Last year my daughter-in-law made a bucket list of ‘thirty before thirty’. She attempted to do thirty things she had always wanted to do before her thirtieth birthday.
While my next milestone birthday is eight years away and yes I have plenty of time the list would contain rather more than thirty items so let’s not go there. I think 10 things to do before you…. well you know what I mean… would be a more sensible idea and one that I might achieve providing they are all a) simple b) cheap and c) require no heights, scary rides, turning over a canoe with me in it or spiders. Oh yes or climbing an active volcano which is apparently one of the most popular bucket list ideas. That’s out too. I like the heat but that’s going too far. So here goes.
- Ride a Segway round Malta – or Gozo will do. I plan to do this very soon. I keep telling my husband it will be fun and involve minimal physical effort. And I bought a bum bag on eBay and a pair of sneakers from Primark for £3 so I am well kitted out!
- Achieve my desired weight and stay there. Dismal failure so far. I sort of did it last year for my son’s wedding but most of it is back and I no longer feel motivated. So please can someone get married very soon. I need something to aim for. Thank you.
- Help at a local shelter on Christmas Day. Last year we went away for Christmas and it was great but this year we may be on our own and I know I am going to hate it. It has some painful memories too as I lost my grandmother on Christmas Day many moons ago and it still hurts. I love Christmas Eve and Boxing Day but the day itself is not my favourite. So maybe we will offer to help at a local shelter if they want us.
- Go to Budapest and take a thermal bath in the spa waters. I’ve always wanted to do this. OK so I could just go to Bath and do it. If the money runs out I may have to settle for that. So let’s call this one – take the spa waters anywhere I can afford at the time. I’d still rather it was Budapest though.
- Go on a river cruise down the Danube which could be combined with number 4 as this bucket list is starting to look rather more expensive than I intended it to be. River cruises are aimed at posh, wealthy, middle aged people. One out of three isn’t bad. You can guess which category I fall into by now.
- Visit Iceland and see the Northern Lights otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis. You can also see this magnificent natural phenomenon in Sweden, Finland or Norway so any of those would do too. At this point winning the lottery is probably going to need to come in my list somewhere.
- Go on a ghost hunt. This is better. I live in a very haunted part of the country so this one should be easy. Our local pub is haunted and it is said that sometimes the door won’t open as if someone is pushing from the other side. This actually happened to me one evening and no I hadn’t been on the Gin and Tonic.
- Start swimming regularly again. I used to swim lengths at my local gym at lunchtimes when I worked from home and it was good for me. Now I have a degree of arthritis in both knees and one wrist it would be a great form of exercise. I was chatting to an acquaintance the other day who swims three times a week at the local open air Lido. She was on her way there. It was raining. ‘So what,’ she said, ‘I’m going to get wet anyway’. She had a point. I thought she was brave. My friend Lynn said that brave wasn’t the word that sprung to mind.
- Write a novel and become a best seller. I’ve self-published a book of short stories and have written a 20,000 word novella which is at the proof reading stage where it has been for longer than I care to admit. It still doesn’t have a proper title either. But a ‘real’ novel of 50,000 to 200,000 words. Now that’s a different story if you’ll excuse the pun.
- Make a difference in the world. I’d like to know that something I did really changed something. I know I can’t do this by myself but I would like to be part of a movement for real change. Like the suffragettes (though I don’t intend to throw myself under anyone’s horse) and we already have the vote. Ghandi once said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ Start something, spread the word, educate others and inspire them. Too big? Everything starts from a simple idea. Now that’s the most worthwhile idea on my bucket list.
The other day I was thinking about our basic human rights (as you do) and I thought it would be interesting to see how many things we take for granted in the UK. So I compiled my list – you may have your own personal things to add to it. I have not included anything that I do not consider to be a basic human right ie a TV or a car.
Number one must always be your health – without it everything else is unimportant. When you are young you can’t conceive of being ill or that one day your life may be limited by illness or injury. During all my years of yoga, aerobics, Zumba and swimming I never imagined that arthritis would stop me doing downward facing dog as I can’t put any weight on my wrists. But I am lucky. My husband never imagined he would have a pituitary brain tumour in 2012 but compared to some he is also lucky. He takes bucket loads of pills and injects once a day but he is still here. Period.
Food – many people all over the world don’t have enough to eat yet we buy food and chuck it away on a daily basis. Supermarkets throw out anything that doesn’t look pretty even though it’s still edible. There are countries where people are so poor they eat food off rubbish tips and out of dustbins.
