Tuesday, 30 April 2013


April's A-Z Challenge is put to bed :-) 

Sleep is the drift between one day and another. Dreams come from this: tumbles of thought and hope and things that happened that we saw, or heard about, or felt.
Night spreads like wet ink, slippery as squid, heavy eyelids sink, sink.
Deep, down: drowned in sleep: subsumed. Held in suspension: sleep is a chrysalis.
As we wake, shade becomes colour.

Yes, I remember now. And if I were never here, the lightness would mean so much less.

I remember, I regain: swim upwards, laughing.

Monday, 29 April 2013


A-Z part Y

'What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.'
Richard Bach.

An Emperor Dragonfly, tattooed on my shoulder, in flight, is always wings stretched, always having climbed from egg to grub to chrysalis to this leap of faith.

Grub form lingers in half-light, calls the shadows home. Much is learnt in these formative shades. Grub feels comfortable in this mud, in this formational half-light: feels safe being half-formed, being unlaunched.
This is the comfort zone of discomfort. If I hurt, if I am failed, I need not fear waiting for pain or failure to find me.
Foolish grub!
Life is not only harsh truths: not all truth need be harsh. Sunlight is no lie.
Grub at the base of the reed, looking up, hesitant: drawn.

What is it that I want then?

To live in this half-light, as most people do, but to leave a body of work that is the beautiful, truthful guide to living in economic vagary, though people might never read it?
To blossom in all ways and come to a life that fulfils its promise?

Always be vulnerable, always be powerful.

This is not my shoulder, this is my old briefcase.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

X is for Algebra

X is the unknown, the independent variable: also the mark of treasure, of affection, of the illiterate.
Here is a formula to consider:
My life + X = perfect

Dog and me, we wander the woods, hear only the wind, the river, a whir of duck wing. Thirsty eyes drink up the green, and cheer. There's a bough over deep water that I've seen, and dare to climb. Here, even my slight shiver of fright is refreshing. Giggle and get down, gently, as the bank is not sturdy. Walk then, over anemones, primrose, wild garlic, baby stalks of bramble and rose, down where the fallen tree has gathered a shale beach, and off come my boots and the water is not so cold and the rocks mud-slippy. If I had thought of it, I would have drawn an X in this shored up silt, where the sun was shining through the edge of the new leafed trees.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Wishbone Story

A-Z challenge part W: This is a mash up of my writing, or perhaps I should think of these words as simmered into something tasty and nourishing?

I have been strolling the fields with Dog. The weather swirls from hot to cold; an assortment of fattened clouds are dumped across the sky, humidity fluctuates from one step to the next, like the dial has broken. It reminds me of when I’m tired and trying to cook. The weather is trying to remember how to knock up a thunderstorm, but keeps putting the cumulonimbus down somewhere in the troposphere, and promptly losing it. Then it forgets the dew point of water. And how much turbulence to add? Tiredness is a great friend to forgetfulness. I’m tired now, and there’s a tired pile of dishes soaking in the kitchen sink. Only the thought of coffee is strong enough to pull me back up the slope of this slippery field, in through the heavy clank of old farmhouse doors, into the kitchen.

On the crumb speckled worktop, over the surf-stickered fridge, is a new red kettle. I forgot we bought a new kettle: it makes me smile, the colour and the discovery of it. An everyday example of amazing, the kettle, but, arguably, I only acknowledge this because of the soup. Before I get to soup making, a stack of sullied dishes needs clearing out of my way, and before I face washing up, I need coffee. The mindset needs preparing for the magic to work. So I twist the tap, fill the device to an appropriate marker, flick a switch and sit.

Sometimes I favour a hob kettle, because it whistles at me when the water boils. My grandmother once told me she used to hard boil eggs in her hob kettle. I tried it; the water held an eggy fragrance we weren’t keen on.  Gran picked thrift over taste. My mother is deft with both.

It’s easy to get lost in steam. It sustains the same absorbent energy as gazing at fire, landscapes, wild water. I love to peek inside as the convection current warps, although one should be wary of steam burns. This kettle knows to stop itself, and clicks me back to wakefulness. Somewhere in the fridge is a jar of Vietnamese Weasel. Java Sumatra, Guatemalan Elephant, here are phrases that melt, a rich dark coffee bean melt; Vietnamese Weasel, most revered, is the taste, the scent of my honeymoon. 

