The Key

In January 2020, before lockdown, I participated in a short, free, creative writing course. We were given prompts and invited to write a story. This is one, shared without changes

“I remember skipping ropes. Is that what you mean?”

“Not really, Louise. I was wondering what your childhood was like. Did you have many friends?”

Louise had to think. Many friends? She didn’t remember having any friends at all. She knew people. She played with other girls. But none of them liked her much.

“Oh yes, I had lots of friends at school. We played for hours, especially skipping ropes. I usually held the end of the rope and sang. I wasn’t good at skipping.”

“Okay Louise. So do you keep in touch with any of your childhood friends? Do they know you’ve been feeling low recently?”

She tried not to look at the clock. How many questions was the person going to ask? Was their time together almost up?

“Louise? Have you spoken to any friends about your situation?”

Trapped in a room, avoiding the truth.

“I told Madeleine. She phones sometimes. She knows my sister too.”

Yes, Madeleine knows Geraldine. They had been friends since school. A horrible child who grew up to be a horrible woman. Madeleine had never liked Louise. She and Geraldine used to laugh: “You’re called Lou! You’re a toilet!” Silly, childish taunts that now seemed ridiculous, had hurt so badly her head ached.

“Madeleine knows I’ve been unhappy. She’s very kind hearted.”

“Good you have someone to talk to. Can we speak about your childhood? Your family?”

Louise glanced at the clock. Could that be right? Had she only been in the room for twenty minutes? Would the person make her talk about her parents and sister till she had to leave?

“Oh, quite normal. Mum, dad, two daughters. Not much happened.”

Not much. Quite normal.

– “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”

– “We’re disappointed with your school report. Geraldine has done so well.”

– “You can’t wear that to school. Geraldine always looks smart.”

Quite normal.

“Did you like school?”

Louise imagined all her teachers standing in rows, like a class photo, scowling at her. Each was muttering, “I expected better of Geraldine’s sister”.

“I got good marks. I wasn’t a high flyer but I always passed the exams. I got into university.”

“What about primary school? Some people form lifelong friendships at that age. Do you remember it with affection?”

Not in a million years would Louise use that word. Primary school was a trial to get through. The girls laughed at her name; the boys laughed at her clothes. The teachers laughed at her inability to be like her older sister.

“I remember lots of laughter.”

“That’s a great memory to have.”

How much longer would this go on? Louise didn’t want to look at the clock again. She wanted to escape.

“Could we return to your parents? Were they interested or detached?”

Louise’s parents were so interested, they opened her school bag every afternoon to check her work was adequate. It never was. They didn’t check Geraldine’s bag. Geraldine always got excellent results, sometimes a letter of praise from the school. Geraldine was entered for prizes and scholarships. Louise was told to try harder.

“Definitely interested. Sometimes I wished they were a bit more detached.”

Oh no! She’d let a little bit of truth slip out. The person’s face stiffened.

“You know what it’s like when your parents seem to read your mind”, Louise smiled. “They tell you to buy an apple but you buy chocolate. You don’t see how they could know, but they do. Of course, it’s all over your clothes, plain to see.”

Saved. That mustn’t happen again. Take more care.

“And your sister. Did you get on well?”

– “Geraldine, you’re such a clever girl.”

– “Geraldine, leave those dishes. Louise will wash them.”

– “Geraldine, you can have a treat this weekend for being so kind.”

“We were always together. It was very strange when Geraldine went up to the High School. Suddenly I was doing things without her.”

The summer that Geraldine moved from Primary to High School was like a prison break. The girls left their house together, but walked off in different directions. Louise could breathe. No sister reporting back to Mum and Dad, “Louise was in trouble again”.

“It was strange, but I got used to it.”

“There’s time to cover one more topic, then we’ll finish for today.”

Louise froze.

“You were very distressed when your cat died. I know you miss her. Would you be able to talk about that?”

No, no, no.