A place to live – do you ever see people living on the streets and look away thinking that will never be me. Do you think any of them imagined it would be them one day? Life plays many tricks on us and things can change in a heartbeat. Drugs, alcohol, mental illness – there but for the grace of God and all that.
That you’ll always have a job – the days are long gone when people took an apprenticeship at 15 and stayed with the same company till they got their gold watch at 65. That’s another reason why we should never judge those living rough.
Your children – they are gift not a right. Many people can’t have any and would love to. So if you are lucky enough to be blessed with the gift of children make sure you let them know how much you love them.
Your family – I lost my mother four days before my 40th birthday and my father 15 years ago. I only ever knew one of my grandparents and she died in 1972 on Christmas Day. Make the most of the ones you have and love and like your children make sure you let them know how much you love them. They may be taken away before you know it.
Finally your freedom – ‘I don’t mind what they know about me as I have nothing to hide.’ How many times have you heard that said? It may be true but that’s not the point is it. The constant threat of terrorism is chipping away at our basic freedoms. I for one do mind what they know about me because they are not necessarily using it to protect me. They are using it to sell me things they now know I want. Playing on my needs as well as my fears. We have worked so hard over the years to be free that we underestimate what that truly means. My father was a prisoner-of-war during the Second World War and survived on bread and water in Siberia for two years. That is the extreme loss of freedom – these days it’s far more subtle. We take our freedom of speech for granted like the freedom to practice our beliefs or freedom to practice our sexuality without risk of prosecution or indeed persecution. The list is endless. Suffragettes threw themselves under horses and tied themselves to railings so they could have the vote so don’t knock it. There are countries where women can’t go out alone let alone vote or even drive. Our prison bars are not necessarily physical and we mustn’t allow our freedoms to be eroded.
I never normally have a rant on my blog. But I woke up today, washed my now grey bobbed hair and decided it was time.
Two years ago I made the decision to stop my 40 plus years of hair colouring. I was 59. Initially I coloured my hair to enhance my mousy brown but now I was fighting a losing battle against the grey. I’ve always done it myself so cost was not an issue. I just felt trapped. I wanted to finally be myself. And my hair was thinning at the front – noticeably. I asked a couple of hair-savvy acquaintances and they said it was ‘my age’. Rubbish. Years of harsh chemicals – originally I used semis but now I was touching up the roots every two weeks – had to have something to do with it. So I did my research. Not about why I should stop colouring but how to do it without resembling a badger.
There was a lot of stuff on YouTube for instance about the ‘process’ and I even bought a book on Amazon by Anne Kreamer called ‘Going Gray’ (American hence the spelling of gray) which would be my inspiration. I could dip into it every time I almost gave up. But if I really wanted to go grey it said in all the articles and videos I viewed online, it was all about preventing the dreaded ‘harsh line of demarcation’ (isn’t that something to do with setting boundaries to end a war?). Maybe this was my little war so I decided I needed to make an appointment with a proper hairdresser and discuss the process of going grey gracefully.
On recommendation the first hairdresser I visited for ‘help’ wasn’t really interested. Flicking back her obviously out-of-a-bottle bright red mane of hair she told me she had clients who spent £80 a month or so keeping their hair highlighted to disguise the grey. I saw red – literally. My hackles were up. We were not about to build a lasting relationship here. Firstly I don’t have £80 a month going spare and secondly I thought my ‘mane’ – and I use the term loosely – was a bit beyond that. It would take more than a truckload of dye to keep my greys at bay. But I wasn’t giving up on my I’m going grey and be damned plan that easily.
So I went to another hairdresser and had some highlights and low-lights put in to aid the growing out process but after a month or so I just ended up with a load of blended orange hair. This was now even worse. So I went cold turkey. At least the orange/grey demarcation was not as harsh as the otherwise dark brown/grey would have been but it still looked awful. But I could always buy a hat.
Then in July 2012 my husband was diagnosed with a pituitary tumour and had to go to hospital for surgery followed by weeks of recovery so the importance of my hair took a back seat. That’s not to say I didn’t freak out when I looked in the mirror, I just didn’t have time to deal with it. Or to dye it. We had our lives to redress. My hair would have to wait.
