November 21st

It's Wednesday, and another Message day. What are we all going to do when this is over?! Let's not think about that yet.


There are some mornings when you feel like floating away, so instead of getting straight into your car when you leave the house you take off your shoes and stand on the pavement flexing your heels. It doesn’t take much, just a slight shift in the breeze, and you’re up, raising your arms to a T for the current of air to lift you higher. And there’s nothing like height and distance to give you perspective. Your house, for example, looks exactly the same as the rest in the curve of your street – slate roof, red brick, the white flashes of windows. The individual touches you’ve added over the years – the heather bed, the paved driveway, the carriage lamp and house name plate on the wall outside the front door, the brick lawn-edging that took you four weekends last summer – are indistinguishable from here, just blotches, shadows or scribbles. Which is laughable when you think of all that time you spent in Homebase stacking your flatbed trolley with compost, sand, cement, plants, wall fixings.

Even the moving flecks of your wife and children in the garden are the same flecks as every other woman and child down there – they could live in any house with any of the men walking out of glossy front doors, getting into company cars and driving off to work, to return twelve hours later.

You’ve tried to explain all this to your wife.

‘If you want to know about mind-numbing ‘sameness’, she said, ‘you try being at home with the kids all day, every day.’

But it’s not only the routine that’s bothering you, it’s looking in the mirror each morning and not knowing your face or your name, and this floating, how liberating it is and how, each time, it’s harder to come back.


  1. That first drag of the cigarette of the morning transported her to another plane of existence, one where all of the stresses stacked up in her head, nose-dived, glided and spiralled on the vortex of tingling downwards. The hassle of getting the kids ready for school, making their lunches, a cup of tea for her husband before he left for work and then finally the scrum of parents fighting through the bottleneck at the school gate, was enough to drive anyone to it.

    Arriving back at home, she would have to phone her mother to make sure that she wasn’t about to pop around, double-check against the calendar that this was the day for her mother-in-law’s keep fit class, flower arranging, weekly shop or hospital visit to be absolutely certain that she wouldn’t be found out.

    In the garden, she would stand at the side of the patio doors so that no passers-by could see through from the front of the house and yet she could peer through between puffs to make sure that no one approached. She would make sure that she flicked the ash in different directions so that there was no pile accumulating on the patio. Afterwards, she would run the butt under the tap, wrap it in kitchen towel, maybe a crisp bag or something; the bin would have to be nearly full to justify putting the bag in the outside. She would then wash her hands, spray on some perfume and brush her teeth, relieved not to have been caught.

    On Tuesday, a man came to try and sell her an aerial photo of the house. You could just see her husband sheltering around the corner by the garage and a strange cloud of mist encircling his head. She bought it and had it framed.

  2. There are some days when I feel that nothing is as it was yesterday. The house I clean, the neighbours I have known a lifetime, the daughter I foolishly made my world. I deposit words first before speaking. Ideas that once danced out of my mouth now limp, or don`t budge at all. Sometimes I find it amusing that people are very selective about what they choose to remember. And what they choose not to.

    The last time Kim came back to Liverpool she didn`t call. A friend spoke to her in the market and told me she was home. I put the phone down and glanced around my bungalow. Somehow the rooms had changed. Greasy finger marks glared from the walls, corners clotted with dust caught my eye and the paint work looked tired. I cleaned for three days and three nights. I bought a tin of magnolia gloss- just to touch up the skirting boards. She never came.

    I stopped telling her how much it hurt me to hear things second-hand. And how they gleamed in astonishment at my ignorance, quickly slotting into the conversation a meal or a day out one of their beloved's had treated them to. Or informing me that they rang them or called in every night after work. They show respect Nellie. That`s all we really want in return.

    I wanted to launch their smug words into space with a scream. Demolish their greedy eyes with a sly giggle. Creep them out. Remind them how their beloved's stole cigarette money before school from purses left carelessly on the fireplace. And got drunk on Christmas Eve baby-sitting for a neighbour. Make them think twice before breathing their heavy gossipy breath down my ear. Instead I smile and say nothing. It`s the safest response. Undoubtedly.

  3. She couldn’t really swim, but she knew that if she lay back straight and breathed deeply she might be able to float. So she dipped her big toe into the wild waters of the web, jiggled it about and then jumped in. She went under at first, but when she spat out mouthfuls of sherbet water she soon found that it wasn’t as deep as she’d feared. So she went with the flow and let herself be washed ashore to a place where words played with each other.

    They came from all sides and the strangest of places. Some were in code masquerading as numbers. Others spoke of giraffes and dragons, and also of love – love found, love lost, love in waiting, love wanting. Words jostled and danced in groups of 300, playing with line breaks and colons and dashes. The stories they sang touched all generations and flew off and about, touching new places: gut, heart, geography and mind. There was food there, too: chocolate and fish, cups of tea, coffee and wine, even magic mushrooms and smoking signs. Odd names would flit past, some even with faces. Others wore pictures coded in colours.

    Words washed over her, shook and cajoled her; some started teaching her how to swim. Lift your arm, breathe deep, flap your feet, play like a dolphin, but mind the sharks and the obscure fish. Don’t worry about what’s going on at the homestead. Play with us now, come on now. Swim. So she stroked and flapped, but as she turned over, she heard a voice say: “Come home now, we need you.” She turned back and saw a big wave coming, so duty bound surfed back to the shore.
    “Where’ve you been now?” asked her husband.
    “Floating, just floating,” she said with a grin.

  4. Adults seem to wear masks all the time. All. The. Time. I can't bear the thought of growing up to be so unreal. They just want to conform, like a herd of puppets. Their idea of individuality is a garden gnome, for Christ's sake. What's that about?

    "Go to school, do your homework, mind your manners, get a good job, settle down." What they're saying is, be like us, become one of us. But I'm not like them. I feel things more deeply than any grown-up, I know I do. I thought about ending it all last night, I got the packet of paracetamol out of the medicine cupboard and sat and looked at it for nearly an hour, wondering whether it was really worth carrying on. Then I decided to use my suffering for my art, and wrote a great song about the pain of being grounded. Like most of my best work, it's very dark. I seem to have an affinity for the tragic.

    I hope there will be happiness in my life again one day, but I can't see where or how. I could get rich, no problem, but I'm not materialistic, consumption won't make me happy. And as for love, I'm clearly destined for the unrequited kind, so that's no good either. I think I need to do all I can to hang on to my own individuality and withstand the pressure of the entire adult world, even when I am an adult. That probably won't make me happy either, but it would be satisfying to show people the way.

    I'll be a pioneer. It's all going to be different for me. No suburban house and 1.8 children, daily commute and pension plan. When I'm not grounded any more I'm going to dye my hair blue.

  5. Perhaps it’s not the first commandment of allotmenting, but ‘Do not pinch from thy neighbour without asking’ is certainly one of the most cherished. Swapping is smashing, gifts are good, waiting until Robbo has gone and then swiping a couple of his pumpkins is not.