“Yes, that’s fine. She was sixteen. She had a long life. But the longer I had with her, the harder it was to lose her. She was sleeping beside me, and didn’t wake up. I loved her, but I knew she couldn’t live forever. Still, it was upsetting.”

“I understand.”

No, you absolutely do not understand. She never compared me with Geraldine. She didn’t ask me why I hadn’t been promoted. She didn’t laugh at me for having an inexpensive car and a tiny flat. Her way of life and mine were compatible. You don’t understand at all.

“Thank you. Some people think missing a pet is silly and weak.”

“No, it’s normal. Pets are important to us. They leave a space that can’t easily be filled.”

Breathing out, Louise picked up her jacket.

“Guard!” shouted the person. “We’re finished.”

And to Louise: “I’ll write up my report and send it to your solicitor. You’ll get a copy pre trial. It’s obvious to me you were under temporary strain, and you acted impulsively as a consequence. With tragic consequences.”

“Thank you” said Louise, trying to look sad. “I really thought someone had broken in. I forgot Geraldine had a key.”

Automatically Sunshine

Dedicated to Mary Wilson

Do you know what an Austin Cambridge was?

Automatically Sunshine?

This Austin Cambridge was our family car when I was a thirteen year old, awkward teenager

Holding my brand new transistor radio, in the back seat of that car, I was waiting for the ferry and our family holiday. It was a sunny day

The DJ on BBC Radio One introduced The Supremes singing Automatically Sunshine

Now this wasn’t classic Supremes

This wasn’t Diana Ross

This was Mary Wilson, Jean Terrell and Cindy Birdsong

Fin de ciecle Supremes

My life rather changed that day. Sunshine was never again Automatic

__________

I will tell you more about that summer, and how I changed, in future posts

Do you enjoy reading my stories? I love writing them. My day job is shopkeeping

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Concussion

Scarring from a fall

Scarred for Life

My working life began one week later than planned. Because I fell off a bicycle

I was at a friend’s older brother’s home. He was married, had a Cairn Terrier. There were bicycles in the garden. We borrowed them for the afternoon and rode off to explore the countryside

If you’re thinking Enid Blyton, read on. One afternoon, when I was only sixteen and a half, had devastating consequences on my life

I don’t think I was going fast. There was a small hill. On the downward slope I lost control. Seconds later I opened my eyes on a hospital trolley and said “Where am I?”

I’ve always wished I had said something clever

Seconds had been hours, I’d been taken to the nearest hospital by ambulance. Road gravel (mostly) removed from my knee, hip and forehead. Stitched up. I’d been totally unaware of this, because Concussion

I was sixteen years old. There was no space in a suitable ward so I was allocated a bed in geriatrics with five “ancient” women

That was actually fun. I liked them and they enjoyed having a teenager in the room

So, the stitches…

One or two on my knee, under which a grey layer of road dust still remains

Several on my hip. Lumpy, bumpy, very messy. Not what a teenager wants on her body

But my forehead. I’ve never accepted the scar. It’s stared at me from the mirror for decades. It affected how I wear my hair, the glasses I choose. And I can’t raise my left eyebrow. My face is uneven

A nurse told me there was a mirror on the right hand side of the bathroom, and I might not want to see my face. I understood – my face was a mess – and took her advice

However I was young and had no idea how long my face would be bruised and scraped

Six days into my stay I was asked if I’d like to wash my hair and put on proper clothes. Fed up with lying in bed, I definitely wanted to get dressed

Nobody said my face was still frighteningly destroyed. I thought if they’re suggesting I get dressed, I must be better

So I crossed the ward to the bathroom, didn’t avert my eyes from the mirror, saw my face

Maybe I screamed out loud, maybe not. I certainly screamed inside. Black, blue, red, purple face. Hair still matted with dried blood that hadn’t been washed out because of the stitches

I managed to dress and wash my hair. Then I walked by the mirror without looking

On the morning I was due to leave hospital, eight days after admission, the surgeon who had stitched me up came over. “Never mind, you can get plastic surgery when you’re older”

