Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Rough Draft

I am close to completion of a very rough first draft of my work in progress, which I have provisionally titled 'Repossession'. One never knows whether the story is, basically, a pile of shite, but it's so important to carry on right through to the perceived end of the story - to let the characters speak until they are speaking no more. It stands at 42,000 words. Now the task will be to map out the structure so that I can get a clearer bird's eye view and then think about whether it will work or not before moving onto the second draft.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Life and Times of Norma D

Whilst I'm resurrecting these old manuscripts here's another one - The Life and Times of Norma D. also written in 2006.

The Life and Times of Norma D.
Chapter One

Norma Doyle’s confusion fed the anxiety that fed the shaking of her nail-gnarled, detergent worn hands.
It hadn’t always been like this. But it had ever been ‘easy’ either. She had never been easy - not in a sexual sense, God forbid, (as she would say), but within herself. But the shaking hands, they were a recent development, and too hard to hide when you were a midwife. A long favoured saying of Norma’s was ‘the delivery of new life requires stability’, and that meant a good steady pair of hands. These very words were now a tangled umbilical cord wrapped around her neck - squeezing the life out of her. Not that too many people were noticing. Not nowadays. Figures were being noticed. Of the numerical kind. Stats. Targets. The bottom line. Those of the nurses and midwives who were middle aged and beyond and could still remember different days of faded glory, all the more glorious because of the stark contrast with their current situation. They had started with different figures - their own, slim, svelte; quick and efficient. They had kept those hips and calves in trim, envious shape, as idealized in romantic hospital dramas and even sexualized to a whole generation of young men by Barbara Windsor and the Carry On films. But now many of them, sluggish with apathy, had become overweight; waddling, smoking, scowling. Not fitter, bitter. Norma didn’t waddle. Or smoke. Or binge drink. Norma had actually lost weight over the years, but it was that particular type of thinness borne from ‘bad nerves’ And one day, like a twig, she snapped.
It had been a typical week at the hospital. Several agency staff made up the maternity workforce; agency staff whose faces changed from day to day – week to week – along with their accents. Very few of them could hit the ground running, as it were, and Norma, ever-cautious, would find herself having to keep a sharp eye on her unfamiliar colleagues – not that she was the assertive type – but she would, when vigilant, stealthily correct the mistakes of these transients, of which there were many, far too many for one meek silent midwife. But the week had been pretty much like any other, stress, attempted hyper-vigilance; but then the day came when it all became too much.

Norma had just delivered two halves of babies. That is, she had ran from one delivery theatre to check on the contractions of a wailing indecipherable Somali woman who had been brought in against her own wishes, and then she’d had to run half a mile of polished corridor to Jade, a fifteen year old who had no idea who the father of her first child was. (When the son was handed to her she was able to narrow it down to one of two white boys, and thus eliminate the one Asian). It was seven am when Norma made her way to the rest room with a can of Sprite, something she didn’t usually drink, but felt compelled towards for the sugar rush. She had been on duty since ten the previous night. It was nothing new of course. But what had been a dull ache at the beginning of that week had turned into a throb of resentment, a cactus of anger, fizzing throughout her being. Norma felt her face redden as the chemicals of anger surged around her thin, overworked body. ‘Calm down’, she urged herself. But her words had no effect, if anything they served only to aggravate the state in which she now stewed, like a lamb to the slaughter. And then Imelda, the large Malaysian matron, had entered the rest room wearing a look of exasperation, as though Norma was an errant child who was forever testing her infinitely more important adult patience.
Norma could remember Imelda’s first day at the hospital five years earlier. She had been just one of the handful of agency nurses sent to cover for the week. Imelda had thrived ever since, becoming a matron only six months ago. Norma remembered. And, it seemed to her, that Imelda had long forgotten. And, when the Minister of State for Health had visited the hospital three months before, it was Imelda who had shook his hand, smiled in all the right places and had her photo taken, whilst Norma had been somewhere far in the background.
‘Where’s your paperwork?’ she asked. Norma sighed and looked up at her. ‘I’m going to stay on and do it,’ she had replied. She began to fiddle with the ring pull. But Norma’s heart soared. It was only then that Norma conceded to herself that the sugar laden drink may not have been a good idea. She usually stuck to water – or milk, not that either one would have made much difference under the circumstances.
‘You know we all under pressure…’ Imelda began, still looming over her by the half open doorway.
“Well. Some more than others, especially those who have been here for a long time,” Norma replied.
“What that does mean?” Imelda demanded to know. Norma didn’t correct her on the order of her words. “Norma Dale, are you being racist, mmm?”
“It’s DOYLE actually, D-O-Y-L-E.”
“Well, Mrs. Doyle, yur superior needs your paperwork on time, you’re holding up the flow of the process… no-one immune to the process…”
“It’s MISS, not, it’s Norma, damn you, woman…” and it was at that moment the red mist that had been lodged in Norma Doyle’s solar plexus shot upwards, like the exploding mercury from a thermometer, and up through her head, turning into a shower of red rage whose red mist now descended over her eyes – blinding her to all but the immediate priority of this expression of rage. Some call it madness. Norma lobbed the three quarters full can of Sprite across the room. It hit the large dirty window and bounced back; it was reinforced glass. Norma didn’t, couldn’t, take the time to evaluate the damage. She had turned into the banshee her mother had always called her when she was younger, but which she had never actually been until now. She opened her mouth and roared in what could only be described as an expression of primeval rage. Imelda backed out of the ‘rest’ room, wide-eyed, onto the corridor. Norma followed her out and continued to roar, but added screaming and spitting. Imelda continued her slow backwards pace until she stood amidst the two-way pedestrian traffic of the main corridor that to the right led to maternity or to the left, the exit. Norma had become like an uncaged wild animal that had to be captured.
Instead of continuing to work downstairs as the ever-reliable, if stressed midwife, Norma now paced the small side room on the Miller Ward of the psychiatric unit. She had been sectioned for twenty-eight days, a decision which had been fuelled by Imelda’s statement that had begun by stating she had noticed her ‘strange’ behaviour weeks before, and that today’s incident was its culmination.
It wasn’t quite what Norma had expected at ten the previous evening when she had arrived to work. But she had deterioriated after she had blacked out; violent, apparently. Life was full of surprises, she told herself. But she knew that wasn’t true. Her life hadn’t been full of surprises at all, at least, not until this occurrence.

NEED NORMA SURVEYING THE MILLER WARD. The first thing that went through Norma’s mind as she became more aware of her situation was who was going to tell her mother that she wouldn’t be visiting her for the next twenty-eight days? She managed to calm what felt like an increasingly glass shattering (inner) voice long enough, firstly, to convince the Miller staff that it was imperative she make a phone call, and then to make the phone call to her mother’s key worker, Patty, at the Sunny Glades care home in Willesden, a woman whom Norma had always felt intimidated by.
“Hello Norma, how are you love? Are we to expect you? Your mother has done well this afternoon, art therapy,” the West Indian voice declared with a mixture of pride and no-nonsense.
“That’s grand,” Norma replied.
“Yes, potato prints mainly, paint everywhere.”
“I see, very… very good. Now listen, I don’t want to upset her or anything but I won’t be there today…”
“Or tomorrow, in fact, I’ll be tied up for the next twenty-eight days.” And that’s when Norma fell into the sobs of a wounded child. Patty offered only regular spaced ‘there there’s’ Once Norma had found a calm spot upon which to rest long enough to explain that she had been placed under section, even though she’d only snapped and lobbed a can of Sprite against a window and then become a (violent) banshee, she recognised the slight change of tone in Patty’s voice. It was the tone reserved for strange old patients like her mother when in a particularly difficult space. But Norma didn’t say anything for fear of reinforcing even more an image of lunacy. She just accepted the reassurances that her mother was in good hands.
“Well, you shall have to focus on getting yourself well again,” Patty said. Norma put the phone down in the manned ward office. She made no attempt to move but lowered her head and picked at her pathetic gnarled and raggedy fingernails and asked herself, what if she too would have to resort to afternoons of potato prints? She allowed herself to be guided out of the office by what seemed to me no more than a student. They trundled out, Norma’s head still bowed,to join the lingering line of muttering ward shufflers.
Maeve stared at the television in the smaller of two dayrooms in the Sunny Glades care home. The children’s TV presenter jumped around with a bowl of custard in one hand and a wobbly red jelly in the other – a comedic balancing act which didn’t so much as evoke the hint of a giggle from Maeve Doyle.