    But there is a grey area. Other people’s allotments are out of bounds, but what about plots which seem abandoned? Some fine apricots grow on the plot just behind ours uncollected and it seems a terrible waste for them to fall and be wasted. And what about all the raspberries and blackberries which grow wild around the edges of the allotments in no man’s land? Who owns these?

    The question became a matter of some importance this autumn when I decided to have a go at brewing my own cider. We have a lovely apple tree in the garden which delivers a decent-sized tasty crop each year and with the harvest from my brother-in-law’s trees then I should have had a decent haul of raw material. But I didn’t think it would be quite enough. I wasn’t aiming at commercial production levels, but I did want a decent stack of bottles in the shed.

    Then I remembered that right at the back of the allotments, just behind the pond, are three apple trees. And the crime is that the fruit falls to the ground and rots since nobody tends them…

    I asked our allotment president about the etiquette but needn’t have worried: he was, rather robustly, in favour of taking whatever I wanted. Still, I felt a bit guilty about the prospect of filling up a couple of bags of apples I’d had no hand in producing. In the end I waited until everybody else had gone home before I nervously got the stepladders out.

  6. I look ok in the full length mirror. In fact – credit where it’s due – I look pretty damn good. For once, I seem to have pulled off ‘smart’ without just looking like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes. I’ll never go for the ‘clothes maketh the man’ line, but they can certainly play their part. Box duly ticked.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at that face. Again, let’s have it straight. Hmmm… not bad at all. Younger than my years, though not bland and boyish. It may be a cliché, but the slight peak in the hairline and the flecks of grey are most definitely what you’d call ‘distinguished’. And the lines, too – nothing too deep or haggard, just a light etching of character. Wisdom, even, with maybe a touch of ironic humour. Nice, straight nose, without being beaky, and the lips have always been a strong point – slightly full, but nothing louche or effeminate.

    Then there’s the eyes. ‘Windows of the soul’ and all that. Yes, clear and blue as ever. Get right up close. Why not cut myself a little poetic licence? ‘Steely.’ ‘Alpine pools.’ Hmm… perhaps not. Closer still. The pupils. Inky black, mysterious and… what else? I’m sure there’s something there. Almost touching the mirror. What is it, through the cornea, behind the lens, only a millimetres back, but almost out of sight…?

    There! No… there it is – almost invisible, hiding amongst the rods and cones, a speck in the blood vessels, a microscopic stranger caught unawares. It knows I’ve spotted it and meets my gaze. It was only a matter of time, after all. I press myself, fascinated to the mirror and, barely beneath the glass, it moves towards me. It grows larger, beginning to take shape, a crude parody of human form. It grins.

  7. The ending of E.T. never failed to send her sobs into overdrive:

    ‘Come,’ says E.T.

    ‘Stay,’ says Eliot.

    It was the futility of their desire to stay together that tugged at her heart strings.

    She should have known that her eventual separation from her own E.T. was similarly inevitable. But after six months of cohabitational bliss she was still shocked to catch him red-fingered on the phone to the travel agents, discussing flight routes to South America. It’s true he’d always told her he’d be leaving, that their time together was only temporary, that she was the only thing keeping him here. But her heart-driven ascent into happy-ever-after-land had her believing she was enough to keep her E.T. on terra firma indefinitely.

    You see an E.T. necessitates an entirely different reality. Theirs is a unique world. A world where time is measured by sunrises and sunsets; where nights are lit by moons and stars, homes by candles and firefly. A world dictated by chance and whim, devoid of plans and responsibility; where tomorrows are banished and the present reigns supreme. A world that is simple and organic; where happiness is a stranger’s smile, a child’s dance, a spiritual connection, a silent comprehension; where feeling alive is the beat of rain against one’s skin, the howl of a raging ocean, the perfume of unadulterated air. The world of nature’s dance and song. Unlimited, unrestrained, uninhibited.

    Although it was painful she didn’t resent him leaving. She understood he had no alternative. Her time with her E.T. had enriched and changed her world irrevocably. It had given her a fresh perspective, shown her new ways of thinking about herself and the universe. She had discovered ways to keep her life, mind and body expanding even if she never ventured very far from home.

    Sarah Charsley

  8. I know the days he’s going to do it. He has that far-away look at breakfast. Not his usual far-away look where he can’t focus on the faces of his family and what we have to say, where we know he’s already in the office of his head writing emails and being middle-managery. No, it’s that, but with a flicker of hope. It’s that, plus sly excitement. It’s far-away but as if instead of going to that dreary office where people sell software to people in other dreary offices, he’s got a day planned in a posh hotel with a top-notch call-girl who’s going to fulfil every sexual dream he ever had without his even having to mention it. That’s how thrilling floating away from his family is for him.

    When he comes back, he’s worse than he is after a bad day at the office. It’s the let-down, I suppose. When you’re up there, gaining perspective on how small, identical and dull our lives are, it’s a wrench to come back and be just another little cog. Easy to be a guru with the big picture, much less easy to be the guru’s follower, who still has a living to earn.

    And do you know what’s even worse? I have begun to wish he wouldn’t come back. I have begun to wish he would keep on floating, if it makes him that happy. I’d rather he were happy and gone, than here, irritable and bad-tempered. And if he left I could get rid of that horrible brick edging that he did and was so proud of. I’d have more space in the bed. So, we share the same fantasy. He dreams of going, and I dream that he never comes back.


  9. Looking down, just how much connection did he feel with what he saw?
    Big house. Big garden.
    Big mortgage.
    The kids? He'd seen them born, watched them grow.
    For a time they had got in the way of him and her.
    Crawling over everything, being sick.
    Were they really his any more? Were they ever?
    His wife always said they were.

    And what about HER?

    He'd loved her from the first moment he saw her.
    All his life 'til then seemed like a preparation.
    When he'd first touched her, then when she had first enveloped him, taking him into herself, as if into heaven.
    But just how real was that?
    Was she ever truly his?

    Suddenly he could stand it no longer.
    Just floating.
    He had to come down and she had to go.

    He was resolved.
    Now he simply had to get it done. And he knew how.
    No more thinking about it.
    He came down to earth and strode to the shed where he kept his things.
    He unlocked the steel cabinet, gazing a moment at the twelve-bore he had not fired for years.

    Like an automaton now, he reached to the back of the cupboard, loaded two cartridges and strode out into the fresh air.

    He hesitated when he saw her.
    Could she know what was about to happen?
    He could not stop now.

    The first recoil startled him. His ears felt like they'd burst when he saw what he had done.
    But he must not stop.
    He firmed his grip and squeezed off the second barrel.

    And there she lay.
    Both headlights blasted away.

    He felt like he'd made a step towards freedom.
    He'd always wanted her. But she had chained him to the company.
    She was theirs.

    And what about them?
    They'd have to wait.

