungent farts pitted against my increasingly irritable sighs, shuffles, and muttered curses. She snores like a donkey, switches allegiance in a blink to anyone who will feed her and/or rub her belly, and only ever has a wash under duress. I’m not one of those owners who finds all their dog’s foibles charming. I mean, she can be really bloody annoying, can Bella. On walks, her frenzied purloining of dog poop and other dubious products of nature’s pantry, and her insistence that she must walk on the inside of the pavement in order to pursue this [...]

By |2022-02-06T15:41:04+00:00November 15, 2021|Reflections|6 Comments

On Padstow Beach

The piece below is from a few years ago. Upon re-reading, it feels vaguely as if someone other than me wrote it. I became a single parent almost a decade ago. For several years after my divorce, I scratched and fretted at my defunct marriage. So aware was I of this phantom limb that, in moments of panic, I fancied I could hear the flesh tearing. As time went on, the pain faded to a dull ache, constant but anaesthetized by the routines of daily life. Yet whenever I found myself surrounded by families, my lone parenthood would make me wince. At such times, I was shamefully aware of the loneliness trailing along behind me, tugging at me, a slightly petulant and very embarrassing child. That understanding of the root of my unease – shame – has only just come to me. I felt shame. Illogical, unwarranted, yes: but that is what I felt. I was in the habit of feeling like a misfit. After the birth of my son, being part of the 'traditional' family unit banished that [...]

By |2022-05-03T08:52:55+00:00October 29, 2021|Reflections|4 Comments

For Grandad

This blog is dedicated to my Grandad, so I’d like you to meet him. He was a proper, old-fashioned grandad: slightly egg-shaped, with braces and a flat cap, two smart beige coats (one for winter, one for summer), and shoes polished to a squeak. His diet consisted mainly of things fried in lard and dished up with Grandma’s chewy mashed potato, supplemented with lurid little cakes wrapped in marzipan, jam tarts, Bourbon biscuits, mint humbugs, treacle sponge with lumpen custard, Cadbury’s Bournville chocolate… Unsurprisingly, I never met my Grandad’s real teeth: both he and Grandma sported full sets of dentures whose constant grinding and clacking seemed to convey annoyance at their confinement within those particular oral cavities. Like every old person I knew, Grandad also drank cup after cup of tea, which he never could sup without slurping. That was the only trait of his that I found vexing. His pensioner’s life was tethered to routines as predictable as the tides, with Grandma as the sturdy little vessel that kept him afloat and a wing-backed fireside chair as his anchor. [...]

By |2022-02-11T16:00:46+00:00October 4, 2021|Reflections|4 Comments
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