Opening the jar is first a love hit, then a thump of history. I am picturing sacks of beans on the quayside in a monsoon wind. Plantation workers, who cannot afford the coffee, pluck beans from the droppings of small foraging mammals. Their coffee tastes best of all, becomes an export. Sounds like it started as a practical joke. We can’t afford the real stuff anyway; how we made a honeymoon happen is a fabulous fluke; this flavour is synthesised. The love is real. It must be, I am sharing my coffee. One scoop of Weasel each piles up in the bottom of the jug, and while the grounds brew I will be organised, will drag the washing from the lovely machine that undertook the hard work for me while I slept. It is still preparation for soup, the best preparation. This magic is domestic.

A whirl of wet fabric waits for me to retrieve my scarf from the back of the sofa. Dog in her basket thumps her tail in a slow beat. I turn off the lamp we overlooked last night. On the table, ringed with wine stains, next to an exhausted moth, is a list of stuff to work towards: a new shed, a camper van, a raised vegetable plot. I slip the lid onto the biro, gather up both stemmed glasses. The pen finds a pot, the list is magnetised to the fridge by an effigy of Elvis. The glassware I add to the queue in the kitchen. I observe, in the dirt of the crockery, the little repetitions that mark out our lives. Here, exemplified on this plate, is the history of our week in the medium of turmeric and beetroot. Likewise the washing, as I peg it out, is a confirmation of continuing adventures. Here is the blackberry stain from the last batch of jam making, here is the t-shirt torn in the orchard hedge. Triangled between an orchard, the romance of the moor land and a low rent lies the reason we live here. Item by item, optimistic plastic fastens up the corners. Behind me, occupational debris stuffs up the open sided shed. The morning light strikes a wall of dull car batteries, my shadow slopes on an old door. All this poetry, this junk transformed, comes from the epiphany of soup.

At the kitchen table, my eyes close to focus on the fusion, the notes of coffee, the bituminous musk of smoke and burnt sugar. I wonder about taking Mr up a cup; nah, I’ll let him sleep. I’ll let the scent writhe up the stairs, ask him later what he dreamt of. There’s easily enough Weasel for another jug. I will let him sleep off last night’s wine and I will clean up and make the eponymous soup.

‘Does it really cure everything?’ My husband was dubious, at first, had the face of a child being offered a medicinal sweet. That day, the sky drifted, endlessly blue, and the existence of anything troublesome seemed unlikely. The day before it had rained right through the bathroom roof and a rat run was discovered under the upstairs floorboards.
‘Curing means making better, not taking the bad stuff away, just seeing it differently.’
He nodded. He laid down some rattraps, wandered outside, spent an afternoon making an outdoor table from a splintery pallet.

While I scrub at plates, I think of the breakfast he cooked for us, to eat at the pallet table, and how there was even a tablecloth. It used to be an airline blanket.  We had a jug of whatever coffee was on supermarket promotion that week, we had scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and butter. Then we had extra toast, brought out the damson jam from the dark storage cupboard. My belly rumbles; breakfast ought to be part of this morning’s plan. Toast will be easy to slot into the schedule. The toaster will take care of that. Peek in the fridge, leave a bubble fingerprint on the door. There is blackberry jam, from the batch that splotched my shirt.

The roasting tray has been partially cleaned, everything of flavour coaxed from it. The pie dish has soaked over night, which makes the texture of the pastry flakes unpleasantly bloated. Fresh baked, the same pastry dissolved on our tongues, a much more appetising experience. A sigh drifts over the bliss of recent feasting. A tired and rambly mind mulls the ritual of it: because, if you are going to eat an animal it should be important to be respectful about it. Nothing should be wasted. Gravy is a seriously joyous rite, in our home, celebrated for three consecutive days; very much connected to the soup. I search out the pan scourer, listing the delicious rituals.

