Thursday 27 October 2011

Happy Halloween

Boring Gavin
by Cindy George

Gavin was thinking about his first love.  He was four and she was in his class, the lovely Corinne Turner.  She had been born with an extra toe on each foot and sometimes she would take her socks off and let you look.  Gavin thought this made her exotic and magical and showed his devotion by sitting quietly near her wherever she went.  It didn’t seem to bother her any more than toes eleven and twelve did, he was just there.
“Haven’t you got a mind of your own?”  That was his mum.  “You don’t have to do everything that Corinne does, you know.  Tell you what, let’s go to the park.”  He loved those afternoons in the park with his mum, almost as deeply as he loved Corinne.  There were swans to feed and if you chased them they would flap their giant wings at you and chase you back.  He wasn’t allowed to chase the swans but sometimes he did it anyway.  Just to show his mum he did indeed have a mind of his own.  She was long gone now, of course, he was fairly certain of that.
Remembering his mum made him think of when he was older and had a proper girlfriend, pretty Marianne who was exquisite but had less brainpower than a catnip mouse.  She left him in the end for someone more exciting.  Steve, Gavin remembered; he had had a car and very nearly a moustache.  Gavin didn’t even try to compete with that.  He remembered wondering what had happened to Marianne, where she was now.
But the real love of his life had been Ellen, clever, kind and beautiful, with dark hair and light eyes and a smile that made him realise everything was well with the world.  Had there been anyone before Ellen?  He couldn’t quite remember.  But he knew Ellen had been beside him from the day they married in the crumbling sandstone church of her remote northern hometown.  She had borne his child, or maybe children, and he could picture her face perfectly, cradling a crying baby, shushing it and wiping away a tiny splash of milk with a soft pink bib with flowers on it.  Must have been a little girl he had then, thought Gavin, that’s nice.
Ellen was there on their holiday to Florida, and oh, they had two little girls by then, and they squealed and ran away from the pelicans just like he had done with the swans only minutes ago.  “This has been the most fun I’ve ever had, ever ever!” Ellen had told him.  “Well it must be very boring most of the time being married to me” he’d laughed.  She said if she’d wanted excitement she would have married an astronaut and they’d laughed for ages, even though it hadn’t been as funny as all that.
The girls had married as well, what beautiful weddings they’d been, he could still see Katie in her off-white gown with the lace-up bodice her mum hadn’t been too sure about but in the end it was perfect down to the scent of the bouquets but the best thing of all was her smile.
And when he was in hospital they were all there, so tender and loving. 
But then there was nothing, just a cold damp darkness. 
In one last tiny flare of consciousness, he realised he wasn’t Gavin Mason at all.  Just a lucky graveyard worm digesting the memories from Gavin’s dead brain.  The thought flickered and went out.

Monday 17 October 2011

How to tell you are in Coventry

Londoners walk up and down escalators, regardless of whether they are working or not.  They're still stairs.  In Coventry, the escalators generally work, but when people get on them, they just stand there and wait to be conveyed up or down.

Londoners pile onto buses in this order: 1 - people who think it is their very own personal bus, 2 - people who think they may as well push in as everyone else is, 3 - people who are fully aware there will be another, less crowded bus along in a few minutes.  In Coventry, people form a neat line in order of their arrival at the bus stop, and enter the bus in the same order.

In London I had my hair cut in a nice 1920s-style bob, same length all the way around, shaved up to the bottom of the bob at the back to neaten and define the style.  In Coventry, it is compulsory to have the same haircut as everyone else, varying only in length.  When I first moved here, a town centre hairdresser layered it up the back for reasons I don't understand, leaving pointless wispy bits growing out in random directions over the back of my neck.  Four months later, having recovered from this somewhat, I made an attempt at a different hairdresser to have my style restored.  "I don't do shaving" she said.  This calls into question my entire understanding of the term hairdresser.  I left with the same unwanted style I went in with, but now with slightly tidier layers.  Apparently Coventry doesn't do horizontal lines in hair.  Must be some sort of council legislation.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Granny Thomas

The last few weeks have been so hectic that I've neglected to mention a major event in our little world, the sad passing of Paul's gran, Jean Thomas.  I'd only known her as a nice old lady who loved her family and her dog, and carried on knitting for charity long after her fingers and eyesight had let her down.  Only at her funeral did I get a tiny glimpse of the person she really was: the hiker, the war worker, the artist, the woman who battled to make a good life for herself, and to gift her son and grandchildren with her own strength, humour, practicality and ability to make things better for those she loved.  Paul is lucky to have had her as a gran, and I am lucky to have someone who's inherited some of her qualities.  I'll try and remember her as I never knew her.