Norma had never, in all her forty-four years, known a period of twenty-eight days to pass so quickly, especially as she was still in the same building in which she worked, had worked. But then, she reasoned, there had been plenty of meds - downers mainly, which made her hitherto anxious mind a relatively hospitable oasis of dreamlike scenery - she recalled many afternoons of the four week period when, having been told there was no group therapy due to ‘lack of resources’ she was able to sit back and just let her mind wander into a hitherto unknown and unexplored landscape consisting of boulevards, avenues, promenades even, and a thankful lack of the concrete cul de sacs she hadn’t before realised she had become so familiar with. During one fertile afternoon of dream travel she recollected a short story she had written for English class in her second year at St. Joseph’s R.C. technical high school for girls. The exercise was to write a story for a main character from a favourite novel. She had chosen Jane Eyre, along with the rest of the class, a heroine more in tune with their own lives than the middle-class Elizabeth Bennett could ever be. She had produced a four-page story in which Jane was set in 1972, with flowing hair and platform shoes with magic powers. When she had submitted it for marking, however, she had blushed a repressed Catholic schoolgirl scarlet at her teacher’s remarks that loose hair in Victorian times signified a loose woman, and that the magic powers may signify drug taking. Her teacher was much more open and liberal than the other teachers. There had even been rumours of her being ‘passionate’ and liberal, which, whilst in keeping with the times of disco-dancing and glitter balls, was still something from an alien land to the overseeing nuns. Nevertheless, Norma had been shocked at such an interpretation and even more shocked that perhaps her subconscious motives, or her sly side as her mother had frequently termed it with a scowl, could reveal so much - if that’s what it was. She had been extra careful ever since. But this afternoon of freedom saw Jane, in platforms, hot pants and long flowing hair, taken by a giant hand to join Lucy, in the sky, with diamonds. Bright. Sparkly. Shiny. Full of promise.
Day twenty-seven arrived and Norma was ushered into a PRIVATE - STAFF ONLY room. She cautiously approached the standard high backed chair upholstered in wipe down material usually found in old peoples homes.
“Hi, hi, hello,” she said, trying to sustain at least a few seconds of meaningful, mentally healthy eye contact with each of the three people present, one middle-aged man, one woman in her sixties, and one who couldn’t be more than mid-thirties. The man, more like an accountant, looked up from a file in front of him and gave a slight nod, more of a reflex built over the years in the same job than by any sincere salutation. The woman in her thirties gave a wide smile of sympathy, the stresses and strains not yet succeeded in dragging her down, and whose smile could, if she had been alone have resulted in yet another breakdown for Norma, yet not the manic can of soft drink lobbing banshee kind, but more the deep, fall on the floor huddled in the corner with snot and tears kind. The older woman just sat stone still - a silver Mont Blanc, drawing attention to itself, ready and waiting to either release or restrain.
“Norma Doyle?” the man asked, glancing up for a second again as Norma took her seat.
“Yes?” Norma asked.
“Can you confirm your date of birth for us please?” the thirty something asked. Was Norma Doyle with it enough to be able to state her correct date of birth?
“19th March nineteen sixty two.”
“So, how have you found the help you’ve had access to during your stay with us?” the older woman asked.
“The help? Yes, well, I have been helped, I think I just needed a break - “
“The Miller Ward isn’t the usual destination of choice for midwives seeking breaks,” the older woman said, in what felt clearly like an accusation, how on earth could you, Norma Doyle, forty-four years of age and a childless spinster, have allowed yourself to break down?”
The thirty something offered another smile.
“We gather you were stressed for quite a while beforehand?” the older woman asked.
“Yes, yes, I was, I suppose, finding it quite difficult to cope - but I’m ok now.”
“Well now, there’s the issue of your work, isn’t there?” asked the man.
“Mmmm, well, I’m not sure, I mean, maybe I should try and find something else…”
“I read in your last appraisal notes that you said you were finding the pace of change within the hospital particularly difficult to cope with, is this true?” the thirty something asked.
Norma knew that comment would come back to haunt her. Her mother had always said you had to be careful what you said - walls had ears.
“Well, it’s true, yes, I have to admit it, I was finding it all - “
“What did you find particularly difficult? You know we all have to cope with change in one form or another, as the saying goes, the only constant thing in life is change,” the man said. Norma had watched enough police series to know that there was usually bad cop, good cop scenarios. She felt unduly weighted against in this room of bad-good-bad cop.
“Well, there was much more paperwork…” Norma said, but no sooner had the trail of words left her mouth than she felt their mockery jabbing her, like a cruel nun’s pencil in the chest.
“Paperwork?” the older woman asked.
“Well, things weren’t like that when I first became a midwife you know…” Norma felt her face heating up and she told herself to be careful - this wasn’t the time or place to instigate a one woman crusade against change within the NHS. Not that the leadership of such a crusade would ever be assigned to her.
“It wasn’t like that in my day, eh!” the man said and glanced sideways at the older woman.
Norma Doyle was duly discharged back into the community, along with a three-month sick note and access to six NHS funded counselling sessions.
Chapter Two
Within an hour of being released from the Miller Ward Norma found herself seated on yet another high-backed chair. This was Sunny Glades, a care home whose reality bore no resemblance to its name. Her mother sat beside her and muttered undecipherables to no one in particular.
“So, mother, I hope you weren’t too upset… I missed you…” Norma’s voice collapsed and broke off. The first stream of tears ran over her drug plumped cheeks. Her hands panicked for a tissue and rifled around her chaotic bag.
“Look at me mother, what am I to do? I’ve got myself into a right pickle,” she said amidst another flow of tears. Patty walked in and switched on the TV. Countdown was on, the big illuminated timer ticked away in beat to the familiar music.
“She needs the stimulation,” Patty said and turned to face Norma. “Oh dear, are you ok? Do you have tissues?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine, I’m alright - just a few tears, nothing to get het up about,” Norma said and dragged a moist ball of tissue across her face in a no-nonsense manner she hoped would have a no-nonsense affect on her emotions.
“That’s it dear, you wipe away those tears now. So. Are you going back to work?” Patty asked, now plumping up the cushions behind Mrs. Doyle’s back. Norma felt the descent of a veil of shame.
“Erm, no, I mean, yes, yes, but they’ve said to take a bit of time off, given me a sick note…”
“Well. Yes. That’s right, they did right, it is the NHS after all, isn’t it?” Patty said and raised her left eyebrow.
Norma held Patty’s gaze for only a second or so then darted her eyes back to her mother, then to Countdown.
“Well, well, so how’s she been then? Has she been fretting after me or anything…?”
“Well there have been days when she’s just put on her coat and wanted to leave all by herself. As if! And then there’s been days when she’s been glued to the TV, she fixes her eyes on those Channel Five afternoon films and she’s as happy as Larry,” Patty said.
It wasn’t until Norma had kissed her mother goodbye and was waiting at the bus stop, in the grey drizzling London rain, that she rewound and replayed the scene in which Patty had raised her eyebrow at her and said something about it was a good job the NHS had put her on sick, because they couldn’t have such an unstable, unpredictable, unwell person working for them; oh no, they couldn’t have that. Norma felt a fizzing surge of resentment in the pit of her stomach. OR had Patty meant that the NHS was so under funded, in such a bad state already that… was she being even more sarcastic? Was that it? The bus finally arrived. Norma sat one seat behind that marked for the elderly and those with disabilities. She stared out of the window at the grey North London streets of Willesden and Kilburn, brightened only by garish plastic and neon-lit shop signs. Did Patty think she should be looking after her mother at home? Is that what she thought? Is that what she thought all the Sunny Glades residents needed? The tender, loving, dutiful care of family - in the Family Home? But she had to admit it was only what she herself really thought. Was that what they called projection? Still. And it was only what the nurses at the hospital had thought whenever the old patients were left without visitors, get well cards or flowers. She, along with many of the nurses, had this idealistic image of the much loved, much wanted grandparent, cared for in a warm, loving home full of grandchildren, like an Tuscan advert for pasta sauce. It was all total shite, really, she now bravely concluded. Actually, Norma had reached this contrary conclusion long before - when she had tried to look after her own mother, when she had first gone ‘a bit funny’. But, apart from a home-help sent by social services, Norma had tried to juggle the situation by also working. It was also around about the time when bringing a continuous stream of new life into the world felt somehow disturbing to Norma. She had begun the vocation, for that’s what it had been, originally, with a sense of the spiritual; the miracle of New Life. Amen. Hallelujah. But then…
Norma entered the communal entrance of the converted Victorian terrace house in which she had rented a ‘spacious’ studio flat for the past nine years. It was the home, albeit rented, that she had ‘progressed’ onto once she had moved out of the nurses’ block at the hospital. Most of the other nurses who moved out of the block did so to get married, or to move in with their boyfriend, or had managed to find an adequate deposit to put down on their own small place - a place cheap enough usually only found miles from work, in which case many ended up leaving the hospital too. Then there were those like Norma who just craved their own space and so settled on a bedsit or studio, paying anything from £100 to £160 per week for the privilege - which amounted to sometimes over two thirds of their pay. She had been on the council waiting list but had been forgotten. Norma had never been the type to badger or make a nuisance of herself. Well, not until the Sprite can incident.
Norma scanned through the post, stacked up on the old brown chest in the hallway, next to everyone else’s. None of it was personal, just bills, circulars and statements. She entered her own ‘spacious’ studio flat and, for the first time she really smelled the place. The smell of the flat, of her belongings, of herself, hit her. It seemed like a mixture of charity shop and a trace of cheap white musk. She stood at the door, for it was from here she could see almost the entire space anyway, and took in this space, her ‘home’. And she felt a shame that could only be described as hazchem toxic. It was a shame that emanated from the very core of who she was. She asked herself what on earth she had been doing with her life. What had the past forty-three years amounted to? This? Was this IT? THIS? She had never even been abroad, well, only to the west of Ireland to see her parents families. And Wales. Not even Scotland. Not even to Spain. And then she knew what she was going to do with her time off - she was going to give herself, and her ‘space’ a new image. That was it, that’s what would help, a new image, a redecoration. Didn’t they say a change was as good as a rest? She would have to think about it first though, but before even that she would have to give the place a good going over. Twenty-eight days of neglect had fallen on the place.

After cleaning out and binning the decaying contents of the fridge and bin, and giving the place a good dust and vacuum Norma made a cup of tea and methodically sorted through each item of post and placed in a grease and tea stained, dog eared blue cardboard folder that she kept in the bottom drawer of her chest of drawers. There had always been an issue with storage.
Norma sat on the sofa bed and didn’t bother to even turn on the lamp as evening progressed into near darkness. All she did was stare at the beige walls that hadn’t been given anything more than a quick wipe down since she moved in. ‘Yellow?’ she wondered - it was a colour quite popular for bathrooms on all the TV home improvement shows. She had never seen Carol Smilie or Linda Barker, or any other TV interior decorator ever ‘do up’ a bedsit or a studio flat. The voices of her neighbours, in the next door studio travelled through the walls; two gay men who had moved in less than two years before. Neither had ever gone out of their way to be friendly. Whenever Norma passed them on the stairs they would always fall into camp whispers and ridiculous camp laughter. She had supposed she just wasn’t cool enough for them. She was a million miles away from that Grace, from Will and Grace, that was for sure. Norma didn’t like them. They didn’t like Norma. Norma didn’t like them because they didn’t like her. They were rude and garish and superficial, and couldn’t even be bothered to pretend for the sake of good neighbourly relations. She had lived there over seven years longer than them. Damn it! The new colour scheme definitely wouldn’t be pink. The only colour that she really wanted was a deep crimson, of the type found in old private libraries and Mayfair gentlemen’s clubs - the crimson that was framed by a train of gold, offset by the dark green leather bindings of antique books. Grand. Much too grand for a Kilburn studio - a glorified bedsit.
D.I.Y. superstores are never cheerful places to visit, especially not on a wet Wednesday. Even when all the couples are out at work, earning the money to improve their homes, and you are off work and have the time to stroll around the aisles at leisure. Norma pushed a shopping cart around that was three times the size of the regular supermarket variety, six times the size of the small supermarket carts aimed at the single shopper which held more than a basket but nowhere near as much as the regular family size. The aisles were three times as wide as those at Tesco. All in all it had the effect of making Norma feel like a lost little girl in a world of the oversized, and overbearing. No, DIY superstores were never cheerful places to visit. This was compounded by the characterless muzac and aisles of anonymous flat packs. It reminded her of a particularly realistic American ‘art house’ film in which the (usually disturbed) character just strolls around the big old D.I.Y. warehouse - the emptiness of the scene reflecting the emptiness of the character and his/her downbeat life. That’s how it felt. That’s how it was.
Norma settled on magnolia. It was the safer option, and a million miles from crimson and gold.

