#FlashFriday At 4am

The monster crawls out of my cupboard.  It has enormous white teeth, like a crocodile. Its eyes are red diamonds. It is going to eat me. I want Mummy, but she doesn’t come. The monster climbs up my bed.  It chews my covers. It wants me more.


She hears me this time. She climbs into bed and gives me a cuddle

“The monsters have gone,” she says. “Look, Alice is asleep. You’re safe. It’s four o’clock in the morning. Time to sleep now.”

I doze in her arms.

“What? What?” A body falls across my bed, waking me up from a dream I cannot recall. For a moment, I’m five again, and the monster is climbing the bed. Then I realise this body is human. It is heavy. It smells of alcohol and cigarettes. It is Alice. She giggles.
“Gerroff me.”
“Tripped on your bag. Shouldn’t leave bags on the floor. Interfere with stiletto heels.” She tries to rise and then falls back on me. I sit up and push her off me. I look at the clock.
“It’s 4 o’clock in the morning.”
“Sshsshshssh. Don’t tell Mum. Don’t tell Dad. SShhhsssh. Good girl. Back at midnight.Shhhshshhsh.”
“Go to bed will you? I’ve got a test in the morning.”
She staggers across the room, sinks under her covers fully clothed. I could help.  I should help. But I cannot move now. My bed is cosy and warm. She’ll be all right. I turn over and go back to sleep.
I can’t get comfortable. This bed is too small for two. His legs are too long, his torso too broad. Every time I move I cannon into another heavy limb. He’s sleeping soundly, emitting the occasional snore. He is oblivious to the movements of my body.  I glance over at his digital clock. It blinks red letters at me 4:00. I realise I am wide awake.
We haven’t drawn the curtains and a shaft of moonlight is shining on the bedside lamp. His face is in  in the shadows, but as I lie here, I can study the contours. His large Laurel ears are suggestive of imminent wiggling, even in sleep. His nose is perfectly straight until just above the nostrils. That slight wonkiness was what first drew me to his face. His lips are just the right side of fleshy. His chin, strong, but not too rigid. 
In the blurred hours between sleep and waking, the sight of him  is all the rest I need. I look at him for hours.
A wail wakes me. Again. It seems like only a moment since I put her in her cradle. My eyes will not open. My body is stiff. My night-shirt is wet with milk. Iain turns over and shoves me. 
“Baby’s crying,” he mutters. As if I didn’t know. I am screaming with tiredness. I push my body up the bed, forcing my eyelids apart. Molly is building up a storm now. I sit up, and turn to the edge of the bed.
“Mummy’s coming. I’m coming.” Useless words. All she wants is the milk, but I can’t move fast enough.
I switch on the lamp and look down at my watch. Two hours since the last feed at 2am. This child is voracious. I pick her up, and move back to the bed, plumping the pillows up with one hand. Two days ago, I’d sit and marvel at this tiny creation, her black spiky hair and little round mouth. Now, I’m just anxious to get the job done and back to sleep. I sit back down and pull her to my breast, trying to remember the midwife’s words. Make sure she has the area around the nipple in her mouth. It’s not as easy as it looks. Her mouth is wide open with her piercing shriek, but it slips off my breast. Once. Twice. Three times.
“For God’s sake,” says Iain.
“I’m trying my best.” This time she clamps hard on my nipple and draws blood. I yelp, but at least she’s on. She begins to gargle the milk down as if it is days since her last feed. Iain turns over in relief, and is soon asleep and snoring.
I, on the other hand, will be here for some time.
“MUMMY!” Oh God. It’s the third time this week.
“Your turn,” grunts Iain, I hope not triumphantly.
I stagger out of bed, wishing we hadn’t opened that third bottle. My mouth is dry. I’m going to have a hell of a hangover in the morning. Molly is sitting up in her bed, staring in terror at the wall.
“The monster. The monster. It’s climbing out at me.”
“Shh,shh.” I rock her to and fro. I’m exhausted, yet now I’m here, I love to enclose her body in mine, feel her limbs gradually relax as the dream recedes. Her hair smells lemony, her pyjamas are soft.
“You’re safe,” I say. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. Time to sleep now.”
She dozes in my arms.

FridayFlash Eye of the Storm

The forester removed the stake from the last sapling and stepped back.  For a moment, he stood looking  the tiny tree, and then on impulse  leant forward to stroke the bark. It was smooth and cool to touch.  He smiled, picked up his equipment, and  trudged back to his van.

The sapling, released from her constraints, stretched her branches to the sky – as if for the first time. It felt so good to be free from the stake that had pegged her to the ground for so long. Her leaves fluttered in the breeze, thrilling to the possibility of energy and motion.