  10. It happens every spring. I can count on it, yet it always catches me by surprise. The intensity of it, the hunger, the need, always catches me by surprise. There are other times when the desire is there, but it’s never as strong as that first time in spring.
    The winter rains begin to draw to an end. There’s freshness in the air, that different smell and the sense that the spring has finally arrived. I’ll begin to notice the bright green of new grass and the budding of the trees. The color of everything will be just a bit brighter. I’ll find myself humming in the morning. Getting dressed for work, I’ll pick out swishy skirts and bright colored blouses. I’ll put on my “fun shoes,” open toed heeled sandals with flowers or flirty colors. I’ll sing to the songs on the radio through my one hour commute. I’ll laugh a little more, my step will be lighter.
    And then, in the midst of all of this, some guy, some random guy will come zooming by on his Harley. He will turn and smile at me and then zoom past. Suddenly, desperately I want to be on the back of that bike. Gone from the sameness of my life and the burden of responsibility of every day with husband, children and home. Free to go who knows where, just to go. Just to fly around curves and over mountains, zip through traffic and go. To live free of all of the things that make up my life. Hair flying in the wind, living just in the moment, I imagine it all then. The longing is with me all the way to work and as I pull in the desire to be gone overwhelms me and I find myself crying.

  11. A year after they married, she started having out-of-body experiences. One night she dreamed she was looking down from the ceiling at her unfaithful sleeping husband. Soon she slipped through the wall and rose up, hovering a hundred feet above the house and amazed at what she could see through windows. There was the red cloth and the breakfast things laid out on the kitchen table. As she receded from the earth, she was alarmed to find her husband had come to join her and together they floated in space above Europe. He teased her by twining his astral umbilicus round hers and pulling her here and there.

    The following morning she was very quiet and he asked her what was the matter. She didn’t answer, but he smiled and told her next time he came he’d make it up to her. She wondered how to avoid him, but he always came to meet her when she went free, and they circled each other warily as they swam in space. He made her frightened and angry by playing cruel games. He would dodge around behind her and, as she looked for him in terror, would suddenly appear at her side, his face close to hers, his eyes huge and menacing. And once he took her umbilicus and bent it in two so she felt faint and thought she would die.

    Their daily lives changed as they watched each other. They never spoke of the nights. He became mean and selfish, she silent and withdrawn. One day she hid a pair of scissors on the garden wall. That night, she made a supreme effort and picked them up. They were very heavy. When he joined her later, she turned, cut his astral umbilicus and watched him float away into space forever.

  12. There are some mornings when you just want to stay snuggled under the duvet in a foetal position, your thumb in your mouth. You are not ready to let go of the dream where you are tiptoeing along the arc of a rainbow wearing emerald green ballet shoes, purple ribbons tied to your wrists floating alongside you. You really do want to reach the end of that rainbow. These are the dreams you savour, filled with colour and promise. You hold onto such dreams.

    Sometimes the dream jerks into a nightmare and you try to claw your way out. Nightmares are always in black and white. You’re trying to run away but your legs are made of marshmallow, your feet glued to the spot. Your body seems to move forward in slow motion but it’s an illusion. A black shadow hovers over your head ready to strike, but you remain trapped.

    On those mornings you are relieved when your husband, who has been up for hours, puts a mug of steaming tea on the bedside table and rescues you. Relief floods through you as you surface and realize that you are not being hunted. You have that same sense of peace you had when you opened the door into the garden and, Rufus, the cat who had been missing for three days, walked in, his nose and tail in the air.

    You feel exhilarated, jump into the car and make for the sea. You walk for miles. Salt powders your lips, seaweed smelling of iron filings promises you lava bread for breakfast, the changing shades of the ocean remind you of the silk dresses your mother wore. Your memory is alive with such images and you wonder why you ever left. On mornings like this it’s harder to come back.

  13. Stealing from the float is what did for him.

    Weekly book reviews on local radio provided a pretext for removing a dozen books at a time. His seniority allowed him to direct deliveries up to his office unopened. Nobody was likely to search his garage or third bedroom to find the thousands of books secreted away there over the years.

    Twenty years. As he moved up the hierarchy his opportunities increased. From withdrawing a few romantic fiction volumes at the end of each month he progressed to wholesale weeding, enabling him to shift the more expensive non-fiction books, especially large illustrated coffee table editions. These fetched a good price.

    But it was the older, rarer books he wanted. He had to become Chief to get at these, outfacing his young deputy with a quip and smile as he wandered through to his office with another one, for inspection. Rebinding these took time and could mean the item disappearing for months on end. After that the staff usually lost track.

    The staff down there, specks in the distance except when he descended once a week to supervise the counting of the cash. Audit required a second person to counter-sign but it was easy enough to tell a junior to go and attend to something more pressing and that he would deal with it on his own. No problem.

    And who was to know if a little fines income slipped into his back pocket, or if a some of the fees and charges absented themselves?

    Who? Well, me actually. When they asked me to investigate it was difficult to pin down second-hand sales, tricky to prove the books at the house hadn’t just been borrowed, that he wasn’t forgetful. But the lack of a counter-signature was indisputable.

    That’s what did for him.

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  15. He had never meant to stay.

    As a Caretaker, he had many cases, many people, to watch over. But she had called to him. He supposed it was in her eyes, in the shape of her lips as she smiled at him. The whiteness of her teeth.

    He had not meant to show himself. He had been watching her pick flowers and blades of grass to make a wreath. He watched the sun glint off of her hair as he floated above her, his wings moving silently.

    Still, she heard him. She turned and he knew she saw him, knew she could pick him out of the clouds that floated above him. “I know you’re there,” she said. “You might as well show yourself. I don’t want people to think I’m talking to myself.” She laughed, a musical, lilting sound. “People will think I’m the resident crazy lady.”

    He let his glamour fall and he floated down to her. He took her hands in his and felt that spark, that flame, which raced up his arms. “Who are you?” she asked.

    “I am your Caretaker.” He said. “I watch over you.”

    “I’ve always known you were there.” She said. “I could feel you, here.” She put her hand to her heart. “It beats for you.” She said. She took his hand and placed it on her breast; he could feel her heart thrumming, shifting, beating; hot underneath the skin.

    His heart beat for her too. That’s why it was breaking now. He had stayed, watched as she aged, as she grew older. Watched as she was laid into the ground. He felt as if he had been shattered, as if the glue holding him together was coming undone.

    He would watch over her, hoping that she was watching over him.

    Jamieson Wolf

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  17. It was easier to be reactive than pro-active. I stood by while my life, circling around the safe area that I wanted to be in, tore itself apart around me. It started small, like a leaf caught by an eddy of wind and rattling in the gutter. “I’ve joined another Morris team,” you said. “In Peterborough. You don’t mind, do you?”

    Of course I didn’t mind. Did you think that I was so trusting that I assumed you were going to travel 150 miles for a two-hour practice once a week for the love of the dancing? “Oh, I’ll be staying over,” you said. “All that driving.” I nodded, a silent accomplice to your philandering. Who was it in the team that you wanted so badly? Linda? Annie? Graham? Epicenter Phil? Not that I was complaining. Whatever sex you got elsewhere meant that you weren’t expecting it from me.