The first few months were the worst. My one length bob also made the growing out process harder so when I had about three inches of grey I had some layers put in. Now it didn’t look so bad. Another six months and it was tolerable. Two years down the line and I almost like it. A well-cut fashionable hairstyle is key. People comment. Usually favourably and no-one has said ‘You must be mad. I would never do it’, though I don’t hear what they whisper to each other when my back is turned. Occasionally they say ‘It’s OK for you. You have thick hair.’ Or ‘It suits you but it wouldn’t suit me,’ etc. But I feel liberated. No longer do I have to endure the tyranny of the big boys telling me that my natural hair colour is not good enough and I need to spend a fortune on their over-priced products which are no doubt killing the environment when they get washed down the drain. I can finally embrace the real me. And L’Oreal, Garnier and the rest can stick it.
Then there’s the problem of what to wear. Apart from wearing the ubiquitous monochrome black (because it makes you look slimmer) and white (only ever on the bottom half) I’ve always in reality been a ‘warm’ person steering towards rusts and browns and away from pastels or any ‘cool’ colours. I am still not sure what to do. I am told that red sets off grey hair perfectly but I don’t really like red. Rich purples and metallic colours like gold and slate grey compliment the grey, but stay away from yellow which in sunlight can make your hair look like you smoke 60 a day. My eyes are brown and my skin tone quite olive which can clash with the hair especially when suntanned though my husband likes the ‘contrast’. In photos it can look quite startling – and I don’t necessarily mean in a good way. But hey ho – any excuse to buy new clothes is OK with me.
Yes there are times when I see a thirty year old with gorgeous shiny dark brown hair and think, ‘That was me’. But I am not thirty any more. I don’t have the figure I had back then either or the energy but I am a different me. A wife, a parent to two wonderful sons and now a granny. So yes I am rocking the silver and it’s not that bad. It’s just different. People don’t treat you differently because you are grey. They treat you differently because you are 60. Get over it.
With mathematical precision I count every beat
From beginning to end of each line
They must be concise and perfect and true
And every so often must rhyme
No freedom of verse or lyrical waxing
No skipping a meter or two
Iambic, trochaic or even dactylic
I just can’t get away from this view
So give me the sound of a heroic couplet
At the end of a sonnet’s quatrain
And leave out the free in the dreaded ‘free verse’
From such abandon I choose to abstain
This looseness, this freedom, this modern approach
Would make Shakespeare quite turn in his grave
Sestinas and pantoums or even a haiku
Is the poetic challenge I crave
But sometimes I wish I could open the window
And let all the verses run free
Oh, the burden of being so precise all the time
Is boring the hell out of me!
I wished I was a Persian cat
With long grey fur and amber eyes
I wished I was a greyhound dog
Fast and sleek with coat that shines
I wished I was a jungle lion
Smart and fierce and roaming wild
I could have been all three of these
If I had been a different child
But I was timid as a mouse
Who never dared to venture out
I lived my life inside the house
Fearing gentle words of doubt
It’s too late now when childhood’s past
The mouse is me, the die is cast
In a world where for some people reality is too painful to bear and dreams are as fragile as eggshells, Mia was happy to float between the two. Her world was one of waking dreams.
‘I dream with my eyes open’, she said to the doctor, who was rapidly making notes and tutting a great deal. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars.’
‘I’m sure you do Mia, I’m sure you do.’ The doctor was putting away his notebook and closing his brown leather bag. ‘I’ll give some more sleeping tablets, but only for a few days. They are addictive you know.’
Back at the surgery, Doctor Williams shook his head and spoke to his secretary in a quiet voice so as not be overheard by the usual plethora of sulky kids with buttons up their noses, pensioners who faked illness just so they could have someone to talk to and pregnant women having their blood checked for anaemia.
‘She really believes everything she says, that poor girl. I’d love to get to the bottom of what it is that is keeping her in this floating reality…something traumatic that she won’t face,’ he said.
‘Drugs I expect,’ Julia Fisher replied, ‘She’s on something. Has to be.’
‘Definitely not, I’ve examined her, talked to her, there are no track marks down her arms, I’m sure she doesn’t smoke marijuana, she’s not suicidal. No there’s something else. Something I need to get to the bottom of. Maybe I should regress her….’
‘Then she’ll tell you she was Joan of Arc or Cleopatra in a previous life or some such nonsense.’ Julia was always dismissive of anything slightly spiritual or scientifically doubtful.
‘Not that kind of regression. Not to a ‘previous life’ as you call it. Just to her childhood so we can find out what is hidden there.’
‘A couple of bodies, I expect. She probably murdered her parents and hid them in the cellar.’
