Friday, 28 September 2012


I wake up before the alarm goes off; five am and it's properly dark outside. Downstairs, I push open the lounge door, hoping it hasn't started sticking again after yesterday's rain. The light switch is on the furthest wall and I mutter for the umpteenth time about the stupidity of whoever wired this house, as I grope my way across the room towards the kitchen. Martin the cat adds that extra level of challenge to my half-awake clumsiness as he weaves his way in and out around my ankles; he knows that, before I even reach for the kettle, my first job of the day will be to re-fill his bowl.

A few minutes later I'm on the sofa, fingers curled round the bright lime-green bowl of my favourite cup, drinking the first, the best, tea of the day. As I look at the window, the blackness outside throws back a reflection of the room, just as though someone had sneaked down in the night and placed all our furniture in the garden.

An early morning delivery van rushes by, heading towards the image of the mirror on the wall. For the tiniest moment I wait for the crash of glass when it hits, but of course it glides smoothly past and I smile as I look across at the real mirror on the other side of the room.

From the kitchen I hear the sound of the fridge-freezer. It came with the house, a tall white appliance, meant for a family bigger than ours, something we almost never fill. Every now and then it makes the strangest sound, half mechanical, half animal. I remember the first morning I lived here, listening to the strange growling noises, I was half intrigued, half afraid. Nowadays it seems much friendlier, a more familiar, less threatening sound, a bit like a mother cow calling its young. Perhaps it's wondering what happened to the milk, butter and cheese it used to hold.

I don't need to be up yet, I could stay in bed for another hour, but lately I've found myself wanting to snatch at time, more and more afraid to waste the minutes and hours.  And right now, the day stretches out ahead of me, full of possibility, not yet chipped away by the things I'm supposed to do, the things I haven't done. I'll go and have a shower soon, head off for work and another day of choices, decisions and consequences, but just for a few minutes, as I sip at my tea and gaze out at the darkness, I'm at ease with the world. And myself.

Monday, 17 September 2012


Slowly, quietly, autumn creeps towards us. I see it in the spider webs that hang like garlands from the hedge, in the sycamore leaves that lie scattered on the grass. It's still light in the evenings when I get home from work and it's warm enough to sit with the back door open as we eat our dinner, but by the end of the meal I'm reaching for a cardigan, and outside, the sky has grown dark.

As the season turns, something is also changing in me. A year ago, just a few months after we'd moved to Otford, I still looked around our strange new house, wondering how we'd ended up here, hoping we'd grow into it soon. I looked out at the long long garden, imagining how it might change over time, not really knowing where to start.

I had wanted then to make a mark, to somehow claim the land. I wanted, every time I stood at the bedroom window or the kitchen sink, for something to shout back at me, confirming it was really ours. So I set about making that mark with a tin of white paint and a tin of blue. I turned the garden shed into a beach hut, with a striped picnic bench beside it. It was a bold statement, a stark contrast to the wood-stained finish of all the other sheds in our street. "We're here!" it cried.

My brave paintwork didn't hide the cracked perspex windows or the ugly masking tape that the previous owners had used to hold them together. It didn't stop the felt roof flying away in the first real storm of winter. But it made me feel good, with its reminder of happy times past and still to come.

In the months that followed we started to make our mark in other ways; we tested the furniture in different positions, we decorated the bathroom, bought curtains for the bedroom. We planted a climbing rose to grow up the front of the house and watched the pale pink blooms gradually spreading up the wall. We replaced the broken fence in the garden, built a new flower bed from railway sleepers, planted a cherry tree, a lilac, a mock orange.

This weekend, with the promise of fine weather, Philip finally decided to tackle the cracked shed windows. In no time at all the old, stained perspex was removed and clear new windows were in place. As I stood at the kitchen sink and looked down the garden, I saw him standing inside the shed; I saw the man he is now and the man he'll be in twenty years - his back slightly more bent, his beard turned white. I thought of myself in twenty years, walking slowly up the garden to take him a cup of tea, telling him not to overdo it. And then I knew it was time to paint the shed again.

This evening, I stand here again looking out of the window. In its new muted green, caught between the grass and the trees, the shed no longer shouts out to me. As the sun goes down, it fades back into the garden.

But if I listen carefully, it's still calling out; this time it's whispering "welcome home" and I know that I am.