On the first day, the oven scorches and the meat sputters, vegetables are pared, peelings are dropped to simmer in water. Skins of parsnip, turnip, carrot, onion and potato bounce around in a boiling lather. Steam fills the small kitchen, the windows drip. Onionskin dyes the concoction dark brown. Strained out, the skins are shiny and slippery, slivery like little fishes.
This savoury dark water is held in a pan, to cook the peeled vegetables, to be mixed with the juice and sizzling fat from the roasting tin. Splashes of scolding water and tiny prickles of scorching fat decorate our forearms.
This is the basis for the first batch of gravy, of which some must be saved in a jug, cooled, and hidden in the fridge.

For the second day, the carcass is diligently divided into meat, bone and scraps. Meat is set aside for the purpose of filling a pie. The rest; every bone bar one, skin, entrails, bits of vegetables, any scrap not kindly donated to Dog; is gathered into a broad based pan, covered in water, placed on a low hob heat for hours. Roused stomachs grumble at the luscious smell. Fat recovered from the roasting tray is used to make rich pastry. The meat is carved into bite sizes. The simmered liquid, of which some must be saved in a jug, cooled, and hidden in the fridge, becomes a sauce for tremulously anticipated pie.

On the third day, the finale: Wishbone Soup. The hidden treasure of both gravy batches are unearthed. If we like, these days, we can add rice or noodles to the mix, we can add an assortment of vegetables, choose from a rack of herbs and spices. We sit round the table, giggling; noodles are the best for this given our clumsiness with chopsticks. This description has no depth to it, of course, without the back-story.

Once upon a time there was a cottage, even wonkier than this one; not a right angle to it; with a tiny open fire, a cooker that ran on bottled gas, a distinctive collection of draughts. No other form of heat regulation. Not the coldest house ever lived in, but one of the dampest. A house in which the airing cupboard had to be aired out weekly or the bedding stacked within grew patches of mould. This is all part of the adventure of renting a home, of life’s rich experience. The only thing we were rich in. There was no telephone. The internet was science fiction. TV reception, like the temperature, was largely dependent on the weather. The television was sized a cubic foot, coloured black and white. While I lived in this soggy nook, my family grew, and debt kept food from the shelves. What there was, was counted, was rationed, was difficult. When the gas bottle ran out we cooked on the fire. Once or twice all we had for tea was value range spaghetti and a sauce made from flour, cooking oil and herb flavoured water. That was cooked in the tiny grate, and when the pasta boiled over it nearly put the fire out.
It was also impossibly picturesque; the slate flagged floor, the wooden window shutters, the herbs growing in higgledy pots, so there is no need to feel sorry over it.
Most weeks, we could buy a chicken from the supermarket: one of those low-priced, intensely farmed chickens. I knew it had been kept in crowded filth for a brief cheerless life; its body injected with water, to give an impression of plumpish health under the gloss of cellophane. It was an ambiguous purchase. No wonder I wanted to make something of its death.
On the Sunday, the bird would preside over a tin of potatoes, would be scattered with salt, reverently roasted. On Monday, cheap flour made thick pastry crust, and there was Chicken Pie. By Tuesday, only bones were left. The feasting was considered over. I would boil water, scour out every bit of flavour from the roasting tin, pour it into a pan with the bones. Cheap potatoes, the kind that come in a farm sack, still covered in soil, small as pebbles, that no one else can be bothered to wash and peel, were washed and peeled, the peel popped in the stock. Into the broth, add wild onion, add potatoes. I called it Chicken Soup at first, which caused some disappointment, because there was only stock and the flesh of cheap potatoes, barely a strand of chicken meat.
‘Well, here’s your Bone Soup then.’
Bone Soup?
Such derision.
The dish itself was warm and nourishing, and the chicken deserved so much better. Soup is supposed to be good for your soul. I think I did feel sorry for myself. And then, the next time I am making stock, in just that one moment, the idea that makes it all work, the magic ingredient is lying in front of me, dumped in the colander as the stock drains through.  The wishbone is returned to the soup pan, the soup gets a new name, a new role. It has a wish in it. An actual wish. I am quite serious when I bring it to the table. It works. It makes larkish laughter.

