Sunday, 26 October 2014

Stardust

(a Grandmama story)

Evening and quite dark, Grandmama looks out the kitchen window. 'Oh dear,' she says and Hugo and Daddy look too. 'Oh dear, I seem to have left the washing out and now it's so cold and so very black out there.'

'We better not leave it. Next door were building a bonfire earlier this afternoon, I heard the chainsaw,' Daddy says. 'I'll fetch it in.' Daddy grabs an old cardigan that belongs to Grandmama and puts it on, and unlocks the back door. Both Hugo and Daddy step out into the darkness with just the light from the kitchen to help them get across the patio and down to the lawn, the whirly washing line.

Hugo looks up at the clear night sky, the sharp dots of stars and planets. 'They are our ancient mothers and fathers,' Hugo says, 'isn't that right Daddy?'

'Yes, quite right,' Daddy says, fumbling with the cold clothes and handing Hugo the pegs to put in the peg bag. 'We are, like the song says, we are stardust.'

'Our hair and teeth and bones, maybe,' Hugo says. 'But not every tiny bit of us.'

'Hmmm, well now,' Daddy says. And shakes a pair of crumbled trousers. 'These things we take for granted,' he says.

'Do we all come from stardust, all people, or just some people? And if just some people then what about the other people? And, well what about people who are more special than other people?' Hugo asks and looks over the fence to see if he can see the neighbours starting their bonfire but it is so dark, he cannot see anything or anyone.

Daddy lifts up the filled laundry basket. 'Yes, my brother Allen, perhaps I should tell you Hugo, about your Uncle Allen.'

Hugo shrugs but of course Daddy cannot see the shrug so Hugo says, 'I do remember I have an Uncle Allen. He's your brother, three years younger. He has sticky-out ears and talks on the radio about classical music. You don't like him very much, do you Daddy?'

They go into the kitchen. Mumski is in the kitchen now, helping Grandmama with her crossword.

'Hugo, there's something you should know about your Uncle Allen,' Daddy says, locking the back door.

'What about Allen?' Mumski says. 'Have you heard anything from him lately?'

Daddy sighs, a deep, irritated sigh. Just then a firework goes off, very close to the house and there is a flash of green light in the window.

'Burning money,' Grandmama says. 'And it isn't even November yet.'

'Quite, quite,' Daddy says.

Hugo washes his hands to get them warm. He likes the feel of Grandmama's favourite hand soap and covers his hands with thick, slimy soap. 'What about Uncle Allen?' Hugo says.

'My brother Allen telephoned me at work today and told me he is no longer Allen,' Daddy says.

'How does that work?' Mumski says.

'Anyone can change their name,' Grandmama says. 'But a leopard is a leopard.'

'Well my brother is now part of a group that does not recognise individual names as given by parents. No, apparently he's joined a group of some kind, a living together and sharing it together sort of group, and is now known as H. The H does not stand for anything but makes him the eighth person.'

'He's joined a cult?' Mumski says, putting down her pen and staring at Daddy. 'But you have to do something, he's your younger brother! Your parents would be so very worried about him. Good job they're not alive really, in a way.'

Daddy shakes his head and finds a bottle of wine in the cupboard. 'He's quit his job with the BBC,' Daddy says, 'such a loss for them. Goodness knows what he's going to live on. He's moving but he doesn't know where to just yet. He called to say he'll send a postcard when he gets there.'

'Perhaps he'll be happier now,' Grandmama says. 'I never thought he had a happy sort of voice. On the radio, that is. I remember him at your wedding. Dressed in a fur coat. He stuffed his pockets with cake and then drove off in a red car, with a woman he had only just met.'

Hugo rinses his hands and dries them carefully. He looks out the window to see the tail of a pale firework. Smoke is now blowing over into the garden. 'They lit the bonfire,' Hugo says, 'looks like it.'

'I think we'll talk about Allen some other time,' Daddy says, pouring the wine.

'May I have a drop?' Hugo asks.

'Only at Sunday lunch and Christmas, Hugo,' Daddy says and takes up his glass and swills the wine around in his mouth. 'Time for bed, Hugo!'

Hugo goes upstairs to the bedroom he shares with his brothers. Jupp and Lucas are asleep. Hugo changes into his pyjamas, standing in the doorway to see by the landing light. He thinks about Uncle Allen running away and not being Uncle Allen any more. We are all stardust, Hugo thinks, getting into bed, but some of us are a sticky sort of stardust that rubs on to things and makes people remember them. Then there are people made of dim stardust that does not shine very much, no matter how much they wash their hair. Some people don't think they are stardust and then they stop being it, which makes them sad. What kind of stardust am I? Hugo wonders, he rolls over on to his belly and feels the cold of his bed and listens to his brothers breathing deeply. What sort of stardust can I be?