    They used to be my friends too. Linda, Annie and I, along with Sam, who you never liked because she criticized your tedious melodeon playing, used to enjoy a drink and a natter while you and the boys downed as many pints of syrupy real ale as you could between dances. Graham and I played chess and Phil… Phil was the life and soul of every group he belonged to. That’s why we called him Epicenter Phil, because wherever he went he became the centre of attention, telling jokes and relating tales of his travels across the world. That and his epilepsy which occurred just often enough to scare the pants off everybody.

    I came home from Manchester that night to find my worldly goods dumped on the front lawn and Sam watching me from the bedroom window. Typical that it was the one I thought you loathed.

    You sly bastard.

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  19. One day I’ll fly away…

    I’ve always loved that old song. The very idea that you could just float up and away to start life again can be very appealing, especially when the kids are fighting and he is away at work all day.

    This isn’t how I imagined my life would be. Oh, we live comfortably enough, but I can’t help feeling there must be more than this. More than cooking, cleaning and constantly running round after the little ones. Maybe it’ll be better when they are all old enough for school, but I’m not really convinced. I’m no longer me. I don’t know who I am now.

    Sometimes I wonder if he feels the same way. After all, he says his work is stiflingly boring. It puts the food on our table but he really doesn’t enjoy it. Being a commuter makes him feel like a tiny ant, scurrying anonymously along in a crowd. Drive to the station, park the car and push your way onto the train, just like so many others. The other end of the journey must be even worse in the heat and claustrophobia of the tube.

    Yesterday I watched him leave the house in the morning. I saw him pause by the car and wondered what he was doing, what he was thinking. I had to turn away to pick up the crying baby and when I looked back he had disappeared, but the car was still there. I guessed perhaps a neighbour had offered him a lift but later, when I took the children out, the car had gone. I thought I was going mad. I asked him in the evening and he just muttered something about floating away from all this. He stole my line.

    One day I’ll fly away…

  20. It was the itching you noticed first. I remember seeing you struggling to scratch your back. You thought I didn’t understand, thought I was in blissful ignorance. But I saw you each morning. Saw you standing first on tiptoe, then on the air as you swooped away over the house, leaving me behind.

    It was a couple of weeks after I saw you take your first aerial detour that you complained about the itching. You blamed it on mosquitoes at the park. You never would listen to me – I handed you antihistamines, ice packs, lavender essential oil. Any of these would have stopped the itch stone cold dead.

    Instead it got worse and worse; the egg-shaped swellings meant you couldn’t sleep on your back anymore. The stress began to take its toll. You developed a weird craving for sunflower seeds. Your hair began to whiten, you grew a fluffy beard, and your eyebrows sprouted like an old man’s.

    It was about this time that you started arriving home later and later from work. You thought I believed all those last-minute meetings and stock checks. You thought I was too busy with dinner and the kids to notice your clandestine skytime. A word of advice – if there’s ever a next time, don’t fly on your own doorstep and remember to smooth those ruffled feathers before coming home.

    I saw you less and less these days. Summer was here and the lure of sunset thickened air was too much for you. You only came down with the sun. Then one day I woke up spitting feathers. That morning you didn’t even bother getting dressed; you just opened the window and flew away south for the winter.

    I didn’t mind too much, now I could stop shaving my whiskers and hiding my tail.

  21. It’s the hardest type of property to sell, in fact uniquely hard. maybe impossible. Although technically a three-bedroom semi, it’s not one for the conventional. He’s thinking, somebody with imagination, a creative type? Or footloose and restless? Or, or. Another problem, what do you tell potential buyers? It’s 93 Linden Avenue, but sometimes it’s 4 Summit Way, or 65 The Larches? It seems to prefer the London Borough of Enfield, but can’t be relied upon even for that. Once it was a beach hut, once a football stadium. You might wake up literally anywhere. The title deeds, though, are to 93 Linden Avenue. We’re selling it on that basis.

    He’d wondered why the Yardleys looked so anxious. Theirs was a highly marketable property, despite being in need of some updating and modernisation. Prices in the area had quadrupled over the past decade. “I’ll take a few measurements...” He’d stepped into the lounge. “Wow!” It was the penthouse flat, with balcony, of his dreams. Gone the patterned carpet, coal-effect fire, polystyrene ceiling tiles. In their place – “Oh dear,” said Mr Yardley. “We hoped it wouldn’t...” And Mrs Yardley started crying.

    “It takes places over, it squats” – “They’re always out, the real people” – “Makes us feel like criminals” – “But what can we do?” – “We haven’t had a proper holiday in years. Too many changes, we need some stability” – “This isn’t a home it’s a Hell. Built by demons!” – “Now dear, let’s not exaggerate.”

    He’s thinking, make it a plus point, a selling point. The weekend papers, the property sections, they’d love it. Like haunted houses, only it’s a house that haunts. He’s thinking, I really liked that flat. Imagine never knowing where it’ll take you next. My buy-to-let portfolio could do with some spicing up. Thinking Mate, don’t even think about it.

  22. Do you remember how once you promised me a flight in a hot air balloon?

    “You’ll love it,” you said. “It’s so peaceful. You can just drift for as long as the thermals let you, mile upon mile. You can gain a whole new perspective from up there.”

    Of course I’d been too afraid. I have no head for heights and no stomach for adventure.

    I wish I’d taken you up on the offer - now I know it is no longer possible to escape the incessant noise that clatters around us day and night, to escape the prospect that tomorrow it might all be over for me, to escape the inevitability of it all as day after day we wait for those who can act, to make decisions that will shape our future.

    I remember reading a story once about how in a time of war, a brave young boy took off in a hot air balloon to carry a message to the French king and because of him many lives were saved.

    There’s no hope of that anymore. Already thousands have died and those remaining look forward without hope.

    As a child I had a black and white picture book about a boy who bought a balloon from a market stall and it escaped from his hand. Up and up it went and the boy ran after it right through the pages of the book until at the end, there was a double page picture of the whole town in black and white and a sky filled with multicoloured balloons. It was a good story and I never tired of looking at the pictures of those multicoloured balloons flying free.

    I wish I could escape up into those thermals now to be carried far away from all this.

  23. The rushed woman catches my eye immediately. Her brown knee high boots are blurred beneath the swishing blue skirt, white long sleeved jumper and bouncing brown hair. The golden wedding band glistens proudly in synchronisation with her forward motion. I know she is stunningly beautiful, even though her face is hidden.

    Seconds later, she is consigned to the recess of my memory, swallowed whole within the greedy, cavernous clutches of the enormous station concourse. Another Waterloo Monday morning rush hour beckons.

    Distorted, undecipherable noises screech from an ineffective PA system. Allegedly human, yet broadly unproven, the announcer provides further distortion, adding unnecessary cacophony into the routinely grinding machinery known as ‘commuting’.