‘Shush,’ I say, ‘wishes cannot be spoken aloud.’
At first as we wish, in spite of mirth, thoughts are fervent, fingers crossed. Lips move silently, but we all know we wish for more. Slowly, the magic simmers, the focus shifts, from the wish, to the laughing, to the being together. We see what we have. We are happy with it. 

Wet plates shine in a line on the drainer. The iron casserole pan is reached from a shelf, placed ready on the hob. I can hear Mr stirring from our bed, the curtain rings sliding, and remember that I was going to make toast.  Outside, fat clouds have been dumped in a huff; an easy azurite shimmers.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Vacation vs. holiday

The A-Z reaches V! 

Holiday- a day set aside by law or statute as exempt from regular business activities to commemorate a date or festival.
A Holy Day: a part of a nation's history.
Vacation- a scheduled period of time during which regular business ceases.
Vacate: relinquish, empty, withdraw.
Please mull over that in your own time: which you would prefer, whether it matters... 
Right now, my perfect time would be spent with an espresso machine, a library, a laptop, a blank sketchpad, a sunny beach.
What I have is a stovetop espresso pot, a small bookcase, the internet, a laptop (slightly cranky) some clear sketchbook pages and a damp garden.
This is not a complaint, for it's not too far removed from the ideal. This damp garden has primroses, chairs clustered around the bonfire ash, a rogue chicken and eight budding currant bushes.
My answer to the question is: forget semantics, let your lexicons fall: if the sun shines, close your eyes, bask. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


At our first Black belt grading: Zoe and Boy literally strike a pose...

Once upon a time I was never going to start training in Tae Kwon-Do. I tried it, because I am always curious about things and it seemed polite to pay some attention to the profession of the man I was dating. All I ever seemed to hear was 'Are you going to do Tae Kwon-Do then?' (In an annoying singsong fashion: not how it was said, that's how I heard it…) Being a strong, independent, working mother I did what I did, not what my boyfriend did: but I liked him enough to try a lesson. Both things worked out rather well.
I never liked gradings, though, they made me horribly nervous and full of distracted mistakes, until I reached red belt, when, in spite of nerves and still with odd errors, there was a confidence growing. It was the confidence of having made it through all the previous gradings, the confidence of knowing my training was ample. Also, before we grade, we have the ritual of the pre-grading, where the Instructor tests the students to see if they are ready. At the Black Belt pre-grading, a panel of Senior Instructors views the contenders. At the time, they seem to be made of granite, with cold lasers for eyes. The first one I did, I did shaking, with sick in my throat, almost hoping that one of my bones would snap so I may be excused. Afterwards, the elation of survival flooded through so powerfully it is a miracle I did not burst. The actual grading went okay- that is how I remember it- nothing too weird or off balancing because I already knew I could do it. I thought about how much I wanted that Black Belt.
Black Belt is often thought of, in Western circles, as the culmination of the martial arts process, but in our Art it is a beginning. Going through the colour belt syllabus is like an apprenticeship, or like learning to drive. Who earns a driving licence and never gets in a car again? So for two years I have been training and learning as a novice Black Belt, and last week I earned my Second Dan. The nerves are not eradicated, far from it: just a bit easier to override. At the pre-grading I said to myself, if you dislike this process so much, go for 2nd Dan, since you've got this far, and then never grade again, it's enough, it's fine. But in the course of the extra training, I have learnt so much, about my Art and about myself: by the day of the grading, regardless of those irritating doubting fears, I was already looking forward to gaining a 3rd Dan.
Usually, I write about my world rather than myself but I want to have this record of how I waded through a fearful place and got to somewhere exultant. I will need to read it, three years from now.
All life journeys have points where you can freeze or you can progress: it's easy to know that, a little trickier to practice!

A picture of our wedding cake: in case anyone hasn't guessed or didn't know: I wed that man! 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Time Travelling Tae Kwon Do Tour Bus, And Other Stories!

A-Z Challenge: a different kind of story collection featured here!

