Christmas Biscuits: 2013 365 Challenge #357

Christmas biscuits

Christmas biscuits

The next few days are surely about survival. How do you keep under fives from exploding with excitement in the run up to Christmas? Thank goodness term only ended on Friday, leaving a handful of days to get through endless repetitions of  “is it Christmas yet?” and “can we hang our stockings?”

Luckily Daddy took the little darlings shopping for Mummy’s Christmas Gift this morning (socks, socks and more socks, hurrah!) so I was able to finish my Father Christmas duties, clean the house, walk the dog and try to write some more adventures for Claire.

I lost an hour of precious time trying to find a building on Rightmove that fitted my mental image of what Timothy’s activity centre should look like. I love shopping for £3 million properties on the Cornish coast. In the end I had to use a blend of three different places. Fun though.

Unfortunately a shopping centre on the Sunday before Christmas is not the place to wear out small children (I suspect they could barely even move) so the kids were bouncing off the walls by 2 o’clock.

What they're meant to look like

What they’re meant to look like

Despite my hacking cough and permanent need to sleep I just about managed to dredge up enough energy to get the kids baking Christmas biscuits. It was a shame my cupboards were mostly bare and I only managed to scrape together enough ingredients for a handful of tiny morsels.

I’d really like to have a go at making the little stained glass biscuits I keep seeing around (and that happen to be in my cookery book) but I had no plain flour, boiled sweets or brown sugar. Slight problem.

But we did manage to locate eggs, icing sugar and vanilla essence, and voila! They’ll look better on the tree than they do hanging from the hands of Wenlock, but they weren’t bad for a first effort. Of course if I ask my children to mix colours, I inevitably end up with black, so they’re more suited to Hallowe’en than Christmas. The thing I like about these biscuits, though, is that you decorate them before you bake them, by adding food colouring to egg yolk. No need to wait for them to cook and cool down before icing them. Lord knows how you get intricate patterns like in the picture, though. Ours were mostly solid blocks of green! Still, it filled an hour.

Thankfully they’re finally in bed. Any tips for keeping the mania under control for the next forty-eight hours will be gratefully received! 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire stared at the green and white livery of the coffee shop sign and let the familiarity enfold her like a blanket. She sipped at her tepid latte and tried not to think. Her eyes ached, and her skin was tight from salt and lack of sleep.

Against her will, images of the night in Cobh, and the long the flight home, played on loop, until she felt she might go crazy. The tension had been unbearable. There hadn’t been space for words. Her pain at Conor’s deceit – not his marriage so much as his method of telling her – clashed against his sense of betrayal at her considering another job.

She had no more understood his shock than he had her sense of humiliation. Despite repeated efforts to talk it through, they had been unable to find common ground. It was as if, somewhere between Claire stalking from the Baptism and Conor coming to find her in the hotel bar, they had become strangers.

They’d said farewell at the airport without touching and Claire wondered if that was the end. All the while her heart asked the unanswerable question: was it really so important to strike out on her own, to start a new life in Cornwall, rather than putting down roots working for Conor?

She could probably forgive his stupidity, letting his little sister fill her in on his history. But would he ever accept a long distance romance, especially after his wife moved across the Atlantic with his unborn child?

For a moment the need to comfort his decade-old hurt overwhelmed her and she reached for her phone. Then his stubborn anger at her conversation with Maggie played loud in her ears and she stopped.

Damn him! I told him I wasn’t going back. He accepted it. Did he think he could change my mind? What, that love conquers all? I’ve known him three months; we’ve been dating for three weeks. Yes he’s charming, but…

She stopped as her errant brain added adjectives. Charming, gorgeous, generous, kind.

Stop it,” she muttered out loud and blushed as the woman at the next table gave her an odd look.

Why can’t life be simple for once?

She drained the last of her cold coffee with a grimace and pulled out her phone. Her heart was in her mouth as she waited for the call to connect.

“Maggie, it’s Claire. Next time you speak to your friend Timothy, tell him I’m in.”

*

Guilt swirled around inside Claire like whiskey in her stomach. Even driving across Cornwall to the activity centre to meet Maggie’s friend Timothy felt like a betrayal. No matter how many times she reminded herself that she had no obligation to Conor past the end of the three-month contract, she knew how hard he had fought to get the role for her. And how essential it had been to know she had a job to return to, after leaving the darkness of her New Zealand journey behind.

And is this how I repay his efforts? Running away at the first opportunity; abandoning him to the censure of his peers. Regardless of our relationship, if such a thing still exists, I owe him more than this.

She knew the words were true, but another, quieter, voice said, Working for others got you nowhere. You need to do something for yourself.

Still, she felt beyond selfish, and wasn’t surprised that Conor hadn’t tried to get in touch since their arrival back from Ireland two days before.

As she followed the directions of the SatNav, every junction caused her to hesitate. She could turn round, go someplace different. Stay in a hostel, work on the report. It wasn’t too late to choose Conor. Every cross roads felt like a waypoint in her life. Before long she felt exhausted.

***

Faith and Father Christmas: 2013 365 Challenge #347

Meeting the man last Christmas

Meeting the man last Christmas

At dinner last night my friends and I discussed the challenge of maintaining the Christmas magic with our children. Do you lie? Evade, prevaricate? Are robins secretly Santa’s spies, identified by their red breasts? Or is the red flashing light of the security system Saint Nic keeping an eye on who is being naughty or nice? Do you have an elf on the shelf to watch over and guarantee belief and good behaviour?

And it got me thinking. In the end is it about magic, or is it about faith? Or even control. We talk of the magic of Christmas but it does seem it comes hand in hand with mild threats to ensure good behaviour. I read a quote on Goodreads once that compared belief in Father Christmas to belief in God:

“Be sure to lie to your kids about the benevolent, all-seeing Santa Claus. It will prepare them for an adulthood of believing in God.”
― Scott DikkersYou Are Worthless: Depressing Nuggets of Wisdom Sure to Ruin Your Day

I was reminded of the quote during my daughter’s Nativity this week. Towards the end, the audience stood to sing along with two carols. I love carols normally, and thought I knew them all, but was surprised by a verse in Once In Royal David’s City that I hadn’t seen before, containing these lines:

“Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as he.”
What's not to love?