Eminem's Girl

Here's the first 20 pages from Eminem's Girl - written in 2005:

Eminem's Girl

- Chapter One -

It is a truth nationally left unacknowledged that a disaffected inner-city council estate resident, in possession of nothing, must be in want of something more.
It was an apt statement for Marcia Reed’s predicament, and there existed a mountain that had to be climbed. There were two questions: When? and How?
‘The goal of mankind is to reach a higher idea of freedom. Who said that? Hegel?’ Marcia asked herself, and turned to face the upturned second-hand cloth bound History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. She hesitated, sighed then turned onto her back and stared up at the ceiling of her small bedroom. She wouldn’t get one, she knew that much. She had turned to Russell the night before, when, like most sleepless nights she had opened it at random and had been somewhat comforted, even if it had been for all of five minutes – a short sweet balm nonetheless – held, not in a delivered certainty but in the seeking itself, and the potential it seemed to offer. She had read of Antisthenes, which, although it sounded like an anti-inflammatory medication, was in fact a philosopher who had been a disciple of Socrates, the first of the trio she conveniently remembered as S-P-A, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Antisthenes had turned his back on his aristocratic background and sought a brotherhood with working men, even took to dressing like one, and preached his philosophies in the language of the uneducated, so they too could relieve a thirst they hadn’t even been aware of, at the fountain of knowledge. Marcia wanted to be a disciple. No modern day equivalent was going to be found in Moss-Side though, unless she searched the nearby psychiatric unit, full to brimming with shuffling, bewildered pyjama wearers. Or the central benches adjacent to Kwik-Save in Moss-Side Precinct where many of them rocked back and forth, springing up like a too long unopened jack-in-the-box at the sight of a kind face, asking for a fag or the price of a cup of coffee with all the fervour of the panic-stricken, which would, however, only be spent at Booze Heaven. An inspirational mentor was never going to just ‘happen’, at least, not in the flesh. And besides, Marcia thought, even in films it seemed that it was only the boys that got the mentors – Karate Kid had one. The most Marcia felt she could ever hope for were the words that conveyed the rousing and revolutionary ideals of Marx. Karl, not Groucho.
The mountain then - could she ever change her life enough so that she could leave all traces of her existing one behind?
It was a hard question, one whose answer she had to believe was ‘yes’. But even that belief, once so strong, had steadily slipped away in tiny increments, each and every day, into the dark abyss of Reality.
It was one of those situations where the answer resided not in her head, but in her actions, and so, the problem Marcia faced was how to get from head to heart to action that would lead to the change she had so long craved. It was, she realised, the reason why most people didn’t, couldn’t change.
But Marcia Reed had to change, for she had more than most that needed changing.
She had reasoned, many a time since she had left the children’s home six years earlier that of course she could get the life she wanted, not just for herself, but for her mum also. She just needed to… what?
‘Six years, six whole years’, Marcia reminded herself, ‘and still no further forward’. She wondered what her fellow ‘inmates’, as she always referred to them, were doing now, a regular thought. No, she told herself, there was no need to worry on that count, she certainly wouldn’t be trailing behind a long line of high achievers, of that she was certain. ‘Anyway, I can enrol on a course in September,’ she tried to reassure herself, ‘a trade’, as her mum would say, as if she had ever had one. ‘A trade’ meant something like secretary, hairdresser, nursery nurse, nurse… and yet Marcia felt no compulsion to enter any of those trades, or wait the next eleven months to do anything about her situation, or spend four years training to do something that would pay little more than what she was currently earning, and failing, to live off.
She was also aware, though had no direct experience of, that freedom could come from within - ‘stoicism, or something,’ but that, even when the external landscape was friendly, was a long and arduous journey; but when it was hostile, like it was in Moss-Side, Manchester 14, it was another matter altogether. It wasn’t as if she could ever enjoy the scenery of such a journey either, literally or metaphorically, for green areas were non-existent. It was only ever black. And white. Only, to the black, it was all white. And, to the white, especially the police, all black. All trash, anyway.
Marcia both loved Moss-Side, and hated it. She loved its rebellious outcast status, and the irony of that status having grown organically within a city that was itself supposed to be an outcast, for it had once been proud of a solid working class revolutionary tradition. The Chartists. The Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Marx and Engels. Shelley. The Irish. Tony Wilson and Factory Records. Happy Mondays. Joy Division. The Charlatans. Morrissey. Oasis. Even Manchester United, once known as the Manchester Celtic, had all formed and built upon the foundation of what Manchester had once been, a city of fighters; fighters against systems, against oppression; any system would do - industrial capitalists, Manchester City FC, fascists, even, and especially, Soft Southerners. But the action never quite followed through as far as it should have done.
But now, almost its entire body soaked, nay – withered – like a prune even, in the rubbish strewn canal of faded glory, save for that glorious period in which Tony Wilson, Factory Records The Happy Mondays and indie music gave birth to flares and re-labelled the city, more appropriately Madchester. It was an image the city still tried desperately to retain, just like its neighbour, Liverpool, which was determined to hold onto a faded glory of The Beatles and the belief that its self-named football club would once again be champions. And European cities of culture meant little.
The attempted revolutions and its history were subjects Marcia remembered from her ‘normal’ school, inner city normal that is, the high school she had sporadically attended before being put into ‘care’. ‘Care’. That had been a privately run care home in the middle of that old county of Salop. It had been owned by a Scouse self-made man, an accountant, who tried to hide his accent and his money-grabbing priorities. Its remote location conveniently gave the kids ample space in which to sniff glue and lighter fuel whilst telling each other to fuck off in a variety of accents, representing as they did every major city of the country. Scouse was a good one, the way the ckkks dictated the smaller partner, fuckkkkkoff. And the London one, faccckkorf, which almost sounded Scottish. The home had whole-heartedly embraced the commodification of vulnerable children and charged Madchester Social Services over a thousand pounds a week for her ‘upkeep’. Marcia had often thought, and now rethought, with liberal doses of resentment, that the money could easily have been spent on the best private school education instead. Education at the ‘home’ had certainly not been centred on books, but on making sure there were enough cigarettes to last the week, even at the age of thirteen. Even at that age they knew they were kids who couldn’t even claim to be of working class stock, just the lumpenproletariat - aka the ASBO sub-culture. It was a subject never absent from the social worker’s weekly trade titles that bore names like Care, Young Voice, and Cared For but which only spoke in a jargon unrelated to anything the real world was about.
Marcia had been pouring over this state of play as she both saw, and had experienced it, for many years. There was always a plethora of frustration making questions that arose as a result, questions that were like invisible itches. She was sure the fact that she read, avidly, in spite of and not despite the lack of expectation displayed by all adults she had ever known, didn’t really help, but did it anyway. The point was this – Marcia couldn’t help reading books that only served to ask more questions, and in turn, more still – for which no-one seemed to have any answers.
And now, she couldn’t help but remind herself, she was older than a post-graduate.
She knew she would have to stop doing that - comparing her age to that of a university educated ‘normal’ person. But, for Marcia, it was hard when you lived in the heart of a city that had the highest student population, for they were like police riot vans, burnt-out cars, and cockroaches on the Graeme Estate - everywhere.
When she was sixteen she had told herself that ‘it’ would be ok, that she still had two years before the usual undergraduate age. Then, when she was nineteen it all felt a bit more panic-laden, for she was one year older than the average undergraduate, and so it went on in free-fall.
And now, here she was, four years older than an undergrad, one year older than a grad, beginning her day in the usual way, tearing the arse out of the impending drudgery that was her minimum wage chambermaid’s job, or room attendant as it was now called, otherwise known as contemplation.
Most of Marcia’s wages went towards the upkeep of the small council flat she shared with Jackie, her alcoholic mother, whose own money consisted of ‘benefits’. It was just another word in Marcia’s self constructed dictionary of dodgy meanings. Such words were plenty in the Reed household, ‘house’ and ‘hold’ being another two, for it wasn’t a house, and it certainly couldn’t be said to ‘hold’ anything, except dysfunction.
Jacqueline meant ‘to protect’ - Marcia knew that because whenever she entered a bookshop she would head straight for the names dictionary and look it up, as if expecting the researchers to have finally realised their mistake, and changed it to what it meant to her, ‘constant intoxication; to damage - both oneself and one’s only daughter’.
The meaning of her own name was also a source of confusion, for Marcia, she was informed, meant ‘brave’. Reed, her mother’s surname that she had had no choice but to receive, meant ‘red-haired’ or ‘red-faced’ and that, Marcia thought, could never be contested. Marcia had dark auburn hair shot through with flame coloured strands against a pale complexion, pre-Raphaelite, but her mother was of both red hair and red face. Jackie’s hair, though, was red because she had been dying it disastrously for years and had long since settled upon it being a mish-mash of reds. Her face was red because she drank from morning till night - and not, as Marcia thought it should be, because she suffered any embarrassment or shame from her antics on the estate with the other alchies - of which there were many.
Marcia threw back her cheap, thin duvet and tried to convince herself that embracing the cold was always a good way to start the day - wasn’t it some sort of Japanese philosophy, or was that taking cold showers? No, it was probably a Shetland Isle philosophy or something, she thought, before reminding her constant inner dialogue to shut the fuck up. She opened the cardboard thin bedroom door, the insides of which consisted of nothing more than extra long egg cartons. She could hear her mother pottering around in the kitchen, a sound so many daughters would be usually comforted by.
“Here, open that for me, me hands are all wet,” Jackie said, appearing at the kitchen door. She pushed a bottle of bright red alco-pop into Marcia’s hands.
“What’s this you’re drinking now? I thought you were gonna try and stick to lager?” Marcia asked, and examined the label that claimed its contents were ‘berry crush’ flavoured, which also featured what was supposed to be a seductive photograph of red berries - a pornographisation of exotic fruit crushed in a sea of park-bench strength alcohol. She still obliged though, and wrapped a section of her tee-shirt around the bottle lid and twisted, her face contorted with effort.
“Oh don’t start, it’s my only pleasure,” Jackie said, anticipating what she had long considered to be just plain cheek from her disrespectful daughter.
“Yeah but, first it was Guinness, then lager, and now… I don’t know what the fuck this is, crushberry… looks like it’s just come from Chernobyl,” Marcia said, and handed back the opened drink.