Friday, 14 September 2012

100 words - bottle tops

When you live with someone for a long time, you get used to their ways; their habits and oddities; the minor irritations, the things that endear.

Some things though are beyond explanation. Why, when I open the cutlery drawer, is it full of corks and bottle tops? How is it he can never manage to put the corkscrew back in the drawer, but always stows away the stopper it removed?

He’s done it for as long as I’ve known him. I could ask why, but I never have, never will. It’s just one of those things, the things that endear.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Across the fields

Lately, I’ve become quite good at sitting.

Every day, I take my place behind the steering wheel to drive the forty miles to work; travelling along winding country lanes; down the soulless straight lines of the M25 and through the streets of a town that’s still trying to remember it’s a city. I raise and lower my foot and every so often turn my head or the steering wheel, but for every second of the journey, I sit.

For most of the day I'm stationary at a desk, occasionally getting up to move to a meeting room, where I’ll sit down to speak to my colleagues. If I find the time to step outside, it will often be a quick dash to grab a sandwich and take it back to my desk.

When I get home, I sink far too quickly into my end of the sofa; where everything I want is just within reach. My half-read book lies open on the armrest, a notebook and pen are tucked down the side of the cushion, my latest knitting project lies crumpled in the corner, yarns trailing, twining round the wires of the laptop that hides just beneath my feet.

On a Sunday morning, it’s a real treat to sit in bed; my hands curled around a cup of tea, as I gaze out the window at the tops of the trees, and beyond them to all the options of the day ahead. From where I sit, the possibilities are as endless as the day, but as I dream and doze, Philip says, in that irrepressibly insistent tone he sometimes has, “so… do you fancy a quick early walk round the fields?”

To be honest, there are so many things I fancy more. Like adjusting the pillow behind my back and staying exactly where I am, or persuading him to re-fill the tea-cup I’ve just emptied, but when I look at him he’s got that “come on, you know I always know what’s good for you” gleam in his eyes and I find myself not even hesitating as I say “yes, that would be lovely.”

In no time at all, our feet are crunching on the stubble of recently cut wheat, the early morning dew is dampening my trousers, and I’m waving my arms above my head as I try to avoid the nettles that grow with such enthusiasm either side of the footpath.

We cross a barren-looking field littered with flint-stones and I think for just a moment of cave-men and flint-tipped arrows. Then we pass a pile of timber, huge chunks of tree, roughly cut and slung in a heap. Suddenly I’m my childhood self, working out how to build a den amongst the logs, knowing instinctively which ones I could shift to make a secret hide-out, which would make the best table or chair. I imagine building a fire, watching the twigs sparkle and burn while I munch through the blackberries I’ve gathered from the hedges all around. My mind begins to invent the story of a lonely child, slipping away from home on a big adventure, hiding here for days, making friends of the wood-lice and the spiders.

We move on and round a corner, passing under a railway bridge. I marvel at the roundness of its arch, at the hundreds and thousands of bricks so carefully placed one upon another. I’ll never know why such effort went into building this tunnel in the middle of nowhere, I wonder if the path we’re treading today led somewhere more important once. I try to imagine who might have passed here, on foot or horseback, in days gone by.

Ahead of us, the hills are green and the trees are still in full leaf, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun is gradually warming us through on this unexpectedly lovely September day. We walk on and on, until the call of breakfast is too strong to resist, then we turn towards home.

A short while later I’m sitting again, my hands curled round another cup of tea as I gaze out into the garden. In front of me lie all the options of the day ahead, but I smile as I think instead of the world of possibilities just a short walk away.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Match day

Some days, there was no order to the words, no controlling them.

They danced around, jostling for position, tripping over each other to escape. They pushed and shoved, like a crowd trying to leave a football stadium through a single turnstile.

She had no way of knowing the order they'd appear, which would be spat out first and what might follow stumbling after. It didn't matter that, just before, they’d all stood inside together, singing an anthem in loud harmony, now they were disjointed, dispirited, disruptive. And once they had escaped there was no way to capture them and push them back. 

When the stewards saw them, they believed the worst - that they'd come out to cause mayhem and destruction. She couldn't persuade them otherwise, she couldn't prove their harmlessness. Nothing she could do to turn them in a different direction. 

Some days, there was no order to the words, no controlling them.