What’s not to love?

 

Interestingly as I googled it for this post I found some versions of the lyrics without this verse, and some saying “should be” rather than “must be”. I’m clearly not the only person who struggles with the concept of telling my children to model their behaviour on baby Jesus, who had a helping hand in being a good child because he was the son of God and all that. And yet we tell our children to be obedient, mild, good, if they want Father Christmas to come. What mother won’t use everything at her disposal in those frantic weeks leading up to the big day?

Maybe that’s my problem with it all. I’m agnostic. My belief tends towards Nature or the Universe or some Spirit of Humanity, rather than an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being. I respect the idea of Faith in God – envy it sometimes – but don’t have it. My husband is atheist. So, between us, we don’t believe in invisible beings watching and controlling our lives.

Of course that didn’t stop me, last Christmas, saying a dozen times a day “Father Christmas is watching” although my aim was only to get them to smile. So, “Father Christmas is watching, show him your best cheesy grin.” It worked like a charm and staved off the teary tantrums of this time of year.

My daughter goes to a Church of England school and I’m okay with that. Christianity is more than a religion. It’s part of my country’s heritage. She should know the tenets of the faith so she can choose later what she believes, armed with some knowledge.

I make sure the kids know the real meaning of Christmas too

I make sure the kids know the real meaning of Christmas too

I went to a non CofE primary school until I was eight years old, and moved to where I live now. I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer or any hymns, and my school friends were amazed. I’m glad that my daughter will learn them, if only for when she goes to weddings as an adult!

Besides, religion teaches forgiveness and love and good deeds, and who doesn’t want their child to learn all that? My role, as I see it, is to temper the school’s teachings by allowing her to question what she learns (not that I’m even remotely qualified to answer her questions!)

However, if I let her challenge the stories of the bible, should I let her question the existence of Father Christmas? Already she doesn’t really seem to believe all that much. She said of her letter from Santa, “That’s really from you, Mummy, isn’t it?” and thankfully I didn’t actually have to lie because it came from a charity. Still it’s close to lying. She’s only four but I sense it won’t be long before she asks me outright if it’s all true. When that time comes, should I destroy faith, destroy the magic, or deceive a child and potentially break her faith in the honesty of a parent?

Daughter learns about Jesus at school

Daughter learns about Jesus at school

My good friend solved the dilemma by taking her child, at five years old, to Lapland to meet the man himself. Pricey but maybe worth it to preserve the magic. I wonder if even that would work for my little girl (particularly as she hates the cold and snow!) even if we could afford it.

And, if belief in Father Christmas is like religion, surely meeting the man defeats the object? Isn’t the whole point to have faith without evidence? Like the ironic line from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, “Your faith was strong but you needed proof.”

(Incidentally, for some great discussions on faith and religion you can’t do better than Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, particularly Carpe Jugulum. Granny Weatherwax’s best quote is this one:

“You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Anything else is just . . . is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors.” )

Anyway, we seem to be okay for now. She accepts the existence of baby Jesus, she accepts the concept of Father Christmas. She’s excited about getting gifts and spending time with the family, but mostly she looks forward to opening her chocolate advent calendar every day and can’t wait until the end of term. Exhausted and tearful and tired, I think she’s approaching the arrival of Christmas pretty much as I am: with relief!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Can I come and see you this weekend?”

There was an air of forced casualness in Conor’s words. Claire cradled the phone to her ear and looked out her bedroom window at the view down the hill to the sea. The hostel was a million miles away from the one in Swanage: clean, bright, modern, with comfy beds and duvets, and en-suite facilities. Despite the ache in her chest that told her she missed Conor, she was happy to be there by herself. Still the weekend was a few days away, who knew how she might feel by then.

“I don’t have to come, if you’d rather be alone.” Conor’s voice sounded strained and Claire felt a shiver run across her skin.

“Yes, of course you can come this weekend. Sorry, I didn’t mean to hesitate; I was just trying to work out which hostel I’ll be in by then.” A small white lie to take away the hurt.

“Why don’t you ring around for a private room and let me know what you find?”

Now his words made her shiver in anticipation and she smiled. “You’re on.”

“Grand. So, tell me about your day.”

Claire leant against the wall and chatted about surfing, and the hostel, and her call home to catch up with her nephews. It felt strange, talking about things outside work. Conor listened attentively, asking questions and adding his opinion. Claire realised it had been a long time since she’d had a grown-up conversation with someone other than Kim. As the thought drifted through her mind, she remembered that Kim had wanted to catch up with her after the Carnival.

“Damn.” Her outburst cut through Conor’s review of a band he had seen the week before.

“What is it?”

“I just remembered that Kim wanted me to visit her this weekend, because her sister is home from Hong Kong. What with everything, I completely forgot. She’s going to kill me, I haven’t even called. That’s two lots of people I’ve let down in as many weeks.”

“Sure but it’s my fault, Claire. I kept you busy with work for the Carnival and then, well…” He trailed off.

Claire put a hand to her forehead, trying to subdue the stabbing pain in her temples. “Look, I need to call Kim. Can I get back to you about the weekend?”

“Of course. Your friends need to come first, I’ll still be here.”

Claire couldn’t quite read his words. Was he not classing himself as a friend, or making a dig that she wasn’t putting him first? She shook her head. It was too hard to fathom. Wishing him a quick farewell, she hung up the phone then scrolled through for Kim’s number.

“Hello, stranger.” Kim answered the phone on the second ring.

“Hi, Kim. I’m so sorry I haven’t called sooner. The Carnival was manic.” She hesitated, unsure what to say about Conor. Before she could decide whether to mention it or not, Kim started talking again.

