Hairy House

Hairy House

Thursday, 26 March 2015


So, I don't really feel in a very bloggish mood this week - blobby, maybe, as I have put on at least five stone since coming to this country, due to an excess of pork pies and English chocolate (not to mention the odd glass of wine). But I was clearing out my short story file the other day and came across this piece of Flash Fiction which I don't have a use for, so thought I'd post it here instead. Enjoy!

Last of the Summer....Wine

Mrs Hargreaves had been saving this bottle for several years now. They'd given it to her when she retired – twenty years as headmistress of the village school. There'd been tears and flowers, speeches with phrases like “pillar of the community” and “most respected member of our school” - and this beautiful French wine. She had been saving it up for a special occasion ever since and though this wasn't exactly what you'd call a special occasion, tonight was definitely the night to open it. There might not be another chance.
She took it out to the patio, under the trellis, along with a selection of good French cheeses and biscuits, fat purple olives swimming in garlic oil, some grapes and blueberries, a ribbon of salmon. A last supper.
It was a beautiful evening, warm, but full of fresh, earthy scents. The roses had just come into bloom, fountaining in pink profusion over the top of the trellis, their perfume mingling with that of the lyme trees. The grass needed cutting, but it was so soft and green she hadn't had the heart to tackle it yet – and now she never would, she supposed. From next door came the sound of children playing cricket in the garden, their voices young and shrill, not unlike the twittering of the birds.Children's voices had been a big part of her life, these last thirty odd years. But she didn't think she'd be hearing many in the future. Not where she was heading.
In a way it was a relief. Keeping a secret was a bit like walking around with a thorn in one's foot - one of those fat, curving, thorns that surrounded the roses. There had been times when she thought it had disappeared, dissolved somehow, in her flesh, but apparently it had been festering all this time, poisoning her bloodstream so that this afternoon, when she had least expected it, it had come bursting out of her.
Billy Dixon had come over to help her prune the hawthorn in the front garden. Well, that's what he said, but actually, Billy just wanted willing ears into which to pour his constant stream of chatter. Mrs Hargreaves liked Billy, she liked his scruffy red hair and his smattering of freckles and his blue eyes that wanted to know everything about the world and she liked listening to his stories.
He'd been telling her about his little sister, Maisie, and the fact that she'd broken a porcelain bowl and then hidden the pieces in the garden, rather than own up to it. And then without warning, she found herself telling him about her Secret, spilling it out just like that, all over the garden hedge.
So now she was waiting. It would only be a matter of time before they came and took her away.

“We've got to do something about Billy,” Angie said, as she stood at the window, frowning out into the garden, where her children were throwing themselves around on the trampoline.
Her husband came and stood beside her. “Why? What's he been up to now?”
“It's his story telling, it's getting out of control. Sometimes I think he can't tell the difference between fact and fiction any more. There's a name for it – it's some sort of syndrome.”
Ben shrugged. “He's just a kid. What stories has he been telling this time?”
Angie sighed and gave a rueful smile. “Well, you won't believe this, but he actually told me earlier that when Mrs Hargreaves was a young woman, she murdered her husband, chopped him into little pieces and ate him in an Irish stew.”
Ben gave a shout of laughter. “Good one, Billy! Mrs Hargreaves of all people! At least it shows he's got imagination.” He put his arm around his wife and gave her a squeeze. “I wouldn't worry about it Angie. It's not like anybody would take any notice.You should tell her some day, she'd probably think it was a great laugh!”

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Plea for Nervous Drivers

I haven't dared mention this before, as I am trying to be positive, but I am going to have to say it now: Probably the thing that has made the transition to England most stressful, is the driving. I HATE driving. There are three particular reasons for this:

1. I am a natural wuss.

2. A couple of years ago, I was driving four little girls along a winding road, with sheer drops on both sides, most of the way, when the car had a hissy fit and went out of control, proceeding to throw itself all over the road as if possessed by the devil before ploughing hard into an earth bank. We were about twenty feet away from a bridge over a river and if it hadn't been for an unseasonable amount of rain just prior, the earth bank would not have been as forgiving as it was.

3. Last year, I had a head on collision with a woman driving a massive four wheel drive, who turned out of a side road without considering that someone might be driving along the main road and it might be worth looking first. Two weeks after my car was returned from being repaired, a young man drove into the back of it, because he hadn't thought to look either. Neither incident helped to make my internal "other-drivers-on-the-road-want-to-be-safe-too" monologue, at all convincing.

Now add to that, the fact that I am now driving on roads that are a quarter the size of the ones I am used to, in conditions I've never driven in i.e. unlit country roads, ahhhh!!!!!, snow, frost, suicidal rabbits. Our car here is half the size of the car I drove in Brisbane, but it feels as big as a tank. Plus, I think the fact that I have lost all confidence in myself as a human being, makes me even more nervous as a driver. 