“Oh ha ha, very bloody funny, I’ve told you before, mind your own business, aren’t you s’posed to be at work? Well get going then, go on,” Jackie said, and returned to the kitchen, taking a quick swig of her crushed berry alco-pop. Marcia loitered in the doorway and watched as her mother placed the bottle on the work surface beside the cooker, take out a super long, super cheap cigarette from a packet that were forever stood to attention, then dangle the cigarette from her mouth, stoop her face over the cooker and light it from an almost constantly lit stove, her cheeks hollow as she sucked in whilst the tip glared dim, then bright, dim, then bright, dim, then bright. A gust of dark grey smoke defiantly entered the atmosphere until, like a moth, floated chiffon like around the naked light bulb before resting against the walls forever.
“GOD! Give me a chance, I’ve just woke up, it’s only quarter to seven, oh, I forgot, it’s still the middle of the night for some,” Marcia said and left her mother to herself.
Marcia entered the bathroom, a small space just large enough to house the Armitage Shanks standard council issued, not quite full-length bath, hand-basin and toilet. As usual it was adorned with obstinate cigarette butts that refused to be flushed away. Both the rims of the bath and hand-basin were stained from burning cigarettes. Marcia wondered if there was possibly anywhere her mother’s booze and cigs hadn’t left their irremovable marks. They had done far more than stain inanimate objects. The living room was no different. The cheap mail order self-assembly cabinets and TV stand had all received the burning cigarette treatment, as had the exhausted carpet that had once enjoyed the hope of being forever summer sky blue, but had which long since matched the reality of Mancunian skies - dark grey and loaded with the wrath of an omnipotent figure.
“The way you speak to your mother, it’s terrible, you know, I would never have dared speak to my mother the way you do to me,” Jackie shouted, shooing away the truth that, where her own mother had been concerned, she had been much worse than she would ever admit.
Marcia doubted that very much anyway and turned on the cold water at full blast.
Marcia left the small council block that housed three other flats, down the thin path that ran alongside a two metre length of a small sorry square of grass, abused relentlessly by dog shite and yet more cigarette butts as well as the burnt down roaches from spliffs that offered another slice of the fourth dimension. She turned and looked up at their kitchen window. Jackie waved. Marcia reciprocated. It was their only routine.
Marcia walked through the Graeme Estate. It was the only time of the day when it could be trusted to be deserted. It would come to life at around 8.45am, when groups of hoodie wearing children would go to school, or plan on going somewhere other than school, whilst comparing the newest mobile phone ring tones. Hordes of bare-legged or denim-clad groups of mothers would stroll down to Wilmslow Road to join the long queue outside the area’s main post office, at the head of which were the army of scared or bitter looking pensioners of all nationalities. They eyed each other up with confusion and an endless internal narrative, which, if it were audible, may have resembled nothing more than the sounds of Finnegans’ Wake, but which nonetheless housed an entire world of poignancies.
Marcia waited at the Happy Hopper bus stop, her arms folded and her weight resting first on her right hip for a few minutes, before loading onto the left, and back again. It was the same waiting pose adopted by all women on the estate, and it wasn’t restricted only to the bus stop, but every queue, especially the post office, Kwik-Save, and the DHSS’ personal issue/crisis loan giro counter. She looked back towards the estate and recalled the same thought she had woken up with - that noble thought of freedom.
‘Hegel’, she reminded herself, ‘strong influence on Marx’. Dialectic. Her mind wandered along many lines that included the image of Marx’s old bearded face. She tried to imagine what he would think of the Graeme Estate. She tried to defamiliarise the sight now before her, the view of the estate seen from the bus-stop, what would she think of it if she was an alien, just landed on a mission from Mars? No, she corrected herself, apparently it would have to be Venus. She narrowed her eyes and tried to clear her mind and look at it as objectively as she could. Along with the rows of back to back terraced houses in the distance, and the Graeme Estate sprawled out, crisp, chip and kebab wrappers blew around. The distinctive thin blue, or red and white striped carriers bags were lifted higher off the ground until they danced around the tops of broken lamp posts, as if mocking the heavier chip wrappers, and looking down at the motionless bicycle tyres wedded to the ground around the lampposts forever, until the bags continued their dance until they landed on a tree branch, where they would remain at the weather’s discretion. Despite this attempt at defamiliarisation, the only two images of her home patch that kept cropping up in Marcia’s mind was a version of a Bronx project, but plonked in the middle of Coronation Street. Despite all this, Marcia knew she would defend this area from any stuck-up yet stale suburbanite any day of the week, but that still did not detract from the need to escape it all. Soon. ‘Yeah but when?’ she asked herself, but the arrival of the Happy Hopper meant that, for the moment, no answer was needed.
Having parked her chambermaid’s trolley outside room fifteen of the Charterhouse Hotel, ‘Manchester’s Premier Five-Star Hotel, and only minutes from the major arena favoured by stars, the G-MEX, Marcia craned her ear to the door.
‘No, nothing’. She knocked, two short raps just underneath the number plate, followed by the quick insertion of card key into slot, hearing the beep, opening the door and shouting, “hello housekeeping?” just like Liz, the housekeeping supervisor, had trained her.
Her eyes darted across all clear surfaces, but no, as usual the only tip she’d been left was the room itself.
She eyed the room service tray, not from breakfast, but the night before, displaying now solidified gravy, or was it sauce, or even jus? She didn’t know, didn’t care. She lifted up the tray, not bothering to adhere to the correct squat down and lift procedure shown in the ten minute health and safety instruction three months earlier, also expertly, and rather comically, demonstrated by Liz.
Liz didn’t give two fucks - not really, about her own back, or any other fucker’s. Liz just had a job to do, she did it well, went home, watched Corrie, and like everyone else, got blind drunk at weekends and tried to forget about work. She had given Marcia that little overview of who she was on day one - and day two, three, four, and every day since. That’s why Marcia liked her.
She pushed the tray up against the corridor wall for a waiter to remove it on his periodic rounds of the corridors. Wasting no more time, Marcia took everything she needed off her trolley - double duvet cover, double sheet, four pillowcases, bathmat, set of towels, one face cloth, two miniature soaps, shampoo, conditioner, shower cap, and then items for the tea tray, (only just including the herbal option), and her red cleaning bucket. Then, putting the essentials down on the floor, she shut the heavy white door behind her, which probably consisted of a thick slab of oak, and switched on MTV.
It wasn’t as if Marcia minded working in silence, in theory, but then her head became noisier. It revelled in pointing out how estranged her labour was to her, its implementer. It also seemed bent on trying to figure out how much profit the hotel owners, who lived in London, were actually making. No, she was happier with the music, Eminem said all she wanted to say and so, as she listened to his words, connected to his rhythm, felt his anger wake up her own, a surge of energy shot through her and she threw the thick, heavy duvet off the bed and stripped the sheets. ‘Two trailer park girls go round the outside, round the outside, round the outside…’ Marcia felt like she was a trailer park girl, or England’s equivalent. But his words, they were nothing like those of Eliot, that strain, ‘Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not say still.’
A couple of hours, or four rooms later, Liz burst into room eleven.
“Dinner time!” It’s dinner time! You comin’ or what?” she shouted, and strode over to the television and turned it off. Liz, hands on hips, scanned the state of the room.
“Already? I’ve only done four so far,” Marcia replied, feeling a surge of stress in her solar plexus for being less than a third of the way through her list. But that’s the way it was, guests hardly ever checked out on time, the DND sign was God, that and an extra charge for late check-out.
“Fuck it! I’ve done seven o’my lot, so I can always give y’an ‘and ‘bout three or so,” Liz said.
“Great, thanks.”
“Well, it’s all fuckin’ work innit, if I don’t ‘elp you after I’ve done me own, then The Bitch’ll only ‘ave us cleanin’ bleedin’ public areas till ‘ome time,” she explained.
The ‘Bitch’ was Viv, aka the housekeeper. Unlike the chambermaids, and Liz the supervisor, who had to wear striped blue overalls, Viv wore a navy blue suit with a gold name badge - only plastic though. Her title was stated with pride, ‘HOUSEKEEPER’, as though it was something that should be aspired to by everyone.
It was clear that Viv thought it was something everyone in housekeeping did aspire to, just as she once had. Viv, Marcia had observed from day one, had an annoying habit of telling ‘her’ chambermaids, ‘her’ girls, how she had worked her way up from chambermaid, ten years earlier, when she’d been a single mother with two kids to feed, and look at her now, arms folded across her buttoned up blue blazer, her chin raised so that her eyes looked down her nose as though she wore a sergeant major’s cap whilst retaining a very large pole between her ample buttocks, more ample since she had become housekeeper. ‘Yes’, Marcia thought whenever she launched into ‘look at me now’ mode, ‘look at you’.
There was another question that Marcia, more often that not, knew the answer to - is it worth spending half, or most of your life, working in a pointless and low paid job just to get onto the next rung of a very long ladder?
Marcia and Liz walked through the non-descript door, where the hotel’s rich red carpet ended and the stark paint splattered, dust laden concrete floor began. It was the door that led the way downstairs – the laundry room, the trolley room and the supplies room, and the dirty staircase that ran down to all the other staff only sections of the hotel.
Four flights later they were in the basement where the clash of pans and crockery mingled with the distinctive voices of angry chefs, submissive but resentful kitchen porters and an army of waiting staff.
They entered the kitchen and found, on the corner stainless steel surface, the industrial sized stainless steel containers of staff food.
“What’s for dinner t’day then?” Liz shouted, to no-one in particular.
“Oh, you again is it? How many times do I have to tell you, it’s LUNCH, DINNER’S what we have at six,” one of the white uniformed chefs shouted from a vegetable prep area.
“Oh kiss me arse, it’s bin called dinner a lot fuckin’ longer than LUNCH!” Liz replied, and spooned what looked like Bolognese onto a nest of damp, unmanageable spaghetti. Liz banged the metal spoon on the edge of the container a few times whilst glaring at the veg prepping chef then slammed it down.
“Bitch,” the chef said without interrupting the rhythm of chopping a large squash.
“Twat!” Liz replied.
Marcia and Liz dragged their feet into the canteen, a windowless room containing four white plastic tables that belonged to a cheap garden, and an array of mismatched chairs ‘donated’ by one banqueting hall or another over the years, three of which had wonky legs, two had no backs, and the remainder so tatty that they would never even have looked good enough in the DHSS waiting room. The door was held back against the wall by a tall, dented and rust patched bin, and the only item on the wall was a handwritten sign, ‘kindley requesting’ that all members of staff should ‘please refraine from scareping any food whatsoever into this bin’ and that they were instead to use the ‘main bins in the kitchen, please’ and finished by thanking them ‘for their cooperation in advance’, signed by P.J. Flannagan, the kitchen porter, on behalf of Mr. J.S. Symmonds, the FACILITIES MANAGER.