“Finding your roots?” said the neighbouring oak – old, lumpy and misshapen.  Her branches bore the scars of lightning blasts; her bark peeled in places; fungi grew from her base.

“It’s lovely,” said the sapling. “I’ve felt so cooped up.”

The oak shook her foliage. “It’s all right now,” she said, “But, you’ll have to take care in the storms.”

“What are storms?” asked the sapling.

“Don’t you remember last winter?” asked the oak. The sapling shrugged her canopy. The oak reflected for a moment, “I suppose you were too young and have forgotten how the gale buffetted you. You were protected by that piece of wood. Now when the wind blows you will only have your trunk to help.”

 “When the wind comes, what should I do?”

“Learn to use your limbs.”


“You are not old, and bulky like me. I have strength enough, and girth enough to withstand any onslaught. But your trunk is supple and light. When the wind blows, you must bend with it. You are too slight, too young to withstand its full power. Bow with the pressure, listen to its rhythms, learn, and grow. And each time you do, you will find more strength, more will, until the wind, however strong, will pass you by.”

The sapling stilled her  branches, thinking about what she had heard. The oak seeing her seriousness, laughed.

“The winter winds are far away. Enjoy the  sunshine and the ruffling air. You are young. It is summer. That’s enough.”

The summer passed. The sapling drank from the ground. She grew several inches. Her leaves greened and grew to full size. The birds sang from her branches. The forest animals raised about her. She was young. She was happy. She was alive.

As autumn approached, she found the mornings cooler. Her leaves began to discolour. One by one, they dropped from her branches. The birds flew south. The forest animals began to hoard. She shivered in the day time and wondered where the warmth had gone.

One day, the sun did not seem to rise. Grey cloud hovered over the horizon. Strong currents began to shake her branches.

“The storm is coming, little sister,” said the oak. “Bend your branches.”

The sapling curved its body towards the oak in acknowledgment. “I’ll try.”

The wind increased. Cold and cruel from the north. It raged through the forest, blowing human rubbish in its path – a plastic bag, a toy car, a child’s hat. At first the sapling tried to stay upright. She forgot the oak’s words and pushed back at the wind in her attempt to hold her ground.  But, the force of the gale pounded her again, and again, so her bark began to flake. It pummelled the centre of her being so hard she felt that she was about to break apart. And, then, just as she thought she might give way, she remembered the oak’s words. “Bend”. She felt the litheness of her trunk, she let it slip in the wake of the wind, which pushed her so far down, the tips of her branches were touching the forest floor. It passed, she rose. But immediately it  returned. Back and forth, up and down.Again, and again. She thought it would never stop.

And then – just as suddenly as it had arrived – the wind departed. She creaked her body upright and looked about her. All around the forest floor, her siblings lay broken, their attempts to fight the wind had failed them. She turned to look at the oak, still standing, though several branches lay on the ground beneath it.

The trees bowed to each other in respect.

“Look,” said the oak. “It is morning. The forester is making his rounds.”

Brilliant Bookshops (1) – Scarthin Books, Cromford

If you’ve been following this blog (and I  hope you have), you will remember that this isn’t my first post about a bookshop. But since that post was about the incomparable Shakespeare and Company (probably the best bookshop in the world)  I think we can safely say this is my first post about other Brilliant Bookshops.

I am a big fan of books, libraries, and bookshops. In my view, a house ain’t a home unless each room is groaning under the weight of as many tomes as you can fit in without compromising your need to have furniture. If I ever get on Desert Island Discs I’ll not be taking music but as many of my favourite novels as I can pack. Husband and family would (of course) be the first to be saved in a fire, but books would have to be next. The brave new world of Kindle and all its electronic rivals fills me with dread. An electronic gizmo cannot match the excitement of feeling a front cover and opening pages. The world would be a joyless place without a shop filled with shelves of books to browse. But, the truly independent bookshop is a rare creature these days, and each one needs our help to survive. So, when I come across such a place, I will shout out the news as loud as possible.

So first up, just because I was there this weekend, is the marvellous Scarthin Books of Cromford (in the Derbyshire Dales). We were staying just down the road, and on Friday night as I was telling everyone about the wonders of Shakespeare and Company, somebody mentioned that Scarthin Books was a bit similar. So, of course, I had to go. I wasn’t disappointed. Cromford is  the only kind of village a city girl like me could live –  it has arts and craft shops,a lively looking community centre, nice pub, beautiful hills, and of course a 3 storey bookstore that’s simply crammed with books. Like all great independents, it is wonderfully quirky. Little quizzes are posted on the shelves teasing readers to identify texts and authors. Win and you get a fiver, though I couldn’t get any of them. The man on the desk said the one that really baffled me (something to do with war and ideologies) was so obscure that only one person had ever got it. He wouldn’t tell, and I’m still wondering where it came from… Staff recommendations are stuck on the wall (and I know Waterstones do this, but here they felt really personal each person writing detailed reasons why they liked a book). The cataloguing system is rather random (I had to ask to find where Fiction “A” was) but that adds to the charm, and the knowledgeable woman at the desk knew a) who Chimomanda Ngoze Adichie was b) had read her books and loved them and c) could point out where they were. I like that in a bookshop.