Monday 10 October 2011

I haven't been so scared since I had typhoid

I am so SO lucky to have somehow got onto this highly-oversubscribed MA, at this prestigious university, with these world-class writers to teach me, and these incredibly talented fellow students.  I am ridiculously appreciative and excited about where something like this may lead.  So far I have hated every single second of it.  I am so terrified and overwhelmed that part of my brain is trying to preserve itself by sabotaging my attempts to get to classes - putting me on a bus so thoroughly wrong I ended up paying £15 for a taxi, sending me to the wrong rooms at the wrong times, and ensuring I forget watch, phone, pen or some other crucial accessory every time.  I am unable to eat on the days I have to go in.  I haven't met my tutor yet, I'm too scared to contact him (also I find myself even less able than normal to process faces, so I have no idea what he looks like).

Presumably my awesome incapability will make an excellent story one day.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Who lives in a house like this?

London was the ultimate destination, there wasn’t really anything that came after London.  From the age of about 7, London was my ambition.  London meant away from the dull hell of the unwanted child and away from a post-industrial town with no community, culture or happy memories.  London was where there were lights and people, London was where things happened.
My flat in Hackney was full of light and life.  Ikea and Argos helped my generation escape from the stale, solid Victorian furniture which most poor 1970s households were still built around.  My front room looked out over the High Street from a curved bay window.  From there I could see life I’d never dreamed of: MPs, drug dealers, celebrities, petty criminals, people who ran lifestyle coaching businesses; people from Poland,  Ghana, Ireland,  Australia and Cyprus, people who I never thought I’d share space with.  In the cemetery across the road were further glamorous strangers: doctors, composers, Victorian gentlefolk, tragic babies, forgotten heroes, the founders of the Salvation Army.  
I had never eaten a herb, been abroad or met anyone who did what they wanted for a living before I was 16.  
Inside, it was the home of the person I wanted to be.  Books and music that said I was just too young for punk and just too old for acid house, but took an interest anyway.  Things that could only have been gifts, to show that I had friends.  Photos to show I’d travelled.  Things that said I was the sort of person to get excited by things. 
The last few months, though, were tense and sad.  The crushing bad luck of chronic unemployability combined with the monstrous good fortune of having Paul and his family to help made the move to Coventry inevitable and eventually desirable.  I started thinking about what sort of person this would make me.  A housewife?  A suburbanite?  A normal  person.  Yes, it turns out that I am a normal person after all, the one thing I was always desperate for because I was shunned and strange, and dreaded the most because I thought I was special.
I don’t know who lived here last, we bought a blank slate from a redeveloper, all in cream and white and upvc.  Neighbours have mentioned an old woman, but the surveyor found a pushchair in the loft.  It doesn’t feel like a house with a story, generations have been passing since the 1930s, completing their business here and moving on, it’s not a house that has absorbed their characters.
There are thousands of houses like ours, a three-bedroomed terrace, now with a kitchen extension and open-plan ground floor (no need to huddle in tiny dark rooms now central heating is available.  No need to be cut off from each other when cooking or reading or watching telly).  The whole suburb would have been a vast building site throughout the 1930s, a new lifestyle for workers from the nearby mine.  The mine became a landfill site for the last half of the century, and now it’s a nature reserve and we can go blackberrying on it, or stand in our back garden and watch buzzards hunt.  Because that’s the sort of thing we like to do.  We are people who live in a house, and we like nature and cooking and gardening.
These aren’t houses for people who live on their own, though plenty do.  Mostly the bereaved, or those who’ve extricated themselves from a bad relationship.  But the main occupants are families.  I never played as a child, but the same shrieks and giggles I used to find so pointless and unfathomable are still audible from my back window.  Now I have Paul, though, and we are a family, a small one, just us two, how we like it.    I am a person who lives in a house and experiments with growing vegetables.  I am a person who lives with my partner.   I am a person who engages tradesmen, in as much as window cleaners turn up occasionally, and I agree to give them money.  I can almost see the day when I become a person who gives a shit about the condition of my lawn.  It is frightening, but I can finally stop fighting.  I can see our house on Google Earth, it is there, and as I zoom out, I can see how tiny we are, but we are still part of a city, of a country, of the world.
I thought I was moving back out of the light into the shadows.  Now I’m learning how to make my own light.