Poetry Park

Because I am getting impatient with myself for not being able to produce enough enthusiasm to produce the usual amount of words on paper I have been 'rooting around' my various folders containing work from a good few years back. Poetry Park, the first twenty pages posted below, is something I first began in 2003, and something which I am very fond of. It's simple and has its characters - despite being set in Moss-Side - have an air of innocence about them.


- Chapter One -

Poetry comes with anger, hunger and dismay; it does not often visit groups of citizens sitting down to be literary together, and would appall them if it did.
Christopher Morley, John Mistletoe

Patty Lawrence had collapsed at the bus stop outside Moss-Side precinct. She had been carrying, in an environmentally friendly 10p Bag for Life, yams, chicken drumsticks, plantain, mangoes, and one tin of baked beans. The beans had rolled off the pavement and onto the road. Almost at once it was squashed in the middle by a four-wheel drive. The chicken had also been taken care of with similar efficiency; a stray dog, a former unfortunate resident of the nearby yellow-bricked Alexander Park Estate, grabbed it in her teeth and hurried back to an unused shed where she could build up fuel for her yapping pack of pups. The rest of the groceries had stayed put, as if waiting for their owner to pick them up and take them home for herself and Vincent.
But they would just end up rotting; redundant.
Patty’s small, yet well-fed body had lain there, in the July morning sun, for a full five minutes and thirty-seven seconds before a passing driver called for an ambulance. It had been another twenty-two minutes for the ambulance to arrive and take her to the hospital, less than ten minutes away, by which time it was too late. Neither Saturday or Sunday morning was a good time to collapse in the middle of the street for, rest assured, the hospital would still be racing through a bombardment of drugs and alcohol related injuries.
That was the day Patty Lawrence died.

Patty had asked earlier that Saturday morning,
“I’m off down the precinct now; do you need me to pick anything up, mmm?”
Vincent had mumbled from behind his newspaper, “mmm?”
“Lordie, why I bother… if the children from next door come knocking there’s some mango slices in the fridge, nice and cold, do you hear me, Vinnie?” Patty stood in the doorway of the front room. “Vincent Lawrence, do you hear me?” She received no reply. She shook her head, sucked her teeth and left the house.
Vincent lowered his newspaper and glanced towards the door. He listened to the front gate squeak and then click shut.
He mumbled to the loyal dog who lay by his feet, “always them kids, always the cold slices of mango, moans when she has to do that for me, aah well, I got you, haven’t I Langston?”
How Vincent wished that he’d lowered his newspaper, smiled, and told his wife of fifty years he loved her before she left that morning. Funny how that’s the one thing most people wish they could have said before a loved one passes away, isn’t it? We never learn. The bereaved, well, most of them I suppose, seem to think having said ‘I love you’ before their loved one dies is the most important thing of all, but for whom? Them? Or the dead? But there was another source of regret for Vincent Lawrence. Not ten minutes after the gate had clicked behind his wife, he had gone into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and eaten the cold slices of mango. He didn’t just eat each slice, mind, he devoured them, each and every one - as if they had been the last slices of mango left in the world. He’d enjoyed them so much only because they’d been intended for the mouths of babes, relatively speaking.
Leanne shouted, “Keenan, I won’t tell you again, if you’re going to play outside, stay outside, stop coming in and out every few minutes.”
Keenan stood at the doorway, a football nursed under his arm, he replied, “I won’t tell you then.”
“Tell me what?” Leanne, sprawled out on the sofa, looked up at him from her tabloid weekly.
Keenan glared at his mother, letting her know he enjoyed this small amount of power. It didn’t come along very often, but when it did, it had to be savoured.
“Stop it – if you’ve got something to say, spit it out.”
“There’s a police car next door – I saw a police-man and police-woman go in.”
Leanne got up and pulled the net curtain back an inch.
Leanne murmured, “I wonder…”
Leanne timed the taking out of a not quite full rubbish bag. The departing policewoman shut Vincent’s gate behind her and gave Leanne what seemed to be an obligatory half smile, influenced by the mandatory handbook, ‘Improving Police Relations within the Communities We Serve’, which, as the title might suggest, was plagiarised, almost in whole, from the LAPD.
With an ingratiating repositioning of her shoulders Leanne asked, “everything ok?”
“Have you known your neighbours long?” Her colleague was already in the driver’s seat of the police car.
Leanne folded her arms and rested her body weight onto her right hip, “eight years, since we moved in, well, it’s Patty we know better, like.”
“I see, well, you may want to keep an eye on Mr. Lawrence then, you see, he’s just had some bad news, his wife passed away this morning.”
Leanne didn’t blink, but stared for a few seconds into the face of this messenger. She turned and examined the house of her neighbour, no longer to be known as Patty’s house, but Vincent’s. And it was now her own life that flashed before her eyes – the life she had lived since she had known Patty – a daily breezing in and out of each other’s homes – easy come, easy go.
“Eh? But she can’t be, she was fine yesterday.”
“I’m sorry love, I really am, but she collapsed outside Moss-Side precinct, at the bus stop.”
“Well bloody hell…”
The WPC left and joined her colleague in the warmth of the car and drove off towards Moss-Lane East.
Leanne looked back at her neighbour’s front door, wondering whether…but no, she returned to her own house. Now wasn’t the time to easy come - not now that Patty had so easily gone.
She shut the front door behind her and felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach. She hadn’t realised the pit had been so deep.
Kya, her daughter, descended the stairs with her friend in tow and asked, “mum, can Jumi sleep over tonight?”
“No, I’m sorry love, Patty’s dead, just now, the police…”
“What? Patty’s dead? How?” her ten-year-old face searched for answers, better answers. Then she turned and faced upstairs, and shouted, “KEENAN, PATTY’S DEAD!”
Keenan replied, “NO WAY!”
Kya confirmed, “WAY!”
Leanne went into the kitchen and sat at the table – the same table from which she and Patty had talked about everything. Despite all of Leanne’s twenty-four years, and Patty’s seventy-one, they had laughed and put the world to rights; each had given, and debated, their own utopian visions.
“So we’re not ever going to see Patty again?” Kya swallowed the remnants of a Love Heart, and fiddled with the half pack that remained clasped in her hand.
Leanne replied, “no love, Vincent must be devastated,” and held her head in her hands.
Kya fell into babyish sobs and seated herself next to her mum.
Jumanah said from the doorway, “I’d best go now, me mum’ll be wondering where I’ve got to.” She let herself out.
The only sounds for the next few minutes in the Tully house were those of mother and daughter, crying over the loss of the only strong matriarchal figure they’d ever had. Keenan listened to the cries of the females. He slammed the football against his bedroom wall and then bounced it on the floor with the clockwork regularity of a slow pendulum. He watched it hit the thinly carpeted floorboards, and the minute it reached his waist, he banged it back down again, thud, thud, thud…
Vincent remained in the silence and tried to visualise his wife’s moment of demise – desperate to understand what had happened. Exactly. She had collapsed at the bus stop, they had said. Collapsed how? In what way? Did not her legs just buckle which made her hit her head on the bus shelter bench? Or, did she have a clear body length path behind her and she just dropped, like a fly? Did she call out for him? Despite all of this he still expected her to return any minute, and wouldn’t have been at all surprised if, that very moment, her key had entered the lock, and she had traipsed in, bag in hand, muttering about the state of the precinct, then asked him whether he was still reading that damn newspaper. He wasn’t.
Keenan asked, “why’s he not answering mum?”
“Ssshh, he’ll hear you, I told you before, it was Patty’s funeral, and he’s bereaved.”
Kya said, “be-reaved means dead,” and her eyes shouted the disdain she felt towards her younger brother.
He asked, in a ‘told you so’ sing-song, “if Vincent’s dead then why’s me mum calling him then?”
“NO, it’s Patty who’s dead – you know that, mum will you tell him.”
“Then bereaved doesn’t mean dead, does it? Duh.”
Leanne positioned her mouth in front of her neighbour’s letterbox, “yoo-hoo, Vincent, hope you’re ok in there love.”
Keenan sighed and bounced his Manchester United football onto the cracked footpath.
Leanne backed away from the letterbox and turned to face her son, “will you bloody well pack that in, little swine.”
“He’ll definitely hear that!” Keenan inched away from his mother and bounced the football even harder.
“Well, anyway, we’ll leave him be for now, I’ll call back later.” Instead of taking the footpath to exit via the gate, Leanne cocked one of her denim clad legs over the small dark green fence that divided her small front garden from his.
“I’m playing, is it against the law?”
And, like a game of tennis, as soon as Keenan had served, it was time for Leanne to bounce the ball back.
“Get in here now you little swine.”
Keenan tucked the ball under his arm and darted in past his mother, covering the crown of his head with his free hand. He had long before concluded that life wasn’t fair, and certainly not as fair as his elder sister’s.
Leanne had already been hit with the realisation that there’d be no convenient ear to listen to her everyday struggles. No calming voice of reason. Only her own head chattering away, like a mad monkey…
Vincent Lawrence remained so still in the trusty leather armchair that was almost as old as himself, that only the occasional creak of the leather could be heard against the backdrop of the muffled voices of his young neighbours. He would usually shake his head and sigh, at the noise of childhood and youth, but not today. Today wasn’t the day when he could even manage his usual display of gruff impatience. Ironic really, considering he would have been free to get away with much more under the current circumstances. But he could cry, and shake his fist up to the sky and, like he had the previous night, stand by the window of what had been the marital bedroom and cry for the moon. He wiped away a couple of stray tears that had escaped down his cheeks, still springy and firm, despite his seventy-two years. Langston, his twelve-year-old dog, sprawled on the rug in front of the low-lit gas fire, looked up at him. Vincent ignored the dog’s sad, yet all too inquisitive gaze. Instead, he let his eyes drift around the now unfamiliar front room. Patty had always called it the ‘best room’, but now it was the worst. It had become a shrine of With Sympathy cards, sent by family from all over the world: Jamaica, America, Ireland, Scotland, the Caribbean, and just round the corner. And, of course, the friends they had made over the fifty years they had been married; cards from old neighbours and old friends, many of whom had long since abandoned Moss-Side, Manchester 14, to either pastures new, or just ‘Back Home’.
Fifty years of merry, mirthful and sometimes melancholic marriage in Moss-Side. Manchester.
‘Why now?’ Vincent asked himself, ‘just when I need her the most’, and, no sooner had he asked himself that futile question than he was hit with an embarrassment, as he felt the words weren’t even his – but the stray lyrics of some song he’d picked up.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever; I was wrong.