    Once successfully scrimmaging aboard the densely packed carriage, curious habit pushes me into visually appraising my fellow travellers sharing forced intimacy.

    A soapy, clean hair scent caresses my nostrils, emanating from the redhead to my left. A pleasant surprise - I’ve smelt worse many times. Colourful tattoos decorate meaty forearms belonging to the man wearing a London Fire Brigade tee shirt. His hands tremble whilst grasping the overhead rail. Heavily applied mascara robs the power suited, dark haired, olive skinned beauty facing me of her natural eye colour. Lavishly lacquered, glossy black fingernails divert attention from her perfectly formed calves and dazzlingly white trainers. Unsurprisingly, the slightly older, heavily pregnant lady to my right is forced to stand. Unloved, greasy blond hair, severely scraped from her brow, reveals a harassed face creased by anger and fatigue. No one attempts courtesy at this time of day; it’s just another segment of the start up routine.

    Despite our anonymity, buried within free newspapers or self absorbed thoughts, we share another similar, early morning experience; resentfully viewing the phantom in the mirror, betrayed by the presence of someone we no longer recognise.

  24. Leave generalists habits for the raccoons in the rafters. Specialty is good; that's been the working premise behind scouts to grad school.

    A man is made to become niched, to do one kind of work, with stiff upper lip turned on one kind of salaried task. A modern man is a machine finely tuned. There can be no room for troubling details of dissonance or diversity here. He is properly vacuum-sealed, vegan with a twist of caffeine and sleeping pills.

    He’s born to be lanced from extended family, gifted the modern grace of being socially simplified into 2 roles; this-person-I-share-an-roof-with, or co-worker. He’s no longer son, father, lover, clubber, neighbour or friend. He’s just here, paying the bills. This is advancement.

    This is refinement: The perfect shade of tile to coordinate with the complementary texture of fabric valance, the appropriate palette of paints to match the dishes, the clock, the cloth on the futon, the light switch plate, the wardrobes, the crap the dog makes.

    Let’s call a spade the absurdity that it is. Let’s fold from the game completely, step out, reappear in a tin shack squatter community outside the tide line of wealth in Rio. The whole scale of what Man can deal with can expand to a proper dignity.

    Conflict and hunger are real. Disease is fevered, visible in gangrene, lost limbs. Families rely on each other, or split for the survival of all. Music is not bought to pipe thru earbuds, to fill air with absence. Music is to cope, grab and ride that river of artesian joy leaking down your left side of soul.

    Yes, acclimatized squalor looks as ubiquitous, as self-contained, a totality as much as clay roofed suburbia. The head holds the contrast, knows there’s more than either of these.

    pagehalffull @

  25. It was a Monday when Herbert decided to take back his life. He didn’t know how to manage to take control and reclaim what he had thought he’d lost forever. So he bought a book. The author of the book said that the thing he had lost was probably his work-life balance.

    But Herbert knew it better; he knew it was something else had lost. And he bought another book and read that getting his life under control would reduce the stress he had to endure every day. That he would have to practice better self-management. The book said he should get his life under control. But that was exactly what Herb didn’t want - he rather wanted to lose control.

    Herbert went to see a priest. The priest told him to see a therapist. So Herbert looked up the phone book and chose a therapist, whose name began with “T”.

    Dr T told Herb he had some severe problems. He said that his soul-finding-mission, would involve a process. He said,

    ‘It’s not complicated, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It requires you to stop digging yourself into a hole and figuring out a better way to get things done.’

    Then Dr T sent him back to work. Herbert worked as a call center agent for the public library. That day Herb heard a puzzling wonderful voice on the phone. And he did what he had never done before. He used his position, and looked up the client’s e-mail-address.

    He wrote her, that he apologized, but that he had enjoyed their telephone conversation and that she had left a good feeling inside him. And the woman wrote back. She said she had enjoyed their telephone conversation too.

    On that Monday evening Herb was as happy as he could be.

  26. She was floating, but she was heavy. She could feel the weight of her body against the bed beneath her. She could feel the softness of the cotton where her fingertips were touching, but not moving. She knew she could move if she wanted to, but she didn’t want to. She didn’t need to. She was floating, and she was happy as she was.

    She liked not wanting to move. Usually, she didn’t sit still. Couldn’t sit still. Her husband was always complaining that she never stopped to drink a cup of tea in one go, or ate a meal without bobbing up to do this chore or that chore. But he didn’t understand. He didn’t know about children. About houses. About husbands. He didn’t know how much work it took to keep them clean, fed and happy.

    She could feel the pillow beneath her head, and the weight of her skull. She could hear the tick tick tick of the clock on the cabinet beside her, and the cars going by outside. She was aware of the postman’s van coming and going, and a crash of letters on the doormat, but she wasn’t really paying attention. She was floating.

    There were words floating too, deep inside her head. Each one spoke itself as it drifted into hearing, shrugging off a smoky outer layer of suggestion, before moving on to make space for the next. The wisps encircled her, enveloped her. They warmed and comforted her with their meanings. The clock ticked. Her fingers touched. She still didn’t want to move.

    When the words finally brought her, as she knew they would, back to the surface of reality, she could not remember a single one. But their comfort remained, supporting her with the strength she needed to face each day.


  27. There are some mornings when you feel like going straight back to sleep. Returning to the open arms of Morpheus; bringing your cold limbs back into the warmth and comfort of your duvet and pressing your head so hard into the pillow that it hurts. Sometimes you float for hours between sleep and waking.

    There is a delicious guilt to hanging on to sleep when wakefulness is calling. Being awake is painful – so you sleep. If you could sleep forever you would. Even if you were called back from slumber, you would not go.

    But sleep itself holds fears. You dream the dead have come back to life – and wake to find they haven’t. You dream the lost are back in your world and the thought of losing them becomes another nightmare.

    You dream of paralysis, of endless fruitless searching. You let sleep take you into corridors of your mind that scare you. Dreams and nightmares follow you from your childhood into your adult life and you remember them better than you remember the real memories. From those dreams comes your deepest irrational fear - beating drums.

    You worry about your altered state of consciousness, which is between sleep and waking and is labelled ‘worry’. It makes you restless all night but then in the lightness of day it slips from your fingers like silk. You wonder if anyone else has these feelings – or is it just you?

    And one night you dream that something awful has happened to a stranger far away, and when you wake it’s true. That gives sleep another frightening face.

    Good sleep is empty. It holds no fears and holds no thoughts. No people, no loves and no hates. No loss.

    You lose yourself in this sleep and each time, it’s harder to come back.

  28. One morning Gloria said she'd dreamt she could fly and lay naked on the bed with her arms and legs extended, like Jesus fallen from the cross. She raised her head up, expecting to lift off at any moment. I ate some cornflakes, mowed the lawn and nipped into town for an hour. When I returned she was hovering a foot above the bed doing something like the breaststroke and moving forwards an inch at a time. Within a week she was spending most of her days floating around the woods behind our house.