I hadn’t said a word! Did he think I was going to complain about his terrible patchwork? Sue him? I hadn’t even noticed the twelve stitches within the devastation that was my face

But let me return to the concussion

Concussion has consequences way beyond a hospital stay and terrible stitching. For me the most evident result was a change in my periods. Until the concussion, regular and monthly. Textbook

The concussion happened in May. I didn’t have another period for months. Then they were irregular, unpredictable – for ever

Another issue was the start of my working life. Two weeks and two days after the fall I began my first job. (I hated it, soon moved to a different company. I’ll tell you another time)

Two young people were due to start on the same day. Myself and a young man. My concussion meant I started one week later than him

For five days he was “last in” – office junior

Then I arrived. Excellent! A girl! She can have all the rubbish jobs while the young man can aim high. Sexism 101

And lastly, the scar on my forehead. I cut a fringe. I parted my hair on the right. I chose glasses that don’t draw attention to my eyebrows – remember, I can’t raise the left one

When the pandemic came and I couldn’t get my hair cut, still I worked around the scar. This week I took a huge step and drew my hair right back, scar in full view. No-one seems to have noticed

I could say there’s a lesson in this story. But there really isn’t. I was concussed; I was scarred; I’m still affected by it

But I’m getting better

_________

Read more of my stories if you enjoyed this one. And you can find out more about me on my socials. (I’m a shopkeeper by day)

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Monaural

Lucky me

When you’re told, age nine, how lucky you are, you accept it.

When you question your “luck”, age 50, you feel ungrateful.

When you see an Ear, Nose and Throat consultant for a nosebleed, age 59, and he says he’ll investigate your unilateral hearing loss, you are shocked.

This is the first time in 45 years that a medic has shown any interest.

All that remains in my medical records – all that remains of the hearing tests, appointments with specialists, trips to hospital that took me out of school – is a letter signing me off.

We can’t help. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Well I wasn’t lucky.

Overnight I lost all hearing in my left ear. It never came back. My life has been adversely affected by monaural hearing. I’m not lucky.

Every day, every minute, I mitigate for my loss of hearing. Let me show you.

You go out with friends for a meal. It’s a rectangular table with ten chairs, five on each side. Where do you sit?

Beside your partner? Opposite your closest friend? Near someone you feel sorry for? Or simply the seat to which you’re directed? It’s your choice.

At that same table, there are only two chairs I can sit at.

I have never heard stereo.

My world is in mono.

You go to the cinema or theatre. You choose a good seat with the best view.

I choose the seat farthest to the left hand side of the room, whether or not I can see.

You’re outside, someone calls your name. You turn towards their voice and wave.

Wherever a person is shouting from, they’re at my right shoulder. The only way to find the voice is to turn on the spot, round in a circle, till I see them.

Don’t shout me. I’ve no idea where you are.

Stop, look, listen.

I’ll stop and I’ll look. No point listening, as all traffic noise comes from my right hand side. Better that I look again – and again, just in case.

In a new workplace you spend the first few days getting used to the layout and your colleagues.

In addition I have to learn the acoustics of the building, where I hear best, where it’s impossible to listen to speech.

You know that look on a person’s face when you misheard them, and answered the “wrong” question?

That’s me every day. Someone looking at me, judging me for not listening.

I was trying my best. I’ve been trying my best for decades. I’m so exhausted, trying my best.

“What’s your right side?”, people who know of my hearing loss ask. They know I can’t hear as we walk unless they’re on my “good” side.

But no-one ever remembers. Never since age nine has anyone remembered which side to walk at. Yes, on a familiar road, because a habit is formed. Not in a different environment. Because I’m lucky. I can still hear. Because it can’t be that bad, otherwise something would have been done about it.

The truly annoying comments – Oh I know exactly how you feel. My ears often block when I get a cold.

You have absolutely no idea how it feels to have permanent unilateral hearing loss. But hey, I’ll smile as usual and you can feel good about your empathy.

And by the way, my sudden hearing loss was probably caused by measles or mumps. No vaccine back then. We had to catch those diseases.