Vincent zoomed in on Langston’s breathing, faster than the hands of the clock on top of the television. The not so old clock. Tick-tock. It had been ‘awarded’ him as a retirement gift by Piccadilly train station seven years earlier. At its time, at the time, he had looked with bemusement; Patty hadn’t. Patty had raised her eyebrows, remarked upon it being a Good Quality carriage clock, and then likened it to the standard gift of her once favourite game show, Mr & Mrs, hosted by Nicholas Parsons and Isla St. Clair - live from Norwich. She had asked him, in a tone of mockery, ‘what more did you expect?’ then placed it on top of the television, in between the two photographs of their adult children.
Now it served only to remind him of the time that was passing by without her.
He moved on to the last image of his wife. It was of her body, cadaver, corpse, carcass, covered by a heavily starched white sheet, stamped in faded blue: ‘Property of the NHS’. Her face was peaceful, but what seemed strange was that her mouth was shut. It had always seemed, to Vincent, to be open; gabbing, singing, preaching. Even when sleeping it had remained open. Last visions. Incisions. And then, the organ donation decisions.
“Well Langston, that all for today…” Vincent sighed, and swallowed hard, the very back of his throat dry from the dust of silence. He pushed his body forward in the chair.
‘All alone now. Just me and you, you and me’.
Kya asked, “will Vincent be alright mum, eh? Will he?” Her body was leant against the doorframe of the small bathroom that always had a lingering smell of damp.
In front of the mirror, Leanne backcombed the pink segments of her otherwise home-bleached hair. She stopped, but didn’t turn to her daughter, and said, “he’ll have to be, life goes on,” and then resumed.
“Patty’s won’t though, will it?”
Leanne replied, still busy on her hair, “we don’t know, do we? Who knows what’s after this life? Depends what you believe.”
“You’re dead clever you are mum, d’ya know that?”
Leanne averted her eyes from her own reflection, “just because I’ve been on a few courses doesn’t make me dead clever Kya, I just haven’t found where my talents lie, or how to unlock my po-ten-tial, that’s all, but I will, one day-” she came to an abrupt halt on her hair and asked, like someone had left the house and remembered they’d left the iron on, “where’s Keenan?” and looked suspiciously through to the hallway and towards the stairs.
“Go and check your brother’s not wrecked the place down there, I’m making Vincent some chicken curry, he won’t be up to cooking for himself just yet.” And again Leanne resumed her activity of the comb. Kya sighed and dragged her body downstairs, as if it weighed a tonne.
Leanne peered sideways to make sure her daughter had disappeared out of view. She sat on top of the lowered toilet seat and picked at her teeth with the thin handle of the red plastic comb. Her daughter’s words echoed, ‘you’re dead clever’. They were the same words Patty had often repeated to her, always followed by ‘you’re young, you have your whole life ahead of you, and you’re bright – you’ll be fine, more than fine.’ Leanne thought, ‘if only she bloody knew’, and reminded herself that all the courses she had ever been on were either ‘path finders’ or ‘access to’. Needless to say she still hadn’t found her path, or had access to anything, except the DHSS. She had tried to tell Patty the same thing, insist on her own failure, but Patty had dismissed it all away with a wave of a heavy hand, and told her not to put herself down. However, the toxic presence, a fear of an unfulfilled future remained within her, eating away at her like a cancer, silently corrosive. She tried to reassure herself that Patty had been right about the young bit, she was still only twenty-four years old, still had time on her side, even though she felt at least twice that.
Having a child at fourteen, and then another, to a different father, at seventeen had never been a good idea, but, that said, she couldn’t, wouldn’t allow herself to regret her status as Mother.
Kya shouted up the stairs, “mum, Keenan’s eating curry out the pan.”
Keenan shouted behind her, “BIG GOB!”
“KEENAN!” Leanne stamped down the stairs. Keenan had already bolted out the front door, a trail of laughter behind him.
From the open front door, Leanne waved her fist at him.
He shouted, “mmmmm, yummy curry mummy,” and rubbed his belly with his hand. But it was more than teasing, this, a sharp edge of bitterness hung over him like a dark cloud, building up deeper shades of grey, promising to one day burst into a full blown storm.
“Just you wait till you get back in this house young man.”
“Yeah yeah…” Keenan headed towards the Graeme Estate, bouncing the football in front of him.
Langston forced himself to rise from his warm fireside rug, and was rewarded with a pat on the head.
“Both of us are old now Langston boy, won’t be long before…” Vincent took off his jacket and looked around for the coat hanger. He knew it was around somewhere. Then it dawned on him that it didn’t matter now whether he hung it up or not. Patty wasn’t going to chide him, and so he threw his best suit jacket on the sofa. Langston watched the jacket land in the middle seat of the three-seater. He looked up at his master, and emitted a low-level pining.
“Don’t worry Langston boy, don’t worry.” Vincent again patted him on the head, already compensating for Patty’s absence. He was halfway to the kitchen when there was a rap at the door. He looked behind him. He wished Patty had never insisted on a front door that had a top half made of glass, albeit frosted. It had been the only idea that had infiltrated their house from a TV DIY show. And he had always thought it a bad move. He could tell from the pink blur it was his neighbour. He mumbled a string of noises that were undecipherable even to himself, took a deep breath, and opened the door.
“Vincent, I know you mightn’t feel like it today, but me and the kids have made you some dinner, it’s chicken curry.” Leanne held out the pot that was wrapped in a tea towel. One of Patty’s old tea towels. They both held each other’s gaze for a moment, enough to share this small piece of recognition.
Vincent struggled to protest, emitting, again, only a series of sounds.
Leanne said, “I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
Vincent scratched his head, then rubbed his cheek.
The pain was evident in the way his voice creaked and croaked. “Err, won’t you come in then?” Anyone else would have thought it only normal under the circumstances. But not Leanne. The pain conveyed in his voice only appeared when some level of sociability was called for. Vincent wondered what on earth he would say to this neighbour who was half as young as his own son and daughter. Sure, he reasoned, he had heard the laughter and the easy chit-chat from his kitchen many a day, many an evening, many a morning, but she was Patty’s friend, and he had never said anything more than hello or goodbye. And he had preferred it that way.
Leanne asked, “are you sure?” but was already halfway to the kitchen before he had time to say no.
Vincent and Langston followed her. Leanne placed the pot on the old wooden table.
She said, “hello Langston,” and patted the dog’s head. Langston sniffed the trail of curried steam.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Leanne racked her brains to remember what had been taught on the one afternoon bereavement counselling module from the Access to Nursing course. It had proved more successful than other courses, such as the Access to Retail simply because she’d lasted an entire month.
Vincent said, in a deeper voice, “talk about what me dear? Patty’s gone, there’s nothing to talk about, nothing that would help bring her back.”
Leanne patted his shoulder. “Well, you know where I am if you want to chat, or you just want me to listen, I’m a good listener me you know. Anyway, best get the kid’s dinner ready, I’ll be glad when the holidays are over.”
Vincent looked up at her through angry eyes.
Leanne adopted a brighter, breezier tone, “you know where I am, and I’m going up to Wilmslow Road tomorrow, let me know if you want me to pick anything up from Kwik-Save.”
“I’ll be alright.”
Vincent and Langston remained in the kitchen and listened as Leanne let herself out, gently clicking the front door behind her. Vincent knew only too well that she normally pulled the door shut with abandon.
‘Am I going to be alright?’ He thought not of the lonely nights, but the trips to Kwik-Save, the trips to the market in Moss-Side precinct. He had never done any of it before. Not alone. There were the occasions when he would accompany Patty, occasions when she had needed an extra pair of arms, but he never held the power to decide what to buy, what to cook, even what to eat. Except the cold slices of mango. The image of the bowl of mango slices taunted him from the second shelf of the fridge – above the coleslaw and cheese. Then each slice, in turn, jumped out of the bowl, like goldfish, and danced their way into his mouth. One by one. Devoured.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Full steam ahead...

On my other blog I mentioned that last week an idea fanned itself out, urging me to explore it. Because it's so new I can't elaborate. However, I will say that the story has been led by an actual older actress who is much admired - when the story presented itself it was her who 'popped up' as the main character. So much so that I had initially thought it should be a screenplay, but then I didn't want to confine myself to just 90-120 pages either, so, on Thursday evening I opened a new notebook and began writing and since then it has just rolled out. It's Sunday noon and I've already managed close to 16,000 words. Yes, as I've said before, it helps that I'm a super-fast typist, but my fingers have only been keeping up with the story itself. But, as the favoured saying goes, the first draft of anything is shit, but the first draft has to be allowed free-reign if the, hopefully better, second draft is going to take over. This story is also meandering, contradicting itself, but it's all part of the process - the main character is revealing herself in the most amazing way. Yesterday I even craved the old staples - chocolate, crisps and then a bag of chips heavily laden with salt and vinegar. It's just what's needed to keep the fingers tap-tap-tapping.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Procrastination or lack of motivation?

Is a lack of motivation and procrastination the same thing? I've had one or the other all through the week. As I've posted, the book I'm working on, or trying to work on, can in no way be described as 'light' and maybe that's it? Maybe it also has to do with the email I received from an agent last week who said my work was intense, claustorphobic and relentlessly gloomy! I said this to a writer friend and he said, 'yeah, and'? This judgement was based on her reading of my Tired Waves novella and The Carousel. If there is no room for the intense, claustorphobic and relentlessly gloomy then what sort of a market is it? I agree that, in parts, it is all of these things - and more, but then the same can be said of tonnes of work out there. Hey ho. I shall either wait for this lethargy to pass and try and cram in as much research and other things that I hope will inspire me forward, or plough through it. Me thinks it will be the former.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Giving up the dry facts and getting creative...