“It’s alright for some. I’d give anything to get back to work. I’m still waiting for the doctor to say I’m fit.” She gave an irate snort and Claire felt her heart sink into her stomach. The happy Kim she had spoken to a week before seemed to have vanished again.

“I’m sure it won’t be long,” she said in a soothing voice, wary of annoying Kim further. “Is Helena home yet?”

“Oh yes. The prodigal daughter returned this weekend, proudly displaying her bump.” Kim cackled and Claire thought the sound didn’t suit her. She didn’t like to hear her friend being nasty, even about her sister.

I guess it’s no different than how I feel about Robert.

“So she is pregnant then. How do you feel about that?”

“Sodding angry, to be honest. I lose my baby and get told I can’t have another one, and my sister gets up the duff with some bloke she barely knows. At least she’s decided to keep it. I don’t think I could stand it if she’d had a termination, whoever the fella is.”

The pain in Claire’s head stabbed sharper. She wanted to empathise with Kim, but what did she know of babies and wanting to become a mother? She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a girlfriend, never mind anything else. And the bitter jealousy in Kim’s voice was hard to take, however much she knew and sympathised with the cause.

“Do you still want me to come and visit?” Claire held her breath, hoping for an answer in the negative.

“Good God, yes. Come and save me from her sanctimonious preaching, please.”

Claire inhaled silently and deeply, and then had a brainwave. “Why don’t you both come down here? I’m in a charming hostel, five minutes from the beach, and the forecast for the weekend is gorgeous.” She hesitated, then plunged on. “And you can come hang out with my new man, if you like.” If Conor came to stay, she wouldn’t have to share a room with Kim and Helena.

“Claire, you old dog, you’ve been keeping secrets. Is that the real reason you’ve abandoned me. Come on, spill the beans. Who is it? Is it your boss? It is, isn’t it. You’re shagging the boss. Ha ha that’s priceless.”

Claire winced at Kim’s tone. “Yes, it’s Conor. If that’s how you feel, though, I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to stay all in the same place. It’s not like we work in the same office or anything, so it’s not how you make it sound.”

“Oh get off your high horse, you muppet. If you like him then good on you. From what I can remember he was pretty dishy. Mind you, that might have been the drugs.” She laughed. “I’ll have a chat with Helena, but I’m sure she’ll agree. Anything to get away from Mum’s fussing.”

As Claire hung up the phone she wondered if it was too late to get a flight to the Maldives before the weekend.

***

A Domestic Ramble: 2013 365 Challenge #343

New Boots. Again.

New Boots. Again.

I am currently sat watching Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (with adverts, arrgghh. We never watch adverts, that’s what Sky Plus is for.) I’ve been searching my brain all evening for a blog topic, but it’s been such a busy day, my brain is asleep.

The day started with a thirty-minute tantrum from the eldest child, because I told her off for not sharing. Is this normal? I know I can be a tough parent and she craves my approval, so I do worry that I’ve broken her. Hubbie thinks it’s fairly standard fare for a nearly-five-year-old girl. Joy.

After everyone had calmed down and eaten breakfast, we went to the local woods to walk the dog and have a wintry picnic. It’s been a gorgeous day – warm for the time of year and sunny. The woods were quiet and the dog had a brilliant time chasing sticks for an hour. Unfortunately the trip also revealed that the kids needed new wellies. The son has only had his two months and they’re full of holes. The daughter’s feet just keep growing. What is it with kids and shoes?

So I heroically took the children to the shopping centre on the third weekend before Christmas to procure new boots. Arrgghh. The son, of course, chose the most expensive ones. After trying on five pairs in three other shops I had to admit defeat. I had hopes the daughter would settle for the half price ones but was wrong. Sigh. Of course we had to battle back through the crowds to find her best winter boots which had been left behind in one of the stores. This is why I do all my shopping online and in charity shops.

We got home with just enough daylight left to put up the outside Christmas lights and for the kids to burn off some steam in the playroom while I did the ironing. Definitely a divide-and-conquer day, with hubbie taking bath time while I cooked dinner. And low and behold it’s nearly Monday again. Where does the weekend go? At least it’s only two weeks until the shortest day. Something to look forward to. 🙂

P.S. On the way in on the school run this morning, I asked them what their favourite part of the weekend was, like I normally do – you know, to remind them we actually do fun things – and my daughter said her least favourite bit was Mummy being grumpy while shopping for wellies. And I thought I’d hidden it so well!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Pain throbbed behind Claire’s eyes: a steady staccato beat of agony that increased in severity when she tried to raise her head. Slowly her other senses came into focus. Without analysing them, her brain sorted through the various inputs. The sound of steady breathing, close by. The scent of aftershave and sweat. The feel of tangled sheets against naked skin. Finally the pieces of the puzzle clicked together and Claire sat upright, before collapsing back onto the bed as the room span around her.

She groaned, and heard the rhythm of the gentle snores change as the form next to her shifted. Her body froze; every nerve zinging. The fog in her brain cleared instantly, like a gale had swept through and brushed the mist away.

With a snuffling sound, the breathing returned to its gentle rhythm. Claire exhaled and lay still, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide what to do. The events of the previous night were sketchy at best. She remembered the wheelbarrow and the dress, the wig and the blown kisses. A vague image of standing over a fan in the iconic Marilyn Monroe pose flashed into her head and she winced.

Slowly, as if building up to the final reveal, her brain skipped forward to the kiss outside the Black Swan. Then, speeding on fast forward, she remembered Conor’s whispered suggestion that they go back to his place. The taxi ride, more kissing, stumbling up to his top floor apartment.

The memories became blurred again at that point, whether from self-protection or alcohol she couldn’t say. Her position now, naked in Conor’s bed, told the rest of the story.

Bugger.