 But I am learning:

1. It is not much fun to drive around the blind corner of a narrow country lane and have your brakes go on strike because they don't like snow - just as another car approaches.

2.The squelch of a rabbit under your tyres is one of the most horrible feelings in the world. 

3. It is not the done thing to slow down when approaching a roundabout, but rather to drive right over, relying on emergency braking and swerving, to avoid hitting other vehicles.

Now, I don't put myself on the road to annoy other drivers. I put myself on the road because I have to. Every day when I get back from driving Juliette ten minutes to school, my legs are shaking so much I can hardly walk. After driving to Hemel Hempstead and back, my shoulders and neck are painful to the touch because of the tension of gripping the wheel so tightly. Whenever I drive, my heart is pounding, my hands are sweating, my legs shaking. This is not a choice, but a reality.
 So this is my plea: if the driver in front of you is driving 59 in a 60 limit, please don't feel the need to beep at them and drive an inch away from their bumper. You don't know why they are nervous and it is worth your while to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they are more likely to slam their foot on the brake if intimidated. If the driver in front of you wishes to give way to oncoming traffic at a roundabout, please be patient. They might be a driver from another country who doesn't yet know the road rules. Again, beeping at them, giving them the finger, or driving up their backsides, is likely to result in them slamming on their brakes, or simply stopping the car and screaming.

Post Script. Though still nervous, I am infinitely more confident then when I first came here, so there is hope on the roads, ladies and gentlemen!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Handbag Contents and Liberia....

A couple of years ago, I wrote a fascinating blog post about the contents of my handbag. Don't worry, this isn't quite the same rant as last time, re civil liberties, chocolate wrappers and tampax.
This is about something I have been carrying around in my handbag for the last week as I wonder what to do with it – a copper circle, bent and green with age, something which would have fitted around the ankle of someone with very thin bones,or  possibly around their wrist.
It is something that was given to me very many years ago, in Liberia, and it has been languishing in a cupboard in my parent's house in Hemel Hempstead ever since.
When we lived in Liberia, my sisters and I used to walk, nearly every day, to Russwurm Island - The Island, as we called it - to swim. We walked past the Kru village, past the Grebo village, hurried past the Fanti village, where the women, with their long frilled dresses, their faces ridged with patterned scars, watched us with stony eyes, calling their children away if they came too close. Then, past the Masonic Temple, with its huge globe on the top, and its evil concrete breath, past the creamy walls of the Tubman villa, with its riot of tumbling pink bougainvillea and its stories of ritual murder and cannibalism; onwards through the warm, most air with its perfume of flowers and smoke and fish, past more crumbling villas, surrounded by gardens exploding with mango and paw-paw and Frangipani trees, past the screaming abuse of the chimpanzee, chained to its wall and its desperate grief; past the house of the Baptist missionary and our Filipino friends, the Africas. And then, finally, past the Lighthouse standing sentinel on the edge of the red-earth cliff and down the hill to the causeway and over to The Island. Here there was a sheltered, sandy beach and a myriad rock pools, encrusted with brown-spotted-blue cowries, like duck eggs, star fish, sea urchins, octopus, gazing at the sky with wistful eyes.
The owner of the motel on The Island – the Sea View – was Mrs Grey, a large woman with a queen-like bearing and, appropriately enough, a fuzz of grey hair around her head. I always got the impression that she disapproved of us – or of me, at any rate, but one day she gave us each one of these bent copper rings. Apparently, when she first came to The Island, the rock pools around it were full of such things – slave bangles, copper rings that the American slaves sawed off their limbs when they finally arrived in Liberia – the Land of the Free.
So I now have one of these bangles, in my handbag. I wanted to bring it home to our new house, because it was mine, it was given to me, and it represents a link to a country which has a very strong hold on my heart.
But what do I do with it now? Do I display it on the mantelpiece, next to the carved heads from our honeymoon in The Gambia and the procession of camels from Riyadh? Do I put it on the window sill, hang it on the wall? This piece of twisted metal which once marked a human being out as the the property of another? Or do I keep it in my handbag with the dead receipts and empty chocolate wrappers? How on earth do you deal with something like this?
Maybe I should write a blog post about it.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Getting There....