‘Now who’s the fantasist?’ Dr Williams laughed.
Mia’s eyes are lightly shut but she is not asleep. ‘They don’t believe in you anymore,’ she says aloud. ‘But it’s no matter. I see you. Like little stars you shine for me and only for me. You sparkle in the night sky and fall to the ground one by one in tiny gossamer droplets of light.’
‘Help us,’ I hear you say. ‘If they stop believing in us, we’ll vanish forever.’
‘I love you,’ she replies. ‘I love you as if you were my own children.’ And the world is shining around her and there are tears in her eyes.
‘I’ll help you, I promise. Trust me.’
‘Everything that has ever happened in your life, Mia, is stored deep in your unconscious mind. Your conscious mind, however, may block these memories because they are too painful. This can give rise to mental illness and emotional disturbances. But I’m here to help you.
‘I am going to take you back to your early childhood.
‘Your eyes are closed and your eyelids are starting to relax. In a few moments, I will count rapidly from ten to one and with each number, your relaxation will increase. 10… 9… 8… Stored deeply in your unconscious mind are memories of other times and other places. 7… 6… 5… Soon you will be able to retrieve those memories and recount them…4… 3… 2… 1.
Then a strange thing happened. He realised that Mia was floating about two feet above the couch. She was surrounded by twinkling lights of silver and gold. They circled her body and then began to circle his head. Round and round they went. They played games like an aerial hide and seek, up and down they flew, now left, now right. They were making him dizzy.
‘Free us,’ they said. ‘Help us….believe…’
He remembered his conversation with Mia only the other day. ‘I walk with fairy folk and elves and creatures from beyond the stars,’ she had told him.
He hadn’t believed her. ‘It’s just a dream, a nightmare or even a hallucination,’ he had told her. But here they were all around him. And he was talking to them.
‘How can I help you?’ he asked them.
‘By believing in Mia,’ they replied.
‘I believe,’ he said and in an instant another believer had been converted and he knew that his life would never be the same.
If the world ends life will hang in the balance
Ended by ignorance, famine and greed,
To return to love is like climbing a mountain
Pricking ones fingers and hands on roses
In the dark, your path lit only by a lantern,
I can help you, I am music, listen.
I woke up this morning and began to listen
To the music of the birds singing in balance
With nature, the sun rising like a lantern,
So pretty, yet clouded by systems of greed,
Birds’ feathers like the petals of pale roses
Flutter down the side of the mountain.
I will climb to the top of the mountain
And stand at the peak in the stillness and listen,
I am music and I can hear the petals of the roses
Flutter down and the birds create the balance
Between the love and the hate and the greed
And in the darkness shines the lantern.
Out of the darkness shines a lantern
And the people are climbing the mountain,
Leaving behind the famine and greed
And asking for mercy, they want to listen.
They know they upset the perfect balance
I am music, I’ll play out with the roses.
Stripped to the skin and pricked by roses
They walk up the mountain lit by a lantern.
The path is narrow and it’s hard to balance
The love and the hate on the side of the mountain,
The music once played but no-one would listen
And now there is only the loss and the greed.
It’s not too late if we punish the greed
And follow the music which saves the roses,
The birds and the trees ask you to listen,
They light up the dark with their pale lantern
And reach for the skies from the top of the mountain.
I am music, I am silence, I am balance.
The balance is fine between love and greed,
From the top of the mountain I can see the roses
Still lit by the lantern and hoping you’ll listen.
This is a short passage from my work in progress. It’s a ghost story which is split into the present and extracts from a part written novel. The writer died at the same time as the main protagonist, Emily, was born. This is taken from the novel which Emily is reading from an old manuscript given to her earlier. The child also called Emily is the heroine of the novel and is trapped and frightened. She is remembering something that happened when she was very young. I have had to take a few bits out to fall within the word count.
…A faint wailing was coming from the well and was carried on the wind as if the fairies were taking its breath and sucking it away. Her mother ran to the well and called, ‘Is there anyone there?’
It was four hours before the fire brigade pulled him out, a small boy, wet, bedraggled, lifeless. He had fallen halfway and clung to a branch for as long as he could. The well was only about 15 foot deep they said.
‘But if you dropped a stone you couldn’t hear it when it hit the water, it was so deep?’ her mother asked.
‘Just an old wives tale,’ they muttered, ‘just an old wives tale.’
Emily cried for the boy for the first time in ten years. She remembered when they brought him out. She remembered the wet hair and the dirty face and his little battered and bruised arms hanging by his sides.