Don’t sleep with the boss. Wasn’t that a rule as old as time? Claire tried to feel bad about it, but found she couldn’t. Instead, despite the hammering in her brain and quivering in her limbs, she could tell a broad smile stretched her numb and tender lips. She put her fingers up to feel them.

I must look like I’ve had Botox. Please don’t let me have to face any of Conor’s colleagues today.

The thought reminded her of something else. It was the last day of the Carnival: Conor would have things to do. She probably had things to do, if she could but remember what they were. She looked over at the sleeping man beside her. His face lay in the shadows, with only a glint of light coming through the dark curtains. It looked peaceful, though. Too peaceful to wake him just yet.

Claire carefully rolled off the low bed and pulled on a t-shirt lying next to her on the floor. It smelled of him. With a smile she padded from the room to explore. It didn’t take long. The apartment was tiny: just a bedroom, kitchen diner and a bathroom the size of a small cupboard. The ceilings sloped above her head, making it feel more compact, despite the bright white walls and cupboards.

With a frown, Claire wondered why someone would choose to live in such a tiny apartment outside London. The quality of the finish suggested it wasn’t cheap lodgings. Why not have something a bit more homely, with room to breathe?

She walked over to the patio doors, up two steps, and on to a tiny balcony. As she stepped out, she gasped. The sun peeped over the horizon, it’s light reflected in the sea. Beneath her, the beach stretched out, with pristine sand glistening in the morning light. She could just make out someone walking a dog in the distance. There appeared to be a path leading down from the apartment to the beach. Over to the left she could see the barrow, where she had walked from Old Harry Rocks. It was stunning.

I thought Conor hated being out in nature, away from the steaming pile of humanity? That’s what he always says.

After a while she became aware of a breeze on her legs, and realised she was standing on the balcony in only a t-shirt. With a mortified blush, she turned and went in search of coffee.

The tiny kitchen yielded instant coffee and old milk that more closely resembled soft cheese. Claire eventually found some sugar, behind the tins of beans and packets of pasta. With a shrug she made two mugs of black coffee and heaped sugar into both. She left one by the kettle, and took the other back out to the balcony, making sure she was covered up.

The cup was almost empty by the time she heard footsteps. The scrape of the mug against the granite worktop was followed by the sense of someone coming up behind her.

“You’re up early. Thanks for the coffee.”

Conor came to stand  beside her on the balcony, without touching her. Claire looked at him, trying to analyse his mood. His hair stuck up at all angles, and he’d only stopped to pull on his trousers. His bare chest was more contoured and tanned than she would have suspected when it was hidden by a shirt and tie.

They stood in silence, sipping at the strong black liquid. Fire rippled across Claire’s skin and her head swirled with words. Eventually she chanced another glance at Conor, and the look in his eyes fanned the flames, burning a trail down her body. She became acutely aware of her lack of clothing.

“You’re still here.” He smiled as he stated the obvious.

“Yes.” She smiled tentatively back.

“That’s good.” He leaned over, as if he might kiss her, and she pulled away. His expression dropped like a chastised dog and Claire felt an urge to stroke his face and kiss away the hurt.

“I need a shower first. Please.”

Relief flooded Conor’s face and he nodded. “Of course. It’s not a very big one, I’m afraid.”

“That’s okay.” Claire drained the last of her coffee and walked back into the apartment. She could feel Conor’s eyes on her as she left. When she reached the door she stopped and turned. Forcing herself to speak before her head overruled her desire, Claire gave an arch smile and called back to Conor.

“Is it big enough for two?”

He grinned and jumped down the steps into the room.

***

The Christmas Fairy: 2013 365 Challenge #341

My kitchen table is under there somewhere...

My kitchen table is under there somewhere…

I need a Christmas fairy. Not one on top of the tree, or even one who grants wishes. I don’t need a pretty dress, a pumpkin coach or a handsome prince. Some footmen might be nice, though. She can use the mice in the loft, and then they won’t eat through the Santa sacks, like they did last year, and nibble on the Christmas chocolate. (“Father Christmas,” we explained to my distraught daughter, “must have had nibblers on his sleigh.”)

What I need a fairy for is to be me, while I get on with the fun business of Christmas. For example, while I’m up from 5am tweaking photographs (one of my usual hair-brained Christmas things – photos make great gifts), the fairy could help find my kitchen table, ready for breakfast.

Or she could sit and supervise the children’s homework, because I’m all out of patience and actually had to go upstairs and scream into a pillow this morning because three hours’ sleep wasn’t enough to deal with the bickering. I also cried when I couldn’t get parked on the school run, because I had a red double-decker bus on my tail and I’m rubbish at reverse parking, but that’s not unusual.

The living room is not the relaxing zone it's meant to be

The living room is not the relaxing zone it’s meant to be

The fairy could waltz the children to school, singing silly songs, and wait patiently for ten minutes for them to go through their settling in routine. I’m managing it, but the smile is slipping.

Or I could send the fairy out when I get the call for another chore for hubbie. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind, and she could have the McD breakfast instead of me, to save my waistline. That would be a real plus.

A helpful fairy might help locate my living room floor, or put food in the fridge, or make the photos look better when I pick them up from the supermarket (the 5am two-hour stint was worth nothing because they printed so dark they’re unusable. Start again!)

I wonder if I could convince friends and family to give Christmas gifts early? I don’t need slippers or perfume or jewellery, but a cooked meal would be marvelous. A school pick up superb. A quick vac of the house would be a result for everyone, because I can’t be the only one tired of standing on toys and picking stickers and dirt off my socks.

I want to be writing my blog, and inventing adventures for Claire (it’s just getting interesting!). I want to be buying and wrapping gifts, and writing Christmas cards. At a push I don’t mind walking the dog, but the housework isn’t on the agenda until January, and who knows what the house might look like by then. Does anyone know where I might find a Christmas Fairy? If so, send her my way, please. I’ll pay in chocolate. 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire looked in the mirror and pulled a face.