So, we now have all our children at school! 
After an extremely exhaustive process of hassling the council, hassling the schools in the area, we were eventually given a test date for Lydia and consequently a place at the same school as Sam. The school is 25 minutes drive away and an hours bus journey, but the only school closer to us - the one Juliette attends - is a sports specialist school and anybody who knows Lydia, knows that this would not have been exactly ideal. To put it mildly.
The difference in my child in the last few days makes me want to weep with joy. She has gone from a morose child, shuttered away in her room, skyping her friends in Brisbane and busy sewing a tapestry entitled "Australia" to a child who skips around the house, singing and chattering. We will not dwell on the hissy fit that occurred this morning because she still doesn't have her proper PE kit, but it still required to do PE at school...
Meanwhile, Rupert is frantically job hunting - so that from 6 am to around midnight every day he is either working for the Brisbane office, or talking to agents, preparing for interviews, etc. He is very happy that there is so much more choice here than there was in OZ - our initial and possibly primary factor in moving back here - whilst I sometimes wish there was only one job he could possibly go for and he could get some decent sleep for a change!
I am rather stuck in that I have to be around to pick children up all afternoon - they come home at different times every day, all in dribs and drabs and never in a bundle, of course. Though L and Sam take a bus, I still have to pick L up from the next village every day, in order to avoid her having to cross a busy and major road. This and the fact that we have strange conditions on our house insurance, means that I can't teach after school - a sort of blessing in disguise as it means that I can spend time with my own children instead! However, desperately need a job, so am hounding all the schools in the area, whilst violin gathers dust on the piano and I wonder if I will every play it again in earnest...
None of this job hunting is helped by the fact that both the phone and the internet are playing up at the moment, so cannot be relied on in any way.
One day we will look back on this time, count the white hairs and laugh, but at least, with three kids at school now, we are finally getting there.
And in other news, the starling who has been breaking my heart by sitting on his perch singing away, seemingly to no one for the last couple of months, has found a very pretty little bride and they are busy building a nest just outside out kitchen window.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Fire of Flamenco

Less than a week after going to see Cats, Lydia and I were off to Sadler's Wells on Saturday – a belated birthday present for Lydia and I, of course, was forced to accompany her, poor me. 'Tis a terrible life I lead.
The Nacional Ballet de Espana. Sadler's Wells. London.
True to form, we were running late, so, instead of taking time to see a bit of London, we had to rush straight to the theatre from Euston station – made it with ten minutes to spare, nine minutes and thirty-three seconds of which was spent queuing for the toilets, of course. When they eventually build a theatre, somewhere in the world, which has enough toilets for women, the world will be a much calmer, less stressful place, though I suspect that this will not happen in my lifetime.
Anyway, Sadler's Wells. I don't think I'd ever been there before, in spite of the fact that it has been a life-long dream, ever since I was three and determined to be the next Margot Fonteyn. I was expecting the usual flourish of stony cherubs and flowers, the occasional gilt edged mirror, perhaps, but, after walking from Angel Tube station, past the temples to palm oil and Murdoch newspapers that seem to line the streets, we turned the corner and were hit in the eye by a jutting of red plastic signage and grey steps. This then, was the Great Sadler's Wells.
However, a theatre is a theatre, so, as we waited in line for our lavatorial experience, the excitement crept into our blood. Not only was this theatre, but it was London theatre – a world where men still wear dark suits with white scarves around their necks, where old ladies with heavy make-up, glittering with diamonds and pearls, stand tall and dignified, next to boys and girls in clothes that you thought had died out with Christopher Robin; where languages of every hue and colour bubble around you; where it is okay to wear either jeans, or an evening gown to a matinee, but always lots of perfume, if you please.
And then we were into the theatre proper, sitting in the red velvetine flip up seats, just four rows away from the vast, rippling crimson curtains, the light was dimming and the music began; the mysterious thrum of a guitar, the chukka-chukka of drums and the yattering of castanets, the howl of the singer.
But. Yes, you knew there was a but coming up, didn't you. And I know I am a grumpy old sod. But – as with Cats, before, as with many, many stage shows I have seen – in spite of the fact that the theatre is not the biggest I have ever seen and was PRESUMABLY built to be acoustically sound, the music was amplified to a point where – in spite of our being so close to the stage, in spite of being able to SEE the musicians, our ears were assaulted from vast speakers at the sides of the stage. The musicians may as well have been miming to a sound track – maybe they were? -as there was no way you could hear anything coming from under their fingers. I just don't understand why there is this need for such amplification, but maybe that is just my old soddishness.
And luckily, the dancing made up for it. The first half was flamenco – albeit choreographed and mostly danced in chorus. Lydia had never seen flamenco before, but was enthralled. The two little girls sitting in front of us were shocked into giggles by the unearthly wailing of the male singer – the sound of pure Moorish beauty – but even they were quietened by the thunderous heels and ferocity of the dancing. If you are ever on the lookout for a body guard, I'd recommend a flamenco dancer – nobody would want to mess with one of these guys, male or female. The second half was ballet/flamenco, with some profound story telling involving chaste priests and women throwing themselves at them, a bull fighter falling in love with a very female looking bull and all sorts of things which probably went over our un-profound heads, but was appreciated nonetheless. The costumes were stunning, drawing one into a world of fire and light, darkness and shadows, riotuous colour. It was quite a shock to emerge onto the streets of a wintry London with nary an orange tree in sight. 
In my next life I am going to be a flamenco dancer. In this life, I am going to a Zumba class today.