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Pyjamas

(a Grandmama story)

A weekend of cold rain and the family are all together in the front room. The children are wearing their pyjamas. Daddy is wearing a new fair isle tank top that Grandmama knitted, it is a little tight around the armholes and every so often he makes a small groaning noise and scratches under his arms. He is reading a book full of stories that are not suitable for younger eyes. This makes Hugo want to lean over Daddy's shoulder and then Hugo thinks: I reckon Daddy is reading something that is quite suitable, he just wants to see us peeking. Mumski and Gretel are making baskets using paper straws, spreading their work across the carpet. Grandmama is knitting everyone blue socks, she has her own magic knitting pattern: what starts out flat ends up round and comfy. Lucas and Jupp are building with wooden bricks, smashing the bricks with old cars that used to be Daddy's when he was a little boy. The metal cars have only chips and scuffs of paint left on them, just patches of bright green, dull green or pink.

'Was this car really pink, once upon a time?' Jupp asks Daddy.

Daddy scratches his beard, does not look up from his book. Jupp knocks down a tower of bricks to start again. Hugo is watching everyone because someone has to be the watcher of the family. Hugo is not much a of a doer, he considers himself better at watching. He leans ever so slightly so that he might see over Daddy's shoulder, but the words are a blur. A jazz lady called Etta is singing on the record player.

'Don't you want to go into the garage and play your saxophone?' Hugo asks Daddy.

Daddy scratches his beard, groans, scratches under his arms, turns a page of his book. Gretel sits with her back toward Hugo and now he can see his sister has recently cut another clump of hair from the top of her head. He knows what she does. He has seen the clumps. She is collecting the hair in a pillowcase that she keeps beneath her bed. All he wants to do is ask: why do you take the scissors from the kitchen, why cut your brown hair so that it is ugly? But it seems like this is something precious, and Gretel is too fragile to be questioned. He does not want to make her cry, or worse, angry. So now their are tufty bits of hair standing up and the rest of her hair is silky-long. Perhaps the grown-ups have noticed this. Maybe this is something all girls do. Now Gretel turns her head and looks at Hugo with a dark little frown, as if she knows he is thinking about her too much.

There is a knock at the front door. No one else moves, so Hugo gets up. Looking through the frosted glass Hugo sees a thin man sort of shape; he opens the door. The man is young and dressed in warm dark clothes, and has fingerless gloves and tanned skin. He is holding a basket full of little tins.

'Mrs Wychwood, is she here, inside?' the man asks. 'Got the shoe polish she likes, always likes at least three tins. The best stuff, from Czechoslav-er, far away, where they make it. It's premium. It's made with the best travelling hands.'

'Shoe polish, Arthur?' Grandmama says from behind Hugo. She must have crept up behind him.

'Yes Mrs Wychwood,' Arthur says. 'Best premium. You want at least a few?'

Hugo steps to one side and allows Grandmama to lean closer, to inspect the basket of tins. 'On a Sunday? I am a little surprised at you for knocking on doors on a Sunday.'

'It's a Saturday, though pardon me for the correcting dear madam,' Arthur says and bows his head and smirks.

'Run along and fetch my handbag,' Grandmama says to Hugo and he does as he is told. When he returns with Grandmama's handbag she thanks him and takes a five pound note from her purse. This seems like an awful lot of money for shoe polish. She hands the note to Arthur and he says something about everyone in the house being blessed with good health and wealth. Then he turns down the garden path, stops halfway, jumps over the hedge into next door's path. Grandmama closes the door and puts a finger to her lips. This tells Hugo he must not tell about the shoe polish. She puts the little tins in a kitchen cupboard and suggests to Hugo he helps her make lunch, but Hugo says they have already had lunch.

'I'm losing track of tide and time,' Grandmama says, looking out at the dim, wet day. 'It's this awful weather and the terrible problems of the world.' She opens the larder, takes out a fairy cake and puts it in her pocket. 'Knitting makes me peckish,' she says. She offers Hugo a cake but suggests he eats it quickly or else everyone else will want one and then there will be none for tea-time. Hugo does not like to suggest it might be tea-time anyway.