I had looked forward to this bank holiday weekend because I wanted to use it to get on with the book I am supposed to be writing on my mum and in particular the seven years she spent at Brockhall in the sixties. But it's now Monday and, whilst I've read a little on the wider subject, I have struggled to write a complete and coherent sentence. This morning I became enthused at the thought of giving up the biography and writing it instead as a novel. This is because there are far too many emotional knots that are from being unravelled. I can also take some strength from the fact that many other authors have also given up biography or memoir and instead turned to the semi-auto/biographical novel. It also means that more assumed storylines can be added and one doesn't need to be so impartial to the facts. It could also work out because I know very little about her time in Brockhall - the day to day stuff - and because she's from a large family there are so many different perspectives. This way could enable me to do more justice to it. I hope I can be more creative with it whilst also honouring the need I have to give my mum a voice. Some info here on using the novel format instead of what can often be dry factual works.
So I'm going to give it a go and see how I get on because anything is better than writer's block!

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Mad, bad, sad - and that's just life.

It's been a little while since my last post, but then this isn't the main blog - that can be found here.
I have been so busy with the day job and with worrying about my mum's condition that I've not been able to write much the past couple of weeks. However, yesterday I bought Lisa Appignanesi's Mad, Bad & Sad - History of Women and the Mind Doctors, which has served to remind me that I'm supposed to be working on my mum's book. The hospital also said this morning that, whilst my mum is still on morphine, they have re-inserted the IV fluid tube, which they had removed for a while when they thought she was about to leave us. So that's a good sign. However, if the doctors call me a fourth time anytime soon, to say they think she's about to go imminently I think I may just crack up because when you are told that your mum is about to die there and then it sets you off on a rollercoaster of emotion, then you expect the worst - then it doesn't happen and you think, 'it's ok' and then they tell you again they think she's about to go, then again... and every minute at work I'm thinking, when is the phone going to go to say she's gone? And every night before I go to bed I think, is this the night she goes? The prospect of losing a family member is hard enough. But then that's just how the situation is and I have little choice but to roll with it and be thankful that she is, at least, comfortable. And in the meantime I can do my best to get on with her book - giving her a voice.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The nation's health

BBC Writer's Room ( has an interesting open call for 30 minute TV scripts based on the nation's health. Well, there's much to choose from with such a wide premise - obesity, depression, the state of the NHS, binge-drinking 'yoof' and middle-class lace curtain alchies, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, the nation's financial health.... Yep! Lots to choose from. I'll be having a go myself, if I can get it together to concentrate long enough in this sweltering weather.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Radio Gaga

Radio Gaga - a short story on

Monday, 5 May 2008

Story starters......

I was going to post this article from Philip Hensher on my main blog, where I had already posted on Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, but when I came across it I was researching the use of mental institutions as a form of social control for the preparation of the book that will tell my mum's story. I read it and apart from being struck by the terrible injustice of it all, it also struck me that this, or a similiar story could have actually intiated the idea for Barry's novel in the first place - there are certainly many parallels - apart from the Irish history. It's stories like this that spur many writers into action - wanting to tell the story of people they've have never met, but they have found very moving. That's why newspapers are important to writers!! They're full of stories of silenced voices crying out to be brought back to life and in so doing highlighting wider social issues.

The Carousel - A Saga

Here’s the first 17 pages worth (of over 400!) of The Carousel, A Saga. It is rather autobiographical and some have said quite gritty, which usually means that, in both literal and reading terms they’ve stuck to suburbia and have never been to a council estate! Anyway, I have been working on The Carousel for almost two years and am still chipping away at it. You will soon see that it is divided into character parts, indicating who the focus is on - this was a recent change as I felt it looked and read much more clearly and gave more to the characters, because it's about a large family and I didn't want to 'lose' any of them in the narrative, as some frequenly do in any large family. B

The Carousel - A Saga

---Part One---

Evie & Lola

The house looked stable from the outside. Orange brick, identical to the two other council houses in the row that made up Straw Man’s Walk. A few changes had been made in an attempt by the council to keep up with the times. uPVC window frames had replaced the long rotten wooden ones – even the nearby park, recently named Gartside Gardens and a sign to proclaim as much, had been bestowed with a few new benches, although upon closer inspection the benches each displayed a rectangle plaque informing all that they had been ‘kindly donated’ by Manchester University – as though keen to show that the days of Jude the Obscure were long gone. But if anyone scratched hard enough they would feel the wrath of young and old alike on the Gartside estate, a wrath often superseded by the day to day detritus of hand to mouth life. And sickness. At number one Straw Man’s Walk Evie and Lola Tully stood a step apart in the small kitchen. Their eyes were locked onto each others but their focus was elsewhere. They were frozen by a fear, the source of which was their Dad’s bedroom.

Anyone observing this scene from a few feet’s distance would have put Evie at twenty, max, and Lola at about eighteen, but they would be wrong. Evie was twenty nine, Lola, twenty seven. Yet the fear they felt was no different from that of two decades before, deep in childhood.

“Oh God Evie, what we gonna do?” Lola suddenly asked. She began to sob, tearlessly – her shoulders stiffly bobbing up and down.

Evie pressed her hand against her forehead, as if taking her own temperature, pressing harder because she couldn’t believe whether it was the heat of her hand or of her head. She continued to eyeball her younger sister, “fucking hell Lola, it’s really bad this time, we’re gonna have to get mommy.”

Lola’s shoulders came to an abrupt halt and she gave her sister’s prognosis a deep dramatic sigh, but the whinge still cloyed to the pit of her voice.

Get mommy? What the fuck can she do? That’s if we can even find her!” She took the few steps to the window ledge and rested her head onto her elbows; thinking – trying to think.

“Well you think of something better then, there’s no point in going back round the doctor’s…” Evie lowered her tone to hush level, “I’m gonna go up and see how he is,” she said, and left her sister alone at the window ledge.

Lola listened to Evie’s footsteps on the dirty wooden steps – all fourteen of them, then to the familiar creak of her father’s bedroom door as it was pushed open with a hesitation upon which worry thrived. Lola pushed her right hand through her slightly greasy yet thick light brown hair, unconsciously feeling for the tiny pocks of dry skin she sometimes found, which she was sure were due to stress. She continued to stare through the cut out patterns of the greying piece of net curtain – just to the back fences of the houses opposite. Murphy, one of their three black cats, sauntered by until, sensing Lola’s observance, stopped. He looked up at her for a few seconds, blinked and held to a narrow slit, then licked himself, looked up at her again then resumed his saunter round to the back garden.

Minutes later Evie was back in the kitchen, staring at the floor and biting her bottom lip at the same time. The low drone of the old radio whose home was the kitchen window ledge now came into earshot – a ‘Golden Oldie’ their mother would have loved – ‘The Shadows’, proclaimed the false enthusiasm of the DJ – and on came all guitars and no gumption.

“He’s in a right mess up there Lola, the bag’s burst and… oh God! … Never thought we’d have to be doing this – at our age.”

Our age? What about his age?” Lola asked. Their dad was fifty eight. Now facing her sister, she leant backwards against the window ledge and folded her arms across her chest, just like one of their mother’s once habitual pose. All both sisters could really think about was how on earth they were going to face, then clean, the excrement that had exploded out of their dad’s colostomy bag, get him in the bath, then bathe him and… and then… what? He had deteriorated rapidly in the past few years – had become that cliché – a shadow of his former self.



Conor Tully had begun work at the age of thirteen, in 1961, wringing the necks of geese, ducks and chickens in the small South Western Irish town of Bally--. These were his wringing sixties. The work was no less than what his seven or so older brothers had done before him, although his five sisters had escaped the slaughter for the usual domain of house and stove. However, like all his brothers before him there came the time when, at sixteen or seventeen years old, he could never remember which, Conor Tully lied about his age and boarded a boat – not for England, but for Scotland. It was as though by not aiming for England he was somehow being wiser. He wanted to escape the experiences brothers and friends with brothers had relayed back to the town, stories of homelessness, drunkenness, and complete fecklessness, a lot of lessness and messness anyhow. But that wasn’t meant to be.

Conor Tully arrived in Edinburgh and met up with one of his brothers who had already lived there for a couple of years, already married with two small children. Whilst Conor was lucky enough to get digs with a view of Holyrood Castle the day to day life was no different from what it would later prove to be in Manchester. Throughout all these times, however, the one constant escape were his reminiscences of nights at The Carousel.

A night club situated between several small West of Ireland towns, most of which began with Bally-, The Carousel attracted hordes of desperate and giddy teenagers tanked up on poteen, or whatever else they could get their hands on. Those nights, desperate as they were at the time, having to cadge a lift in some pick up or cattle truck, or having to walk home along miles of dark, unmarked roads in the shivering cold for hours and hours, (almost a pilgrimage in itself), took on a mythical status in Conor’s mind. ‘Sure, those were the days’, he’d often say out loud to himself.

His brother and his brother’s wife left Edinburgh for Birmingham, London, Liverpool, perhaps it was Northampton, somewhere; they were all the same, really. Conor was adamant he was going to stay in Edinburgh. But within weeks he had been laid off his labouring work, and then fell behind on the rent of his Holyrood digs. Full of shame he

crept out early one morning, like the character from some Dostoyevsky doorstopper that he would never read. He continued to look for work whilst, at nights, slept on a bench in Edinburgh’s main train station. ‘It’s going to work, it’s going to work’ he would silently chant to himself through these nights, the chant in the rhythm of an old steam train. Whenever a day’s work came along he managed to get to the launderette and the public baths. But he eventually conceded that it wasn’t going to work because he wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t meant to be, that’s also what he said out loud to himself, ‘arragh… it’s just not meant to be’, and that replaced the old chant. It was a much uttered saying that coincided with the news that another of his brothers had found a steady job with an Irish firm in Manchester. And so to Manchester he went. He had to aim for England after all.

Manchester offered no digs that matched anything remotely similar to a view of Holyrood; instead he managed to get a dinky, stale room next to another of his brothers’, in rooms above an old shop in Moss-Side.

Moss-Side was an area already known as Little Harlem, for its high population of Afro-Caribbeans, many of whom, like him, were just scratching a living, just getting by. It was as if the Caribbean men and the Irish men had made an unspoken pact – the former would go to the buses and the railways, the latter would go to the roads. And they would meet and utter a few words, or just a nod of the head, on a Saturday afternoon in the teeming bookies. And Conor was to stay on the roads, digging them up, going underneath them, fixing them, and tarring them. He did this, diligently, and with pride, for over thirty years, until struck down and fitted with a colostomy bag.