I look ridiculous. Why did I let Conor talk me in to this?

She tugged at the wig, which had slipped sideways, and pouted her bright red lips. She swished her skirt and struck a pose. “Happy birthday, Mr President…” she sang off key and laughed.

Fine; I’ll be Marilyn, seeing as the theme is Hollywood, but if there’s karaoke I’m out.

With a sigh Claire turned from the mirror and pulled on her cardigan. Despite the warm temperature outside there was no way she was walking across town without some protection.

As she strode down the road in her sandals, with her heels in a bag over her shoulder, Claire’s mind wandered over the events of the week. They were mostly a blur of phone calls and running across town to fetch and carry. She’d stayed awake for the fireworks on Wednesday, but had watched them from the hostel bedroom, not wanting to stand on the beach by herself.

Conor was still the elusive Pimpernel. She caught sight of him from time to time, hurrying to a meeting or helping out at an event. She’d been wrapped up in her own tasks, liaising with the shops over their storefront competition and doing a dozen other menial tasks.

Just when she was starting to think Conor was avoiding her, instead of simply being busy, he’d called out of the blue and asked if she wanted to take part in the Wheelbarrow Race on Friday night. Once he had reassured her that it was a pub crawl rather than a sports day event, she had reluctantly agreed. Then he’d mentioned the need for fancy dress.

“You’re kidding. I don’t do dressing up,” had been her response. Conor had only laughed. “You do now,” he’d replied with a wicked chuckle.

“Are you ordering me, as your employee?” She’d put on a prim tone, wondering if the banter was a wise idea, given his attitude all week. He’d paused for a fraction of a second before saying in a softer voice, “Of course not. I thought it might be fun is all.”

She’d had to agree at that point.

More fool me.

Her walk through the residential streets drew amused glances from passers-by, as she took the route into town, and she regretted not waiting until she got to the pub before putting on the wig. A group of lads wolf whistled from the other side of the road and she toyed between ignoring them and telling them to get lost. Instead she turned, bent forwards, pouted, and blew them a kiss. They looked shocked and then laughed; their appreciative chuckles drifted along behind her as she continued walking.

I guess I’m going to have to try and get in the mood.

She gathered that all of Conor’s colleagues – my colleagues, she amended – would be taking part in the pub crawl. It seemed strange to be socialising with people she hardly knew, and she wondered what they made of the woman Conor had hired against the Board’s better judgement.

Her footsteps slowed as it dawned on her what the evening would entail. Pub crawls meant getting drunk. Did she really want to leave herself vulnerable amongst strangers? The last time she’d been on a work do and under the influence she had heard things about herself she’d rather not have done. It was an experience she didn’t choose to repeat.

But it was too late now. She could see the pub up ahead; identifying it as much by the group of oddly dressed people milling outside. And by the wheelbarrows.

Bastard. He said there were no real wheelbarrows. I am going to kill him.

“Claire, you’re here!”

Conor pushed through the crowd and came to meet her. “You look amazing,” he said as he approached. “This gentleman definitely prefers blondes.” His tone was light but it brought the blood to her cheeks.

He came to a standstill too close for comfort and Claire concentrated on his outfit. He was dressed as Elvis, complete with white suit and big hair. It looked good. The words of anger died on her lips at the warmth in his expression and she dropped her gaze to stare at the pavement between them.

“Are you okay? Have you changed your mind?” Conor’s soft tone held too much understanding for her liking. Deciding the only course was to brazen it out, she threw back her shoulders and looked him in the eye.

“No, not at all. Bring it on.”

“That’s my girl.” His smile was swift and genuine. He looked like he was about to say something else, when a voice hailed him from amidst the crowd.

“Come on, Conor, stop hogging the fit bird and bring her over.”

It was Conor’s turn to look embarrassed. “Sorry, Claire,” he murmured, “Some of the lads have had a head start.”

“It’s okay, it’s nothing I can’t handle.” Claire took off her cardigan and draped it over her bag. In full costume she felt better able to enter into the spirit of things. Still, in the back of her mind she knew it was going to be a long night.

***

Son and the Sailor’s Warning: 2013 365 Challenge #340

Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning

Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning

We woke to a fiery red sky this morning. Spectacular colours to herald a stormy day (amazingly, one predicted by the forecast. It’s nice to have a heads up). My daughter came downstairs, went in to get her breakfast, didn’t bat an eyelid. My three-year-old son came down later and called me urgently from the hallway.

“Mummy, come, come see! The sky!”

He’s surprisingly in tune with nature, my son. I do try and make both my children aware of the beauties around them, calling their attention to birds, clouds, rainbows, pretty autumn leaves and so on.

My daughter doesn’t share my passion (although she shares my love of reading, so she’s forgiven!) but my son has picked up on it. Whether because he truly appreciates it, or because it makes me smile, I’m not sure. Who cares?

He often goes outside and, when he sees blue sky, says in a sing-song voice, “It’s a lovely sunny day, Mummy.” It warms my heart. So to see him hanging out the window, letting in the arctic air, admiring the dazzling display of nature across the fields, made me very proud. It also makes him yet more like a reincarnation of my father (a blessing and a curse!) My dad loved nature and I got my appreciation from him. His photo albums (like mine!) are full of snaps of sunsets, flowers and blurry distant birds. The camera never does nature justice but it doesn’t stop us trying.

Watching the Colourful Sunrise

Watching the Colourful Sunrise

When I miss my dad, I look at my son and know he isn’t very far away. My boy shares more than his grandpa’s name (my son’s middle name): he looks like him, laughs like him, has his temper and his sweetness of nature. Such a shame they never met. My father never met any of his grandchildren, but he lives on in them.

It reminds me of the lines in the Mike and the Mechanics song (in itself ironic as my father was both a Mike and a mechanic), In the Living Years: “I wasn’t there that morning when my father passed away” through to “I think I caught his spirit … in my baby’s new born tears.”