    I came home from work early one day and found her up on the roof with some of her friends, whispering and giggling. A few plump women were watching from the pavement in their vertical stripes. I called out, told Gloria to come down before she hurt herself, but the whole group rose from the roof in formation like the Red Arrows and disappeared into the woods.

    Now she can zoom around at quite a speed and I've seen her swooping over the tops of the highest trees. Sometimes she's gone all day. At night she's exhausted, she doesn't want to talk and won't let me touch her.

    Last night when she came home she smelled of sex and had bruises in odd places. I have my suspicions. The guy over the road is a twitcher. I've seen his curtains move while Gloria's out flying, and those binoculars of his peeking. He watches her like a hawk.

    So, today I bought a rifle from Greenfields. I spent the afternoon picking off tin cans in a field a few miles from town. Tonight I'll be out there hunting, watching branches and rooftops. Anyone touches my Gloria, I'm going to bring them down to earth with a bang.


    Bob Jacobs

  29. My neatly set oaken dining table, with spicy and Masala vegetable dish, lies, uncared for,
    My book on twentieth century women poetry in my left hand and my globetrotting mind Set in one of the famous books stalls in Charring cross. A good start from the three bed Roomed flat, looking at the tiles “, how wonderful these white coloured marbles, how costly these days, “ my mind is wandering in a mood of bigger house –a house warming ceremony,
    A beautiful garden of all possible aromatic flowers, and a lawn, where i could see two
    Parrots pecking at each other, yet we are not able to maintain such a flat, how I am going
    To manage a big one with a lovely car in a garage,”?These days servant maids are no good,
    Furthermore, how many houses they will manage, after all they are no machines.
    My grand children come back from school, though naughty ,most lovable sightsplendind.
    Suddenly a speck of goodness from my mind admonishes, “it is raining outside like dogs and cats, and how about the poor and have nots,virtually they are on the platform, torn swinging umbrellas are their shelters. I must go and book my ticket to London,
    Paris come back to India for a short break”, A fly past the dish on the plate reminds that
    The food has become stale, and i want to throw away, My mirror near the wash basin mocks
    At me “you are tired, go for a movie relax.”
    .“In which world you are, Mummy, the night show is over, we must get, back home, and the car is
    Waiting for us.” My son patting me at the back, retrieved me from my dream, that was a rare
    Occasion, for hardly ever we have time to go movies.

  30. Dear Sweetie,

    I was disturbed when you asked if I wanted to know mind-numbing 'sameness,' I should try being home with the kids all day, every day.

    Being home with the children all day every day doesn't have to be an onus, one can extend beyond the boundary of sameness. Firstly, it couldn't really be the same. The children are growing up moment by moment and we're growing older moment by moment.

    I've made a discovery. As my wife, I feel compelled to share it with you. I call it reality reversal.

    The benefit of so-called reality reversal occurs at the moment
    that you give in to your dreams and understand that the everyday
    routine you believe to be reality is actually the illusion.

    Holding one's arms spread-eagled physically forces vulnerability.
    For some, it's the approximation of martyrdom,
    for others, it's the drying of the armpits:
    for anyone who does it, the exposure of the hollow
    between upper arm and torso reveals whether
    you are the type who shaves or doesn't.

    When pressing off the earth of rote-living,
    a sense of identity loss immediately accompanies
    the stages of flying: floating, giddiness, liberation,
    not necessarily in a threefold path order.

    The important thing is to return.
    Re-entry is critical for social interaction, and maintaining
    the opportunity to exit again. Otherwise, the idea
    of liberation is false. What are you being freed from?

    How is it possible for anything to ever be the same if every
    moment is disappearing as we speak, never to return?

    It couldn't be worse
    than how you feel now, numbed and unliving.
    If our dreams coincided, we would have something
    more than peat moss to bestow our children.

    I wrote this because you used to like my love letters.
    I'm quitting the job today.

    Peeps x

  31. Stress is taking years off my life. I drive down the road, on time by the skin of my back teeth, fizzling with tension. If one car gets in the way I'll be late. And it's not my fault. A nappy needed changing, somebody forgot a toy that was vital to everyone's sanity, or I gave the worktop a quick wipe (that was my fault). It is twice the frustration because I'd noticed that it was freezing and had defrosted the car first thing. I'd persuaded the eldest to get dressed 10 minutes early and, I'd put the bins out last night. I just can't plan for everything, and something always gets me.

    For every minute spent holding my frustration/temper/anxiety in check, a minute of my life is being crossed off at the other end. I'm convinced of it. I can see her in mirrors out of the corner of my eye, the other me, the one whose life is not dominated by just-in-time. She looks much younger. There are no lines around her eyes, no tension and she isn't sitting on the edge of her seat NOT swearing at the driver in front over his lack of speed. She will live to be 105. I can see the number wavering over her head on those days when I am pushing myself. Sometimes I try to peer up and see if I have one too, though I'm terrified of seeing it.

    But it's worth it, and I wouldn't swap this stressed, older me for the younger one, because the other thing I don't see her with is the children. So while she isn't losing out to the moments of no-one-can-help-it stress, she isn't getting the smiles, the cuddles or the love.

    Really, it is lucky me.


  32. You looked down on the World and saw how beautiful it was, the colours so bright they almost took your breath away. You felt you had to visit, but where to go? Not in the vast expanse of blue - it felt bottomless and macabre, and you wanted to go where there were people. So you chose a shape; a large 'V' shape. The people that lived there were kind and caring, but the land was cruel. The sun beat down continuously and had dried up all the rivers. The vegetation had died and the people were poor and hungry. It broke your heart.

    You moved on to a smaller shaped 'V' where the people wore the brightest of clothes. You hoped that this would be a happy place. The people were kind and caring, but so poor. The rain came down in torrents day after day and flooded the land, flooded the homes and the vegetation, and it made the people hungry. It broke your heart.

    You decided to try a different shape - a tiny triangle, tall at the top and longer on the left. The sun shone, but not as harshly as on the first land. It rained, sometimes quite heavily, but never like the continual monsoons of the second land. This land was green and pretty, the people weren't poor or hungry. But they weren't kind, and they didn't seem to care. They had everything they wanted but they always wanted more. It broke your heart.

    So you went back to wait for people to sort out their World, you waited for them to learn to share their knowledge, to learn to live together and to overcome the force of nature that burdened large portions of the World.

    You are still waiting. Perhaps you will never come back.

