I fill letters home with tales of a happier me: a young woman sitting in the shade on her balcony, trying to read a children’s book in Greek, and nodding “Kalimera” at the neighbour opposite, who is hanging out her washing and admiring our tomato plants. There’s no place for the flatmate tending to his marijuana plants strategically placed between them.
That same young woman spends mornings wafting around the old town of Plaka, walking in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks, sometimes wandering over the Agora and all the way up the steep hill to the Parthenon. She would swear she hears the whispers of great men down through the ages. In reality, the men are not remotely great but oily of hair and soiled of shirt and they sidle up to me as I slowly slalom my way through them and their invitations to ‘take a coffee’. Read more
When the first mist ribbon had snaked its way out of the forest and wrapped itself around their Saab on the road from Gothenburg, he understood how you could feel at home in a place for the first time in his life.
Like being on one of those paths that only last for a limited time in fairy tales, before disappearing for another hundred years, here he was escaping the chaos and disappointment of his old life, hoping it would vanish into the mists like the road behind him.
He wouldn’t be scattering any breadcrumbs to find his way back.
For writers’ group this month we had ‘time capsule’ as our prompt and this got me looking around my office and thinking about what I would choose to put into one. In the end, I decided that I’d want to put in the one thing you can’t always hold onto – MEMORIES – but that can come back to you through a smell or an object that nudges you into remembering. Here’s the poem that came out of that:
You gave me this
When I was a child
Do you remember?
Efthalia noticed the changes on her walk to the market that day. The worst potholes in the road had been filled in with great clods of earth, grass, roots and all. She almost stumbled on its evenness. Cratered for as long as she could remember, she’d often found her way home through the ruts and swells of the road in the dark, even when there was no moon to see by.
As she reached the outskirts of town, a new handwritten sign greeted her. Bright blue and orange paint on glaring white matt screamed “Welcome to Potirissi”. You’d only know we were in Greece, thought Thalia, by the wobbly waving flags in the four corners of the sign. How depressing. Read more
“It’s over. I can’t see you anymore,” Lucy had said to him over the phone. “Not now it’s summer.”
What does that have to do with anything?” he’d said to the dialling tone.
He looked out of the window at the park opposite his flat and saw nothing but couples and families. He put his palm flat on the glass and tried to picture himself sitting on a bench, tucked away in the rose garden, carefully peeling an orange where the citrus tangs wouldn’t make people wrinkle their noses as much as they do on a bus or a train. But that reminded him of her shampoo and suddenly what he imagined instead was Lucy in a summer dress, coming along the path hand in hand with a tall faceless man in good jeans and proper shoes, not trainers. She was laughing and pulling him along, chasing the butterflies flitting from pink to white to yellow before taking off out over the lake.
So, she was already seeing someone else. In his park. Read more
He dislikes lying to matron. She is, after all, a decent enough person. But if he told her the truth, she would never let him go. She would probably force him to join in more of the activities at the nursing home. He thinks activities a strange choice of word when the home only really has a dimly-lit television lounge, a large, light sitting room filled with green high-backed chairs and another activities area with card tables and board games.
Bill spends his time meandering between these three rooms in the daytime, sitting for a while, watching and listening, before he moves on. He suffers the odd game of draughts or chess with one of his fellow inmates, listening to their wheezing chest, whistling nose or slapping jaws. He dreads an invite to the TV room, as it means enduring the soaps or talk shows that dominate the schedules.
Despite the constant noise around him, of television, nursing staff, coughs, moans and clicking joints, he sometimes finds the silence of his world suffocating. If it is warm enough, he likes to sit on a bench in the garden. He chooses one halfway across the lawn under some birch trees where he sits and listens to the leaves rustling overhead and the wood pigeon’s plaintive call.
He used to like Sundays, the main day for visitors at the home. Not that anyone ever visits him. His friends are either too frail to travel or gone now. He has no children of his own, only nieces and nephews. They send cards at Christmas and on his birthday but they don’t visit. He used to hover nearby when others had visitors, surreptitiously sharing in their conversation and family. That was until one woman complained and he was told not to bother people any more, which had annoyed him. It’s not as if he’d been doing any harm.
Now he dislikes Sundays most of all. In order to avoid them, he has to lie to matron. He doesn’t like doing it but every last Sunday of the month, he visits his old friend Jim Harris in the seaside town where they used to live. Jim is too frail to travel to see Bill. That’s what he tells matron anyway. So she allows him a day pass once a month and he gets the train on his own. To see Jim. He enjoys those visits but is finding them harder. His body aches for a week now after making the trip and he wonders how long he can continue his jaunts.
When his train pulls in at the station, he opens the door and stands for a moment on the step, inhaling the salt air and smell of grease from the chip shop. Those behind him expect him to take his time getting off the train. Those getting on wait awkwardly, not knowing whether or not to help him off. He walks towards the esplanade and sits for a while on a bench, watching the waves rise and fall. If the weather is bad, he doesn’t stop but instead walks on past the arcades and gift shops until he reaches the bright green and orange canopy of the restaurant.
He always chooses a table at the back, looking out over the restaurant and onto the seafront beyond. To his right is the bar and to the left the kitchens. He knows the menu verbatim but he and the Head Waiter go through the ritual of him studying it each time. He sucks on a bread stick, as he considers the choices. He reads the Italian first, pronouncing it perfectly in his head, then savours the description in English underneath.