There is so much more to Tae Kwon Do than punching and kicking. Each pattern (a sequence of attacks and defences against one or more imaginary opponents) has a meaning attached to it, which students are required to learn. These pattern meanings are intended to inspire students, showing the five tenets; courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit; in action. In practice, students tend to memorise a bunch of words, not always correctly. It is very amusing to be told by an earnest six year old that Yi the First was an expert on Neon Confusion but if he knew the real story of Yi I he would be getting a much fuller Tae Kwon Do experience. Pattern meanings are a marvellous, under-used resource for teaching Tae Kwon Do, for teaching about life and death, about another very different culture, about philosophy and true bravery.
Which is why I wrote, illustrated and published a book about them!

Today I have woken up, taken Dog for a run around tiny beautiful country lanes, stood out in the sunshine learning one of my brand new Second Dan patterns, then done some practical things like sending out invoices: spent time on my novel (which is for grown ups, and whilst it embodies the benefit of resilience does not contain any Tae Kwon-Do) and whizzed out this bit of writing and am about to embark on another round of research for the next Tae Kwon-Do book. There are holes in my socks and the house is messy, in need of cleaning that won't get done until Saturday. And then only out of courtesy to guests! Housework isn't important right now.
The things that I would like to change, I am in the process of changing.
Everything else will either catch up or be dropped! 

This isn't a sales pitch- more of a rant about how much I love this project of mine, but if you would like a copy, do use the email on the poster! There is no e-version yet, folks, though one is proposed :-) 

Monday, 22 April 2013


A-Z story installment S
The last bit of this story, although the alphabet isn't quite done
Life can be confusing...

She carries the little bundle up the stairs to bed. Echo curls under the quilt. Claire makes a wall of rolled up blanket behind her, to stop a fall, anchors it inside the sheet. She strolls back to damp the fire. Her ribs ache. The floorboards are smooth and cool underfoot. She pauses at the window. Stars ping out in a thickening sky. There they are, millions; millions of stars, casting down light in diamond lines, all through space, millions and millions of stars. She sits at the window seat, her hand pressed against the glass. She cries without effort.

Shadows get deeper, they overspill, make a rising tide all through the small house. There is enough illumination left to find a match. Claire lights a candle, treads back upstairs, her silhouette lurching by her side, slips into bed.
‘Obscure,’ she whispers, ‘a speck, nothing more. Unique to the one who holds it.’
Her eyes are lead-lined, impossible to lift.  Light whittles down to the width of a plumb line, and she follows it into the depths. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013


A-Z story, installment R. 

Claire's mind drifts. She finds herself in a garden: herself as a barefoot child, running, easy as a lazy wind, through swathing grass. Lilting air presses her face, whispers, indecipherable and ticklish. Light tilts, she jousts back. Broad leaves on a smooth barked tree: in the sun, the leaf glows, shows its skeleton. She holds her hands to this bright sun, then cool mist, then shivering wind, then fresh rain: years of seasons pass, they tangle up like riverweed: they knot and twist until she remembers all of it, receives it like a solar plexus kick. From the edge of the bridge, how the air pushes back at her, how her fearful limbs flail; the icy metallic smack of the surface, how sudden it is; the water that closes over her head and how her mouth opens, closes, silent and pointless. A swell of tears wakes her up. The fire glows. Shadows play, against the light.
‘Like stars fell,’ she says. It kind of makes sense now.
Perfect Echo is lost in sleep. Claire smiles; nothing is lost, she thinks; absorbed, transmuted; not lost. Every life is obscure, is brief, is the tiniest finite thing, is so uncounted, is unaccountably precious. It makes sense. 

Friday, 19 April 2013


A-Z Part Q

In the alcove at the side of the fireplace, a brass box holds kindling sticks and firelighters. There is coal in the scuttle and logs in a basket. The grate has some ash, craters of it, like a moonscape. Claire ponders raking it out, but then again, it is a light layer, it won’t choke out the draw of air. She has done enough work to be happy with her day. She opens the brass lid of the box to pull out a square of firelighter, a handful of sticks to make a fast blaze. Echo, meanwhile, has wandered over and poked the curious ash.
‘Careful,’ Claire warns, gathering the child to her lap. ‘You can watch this, okay, but then I put the fireguard up and you don’t touch. Ouch, hot!’
Echo, intrigued, makes no comment. She studies the white cube of paraffin as it catches the proffered flame. She studies the flames that spiral around the skinny kindling.
‘Woff,’ she whispers.
‘Fire is lively, like the dogs,’ Claire tells her. ‘Kind of sounds like woff, doesn’t it? Woff woff, like Cerberus, guarding the gates of Hades. On both counts, mind your fingers!’