  33. Important things

    1. distinguishing between different kinds of darkness: darkness of the hallway on a full moon, darkness of the under-stairs cupboard, prison darkness, deep sea diving darkness, darkness under your covers at night
    2. recognising more constellations than the Plough, perhaps the Pleiades or Andromeda
    3. being able to say hello in more than your own language: Salaam aleekum, Kia ora, Hej, Dzien dobry
    4. remembering the names of people you meet even if it’s been ten years since you saw them, even if they don’t remember yours
    5. knowing how to let go
    6. being able to tell a story without forgetting the point of why you are telling it
    7. making soup from the leftovers of a Sunday dinner and sharing it with a friend or neighbour
    8. feeling confident enough to read your own poems in a room full of people, even if the lights are bright and the microphone won’t work and the person on the front row has their eyes closed and nods their head onto their chest only waking when you finish, when the room fills with claps
    9. knowing the difference between anger and frustration
    10. listening before speaking
    11. walking the same path at dawn and dusk and midday in winter rain or snow in spring when the buds start to open, or a dull day, or on the cusp of autumn when leaves are almost turning and you can see small changes as they happen
    12. knowing you change in this same way
    13. being able to hold a person’s secret, if you they ask you, but knowing there’s a right time to say no
    14. saying sorry for past mistakes and not repeating them again
    15. knowing the difference between who you are and who you used to be

    Annie Clarkson

  34. That day was different. Woken early by a loud knocking on the front door, I saw through the window a figure sitting on the doorstep. I dressed hastily, went to see if help was needed. He was a tramp, his possessions tied up in a broken cloth bag. He asked for a drink and I brought him water, asked if he would like a container filled. He handed it back immediately and asked for tea. I brought him a hot mug of tea and added plenty sugar; filled two fresh rolls, one with cheese, one with ham, put them in a polythene bag. He took the tea, but ignored the food so I placed it on his ragged bundle.

    When I looked at mid-day, he was still there. I felt guilty about not asking him in, offering him a bath, but I was alone. I asked where he was going, it was a stupid question. ‘I’m on the road’ he muttered, pushing long matted hair from red-rimmed eyes. I asked if he was able to get a night’s lodging on cold nights; if he had been in touch with Social Services. He told me they didn’t want to know. At four in the afternoon, daylight fading, he was still there.

    I unlocked the garden shed, left an old blanket on the pile of straw and told him he could sleep in there for the night. He didn’t answer. I placed some old warm clothing on the step beside him.

    Still there at night, I locked up securely, turned off the lights and went to bed. In the morning he’d gone, the filled rolls thrown into the hedge and my missing mug, the only proof of his existence. So many emotions crammed into one extraordinary day; apprehension, compassion, indecision, guilt, confusion.

  35. But you do come back, and have, every day for twenty years so far you've put on that smile, walked in the door and called

    “Hi honey, I'm home”

    One thought, How long? You talk to her, try to explain, but she has her own chains, and they are so short now that they prevent you from reaching each other, they prevent even small intimacies that when you first met were the bedrock, the cement of a burgeoning relationship. You sigh, hang your coat, drop your briefcase, and walk into the kitchen.

    To say married bliss is to much, but you love her, you just cannot reach her. You do feel you have a certain affinity for each other. You hope so anyway, she is the only one you love and can conceive of no other in your life. So you must challenge everything, let her know what depths you reach in your heart and soul. You must show her your dreams and make her fly with you.

    So, on this day, the anniversary of the day you met, the day she thinks you have forgotten, you have made preparations. Friends arrive and take the children for a day away, they are happy, to be away from the clank of chains being dragged about. You wake her with a kiss, get dressed together in silence, dress warm you say, no more.

    Driving out of town, higher and higher you climb. Finally stopping at the summit you take her to the edge. And she looks at you as if she is seeing you for the first time.


    Just one thing to say now,

    “I love you”.

    A simple statement of fact that was forgotten is now remembered. The chains drop away and you hold her for a long time.


    Jim Barron

  36. Nostradamus supposedly did it; kestrels inevitably do it, hot air balloons attempt to do it by defying gravity with an ‘aerostatic’ lift from rising heat. Kestrels are natural floaters and with practice Nostradamus floated through time and space to 2008-2012 whereas hot air balloons float without the same precision as the bird of prey or the 16th century prophet.

    Nostradamus floated over our immediate future and saw from a soaring height our future mapped out in signs as sharp as a Kestral’s overview of its territory before swooping from a height of 10-20m and snatching the helpless mammal or lizard in its claws. Kestrels like hot air balloons prefer a slight headwind to hover but it seems Nostradamus choose to hover over four specific years into our future.

    ‘Time of Troubles’ (2008-2012) – The Nostradamus Code: World War III
    ‘Of Predictable Interest’ (2008-2012) – The Kestrel’s Code: Period of Plenty
    ‘An Oversight’ (2008-2012) – The Hot Air Balloon’s Propeller: Unpredictable Movements

    Visit: if you wish to nominate one of the above floaters for the Floatwarnham Manbooker Prize Award. All proceeds will go to helping floaters understand the essence of floating and expert advice from a Top Floater, who has written a bestselling guide to universal floating, will be available for a limited period only.

    Beginners are warmly welcome. Contact details are provided but future floaters are strongly advised to follow the Instructions in the FAQ section found on the home page on understanding the basic techniques of floating before contacting the webmaster.

    Floating can be beneficial to a person’s wellbeing. Your vision will improve and your self esteem will reach heights you only dreamt of. Soon your friends and relatives will see a difference in you. Be a floater.

    Don’t delay, join today. Feel uplifted instantly. Grow in confidence and stand tall.


  37. You’re not supposed to admit you love Homebase. You’re supposed to be shocked that more people spend Sunday mornings choosing paint colours or DIY flooring solutions than going to church these days. Or you’re supposed to complain about how it’s such a slog round the ring road and you can’t ever find anything when you get there, the layout’s so hopeless and the staff are so dim.

    You’re certainly not supposed to admit you love the home improvement programmes which (thank you Channel 4!) now fill four evenings a week. People must watch them or they wouldn’t fill the schedules with them, but does anyone you know confess to enjoying them?

    Well, I do, and I’m not ashamed of it. Let’s face it, it’s pretty harmless as TV-related obsessions go. Cheaper than deciding to abandon your perfectly good job for a new life running a B+B in the Kalahari. Better for your waistline than practising endlessly for Masterchef or Dine With Me. Less disruptive than modelling your personal life on Emmerdale or East Enders.

    I must have added several K to the value of my house with the crazy-paved driveway (Homes Away!) and the multicoloured heather bed beside it (Garden Mania). And I’ve had such pleasure from the antique-style bronzed carriage lamps (On the Market) and the faux-reclaimed brick lawn-edging (Property Portfolio) – not to mention the decking I’ve erected over the lawn (only laid last year, but you have to move with the times). I don’t resent a penny of the osteopath’s fees, or the hike in my insurance premiums after backing into that aggressive man in the Homebase carpark (he should try reversing with a boot stacked with sand and cement).

    And besides, I like the sales assistants. Here to help: how many of us can honestly say that?

  38. His father always told him to keep his feet on the ground.

    But what’s the good in that? Did people with their feet on the ground use the uncooked batter from a pumpkin pie to paint their bedroom walls? Every day is Thanksgiving when your dreams are infused with the clovey cinnamon goodness of holiday pastry. His dad would never wake up to sunlit swirls of spice-stippled ochre, framed by crown molding fashioned into the thumb-pressed edges of freshly-baked pie crust.

