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


Do you remember, Mum, what I said to you after your mother’s funeral? I said “You’re free now. It’s going to be OK. You’re free.” It was such a long time ago. I remember stroking your hair, stiff with styling spray. I remember the tilt of your head, a damp hopefulness in your eyes. And a vague discomfort at offering comfort to you. Inauthentic is how I felt. Partly because, by then, I had begun the process of unpicking myself from you, stitch by tight stitch. Partly because the words felt threadbare. I knew that your freedom could not be so casually gifted. In adulthood, your mind remained caged by a childhood that required you to become nothing more than your outline in order to continue living. You were chastised, screeched at, berated, neglected, controlled, coerced, blamed, mocked, and punished with scalding silence. Not permitted to disappoint, denied the means to succeed. I try to imagine what it was like to be a young and frightened you, in that bare house with the blank eye of a porthole window halfway [...]

By |2021-12-30T11:33:42+00:00December 12, 2021|Conversations with Mum|2 Comments

Vintage Desk

New desk, you carry a weight of hope and expectation equal to the heaviness of your solid, aged oak body. You’re not supposed to be here, in this corner of my basement study-cum-recreation room. My mind’s eye pictured you up in the bright and airy attic, next to the big window that gazes Cyclops-like over the plains of Worcestershire and next door’s garden. In winter, that room puckers with cold; in summer, it pants with heat. Yet in its physical location atop my teetering 4-storey house, there lies an appealing, cerebral elevation which, I felt sure, would infuse me each time I sat down at you to write, on those many, many days when the words are a sticky jumble in my brain and, the more I try to unpick them, the more gluey my fingers become. No, you weren’t supposed to be here, in this dark, viewless corner by the downstairs bathroom-cum-laundry-room, in the basement that is cold all year round (in summer, deliciously so). As I type now, the washing machine chunters and whines behind the pulled-to door. [...]

By |2022-03-04T11:50:15+00:00November 28, 2021|Serendipity|0 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


I’m sitting at my desk, realising my mood has picked up again in spite of the autumnal murmurings of wind and rain outside. Out of nowhere, I am seized by a desire to be back in my Mum’s horrid ‘Arum White’ Austin Maestro, travelling along the road that leads away from Hillsborough and out to the Rivelin Valley, before the city yawns wide and breathes out Derbyshire. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay How many times must we have made that journey? It felt a little like being underwater, moving through a deep pool of green leaves, sunlight dappling tarmac, blur of low stone wall, shallow river beyond it, heard but unseen. My memory tells me that my hoola hoop got lodged in a tree along that road. I threw it up and the branches stretched out and caught it, and would not give it back. Is that a true memory? Of my dad trying to shake and tickle the tree into spitting out my treasured (yellow?) hoop? Or was it a stranger’s hoop that I merely spied [...]

By |2022-01-26T17:54:04+00:00October 16, 2021|Conversations with Mum|6 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 |2022-09-27T15:33:01+00:00October 4, 2021|Reflections|4 Comments
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