They sit, eyes lulled by the fire. Flames sway, knot themselves in energetic bursts around twigs; shape to a dense glow that ignites the larger sticks, that jumps up more flame. Hot colours dance, entrancing adult and child. Fractal patterns of smoke leak out. Claire’s mind idly pats words around: heat, flame, heartstring, connected.
Echo sits on Claire’s lap, growing heavier, leaning stronger. Fire flares into dreams.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


The A-Z story: installment P
It's what cushions are really for!

Echo explains she has finished by tipping her plate upside down. Claire scoops up leftover clumps of sandwich, stacks the plates, crunches her last wedge of apple while she whisks into the kitchen. Echo climbs up onto the un-cushioned sofa, hollers triumphantly. Claire can’t help but laugh. She returns to the living room and re-poses the cushions; makes a wall to hide behind. Echo slides herself, legs first, to investigate. The wall tumbles. They cheer, and rebuild; cheer, and rebuild. The cheers magnify, the rebuilds wobble, flimsier each time. Laughter swallows them up. Claire lies on the floor, chest heaving, eyes overflowing: strange noises squeeze from her bagpipe lungs. The more hopeless she is, the funnier it becomes. Echo’s giggles reach an explosive frequency. She does a sort of hiccup and sighs.
‘I think,’ Claire says, recovering her breath, looking at the lowing sunlight on the wall; ‘we shall get you scrubbed up, then put a fire in.’ 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


A-Z story installment O

Echo climbs the sofa while Claire cuts chunks of cheese, butters bread rolls, peels some apple. She hears the child babble nonsensical formative words in a purposeful manner. From the fridge she fetches grape juice. She remembers the plastic bottle with the pop up lid, easier for Echo to drink from than the mess of the cup. With a plate in each hand, she wanders in to the living room. The sofa cushions are on the floor.
‘Oh,’ Echo gestures, in the manner of one surprised to find a floor full of cushions.
‘Oh,’ Claire repeats, ‘how ever can that have happened?’ She stacks two of the cushions to make a soft table, then one each for a chair, places the plates.
‘Shall we?’ She sits. Echo catches on to the game, plonking herself down with a grin.
‘Nomnomnom.’ Each little hand fills itself with cheese and bread. She presses as much as she can into her mouth.
‘Good bread, isn’t it?’
‘Mmmm.’ Echo’s mouth is too full for comment. She nods enthusiastically.
They eat, save for the chomping noises, in companionable silence. Echo repeats her conspiratorial smile. Claire hands her the bottle; holds the open cap to the child’s funnelling lips. Echo takes the bottle, closes her eyes and devours the grape juice.
‘I guess you like grapes then,’ Claire deduces.
‘Ahhh!’ Echo smacks her lips together, chews on some apple.
‘Fruit trumps lettuce, eh?’
‘Nom woff. Ah.’

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


A-Z Part N

Echo loves the water hitting her hands. She laughs and presses a chubby palm to the tap, spraying cold water into her face. Shock follows splutter, then she tries it again. This time it too is joyous for her. Water hits the walls and floor.
‘Enough!’ Claire is laughing also. Echo grins. She pats a wet hand on Claire’s cheek.
‘Nom,’ she says, decisively.
‘I am a bit peckish, now that you mention it.’

And a little apology: for I have not been as busy visiting other A-Z challenge folks as I would have liked: life is somewhat bowled over right now: if you have dropped by and left a comment I will get around to returning the favour! 