And some of us were lucky. It could have been so much worse.

Lifelong monaural hearing loss

Lawn

Mowed Lawn

Barbara, my mother told me years later, never had new clothes. Her skirts, blouses and jackets were patched and mended.

I hadn’t noticed.

As a little girl I saw a glamorous, friendly woman with lovely dark hair.

Barbara lived in a small house with a large garden, at the end of our road. She and her husband had two young sons. My parents were quite friendly with them.

We walked past their house on our way to school. Often my mother would say, “He’s cutting his grass again“.

Barbara’s husband mowed and watered his lawn every morning before driving to the school where he taught. My parents found it funny. But my mother had noticed what was going on.

Barbara’s husband wore smart suits and drove a nice car. As a 1960s family, they were quite well off.

Listening to BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour this morning, I could see that lawn. I couldn’t see the mended clothes.

Slow Bread

Slow risen bread

Less rush, better flavour

Life can be all Rush! Hurry! Quick! How lovely it is to be slow. Making slow bread forces me to calm down, step out of the moment, take my time.

It also tastes particularly good.

Bread in a flowerpot

I baked my first loaf when I was seventeen. It probably wasn’t very good.

I had a big, thick, general cookbook – I wish I still had it! Purnell’s Complete Cookery.

I loved my first big cookbook

I really wanted to learn to cook. I genuinely didn’t have a clue. Someday I’ll tell you that story. Why I became interested in the bread chapter, I do not know. It jumped out at me so I gave it a go.

Now these were ancient times, also known as the late 1970s. Possibly dried yeast was available in specialist shops on fancy city streets. Not in the industrial West of Scotland. So I did as my book instructed. I went to the bakery.

That’s the actual bakery. Not the shop where I bought German Biscuits and Sugared Rolls. No, round the back where the bread and rolls were baked.

A block of yeast in a twist of greaseproof paper cost pennies. I became a regular customer at the bakery close to my work.

I have no idea where I bought bread flour. Strange to think how unusual such a product was. There was a Fine Fare near my office. (That was a supermarket) Since Fine Fare was the first place I ever saw aubergines, courgettes, peppers, maybe they had bread flour.

Anyway, home I went to bake my bread.

I liked the sound of a brown loaf that included treacle.

From the start I thought it couldn’t be right. Quite a few tablespoons of treacle. The dough was dark, dark brown and very sticky. Having no experience of bread making, I followed the recipe nonetheless. It baked into a nice little loaf, but so very sweet and dense. More like a cake.

I made the same loaf many times with only a little treacle!

Very soon I had bought more cookbooks and tried many recipes. Then a new book was published.

My Elizabeth David bread book

English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David

My education in bread making began the day I bought it.

It’s beside my bed now, as I wanted to re read it before baking bread to sell.

Bread needn’t be quick

And this is what I learned from Elizabeth David: slow bread can be the best bread. Less yeast is required, and you get such good results.

It’s a lesson I have to re learn periodically. Many times I have rushed home from work, mixed the ingredients and left my dough to rise. As I grow more and more tired, I get angry at the dough for not rising quickly. I’ll be up all night! I must add more yeast! The bowl is going on the radiator!

When I get annoyed with a bowl of bread dough, I remind myself that the best place for it to rise is the fridge; and the best time for it to be baked is the following day. Perhaps the following evening!

Third rise

There’s a time and place for speedy cooking and baking. But it’s not compulsory.

Slow bread is flavoursome bread.

Two loaves of my “slow” bread

Thank you for reading my blog. Please comment, especially if you have a bread making story.

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Jane Eyre

Lockdown Memory 2️⃣

I lost interest after the interrupted wedding.

Everything up till then, captivating. Then downhill all the way. Including “Reader, I married him.” I didn’t even notice the iconic ending when I was twelve. My memory of Jane Eyre is much darker.

The Aunt; the school; the Red Room.

Mainly the Red Room.

Oh, and I adored Blanche. I wanted to be Blanche.