The fireman was crying. ‘I’m so sorry,’ was all he could say.
Emily sobbed. She sobbed for the boy and his parents and for her own mother, who she couldn’t find.
‘Where are you mummy?’ and she sobbed for herself, alone and afraid of the dark.
This is for the next Storycraft flash fiction challenge. Tell a story in 300-500 words of dialogue. Tags and action description are okay, but no exposition!
‘How long have you been dead?’ asked the angel, not even looking up once at the pretty young woman sitting across the desk in front of him.
‘About 30 years,’ she replied. ‘I am not sure. Time moves slowly when you have nothing to do.’
‘Do you miss your children? Your family?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I can’t remember. Did I have any? Children that is, I must have had a family of some sort. Is this a job interview?’
‘Some might call it that. Personally I would call it an “indulgence”.’ The angel dipped his pen in a bottle of Quink and continued scratching shapes on the page.
‘Have I been good? Is that why you are “indulging” me?’
‘It’s not about good or bad,’ he replied, ‘it’s just your time.’
‘30 years? Is that my time?’ She fidgeted nervously.
‘Yes,’ said the angel, never even glancing at this small, slight woman who was twitching and rubbing her hands together. Anyone with a modicum of compassion would have appreciated how she felt. But not him…
‘Am I still pretty?’ She asked.
‘I wouldn’t know,’ he replied. ‘That’s not my department. You need to ask someone from the Department of Girlfriends, Models and Attention Seekers, or DoGMAS for short.’
‘Why? Do they keep all our pictures in the attic? Do they age and we don’t, like Dorian Gray?’
‘Gray? Dorian? Oh yes, accidental death by poisoning? No, no, he was the one in the boat, when the engine caught….’
‘Forget it,’ she said, ‘It’s a book, by Oscar Wilde.’
‘Ah, so you remember that.’
‘A little, from school….Did my children die with me?’ She asked.
‘Who’s conducting the interview?’ The angel swore under his breath as his nib split and ink splattered across the page.
‘Sorry, I need to know.’
‘You don’t have any.’
‘But you said….’
‘I was just testing. But you had a cat called Tabitha. She’s dead too, of course, natural causes. Old age, but then she’d be 42 if she was still alive.’ He chuckled, as if he had cracked a really good joke.
It wasn’t that funny, she thought. Poor Tabitha, not that she remembered her. The angel stood up, picked up his pen, wiping it methodically with a piece of cloth, followed by his ink and his paper, placed them neatly in a small leather bag and began to walk away.
‘My indulgence, you haven’t told me what it is.’
‘Tomorrow,’ he replied, ‘we’ll have another session and I will tell you then. In the meantime, try and remember what your father did for a living, who your friends were or what school you went to, or anything useful. Goodbye.’ And he was gone.
This is for the flash fiction challenge set by Storycraft fiction writing chat. Subject is POV of an inanimate object – in this case an angry garden gnome:
Please paint me! My lovely red hat is all faded and chipped from the harsh winter frost and even my fishing rod is broken on the end. All through December the pond was frozen and now my feet are like brass monkeys. Were my boots blue or black? I can’t remember and they are so muddy, look at them!
I wanted to go to that poncy flower show at Kew Gardens this summer, but they said gnomes aren’t allowed in. Not posh enough? Not posh enough for toffs like that new prime minister or Judith Chalmers.
Oh yes! We keep up with politics and such. Just because we sit out here all day watching the world go by and scratching our arses doesn’t mean we ain’t educated. I can name all the capital cities of South America. Brasilia – that’s the capital of Brazil – thought you’d catch me out didn’t you. Peru – that’s Lima, Venezuela – that’s….er…I’m BORED NOW!!
Where is everyone? Paint me you lazy gits! I want to go to the flower show and have a good laugh when the punters turn their noses up. Hee hee. I want to fly round the world and see the Great Wall of China. I could sit on it like frigging Humpty Dumpty. You could steal me and send me off and I could end up in the newspapers: ‘Garden gnome disappears and returns with photo album from exotic places’. Might even make the One Show. Corrr…I love that Christine thingy. Don’t like the other one though. Miserable so and so.
What’s that noise? Sounds like a car. No it’s the lawn mower. Hooray! Means my lot are coming out here at last. Look out lads! Look sharp! Time for a new coat. Might even get a slurp of Carlsberg after the barbeque. Roll on summer – it’s party time.