grey clouds gather
and conspire to make the sky weep
as their darkness eats the day
the water falls
as we raise our faces
we let the rain
soak us and run down our cheeks
It’s funny how things can tootle along in your life and all becomes predictable, mundane, and comfortingly boring and familiar. Everything happens as it should and, with one or two variations, all is well with the world.
And then one little event can make your life as you know it fall on its arse and everything goes tits up. If you’ll pardon my French.
Almost three weeks ago all was well with my own little world: children were doing well at school and looking forward to the end of term; the weather was warm and summer had moved into the UK for a while; Mr J was successful in work and money wasn’t as much of an issue in our lives as it had been previously… well, you get the picture.
I went to a friend’s house for a bit of a soiree (do people still use that word?) with some old friends. It was a lovely evening. Thoroughly enjoyable. Until I was involved in an accident with fire resulting in a hospital stay, surgery and a lengthy recovery.
Not only that, but during my stay in hospital (accompanied by completely self-indulgent plunges into the very depths of self-pity… pet lip and everything), my children broke up from school, my youngest child left his nursery days behind him, my husband was made redundant from work and promptly started up his own business and my in-laws temporarily set up camp in my house.
So, a little warning for you: don’t ever believe that your life will tootle along, unmolested by the Universe and fate and the stars and shit. If the Universe spots you in a smug, complacent, bored moment, it will pounce! It will take your life, scrunch it up in a ball, and jump on it repeatedly until it bears little resemblance to what it previously was. That’s not to say that the end result is always bad, but it will be… different. And different can take some getting used to.
Screwing up your face in twisted, childish anger,
you yell, “Go away!”
I’ve upset you – “bigly,”
Frustrated water gathers in your eyes
and drops onto your Bob the Builder T-shirt,
leaving a spreading, dark stain on a yellow hard hat.
You rage in the emotion
and you tell me you’re cross.
You shout your angry words,
and let them fly, like darts,
across the room
towards their target:
I catch them and treasure them.
They are your words,
It’s your anger
And it’s precious.
Pride and joy.
You discover that you feel.
You are emerging.
You will love me again in ten
minutes time –
Here there are all walks of death,
all kinds of lives,
all from the past
but recorded for the living
to look and ponder
see and wonder.
No one mourns.
Those who would are long gone,
in graves of their own
with their own inscriptions:
sons of, daughters of, loving wives of…
And even their relations now are gone,
though perhaps they have mourners still
But here, these deaths and lives
are long forgotten.
Except, perhaps, this one:
a tiny arched stone above a tiny
barely there, both.
No trace of flowers once left,
no yellowed stems
or greying, frayed ribbons
trodden into mud and weeds.
Just a name inscribed:
A date of birth and one of death,
not too far apart,
this babe died in 1949
so I wonder,
does anyone come to mourn this one?
Mother Maisie? Father John?
Or are they too gone?
Leaving Emily May alone
Surrounded by old, dead people
under the wet earth
and a few who walk, living,
looking at faded etchings on
old grey stones
trying, at least, to mourn.
Silk and lacer
“See you later”
Watch him leaving
To be honest, I usually manage to block out the peripheral noise of old aged pensioners’ gossip punctuated by the sporadic gurgling and clunking of coffee machines, crockery clanking, and spotty, youthful staff loudly yawning. My occasional Friday morning trips to a local coffee shop (swanky by our town’s standards) are generally treated as that ever-elusive “me time”: a couple of hours to sit and drink (surprisingly) good coffee, nibble on some toast, write a few notes or simply just sit and read a newspaper or a novel, doesn’t matter which. The point is, it is my time; quiet, just me.
I have come to cherish these rare trips away from my usual morning domesticity. As a rule of my own making, each weekday morning I deliver all three little Jameslings to school/nursery and then race home to cram as many mumsy tasks into two child-free hours as possible. I make up four beds, zip from room to room gathering up discarded dirty laundry, picking up and putting away stray toys, returning damp towels to drying rails and removing remnants of breakfast from various “drop zones.” I dust, vacuum, polish, sweep, scrub, wipe down and tidy any room potentially available to surprise callers and then chop, grate, slice, brown and chuck stuff into the slow cooker. Occasionally I iron. Two hours to do the lot and then off I go to pick up the youngest Jamesling from nursery. It works, this routine of mine, and although I rarely feel wholesome for doing it, I often feel like I’m being a proper mum and fulfilling my role efficiently and therefore no one has nowt to moan about.
However, Friday mornings are often decadently spent in selfish indulgence ie I go for a coffee straight from the school run. All alone. Just me. Nothing much to get excited about, you may think, but if you, like me, spent most of your time chasing after small people to feed, play, referee, chastise or wipe snotty noses; or cooking, washing up, laundry; or just answering over and over again to “Muuuummmmeeeeee!” which is on a permanent loop, or “Ameeeliaaa! Where’s my socks/shirt/dinner/car keys/children?”…. well, you too would welcome two hours on your ownsome with a couple of lattes and a slice of toast. I love my family muchly, but time-out is important for the continued health of them and sanity of me.
So, off I go to the little marina coffee shop which, incidentally, is a bar by night for those lucky buggers who are able to socialise after 5pm. It has dim lighting, subtle jazz music playing softly in the background and student types with floppy hair serving the coffee. It has comfy chairs and newspapers. It’s relaxing and comfortable and peaceful and haven-like and a little treat somewhere in the middle of the end of a fraught week and the beginning of a fraught weekend.
It also has pensioners.