Anyway, the Red Room. I’ve seen films and television adaptations of Jane Eyre. They must’ve depicted it. But the most horrific, the darkest, most troubling Red Room was in my mind.

The Aunt made me angry; the school made my spine tense. But nothing came close to the horror of the Red Room.

Blanche was perfect. I didn’t read the book in the way I would later, as an adult. I read it in pure black and white, as children do. I didn’t see Blanche as opportunistic; I didn’t realise her dislike of Jane came about because she was beggin’ of her, please don’t steal my man.

Blanche was beautiful, as were her clothes. Abusive partner Mr R was used to telling pretty women what to do. We found out what happened to his previous partner once she ceased to be Eye Candy.

The wedding, the brother in law (an actual hero, sticking up for his sister) interested me. Tense and excruciating. Then Jane ran away, and the story ended.

Except it didn’t.

Jane found a family, inherited money, and returned to her abusive boyfriend. Nah! It didn’t work for twelve year old me.

Jane Eyre affected me. I only loved half of it, but that half is perfect.

Thank you for reading my blog. You’ll probably enjoy my Musical Lockdown Memory.

Please leave a comment.

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I Am A Rock

Lockdown memory?
I haven’t a clue what’s on my face!

Lockdown Memory 1️⃣

Imagine a nine year old’s birthday party in the late sixties. What comes to mind?

Jelly and ice cream? Party games? New toys? Sweets? A Paul Simon album?

What did you just read? A Paul Simon album? That doesn’t seem right.

But the nine year old was me, and The Paul Simon Songbook was the soundtrack of my childhood.

“Was it your parents’ album, Anne?”

It’s a reasonable question, and the answer is Partly, yes. They had borrowed it from a friend, and taped it onto our family’s reel to reel recorder. Thereafter it was mine.

So after school I walked home with some friends. It was late November and I was having a birthday party. They weren’t organised, expensive celebrations back then. Basically, school friends came to your house, ate whatever food your mum gave them, played with your toys then went home.

It’s worth mentioning here that I didn’t like many of those “school friends”. I preferred the girls who lived in our street. But the unwritten rule was, invite children who score roughly the same marks in exams as yourself.

So we ate our food, then my school friends wanted my toys. I had a better idea. I fetched the reel to reel tape recorder and played The Paul Simon Songbook.

Probably several times.

My school friends found my toys. They ignored me; I ignored them. Bliss.

The Paul Simon Songbook

This week I heard someone on the radio asking what songs are helping us through lockdown. I’m a cynical woman, so I rolled my eyes.

Later that day while walking Flynn, my Border Terrier, a song was going round and round my head.

“Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no-one and no-one touches me”

A hundred and one memories of playing my favourite childhood song, “I Am A Rock”, from my favourite childhood album, “The Paul Simon Songbook“, flooded my mind. It was part of me, a little girl who liked her own company, had no confidence, but loved music and lyrics so much.

Years later the album was rereleased as a CD. I bought it.

It’s 2020, we’re in lockdown due to COVID19, and Paul Simon’s youthful lyrics feel meaningful once again.

I might just put it on tomorrow.

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Dog Hair Care

By Flynn and Doris

Flynn’s POV –

Flynn’s Dog Hairstyle

I’m seeing more of my human family than usual – they call it Lockdown. Thank goodness they’re leaving my hair alone!

My favourite thing ever is sitting outdoors in a breeze. I love to feel the wind in my hair. Don’t humans know that cutting my hair = ruining my life? They have zero empathy. I tell them clearly to leave me alone, but do they listen?

Let me keep my fuzzy ears and crinkly beard forever.

Border Terriers: born to have wild hair.

River Walk

With Flynn, Border Terrier

Languid river walk

To keep my head above water at this unsettling time I take Flynn, my Border Terrier, on a river walk.

The River Tweed, as it flows through Kelso, is captivating in any weather.

If you visit Kelso, definitely take a river walk.

Flynn loves the River

Stay home for now.