Monday, 15 April 2013


The dog pack springs apart at the field entrance, scatters out in separate paths, fascinated by smells of ground and air.
Claire watches Flooper follow Brasso. He is starting to get braver, even runs to chase a scent by himself; briefly, but this is how it starts, how they rehabilitate, how suddenly things can change, just that littlest shift of attitude.
‘Woff!’ Echo waves.
‘Walk?’ Claire lowers the little chatterbox. They hold hands, and the child stands close as Lady returns, licks Echo’s hair, trots off.
‘Woff, woff, woff!’ Echo squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her head, smiles back at Claire. Hand in hand they follow the dogs, and the dogs follow the stories of scent that they can read from wind or earth. They know everything that has passed. The afternoon sun eases down, makes bold tree shapes, shapes that move and shift, animate the field stories.
Dimsum is the first to squat. Claire pulls a poo-bag from her back pocket.
‘Foo-ey!’ She says to Echo.
‘Foo,’ Echo agrees.
They make several trips to the stinking dustbin by the field gate.
‘Just part of life my dear,’ Claire explains; ‘dealing with the poo.’

Saturday, 13 April 2013


A-Z Part L
Tied but not fettered

The warmth of the afternoon is densely packed, cosy. Echo rests her head on Claire’s shoulder.
‘You are still kind of heavy to carry,’ Claire tells her.
Echo huffs, as though this is of no real importance. The wind drops, everything holds still in the sturdy heat. Barking dogs break the spell. Claire lowers Echo to ground level.
‘You can do some walking,’ she tells her, ‘at least until the dogs are out.’
Echo takes hold of her hand, leads confidently back up the path until distracted by the sun sifting through the wide leaves of a tree. Echo reaches her hands towards it, palms up, fingers splayed. She tilts her hands, emulates the leaves gentle lilt. Claire feels a pull of affection for the gesturing child.
Heartstrings, she thinks; this is where the word comes from. An invisible tie between lives; only there’s nothing fettered about it. Connective. It’s connective.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Know Name

Part K of the A-Z story challenge... 
In which some identity (and other stuff) is cleared up... 

She is putting the dried dishes away when she hears the child stir. It is sliding feet-first off the sofa, pulling a face.
‘Oh!’ Claire says. ‘Nappy! Now what? Improvise!’ She looks around the kitchen, plucks a first aid tin from an open cupboard. ‘This might work,’ she tells the child, who stands, uncomfortably, waiting for a solution to arrive. ‘To the bathroom!’
‘Ugh!’ the child reiterates, and peers over the edge of the bath.
‘This might be a learning curve, okay,’ Claire admits.
The child eyes items on the bath rack. Claire unpeels the tabs. There is some kind of liner inside, which she manages to catch all the contents in.
 ‘Good thing we had lunch already, or I might be a bit off my food now. You actually make a worse stink than the dogs, did you know that? Pooey!’
The child laughs. ‘Foo!’
‘Foo-ey, young lady,’ Claire agrees. ‘I think that can go in the outside bin. At least now I can call you she or young lady, not it, eh?’
She looks through the tin, finds an absorbent dressing pad and some tape. While the child puzzles over a closed soap dish, Claire wipes, wraps and sticks.
‘There,’ she says, ‘You are contained!’
The soap dish is lobbed into the bath, where it bursts open. The child shrieks delight.
‘Celebrations all round!’ Claire gathers the clothes back up. She checks for labels but there is no clue of a name.
‘I should call you something,’ she frowns. ‘No idea what. Stinky seems a bit mean, eh? Anyway, let’s get you dressed.’
The child regards her with interest. She submits to being pulled back into clothes.
‘Foo-ey pooey!’ Claire keeps the noise distraction going.
‘You catch on quick: meow, woof, fooey pooey!’
‘Woff foo!’ The legs in the miniature jeans bend and straighten in a sort of dance.
Claire takes this to denote excitement.
‘Happy little echo,’ she says. ‘That’s what I’ll call you. Echo.’
‘Mow!’ The dance returns.
Claire holds her hands out towards little Echo, who holds up her arms, is picked up.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Just A Moment

A-Z Part J:
In which a splash becomes most reflective

Tap water refracts from each plate, splashes the draining board, the dry dishes not yet put away, the windowsill, Claire’s t-shirt. Lines of droplets race down the windowpane. Claire lets them run to conclusion before she wipes the cloth over. She looks out at the precise shadows playing on the ground under the ash tree. The sun, as she understands it, is a sphere of burning gas. Not poetic sounding. But she thinks of how fire burns in a grate, the hiss and twist of escaping gases, the unexpected colours, how ornate and snaky. She sweeps the floor, unsure of when the softly snoring cherub will awake. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

In The House

The A-Z segmented story: Part I (as in the letter not the Roman numeral.)
In which some further sandwiches and mess occur.  

