Sunday, 26 August 2012


Yellow, the brightest yellow.

I sink into my seat, so glad that on a late Sunday afternoon, the tube is almost empty. The shining, pointed shoes of the man sitting opposite me are the yellow of a new daffodil.

Earlier, we'd pushed our way through the hordes of Sunday shoppers in Columbia Road, ducking the trees that seemed to walk towards us, as their new owners dragged and carried them away from the flower market.  From either side of the road we heard the competing cries of stall-holders urging us to buy "three bunches for a fiver"  And all around us were the people who had; their arms filled with roses, hydrangeas, lilies, chrysanthemums. And sun-flowers. Sun-flowers, carried away to houses all over London; to be arranged in jars and vases, just waiting for another Van Gogh to capture their golden shine.

Later, we'd mingled among the crowds in Brick Lane. We'd paused to gaze at old cameras laid out on a blanket on the ground, wondering how many of them still worked. We'd walked on, speaking in slightly hushed tones of the scary-looking man who'd been trying to sell them. The shops at each side of the road shouted out to us that old was vintage, that second-hand was previously loved. We picked our way through the groups of dark tattooed men in skinny jeans and the blonde fake-tanned girls in tiny shorts. All around us, people were eating and drinking, shouting and laughing, oblivious of the huge yellow signs on the walls above their heads, urging them to 'Please use toilets provided'.

Every now and then we'd got separated. One of us stopped to peer through a window, while the others walked on; one of us crossed the road to admire a painting, while another was distracted by the scents of a perfume shop. It would have been so easy to lose each other, to get caught up in the never-ending flow of browsers and shoppers, residents and tourists. But then we'd look ahead, and there was Kelly, holding the wooden handle of her yellow umbrella, waving it above her head like a wind-blown dandelion.

Yellow, the brightest yellow. The colour of sunshine and laughter on a summer Sunday, the colour of friendship.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A pink peg, a broken mouse

It's after dinner and we sit, side by side, on the sofa. The TV is on in the far corner of the room; its black surround holding in the twenty-two men who are chasing a ball round a bright green pitch.

We sit side by side, each with a laptop carefully placed on our laps; neither of us really watching the football, both of us glancing up every now and then, one of us sighing regularly at the idiotic commentary. I'm trying to write, tapping away at the keyboard, cursing the tiredness that makes me press the wrong keys. I press and delete, type on, backspace, type, delete some more. It's not til the end of a paragraph that I realise there's something wrong.

I want to move up the page, to change an early sentence, but I can't. The small square pad that moves the cursor, is not responding to my touch. I try again, press harder, move my finger faster. Still nothing.

"My mouse has died" I wail. The cat gives me a glare and I'm not really sure if its my wailing he disapproves of, or my usurption of his mouse-killing responsibilities.

"Turn it off and turn it on again" suggests Philip and there's something in his manner that reminds me of a tired IT technician, sick to the gills of his incompetent workmates.

I press the power key and hold it down until all the lights go out, then I press it again to bring the computer back to life. "Turn it off and turn it on again" I mutter, and suddenly I see myself fifteen years ago, sitting in a small office not far from Waterloo station.

The computers were notoriously unreliable back then, it was a common occurrence for them to go down for hours at a time. My office-mate still kept a pile of Memo sheets on the desk, her faith in the power of writing-in-triplicate undiminished by the promise of e-mail.

But I had a better plan; callously and deliberately I befriended the quiet Canadian who worked in the IT suite next door. I made a point of always popping my head round the door to say hello, always finding time to have a chat. I knew, whatever problems the rest of the building was having, my computer would be the first to be fixed.

I never really wondered whether it was fair. He always seemed happy to talk to me, quite content to drop whatever else he was supposed to be doing to follow me back to my desk and make sure all was right with my technology.  For a while, I didn't even notice that he was finding reasons to stop by even when the IT was fine. I smiled when he started turning up with a bag of doughnuts every Friday morning. I teased him about his sense of dress, made fun of his boring shirt; it seemed a clever and witty thing to do.

One day I picked up a small pink peg from my desk and clipped it to the end of his hideous tie, laughingly suggesting that was all he needed to look his best.

Later that week, I came back from lunch to find him in my office, crawling under the desk, running his hand over the carpet. Seeing me, he jumped up quickly and backed towards the door, his face turning a glowing red. "I've lost it" he mumbled "I can't find the pink peg."

I'm not sure I've ever felt so ashamed. I knew what I'd done with the chatting and the teasing; I knew why I'd done it. And I know that when he looked at me, just before he left, he knew it too. A few weeks later I heard he'd got a new job.

I never saw him after that and I haven't thought of him in years. But tonight, I'm reluctant to ask Philip to help me fix the laptop. So I press the power key once more, turning it off and turning it on again. All these years later, there's a small part of me hoping that I might yet cancel out my thoughtlessness, fix more than just a faulty mouse.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Three o'clock in the morning

I should have put the light on.

I should have put the light on, but there's an unspoken rule at 3.00am - keep it as dark as possible, don't wake him, don't wake yourself.

So I leave the switch alone and feel my way around the edge of the bed, safely past the corner of the bedstead that regularly bruises my right knee, across the room and out of the door. Three steps past our wall of books; no reaching out, for fear of bringing the piles of paperbacks crashing to the floor. Then the start of the white wooden bannister and the top of the stairs.

With one hand stretching out for the rail, and the other for the wall, I move a foot forward until it's hovering in mid-air above the step I'm sure is there. I lower it slowly, oh so carefully, until I feel the graze of carpet beneath my toes. Two steps more and I've reached the turn of the stairs. It comes too soon, I was almost certain there were three steps here, but the jarring through my leg tells me I've tried to walk through a space that isn't there.

I should have put the light on.

I should have put the light on when I miscounted the steps; reclaimed my confidence in the house, in myself. But I carry on, arm stretching out for the bannister on my left, the sleeve of my dressing gown lightly brushing the wall to my right, balancing between them and once again reaching out for the fall of the step.

And as I hover at the top, I see it. As clear as day. No falling away of the stairs; just falling. A helpless headlong hurtle down; my elbow finding the hard wood of the bannister, my back scraping against the edge of a step; then another; then another, finally coming to a halt as my foot strikes hard into the glass panel of the front door.

Lying there, my leg turned at an angle I've never seen before, my back feeling like it's been attacked by a cheese-grater, the darkness seems blacker than ever. Somewhere above my head is the light switch, but it's too high, I can't reach it.

I see it all.

Then I put the light on, and continue down the stairs.