Makes me cry every. single. time.

Incidentally, I looked into the saying “Red sky at night, sailors’ (or shepherds’) delight, red sky in the morning, sailors’ warning,” and there is some truth to it. With a howling gale blowing us down the road on the school run – freezing hands and noses and swirling autumn winds round in endless eddies – it was certainly true today. I wouldn’t have wanted to be out in a boat!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Okay, Claire, I need you to call all the marching bands, confirm their running order and remind them we start an hour earlier this year. Then I want you to speak to the Fireworks people, make sure they know the signal to commence their display. After that, can you head down to Sandpit Field and help with the set up.”

Claire scribbled notes on the paper she’d borrowed from the secretary, when she’d realised what kind of meeting it was going to be. Looking round the table at the other volunteers, Claire’s heart sank. This wasn’t really her thing. She tried to catch Conor’s eye, to at least get a smile from him, but he had his head bent over his master list. When he looked up, it was to tell the next person round the table what their tasks were.

I’ve been in Swanage for forty-eight hours and Conor hasn’t so much as said hello and welcome.

It was obvious that he was busy with the Carnival, but Claire found herself searching her memory to try and discover if she had done or said something to incur his displeasure. Even the busiest person had time to smile.

A voice in the back of Claire’s mind reminded her that world war three could have broken out, when she had been face with an imminent deadline, and she would have shrugged it off as irrelevant. She was taking it all too personally. For once she hoped her watching voice was right.

*

Claire slumped, exhausted, onto the grass and hoped she had done enough. Two days of endless phone calls, of questions she couldn’t answer and complaints she didn’t understand, of running round town, climbing the stupid hill to the hostel, and grabbing sandwiches on the run, and she’d finally made it through her list of tasks.

She hadn’t seen Conor since the meeting on Friday and they’d only spoken on the phone to exchange information, like a verbal relay race. The actual start of the Carnival the day before had passed in a blur. She’d missed the firework display, after crashing on her bunk to close her eyes for a moment and waking up four hours later. Conor hadn’t asked why she wasn’t there.

I thought he was meant to like me? If you really like someone surely even work doesn’t get in the way of good manners?

Around her, the chatter of thousands of happy people rose like a swarm of flies. Somehow she hadn’t noticed the people filtering into town, until every verge and patch of beach was covered with them.  It was strange to see the quiet town full of colour and life; like seeing a familiar landscape under three feet of water. She wished they would go away.

Up ahead the sound of drumming drifted on the sea breeze. The chatter of the crowd dropped in anticipation and heads turned to catch their first glimpse of the parade. The rhythmic sound came nearer and there was something stirring about it. Realising she’d never actually watched a parade before, Claire rubbed the sleep from her eyes and sat forward, camera at the ready. At least if she got some snaps for the blog it wouldn’t be a completely wasted trip.

Claire had to blink her eyes again as the first marching band came into view. Striding through the crowd were two dozen Spidermen with full head coverings, some drumming on the traditional white military drums, others lined up behind playing brass instruments. The crowd chuckled and Claire joined in, appreciating the spectacle.

For the next few hours the show rolled in front of her like the toy TV she’d had as a child that turned with a dial and played plinky music. There were girls in blue with pompoms and girls in red throwing batons; there were cars and bikes and floats; there were carnival girls with costumes to rival Brazil, all feathers and fans and structure, towering over their heads.

The Carnival Queens walked by in red and salmon pink, beaming and waving at the crowd. Musketeers and movie makers, and all manner of fancy dress costumes sashayed past, all to the sound of music; military drums and Latin beats, Rock and Roll, Pop and the unmistakeable Caribbean kettle drums.

Claire found herself clapping and cheering and swaying her shoulders with the crowd. For two hours she forgot that her head hurt and her feet throbbed and her heart ached most of all.

Mid-afternoon, just as the last of the parade members were straggling past, the Red Arrows flew overhead with a roar that silenced the rising hubbub. Mesmerised, Claire watched their plumes of smoke in red, white and blue, as the red jets crossed in the sky in breath-taking formations, with the steely grey sea stretched out beneath them.

The sun had disappeared behind a veil of cloud, easing the heat and glare. Claire watched the end of the display without blinking, her brain whirling with the sensory input of the last few hours. And this was only the second day. There were still so many more events happening over the rest of the week.

Okay, so maybe Conor has had his hands full organising all this.

The thought rose like a bubble inside her, lifting some of the gloom that had been weighing her down. Determined to help him with his impossible task and not to mind his distraction, Claire pushed herself away from the grass bank, stretched cramped muscles, and went off in search of her boss.

***

Zoning Out: 2013 365 Challenge #337

My angel tree-topper

My angel tree-topper

A couple of hours ago I wrote on Twitter, “Ah. That time of day when I search my brain for a blog topic, when I just want to pour a glass of wine and watch crap TV. Ideas for a post?”

My friend Pat replied, “That! Sometimes all you need is wine and crap tv… even authors need to zone out!” So, that’s the basis of today’s post: me zoning out and having a ramble!

It’s been a hectic week, what with the impromptu Christmas fair preparation (pringle pots, tombola, badge making), family lunch and month end book completion. The children were fairly nonplussed with the pringle pots, but the tombola was a hit.

I’ve had a spiking headache for two days, and only now realised it’s not just stress but also caffeine withdrawal (I don’t get as much time to drink tea at the weekend, especially in someone else’s house). I’m on my third cup of the evening and am starting to feel better!

At 6am this morning I moaned to hubbie that I needed to split myself into six clones to vaguely get through my to-do list in the five hours between child drop off and pick up. Shopping, cleaning, ironing, writing, Christmas shopping and dog walking. Instead I did an hour on each thing, and managed to get through most of it, although it has resulted in me feeling as if Jekyll and Hyde have invited around a few buddies and they’re all having a party in my brain.