They do pretty much every kind of book, new and second hand, and upstairs there’s a great children’s section, with only one polite plea not to leave kids alone as they’ve had a bit of vandalism. A fair enough request I thought. The other great feature upstairs is the surprising cafe through a wooden door, which looks like a lovely place to eat. We didn’t have time to stop, but my friends tell me that you can order lunch, go back into the children’s section and they’ll call you when it’s ready. Making it a great family day out, and ensuring that you leave with bags of books under your arm. They also have regular discussions in the cafe under the title “Cafe Philosophique”,  a lovely idea that gives the place a definite French flavour. As I went to pay for my purchases (Roddy Doyle, A Star called Henry, and Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise, in case you are interested), I noticed a little picture frame with the words Shakespeare and Company. And, I thought, as I left – if any bookshop has a right to consider itself an English cousin – it’s Scarthin Books. So, if you’re ever in Derbyshire for even just a weekend, make sure you don’t miss the chance to go. Spend the day, have your lunch, buy lots of books, and keep the bookselling trade in business.

The Green Zone

As promised – prose poem – inspired by 2 years living opposite here and posted today, because lovely hubby (aka Chris Cole) is quoted in The Guardian today. This poem was inspired by a class with the great Jenny Lewis, who taught me poetry last year. I’m not much of a poet, but thanks to her, my sister Joanna Clark, and the equally wonderful Jane Draycott, I’m better than I was…

This is one of my experiments that might not quite work, or may even be a tad pretentious. It is deliberately shaped as if it is a fence. But, you may think that unnecessary. Let me know. (I’m sure you will!)

Across the brown fields, encased in grey steel, a little piece
of America        lies facing us.         Behind the barbed wire
fence,    under the silver dome, they sit    in their computer
-simulated home,         waging their war games        around
the world.    In near real time,        they look at the pictures
taken by satellite           or unmanned drones,          analyse,
and           write reports               that are sent up the chain
of command.             So the general, at breakfast      in the
Pentagon, can take a view        of        the meaning of      a
vehicle,         or      visits between neighbours,          decide
that this is suspicious        or       not       and give the order
to drop the bomb,    fire the shot, whilst he           can carry
on with     his kippers on toast.      All this can happen while
I give my children lunch,        and the       results of        the
general’s morning decisions will         be on my     TV screen
by tea.  America’s reach is vast.  I  watch   from my kitchen.

#FridayFlash Tommyrot.

Bit late (but maybe it’s still just about Friday on the West cost of the US!)Busy week. Not sure if this one works at all. Think it might be a bit too unsubtle, but I’ve really run out of time!.

In honour of the late Harry Patch and Lance-Corporal Joe Glenton

I had it all today. The pipers piping. The military salute. The flag draped over the coffin.

Funny how they honour us now. Back then, it seemed we were nothing much. Pigs in the muck. Sitting around waiting for orders. I thought war would be glorious. I’d fight for a righteous cause. Save Family, King and Country. Come home a hero.

What I got was infected feet, headlice, the stench of latrines. Forays across grey mire, feet clogging with the mud. Advancing an inch, retreating six. Saving those you could, and leaving the dead to their swampy graves. Sticking the enemy in the guts, never looking at their faces. Wondering why this stretch of bog was quite so important.

Sometimes I wished someone would just say. STOP. Someone, anyone. Perhaps that should have been me.

I never did.

I had it all today. The military salute, the piper, piping, the flag spread over the coffin.

It’s hard seeing your wife mourn you. Your kids. Trying to make sense of why you’ve gone. Words like “sacrifice” seem strange from where I’m standing. I was proud once, of my uniform. I thought it would bring me glory. I’d face death for a righteous cause. I’d return a hero.

The truth was, we were never welcome there. We hid behind high walls, making occasional forays into an arid land. Brown fields shimmering with heat. Searching for the enemy with no time to separate innocence from guilt. Firing at them, never looking at their faces. Leaving the bodies to rot and stink in the midday sun. Sometimes it was hard to see quite why it was so important.

Sometimes I wished someone would stay STOP.  Someone, anyone. Perhaps, that should have been me.

I never did.