'Who was that, at the door?' Mumski asks when Grandmama and Hugo return to the front room.

'The wind, blowing, again,' Grandmama says and winks at Hugo and takes up her blue knitting. 'Oh dear, these are coming up small. A second pair for Lucas!'

'These straws are hopelessly not behaving,' Mumski says. She clutches a handful of paper straws that bend like wilting flowers. Or perhaps they are meant to look like wilting flowers.

'What exactly are you trying to do?' Daddy asks Mumski.

'This!' Gretel says, holding up a library book with a black-and-white picture of a basket.

'But for heaven's sakes, you need the proper materials!' Daddy says. 'Willow, my dear, willow or some other pliable material. Such as - willow, yes. Not drinking straws. Have I not said before that if attempting to teach a skill you must....'

'Yes darling but we don't have willow, and Woolworths does not sell willow!' Mumski says and screws the paper straws up into a tight nest.

'Oh that looks much better!' Gretel says, snatching the nest from Mumski and holding it in her hands as if baby birds are about to appear. Daddy goes back to reading his book. Mumski starts to make another nest.

It feels cold, so Hugo moves toward the gas fire. The warmth is lovely, rushing up and down his legs and back.

'Step away from the fire, Hugo,' Daddy says without looking up from his book. 'Have I not told you before about the young boy who stood too close to gas flames and set himself on fire? I am sure, I am quite sure.'

'Was that you?' Jupp says looking up from his piles of bricks and cars. 'Was that you Daddy? You were the boy who got his pyjamas on fire weren't you?'

'Were you terribly, badly injured?" Gretel asks, wide-eyed, as if being badly injured could be somehow magical.

Daddy groans, scratches under his arms.

Lucas inserts a small red bus into his mouth. He moves it in and out, in and out. Hugo watches his youngest brother and wonders how it is Lucas is still somehow alive, has never been badly injured or lost somewhere. Perhaps that will happen to him, one day, one of those things. Not that Hugo wants any harm to come. Lucas is four now, Hugo thinks, it is time he stopped being such a baby.

'Daddy set his pyjamas on fire!' Jupp says. He swings a purple car in the air. 'Daddy was a silly billy little boy, once upon a time, don't you know! Well, well well!'

'That's quite enough of that, thank you,' Mumski says. 'You should remember your Daddy is, well, your Daddy.'

'No, no,' Daddy says and closes his book. 'The children should express - they should be allowed to comprehend and relate, Phyllida. Comprehension through story sharing, yes? And yes Jupp and yes Gretel, Hugo, Lucas - yes I was the boy who set his pyjamas on fire because I was a foolish little boy who stood too close to the gas fire. That was a nasty shock. Fortunately I was not badly injured. My pyjamas were ruined but the fire did not touch me. It was something of a miracle. Thank goodness there was a vase of flowers nearby. Otherwise, well I would not like to consider how quickly flaming flannel pyjamas can cook a boy!'

'It really did happen then?' Mumski asks.

'Yes, yes!' Daddy says, stroppy now. 'I never lie about such things. I'm not the sort of parent to make up tales for the sake of. I really did set myself on fire - and for goodness sakes Hugo please step away from the fire!'

Hugo steps away from the fire and as he does this Lucas springs toward the fire. 'My turn, my turn!' Lucas says and moves to stand close. Hugo lifts his brother - he is a solid lump of flesh. Arms full, Hugo lifts Lucas into the air so that his blue-socked feet kick at Hugo's face. Hugo feels Lucas falling out of his arms but Lucas grips around Hugo's neck and dangles. Lucas kisses Hugo's face and as much as Hugo tries to dodge the kisses he cannot stop Lucas's mouth from touching.

Hugo puts Lucas on the carpet and now Grandmama asks calmly, 'Where is that little red bus, the one you had in your mouth, Lucas dear?'

'Here it is!' Jupp says, holding the wet bus in his hand.

'Well done chaps,' Daddy says. 'Well done.'

Sunday, 12 October 2014

zine update



Thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy of my recent poetry zine 'Now You See It'. I am down to just a few copies in stock. I've received lovely and thoughtful feedback from readers near and far, people who have read my work previously and new readers - thank you.

I'm now contemplating my next small collection - as well as sending a few poems out into the 'other world' of other publications.

So I am wondering now what readers might like to see in my next small zine. Do you have any preferences? Poems working within a particular theme or a selection of recent work, or? Suggestions will be carefully considered.

Thanks for reading here.