Evie & Lola

Evie and Lola left the house, making sure not to slam the front door behind them. Lola lit a cigarette and passed it to Evie who took a deep drag of it, watching its end blaze deep orange whilst forming a quick top hat of dark grey ash. She blew out the smoke like it was an act of defiance at the world. ‘Fuck. You!’ the smoke seemed to say. The health centre was only around a couple of corners but all Evie could think of was Evelyn, the main character of the short story of the same name in Dubliners, by James Joyce. Ever since she had read it, it had lodged itself deep into her psyche and served as a frame of reference, offering stabs of identification, leaving her hoping her own fate would not be that, not that – to which she would counter argue with herself that ‘it fucking wouldn’t’, that she was going to have a life, ‘far away from this shite hole of a Gartside estate…’ regardless of anything else. She only had two more years of her degree, then a year on PGCE then she would be a teacher and get the hell away. A pull of regret always hit her when she thought of the mindless and meaningless years spent working as a chambermaid, then a barmaid, then back to a chambermaid; always a maid, regardless, and she didn’t want to become an old maid. During the first semester of the foundation year she had soon been introduced to Marx’s concept of Estranged Labour. In the end it had brought tears to her eyes, not stabs but tears of identification.

Outside the health centre Evie and Lola took the last drags of their cigarettes and flicked them away into the distance. It was a run down two storey pre-fabricated building adorned with graffiti void of either talent or meaning. A circle of gaunt drug addicts loitered by the door, like the living dead, Evie always thought, hollow and yellow. There were a few in the foyer too. Evie and Lola recognised a number of them from their schooldays, anonymous young faces that had held no purpose, it now seemed with the luxury of hindsight. She reminded herself that she had, at least, escaped that particular fate. So far. Ce sa ra, sa ra. She had taken speed a few times whilst working as a barmaid and had gone down to six stone, which was obviously no good, and something, fortunately, that she had also quickly realised.

The waiting room was a depressing sight – just like the DHSS – kids running round the place, high on fizz and E-numbers; screaming, laughing, swearing their little fucking heads off, throwing tantrums, or worse, were silent and sullen – some of their young mums, bare legged or in track suits, waiting, always waiting. That too, Evie told herself, was another fate she had escaped. So far. It wasn’t that she didn’t want kids, she did, but not like that, alone, round there – on the estate. Any estate. They waited in line at the reception desk which had recently installed a square of Perspex for the protection of the reception staff. Lola kept on shifting her weight, all eight stone of it, from one hip to the next, and sighing dramatically, as if wanting the entire health centre to hear and acknowledge her urgency. Their turn finally came. The young, tired looking receptionist didn’t even ask ‘what?’ or ‘yes?’ but just about raised her eyebrows slightly, regally, and waited to be informed.

“It’s me Da, my Dad…” Lola began.

“Whose your dad?” the receptionist drawled.

Lola hardened her gaze. Evie stepped next to her sister.

“Conor Tully, he’s with Doctor Patel. You know damn well who me Dad is, you’ve seen us here with him enough fucking times!” Evie said.

It was the receptionist’s turn to give a dramatic sigh this time but she checked her computer as she did, tapping her fingers on the noisy, dirty click-clack keyboard.

“Right!” she said, her eyes still fixed on the screen. “So what’s the problem?”

“He’s really bad – he can’t get out of bed,” Evie said.

“Yeah, Doctor Patel needs to come and visit him this time… whether he wants to or not,” Lola added.

“He can’t get outta bed?” the receptionist repeated. “Has he tried?”

Lola looked at Evie, the exasperation crossing it like a black cloud on an already grey day.

“His colostomy bag’s leaked and…” Evie said in a lower voice.

“His what’s leaked?” the receptionist asked in a higher and suddenly more animated voice.

Lola pushed her face to within an inch of the Perspex, cleared her throat and shouted: “His colostomy bag! It’s leaked. He’s lying in his own shit and piss!!”

Evie could feel all eyes on hers and Lola’s back, but then told herself that they could bloody well look all they fucking well liked.

“Well I don’t know when he’ll be able to get away from surgery, but I’ll ask him,” the receptionist said, shrugging her shoulders.

“Right! Fine!” Evie replied.

“Fucking bitch,” Lola said as soon as they were outside.

“Whose a bitch? That woman behind reception? Nah, she’s not a bitch, she’s a proper hard faced cunt is what she is,” one of the addicts said, trying to keep pace with the sisters.

Lola and Evie gave no reply. Lola took out a cigarette and only when she had placed it in her mouth did she realise her mistake.

“Gis a fag love, yeah?” the addict said.

Lola raised her eyebrows at her sister, reached back into her cigarette packet and passed one over. Evie had already taken a few steps away – she only had a few left.

“Where we going?” Lola asked as she followed Evie in the direction of the parade of shops.

“We should try and get mommy,” she said.

“God! Great.” Lola replied.

Just before they reached the parade of shops they turned left into a maze of small two storey buildings, each housing four flats; all were overlooked by a twenty-seven storey block where most of the addicts lived, interspersed amongst rarely seen OAPs who, if they did emerge, was usually only during the hour or so after dawn.

“Which one do you think it is?” Lola asked, looking at the numbers of the first building’s flats.

“I dunno…”

Their attention was drawn to a small huddle of winos, congregated by a half collapsed wall behind the English chip shop. There were six of them – all ageing – three of whom held bags of chips, sharing with the other three. All of them either had a bottle of wine, cider or can of Special Brew, if not in their hand, then beside them. A dirty chain smoker’s cackle rose up and one of the women opened her mouth wide enough to show the world her almost toothless gums. It was Evie and Lola’s mother.

“Go and get her Lola,” Evie said, pushing her sister forward.

“I’m not going near that lot! You go!” Lola said, turning round and pushing her sister’s shoulder.

Evie tutted and strode forward.

“Evie? Where you going?” her mother called out.

“Is this one of yours then Jane?” one of the men asked.

“Yes, it’s Evie, my daughter, ooh and look, there’s perky over there. What’s the matter Lola, what you doin’ stood over there? Ashamed to be seen with your own mother are you?”

Lola sighed, shook her head and approached the group.

“It’s Da,” Evie said.

“Oh God! What’s up now?” Jane asked, her naturally narrow eyes widening, waiting.

“Ooh, it’s your old man, something’s wrong,” one of the wino women said, and waited for Evie to unfold the eagerly anticipated drama. Evie threw the woman a dirty look then back other mum.

“He needs you,” Evie said, as if she could hardly believe what she was saying.

Me? What does he need me for?” Jane asked.

Evie looked at each of the three men, one of whom looked like a clapped out traveller/gipsy type, one of whom looked severely mental, and the other who just looked drunk and down and out. She wondered which of these men her mother was now shacked up with.

“We’ve called the doctor out, he’s really bad… we’re scared,” Evie said.

For an instant mother and two daughters shared a look. Jane picked up her can of Special Brew, took two greedy gulps, then threw the empty can across the half bald, dog shit and needle littered grass beside the wall and followed the girls back to Strawman’s Walk. All three women walked in near silence the five minutes it took them to return to the house.

Jane didn’t wait to be asked, the minute she had followed the girls into the house she went upstairs. Evie and Lola looked at each other then went back into the kitchen and waited. They stood in silence, Evie leant against the work surface, Lola against the window ledge, listening as their mother coaxed their father out of his bed, his pit, Jane would have called it. They heard the noisy boiler creak and moan into action as the water ran into the long porcelain bath that, thankfully, was yards from his bedroom.

“I’m glad she came,” Evie said.

“Yeah,” Lola said.


Evie spread the spare clean sheet over her father’s bed, the mattress now with no protection as even that, the protector, along with everything else that had been on the bed she had stuffed, whilst retching and heaving, into a black rubbish bag.

Jane slowly guided her husband back into the room. Their dad was barely conscious – taking small toddler steps, his hair sticking up, next to their toothless and half drunken mother. Evie and Lola began to sob at the sight before them. Jane gave no acknowledgement of her daughters’ sudden tears, as though they were doing nothing more than talking about the weather. There was no time to wipe their eyes as the front door received three short authoritative raps.


Jane flitted from one room to the next, surveying what, if anything, was new or different in the few months since she had left. The dining room table still held stacks of books, several piles of freshly washed clothes sat on the old welsh dresser, the dresser that Conor had found in a skip, carried back and sanded down; the living room had a few different ornaments, a big brown ceramic cart horse – ‘Conor again!’ No different from Steptoe, she had always thought – picking up useless nick nacks from flea markets the length and breadth of Manchester. Evie and Lola took up their familiar poses in the kitchen. They moved only when they heard Doctor Patel’s footsteps on the stairs.

“He’s only been up there two minutes,” Lola exclaimed.

“Ssshhh!” Evie said and went to meet him in the hallway.

“He’s just not taking his tablets,” the doctor told Evie, not bothering to hide his displeasure at having to make a home visit.

“It’s more than just that, it has to be,” Evie said.

“Listen. He’s dehydrated is all, he needs plenty of fluids and he must take his tablets,” Doctor Patel said then wasted no time in letting himself out.

“Where is he?” Lola asked as she arrived in the hallway.

Gone? He can’t even have examined him or anything!” Evie spat the words out.

“Well. You know what these doctors are like, no time you see…” Jane said, twiddling a section of her frizzy grey/brown/bleached hair. It wasn’t long before she too had seen herself out, keen to return to her boozy playmates.



Conor wondered if there would be a tunnel of white light; whether his parents would be there to greet him. He had barely known either of them in this life. Would they look the same? Would he? He was just nine years old when his dad had died, but his dad had been seventy-two. He had been twenty when his mother died, but he hadn’t been told until he was twenty-one. It was 1968. Conor had been found in his Moss-Side digs in a pool of blood, by his brother, or a neighbour perhaps, he never did discover who had been responsible for saving his life. When he woke up he was in intensive care at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. A clot, haemorrhage, the doctors said. They had had to remove half a kidney. He spent his twenty-first birthday in there whilst his brothers and sisters had returned to Ireland for their mother’s funeral. She had been fifty-seven. She’d spent nearly thirty years giving new life to the world and then pneumonia took hold and carted her away.

He hated Doctor Patel, fucking useless eejit, hadn’t he always told the girls not to bother calling him out? The last time Evie had made him go round there, to the ‘health’ centre, was for his depression, but all Doctor Patel had said was that he should be grateful for what he had, a roof over his head – ‘many people do not even have that’, almost wagging a finger at him. As if that verbal slap around the head was going to take the depression away and suddenly make him interested in life again. Eejit. He knew he was talking about the homeless, not in this fucking country, but in India, or Pakistan, or wherever the fuck he was from. He was a useless eejit all the same.

Hadn’t Jane been around? Didn’t Jane just bathe him? That was a miracle if she had, considering she had long ago stopped bathing even for herself. He should never… arragh… to hell with the lot… better off dead out of it…


design by