    His mother always told him to keep his head out of the clouds.

    But where’s the joy in seeing things from everyone else’s perspective? When was the last time she met a rainbow at eye level? How many times did a handsome pilot gave her a wink and salute while steering his airplane away from her path? A quick cumulus check-in does a brain and body good, but Mom would never know that pleasure. Oh no, life down there on the ground is far too serious, much too important, to squander even a second in the stratosphere.

    He knew his parents meant well, that they only wanted him to be safe. But they didn’t know the joys of somersaulting in midair, turning cartwheels above their neighbors’ heads.

    And for every grown-up frightened by feats their conscious couldn’t conceive, there were children (some on their daddies’ shoulders, some chasing him down the road) filling the air with gleeful laughter, pleading with him to teach them to fly.

    Believe in yourself, he yearned to yell. Don’t let their teachings be tethers to their world.

    Come fly and be free, he hungered to holler.

    And yet mute he remained, for disobeying the norm was not without price.

    Once you learned to soar, you weren’t allowed to speak.

    bob [at] bobzyeruncle [dot] com

  39. On bleak days when bad weather locked its arms tightly round the palace keeping everybody inside, and the concubines’ chambers became too stifling to bear, the air hanging heavy with feminine sulks and jealousies and the cloying odour of too many perfumed bodies, Meiying would make herself float away.

    It was easy once she learned how. She would sit as still as a mouse and keep her eyes wide open so that Xiu Mei, the chief consort who shared nothing more with the meaning of her name - beautiful plum - than a stone-hard core, would not notice that Meiying was going. Then all Meiying had to do was concentrate hard and picture where she wanted to be until the musky smells and whining voices around her began to fade away. The world became hushed, like after the first snowfall of winter, as Meiying sailed off over rooftops and fields and forests.

    She always returned to the village where her family would be working in the rice fields. She wanted to call down to them but they would not be able to see her. As she hovered above them she could hear her parents and sisters sighing over how much they missed her, their beautiful flower. Her father would invariably say how the honour of having the emperor accepting their daughter was not worth their family’s loss and her mother, leaning on her hoe, would wipe her cheek dry and nod in agreement. The conversation never ended before they had finished plotting Meiying’s rescue from the palace and an elaborate homecoming.

    Meiying always felt calmer after she had floated away. For days afterwards she half expected to see her father or mother, dressed in disguise and signalling to her from some hiding place within the palace, ready to take her home.

  40. Ghosts come in her cafe. They eat thin soup and you can see it drain through their throats and fill up their bellies.

    It is a late night cafe. It closes when the customers leave. The ghosts usually arrive in the second sitting.

    They float through the door about ten O’clock as the other paying customers are leaving. They do not disturb each other too much.

    Once seated just above their chairs ghosts demand a lot of attention but little service. They would like to see the wine list but rarely ever order wine. They’ll “just a glass of tap water for now” and then suck on the ice, no intention of having a drink.

    Red wine stains their mouths and goes through their ghostly veins. They become briefly more vivid, berry stained but they say it gives an unpleasant sensation in their fingers and their toes. Makes them feel less real. So they drink tap water because they don’t want to pay for mineral.

    Ghosts often come in couples. Passing trade is nearly always tables for two. They don’t say much. It doesn’t make for a good atmosphere. But they tell her they have run out of things to say to each other over the past few hundred years.

    Ghosts order rare rare steak. They want it blue. B.L.U.E. They tell her every time. And when it comes they prod it to watch the juices come out and say it is overdone.

    They ask for a dessert list but only so they can turn it down when she asks. If they want a coffee they will wait until she has cleaned the coffee machine then ask for a weak decaf latte.

    So she burns the milk to scold their tongues and make them evaporate in their own milky steam.

  41. Previous response "Ghosts come in her cafe" left at 00:22 contact email

  42. Each morning, my housemate and I talk. 'I don't want to go to work today. Let's:

    Go to Brighton'
    Steal some sperm from our boyfriends, have three or four fat babies and live on benefits'
    Ring each other in sick'
    Watch all the DVDs we own'
    Lie on the sofa with the curtains drawn'
    Pretend it's snowing and we can't get down the path'
    Have a drill for what we'd do if the door swelled shut'
    Just quit'
    Sit in a coffee shop'
    Drop out'
    Forget it'
    Have a duvet day'
    Hold each other hostage'
    Bake banana bread and muffins and sell them to hungry office workers'
    Wait in for the boiler man'
    Go fishing'
    Buy a stack of women's magazines and make bitchy comments about celebrities'
    Make another pot of tea'
    Go back to bed'
    Pretend we've broken up with our boyfriends and need to have a day off'
    Drink a hot chocolate in every coffee shop in town'
    Eat a second breakfast'
    Miss the bus and fail to catch the train'
    Lose our keys'
    Have really bad women's problems'
    Claim a cat that we really like has died'
    Watch daytime TV'
    Go back to sleep'
    Pretend we are too posh to work'
    Acquire some sugar daddies'
    Sit in the window and sew'
    Clean the kitchen until it shines with an Arctic whiteness'
    Work from home'
    Knit yards and yards of scarf'
    Embroider our lives on a table cloth'
    Look after our parents'
    Go to the cinema when the sun is shining'
    Watch a film and cry'
    Suffer from non-specific malaise'
    Light an aromatherapy candle'
    Call up our burlesque teacher and ask for a class'
    Go and see our beauty lady'
    Wait in for parcels of clothes'
    Have absolutely nothing to wear'
    Take lunch'

    But we never do.

  43. Go outside, you say. Stand on the brick terrace. Flex heels and take off!
    There’s no way of mistaking this house, even from Google heights. You can see the oast roundels, the farmhouse, once a Mediaeval hall, the two long cowsheds, also used as horse stables; an empty space where the piggery lost its planning permission, the big barn, the dairy, which was once a pharmacy.

    Remember the early tithe map, see how the tiny intimate hedged fields each with its own name; keeper’s meadow, pickle field, butcher Wells’ pasture, willow field, three acres further Riddings…. once divided up the land in domestic size bites.

    Imagine a rural scene from Constable - the carts and horses, the stooks of hay, women and children clustering round with jugs of beer, bread and hunks of cheese for the sweating labourers as they lay down their pitchforks. Over here you can see the lines of hops, the caravans and tents, the burnt out remains of camp fires, where London east-enders stayed in season.

    Go back further and imagine the first travellers arriving to survey the lie of the land looking for well springs, assessing visibility of approaching enemies. Even further back when the whole tract of Wealden land is covered with forest, except where the glacier has formed a huge open flat bed of stones which the air controllers will one day commandeer for landing aircraft when Croydon is fogbound.

    It’s more important, for me, to get the feet on the ground.
    So come back to earth. Holes in the track need filling. Huge multi-purpose heavy machinery, assisted by trucks and tractors, work into the dark with headlights sweeping. There is a warm country stench from plastic covered winter hay The heavily pregnant cows move slowly up to the fence to greet us.


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