It is busy today and he eats even more slowly than usual. He hears laughter and the crack of one of those tiresome party poppers: he guesses they are a hen weekend from their high heels, bare legs and short skirts. He is distracted by a squeal as sundae glasses of multi-coloured ice-cream sail towards another party, a family this time. One of the ices has a sparkler in it for the birthday girl with flushed cheeks, cowering in the middle of the table. To his right, he can hear a father rasping commands to a child, sit up, finish your pizza, stop banging the table leg, or we leave right now and go home. A line or two of ‘O sole mio’ rises in a crescendo from a table of lads by the window. He watches the waiter collect their glasses, smiling patiently and bowing his head when they finish, before moving off towards the bar.
At the other window table sits a young couple: she has long blonde hair that she flicks over her shoulders while she talks; her skin is pale and clear and squeezed into a one-shouldered black top; he sits forward awkwardly in a stiff grey shirt and scuffs his feet while he talks. The first date in a proper restaurant, Bill thinks. Her nervous giggle ripples through the restaurant and his embarrassed cough gives them away as the children they still are.
Bill orders an espresso at the end of his meal, although he knows he will pay for it later. He has had such a good evening of people-watching that he feels like rebelling. There will be another month of insipid tea when he gets back to the home. He thinks he deserves a treat. He pockets the mints for the train ride home. The coffee is sharp and hot, so he lets it cool off, as he watches the parties break up and tables clear. Jim would like it here, he thinks to himself. He realises that he has hardly given poor old Jim a thought this evening. But this would be Jim’s kind of place, he is sure. That is, it would be, if Jim actually existed.
All I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of weeks is the rewrites on my work novel, Love & Freedom, which comes out on 1 June 2011. Rewrites, rewrites, rewrites, REWRITES.
Rewrites or editing or polishing or revisions – they come under several titles but they’re an inevitable part of a writer’s life. As soon as your work comes under the scrutiny of a fresh pair of eyes, every scamped piece of research, saggy bit, hole in the plot or break in the continuity might as well be highlighted in neon pink. To the fresh pair of eyes, that is, not to you – or you’d put it right before you sent it in.
Hello! It’s Squizzey here. I’m Kaff’s muse, pal, nutty special someone, a well cool dude, and head of the squirrel crew behind The Nut Press. I’m taking over the blog today as part of The Significant Other Blogfest. (Check out the link for everyone else taking part – I mean, obviously no one else has a Significant Other as cool and hip as me, but they’re probably all quite lovely and might have something interesting to say.) Happily, it’s also Squirrel Appreciation Day, so it’s only right and proper that it should all be about ME today!
Kaff has another Significant Other but he was too busy (read: scared) to take over Kaff’s blog and, anyway, he’s nowhere near as Significant as me. (You know it’s true, mate.)
So… I guess you all want to know what it’s like living with Kaff the writer, or Kaff the Faff, as I affectionately like to call her. Honestly, if she spent less time on Twitter, she’d have written many more books than the 1½ she’s actually done to date. In fact, if you reckon 12 words to every tweet and count up all her tweets…
Anyway, generally life isn’t too bad with Kaff, you know. I do okay. I have a deluxe hammock on her desk, where I spend most of my time being her muse. Kaff calls this napping and snoring loudly, but she doesn’t really understand what it is that I do. I’m hoping she’ll get this one day soon, especially as she’s writing a book about me.
She’s very squirrel-friendly when it comes to snacking – which she does a lot! – so I rarely go short of nuts or chocolate. I mean, don’t get me wrong, a squirrel can never have too many of those, but I get by. And, in the evening, we often get a glass of yummy amaretto, as a reward for a hard day’s tweeting… erm, I mean, writing! Yes, writing.
Every so often, Kaff takes me interesting places where I meet her much more glamorous writer pals and they’re lovely to me. They adore me just the right amount without calling me cute or anything icky like that. Last year, I got to meet lots of new writer pals, like Caroline Smailes, D J Kirkby, Talli Roland, Miranda Dickinson, Tamsyn Murray and Rebecca Emin. I had to giggle but when we were at Miranda Dickinson’s launch for Welcome to my Worldin November, someone came up to Kaff and asked her if she was the Squirrel Lady? I nearly fell into my cupcake, I was laughing so hard!
She’s going to have to get used to that, though. Especially as I’m hoping to have at least an ebook out this year. The Adventures of Squizzey. Part One in my decalogy. It’s going to be fab. Lots of nuttiness and the adventures of a super, sexy hero – ME! I just hope Kaff finishes it in time because, quite honestly, I don’t think she’s taking my book that seriously. She keeps referring to it as something fun or a side project when I think we all know that it’s the main event that everyone’s waiting to read. She completely abandoned it and me during NaNoWriMo to write something else. Can you believe it?! I still haven’t forgiven her for making a NaNo Squidow of me last November. That was no fun, at all. I was kicking my paws, really lonely and hungry a lot of time, because she was so caught up in her ‘new’ book. Booooooooooring. It’ll never sell. So, do me a favour? If you see her or speak to her or (more likely) tweet her… Tell her to PLEASE FINISH MY BOOK!! Thank you.