In the house, Claire lowers her little guest to the sofa.
‘Half a sandwich wasn’t quite enough lunch for me: more cheese for you?’ She walks through to the kitchen, opens the fridge; hears an enthusiastic ‘Ah!’
‘More cheese it is.’ Four slices of wholewheat make a square of squares on the wooden chopping board.
Slices of cheese are pressed onto dots of butter.
‘We’ll eat in now. Don’t share yours with the cat this time, or the floor. I’ll put some water in a cup. Can you use a cup? I have seen things like cups, I think, for little ones, with lids and spouts.’
The child resumes its original solemn faced stare.
‘Well, we’ll soon find out, eh?’ Claire brings the slender feast to the front room on a tin tray.
The cup of water is taken in two chubby hands. Most of it seems to be washing the child’s neck.
‘Ahh!’ Lips are smacked. Claire concludes that enough liquid has been consumed.
‘Good work, kid,’ she admires. She sits adjacent on the sofa, puts a plate on each lap.
‘Nom nom sandwich.’
‘Yeah, the dogs like sandwiches too.’
Eating and drinking go much the same for the child; some goes inside, much is used as decoration.
‘You look like an action painting,’ Claire tells it.
Child looks at her, watches her eat. It holds a triangle of sandwich up to show her.
‘Cheese for you,’ Claire explains, ‘Cheese and lettuce for me. We’ll be more serious about the diet tomorrow, eh?’
‘Nom nom.’ The displayed triangle is swiped over the face.
‘Action painting,’ Claire repeats. ‘It’s a bit revolting, to be honest.’ She smiles. ‘But I pick up poo, right? I’m not squeamish, lucky for you. Lucky for me too, since I’m trying to eat a sandwich.’
On the child’s plate is a rejected squeeze of dough.
‘Enough for you?’ Claire asks. Her guest sighs, leans back on a cushion. ‘Are you tired?’
Half closed eyes answer. With one further sigh, the child curls onto its side and is completely asleep.
‘Oh,’ Claire says.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


A-Z story: Part H
Oh, those crazy dogs! 

The dogs leap up when Claire appears, expecting play. The child clings to her.
‘It’s okay,’ she says, to the toddler and the throng of animals. The hems of the miniature jeans are soon wet from damp noses and tongues.
‘Not now; not now; come on, every one out in the pen!’
The child clings, though curiosity compels her from hiding. She peeks at the bouncing hounds, shrinks, repeats the process. In the pen the dogs fetch toys. Claire kicks a football.
‘Woof,’ she says, ‘see, little one- they are bonkers but they are fun, eh?’
The child observes.
‘Fetch!’ Claire commands. Brasso dutifully retrieves the ball, holds it up, importantly, pushes through the pack. Claire takes it.  ‘Ready?’ She steadies the child. ‘One, two, three, THROW!’
The child gasps, eyes cartoon wide.
‘That’s Blunder, the clumsy one,’ she points; ‘Caribou, chunky; Dimsum, short; Brasso, bossy, Lady, intelligent; Wellington, hmm, lollopy; then there’s Flooper, the newest. Cries in his sleep. ’
Brasso brings back the ball.
The child gawps at her.
‘One, two, three, THROW!’
The little mouth drops open; one arm mimics the throw.
‘We’re playing with the dogs. Woof woof! Throw the ball!’ The dogs scramble.
 ‘Good boy, Caribou: drop.’
He relinquishes his hold. He is the colour of fine damp sand.
‘This is fun,’ Claire says, crouching down to pick the ball up, ‘but my arms need a rest. One more throw. Ready?’
The child bites its lip, nods.
‘One, two, three: THROW!’
The dogs sprint in pursuit, while Claire carries the child towards the house. The child fixes its eyes on the dogs.
‘Woff,’ it whispers.