As I mentioned up there somewhere, when I’m in coffee-shop mode I’m able to close myself off to the background noise that buzzes softly through the place, and I can quite happily lose myself in my notes or my reading or even my flirty texting with my husband. I can block out the general hum of the place because none of the little noises are made by my children and therefore my involvement in any way, shape or form, is unnecessary, unrequired and possibly unwelcome. This suits me just fine.
Until yesterday morning.
I’d only eaten one half of a slice of toast when, from behind, I half heard a sharp, slightly raspy female voice say, “medieval gold prospector, nine letters, ending in t. What is it?” I ignored the voice as I figured that I hadn’t been part of any conversation about medieval gold prospectors or anything else with anyone at all, ergo the strange comment couldn’t have possibly been directed at me.
“You,” the voice said, and my chair was nudged from behind. “Do you know?” I turned to see a thin, lined face, ice grey eyes glaring at me from over the top of quite modern glasses (too trendy for the old face on which they sat) and from underneath eyebrows that had been forced mercilessly through a pencil sharpener, and a puckered mouth shut tight for added sternness.
“Er,” I said.
“I’ve only a few to get in,” she said. On further inspection, I noticed that the old lady had a pen in her hand and a folded newspaper on the table in front of her. Ah. Crossword. Well, that cleared up one little conundrum. “It ends in t,” she reminded me and I immediately began trying to remember the rest of the clue. Gold. There was gold in it somewhere. Gold and a letter t. She was a scary lady and was still glaring at me icily so I didn’t feel like asking her for the whole thing again. She looked like she expected an answer and would do something spiteful and old lady-ish if I didn’t provide one. Perhaps she’d give me a vicious spit-wash or make me suck a three year old Worther’s Original or something. Anyway, I put on what I thought was my Helpful Face (a kind of frowning concern that makes me look painfully constipated) and thought some more about gold, all the while watching for her shooting sharply from the hip with a well-aimed boiled sweet.
“Gold,” I mused aloud. “Alchemist,” I then said – admittedly with pride.
“Whassat?” said she.
“Alchemist,” said I, nodding at her encouragingly.
“Who?” she demanded with malice and I shifted uncomfortably in my previously comfy chair as she intensified her stare and her sharpened eyebrows rearranged themselves into what would have been a puzzled stance had they not been so thin and pointy.
“Erm… alchemist. They were kind of medieval… chemists,” gulp, “who tried to turn stuff into gold.”
“Never heard of him,” she spat, eyeing me with suspicion. My palms were sweating by now and I withered under the woman’s gaze. I needed a wee.
“Spell it,” she demanded. I did. “It fits!” she cried, incredulously.
“Um, yes,” I said, and smiled weakly, looking for approval from this rude old lady who had intruded upon my morning. I didn’t quite know what to do next, to be honest. I didn’t dare turn around to my own table. Nor did I really still want to be staring at this odd little person who by now had stopped glaring at me and was studiously engrossed in her crossword. Evidently, she’d done with me. I shrank in my chair, at once knowing that my usefulness to this lady’s life was currently at an end and, bizarrely, feeling a little abandoned. I’d been unceremoniously dumped by a rude octogenarian. Does life get any lower?
I hesitantly turned back to my breakfast, feeling used and lonely. Generously, I mused that when one gets to her age one does not have time for pleasantries or good manners and must just get on with sucking up as much life as possible out of every living minute. That, I reassured myself, would account for her lack of “thank you.”
Settling back into my latte and resuming my peaceful, lone activities, I was startled by yet another aged voice. “MorningJoanI’llhavestrongtea,” it rattled out in one breath. Joan (my old lady, it turns out) returned a pointy “Mornin’, Katy,” as her companion seated herself, her stick, her shopping bag, her brolly, her raincoat and, probably, a bag of boiled sweets. The conversation that followed was as odd as Alchemistgate, though slightly more endearing.
Joan: “I won’t be seeing you for three weeks after today.”
Katy: “Why? Where are you going?”
Joan: “I’m not going anywhere, you lemon. You’re going on holiday.”
Katy: “I am? Oh, I am.”
Pause for tea-slurping.
Katy: “I’m going for three weeks then, am I?”
Joan: “You are.”
Joan: “I’ve finished the crossword.”
(Audible gasp from me. Bloody cheek!)
Katy: “Here comes Jim.”
Enter sprightly old man.
Jim: “Morning ladies!”
Joan: “Order cake.”
Jim: “Katy, I won’t be seeing you for a while. Will we have cake?”
Katy: “Oh, you going away?”
Joan: “Not with cream, it repeats on me.”
Jim: “No, I’ve just got here.”
Katy: “Good. Sit down then and have some tea. Why don’t we have cake?”
Joan: “I’ll have a muffin.”
Katy: “I’m off on me holidays. How long am I going for, Joan?”
Joan: “Three weeks. Jim, you having a caffeechino?”
Katy: “I didn’t finish mine. Couldn’t get seven down.”
Jim: “I’ll have a scone. Joan, you having a cream cake?”
Katy: “It repeats on her. It ended with a t and could I hell get it?”
Joan: “I’ll have a muffin. Alchemist. It repeats on me.”
And on and on this went until I could bear it no longer. I gathered up my belongings, settled my bill and, head down, I hurried out of the coffee shop as swiftly as possible. I didn’t get much work done, didn’t do much reading, didn’t enjoy much peace and quiet, but I can’t wait for next week… though I’ll miss Katy; she’ll be away for three weeks, dontcherknow.