Daughter's amazing craft

Daughter’s amazing craft

I am notorious for making life more complicated for myself, though. An hour of my precious day was spent trying to find the perfect angel for the top of the tree, and an Elf for the shelf.

All the angels in the shops are overly stylized realistic pretty ones in ceramic and gauze. I wanted something closer to a cardboard cone skirt with a ping-pong ball face, like we had when I was younger. So, while the kids did craft after tea, I made one out of exactly that: a little rag doll of my daughter’s, some craft foam, gold card and pipe cleaners.

The Elf on the Shelf thing is typical me: I first heard about it on Facebook yesterday, from an American cousin, instantly thought my kids would love it, but couldn’t afford to buy the compete ‘kit’ so thought I’d just find something vaguely elf-like in the shops and use that. Big mistake, big, huge. Six shops later I gave the idea up and decided next year will be fine to introduce it!

My husband’s chosen way to zone out this evening is to watch his new guilty pleasure, Made in Chelsea. He’s just said loudly, “She’s so two-faced!” Haha. Not my cup of tea, but watching him watching the show is quite entertaining. Unfortunately it’s strangely compelling viewing, so I’m struggling to put together coherent sentences. I think this is probably the lot for tonight. Crap TV is sorted, now to find the wine…

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

________________________________________________________________________________

“I heard you were back.” Ruth said with a smile, as she opened the door. She looked past Claire, as if expecting to see someone behind her. “Where are my gorgeous nephews?”

Claire laughed. “Mum’s been on the phone then? I had to leave Jack and Alex with her. I’ve got to get back to Cornwall this evening.”

“You’re insane. What’s that, twelve hours of driving in one day? Why don’t you stop here the night and leave first thing? There’s no point trying to find a hostel in the dark.”

Claire followed her sister down the corridor into the kitchen, marvelling at the change in her since she’d last visited. Even the house felt different: brighter, somehow, and with a positive vibe Claire couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“No Sky?” She said, rather than answer her sister’s question. It was tempting to stay the night, but she needed to think about it. For some reason she was keen to put as many miles between her and her family as possible.

“No, it’s the last day of term today, and Chris has taken her on holiday for a week.”

“Blimey, how do you feel about that?”

“It’s fine. I know Chris and Bryony will look after her, and she really does love spending time with her baby sister. Besides, I’m going away myself this weekend.” She saw Claire’s raised eyebrow, and flushed. “With the church! We’re going to Oxford to see the Baptist Missionary Society library collection at the university.”

Claire’s eyes opened wide, but she didn’t comment. What did she know about what religious people did for kicks? It sounded worse than a four-hour lecture on contracts, but then Ruth might feel the same about surfing or walking the coastal path. It took all sorts.

“I’m going to service tonight, why don’t you come?” Ruth threw a sly glance over her shoulder at her sister, as she reached into the cupboard for the sugar. “You can make sure I haven’t got mixed up in some cult.”

“I don’t think that!” Claire heard the high squeak in her voice and winced. Gratefully accepting the tea from Ruth, she sought for a change of subject. “What did Mum say on the phone? She must have called you before I’d driven down the street.”

“Before you’d left the house, pretty much. She’s not happy with you. What did you say to her? She wittered on about ungrateful children and being shocked at how rude you’ve become. It was quite a rant, actually.” For a moment it was the old Ruth, and Claire smiled warmly at her. Then her sister pursed her lips. “You probably shouldn’t fight with Mum, though. It’s not very dutiful.”

Claire wanted to defend herself, but she didn’t know how to talk to this new moralistic Ruth. She gave a noncommittal grunt, and said instead, “Jack can’t wait to meet Sky. Oh, damn, how long did you say she was away with Chris for? He’ll be gutted to miss her.”

“They’re back next week. Thursday, I think. I can check. Can’t the boys stay with Mum and Dad for a bit longer?”

“You spoke to Mum, what do you think?”

Ruth frowned. “Hmmm, yes, you might be right. Never mind, I’m sure we’ll work something out.” She drained her tea and looked at the clock. “I have to go, are you coming?”

Claire thought about the long drive back south, and shrugged. The morning would be soon enough. “Sure, why not?”

*

Claire looked around the room. It wasn’t a church, it was a school hall. She’d sat in one just like it, not that long ago, to do her final exams. And before that, for school assembly, lunch times, end of term reviews. It had a herringbone wood floor and long wooden benches around the walls.

The hard plastic of the grey stackable chair dug into her legs, as she looked up at the stage, where a white screen held a welcome message for the congregation. In the corner a group of adults were setting up a band, with guitars and microphones. She guessed it would be a different sort of music to the stuff they played at the sixth form concerts.

Next to her, Ruth waved in greeting to people she knew. Every now and then someone would stop and talk, holding their hands out to Claire in welcome and gushing with enthusiasm at her presence. She felt like a fraud.

Fidgeting on her seat, Claire began to think that the drive to Cornwall might have been preferable. She hadn’t been in Church in years, discounting the odd wedding or christening and, even though this building wasn’t made of stone and stained glass, the feeling of righteousness was just as strong.

A hush fell, as a man walked into the centre of the room towards the vacant lectern. He held his hands up in salutation and proceeded to greet his flock with gusto. He turned towards her when he hailed, “visitors new and old,” and she felt her cheeks catch fire. Overhead the strip lighting shone down, and she found she missed the dark corners of a traditional church.

Then the singing started. Claire looked in surprise at Ruth, standing with eyes closed and arms aloft, fervently hurling her words at the ceiling. As Claire read the lyrics on the screen and tried to sing along without being heard, she noticed more people waving their arms while belting out their praise

She felt embarrassed for them, in all their effusive sincerity. It might not be a cult, but it wasn’t for her. Peace radiated from her sister, though, and she decided that was good enough.

When the service was finally over, Claire sat waiting for Ruth to finish her goodbyes. She was watching her sister’s face as a shy-looking man in his thirties walked towards them. Ruth’s cheeks held a faint blush and she caught her lip between her teeth. It lasted only a moment before her expression reflected only friendly pleasure.

“Mark, I didn’t see you earlier. I’d like to introduce you to my sister. Claire, this is Mark: he’s organising the trip to Oxford this weekend.”

I’ll bet he is, Claire thought, as she shook the hand held tentatively towards her. So that’s the way the wind blows? She looked from Mark to Ruth and back again. I wonder if they know it yet.

***

Sleep Deprived Stress-Bunny: 2013 365 Challenge #281

Working hard

Working hard

My 350th post today! I like it when the milestone figures come around, it makes it easier to prise the eyes open and write some words!

Like yesterday’s post, today’s is likely to be on the short side. On top of the cold I’m fighting off, I had physio on my knee this morning. Physio always leaves me limp as a dishrag, and that’s without it being rush rush to get there on time.

It was a bit of a squeeze to get to the appointment (it was actually hubbie’s but he’d double-booked himself), as I had to stop at a service station for quarter of an hour en-route from the school run so I could tidy up and publish the few words I wrote during breakfast!

I might have no core muscles. I might tick all the physio’s danger categories of Sleep-Deprived, Sensitive to Temperature, Stress Bunny, Sedentary Lifestyle and Perfectionist (he said, try as he might, he couldn’t think of an alternative word beginning with S for that last one! Maybe ‘Super Perfectionist’?). I might be knotted and tied up and a bit wonky, but I can at least stick to my daily blog deadline! 🙂

All I have to do now is think of something to write about. The little energy left to me today has been spent tidying and planning for my sister’s long awaited arrival. After over two and a half years, I’m finally going to be able to give her a hug tomorrow, as she and her family come to stay (not with us, thankfully! I think two children in the house might be enough for me). Luckily my parents’ house is close by, so we’ll hopefully see them loads. I just have to figure out how much to take my daughter out of school so she finds a balance between not missing out there or here. Tricky.

Anyway, no dazzling words for my 350th post since I started the blog last year. I’ll have to hope for some inspiration before tomorrow! For now I’m going to try and stop yawning long enough to catch up with Claire, and then I’m going to bed to secure a few hours’ sleep before little man has his first nightmare or his nappy leaks (despite being on our fourth different brand of nappy)!.

This is the sleep deprived stress bunny saying night night.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“You want me to do what?” Kim’s tired voice rose in agitation.

“Come to Cornwall with me. Just for a week or two, until Psych Liaison are off your case. It’ll be fun. The forecast is great, and Cornwall is meant to be beautiful.”

“Well it isn’t. I had a gig in Newquay once and it was horrible.” Kim folded her arms, reminding Claire strongly of Sky.

“That’s just one town. Milton Keynes is a boring town of concrete and roundabouts; you wouldn’t judge the whole of the Midlands on it, would you?”

Jeff caught Claire’s eye and signalled that he wanted a quiet word. Claire gave an imperceptible nod.

“Just think about it, okay? Now, would you like a cup of tea?”

Kim nodded, then sank her head back against the sofa. Although she’d seemed brighter once they’d reached her apartment, she’d soon slumped into despondency; drifting into a dark place beyond Claire’s reach.

In the kitchen, Jeff filled the kettle before turning to face Claire. “Don’t give up. She’s just being stubborn. Perhaps don’t mention the bit about the tent– Kim hates camping.”

Claire shivered, remembering Jeff’s attempts to get the friends to see sense before she went to New Zealand. Determined to carry the high ground, Claire lifted her chin and took Kim’s tea back into the lounge.

Kim lay with her eyes closed, but they flew open when Claire put the mug down with a clink. Claire happened to be watching her friend’s face, and saw the muscles tighten into the obstinate mask from earlier. She didn’t know whether to be irritated or amused by the wilfulness of her friend’s reaction.

Determined not to rise to the bait, Claire perched on the sofa and said in a bright voice, “So, am I to have a travelling companion? We never managed the girly holiday when we were younger – maybe this is our opportunity?”

Kim remained silent and Claire searched her brain for a way through the wall. “You can help me keep up with the blog, if you like? As I’ll be working for Conor this time, I might struggle to write something every day. Fancy trying your hand as a blogger?”

A flicker of interest passed across the pale face and for a moment Kim looked less unhappy. Then it was gone.

“Isn’t there a theatre in the cliffs, down at the bottom of Cornwall? I’m sure we could try and get tickets to a play – all paid-for research of course. Give us something to work towards?”

At last Kim turned to face her friend, and the tension dropped from her face.

“Alright, enough already, I’ll come. It’s not like I have so many other options.”

It wasn’t exactly a grateful acceptance speech, but Claire didn’t mind.

“Fabulous. I do just have one favour to ask, if you are coming.”

A wary look crept across Kim’s face.

“What’s that?”

Claire smiled.

“Can we take your car?”

***

The Last Days of Summer: 2013 365 Challenge #280

Crushing apples

Crushing apples

Yesterday we had one of those bonus summer days that sneaks out in autumn and takes you by surprise.

After an exhausting six hours with friends at the Farm on Saturday, hubbie and I wanted to curl up with a cuppa and a good book. Unfortunately, such weekend activities are not really open to us any longer.

Instead we went to my parents’ house and I cooked up bacon and pancakes for brunch. Then the men shook apples down from the big tree in the garden that I climbed as a child, and the grandkids collected them all.

Then they assisted Grandpa in his job crushing them to make cider, while Mummy read her book. Bliss. I’m really enjoying my foray back into comfort-reading, and I’m even managing to ignore the typos and excessive use of adverbs!

Some blackberry picking and a game of ping pong in the sunshine later and it was an idyllic day. Back home I let the kids cover the patio in sand-mud pies while I made blackberry and apple crumble and custard. I was asleep on the sofa by 9pm (I’m fighting off a cold) happy in the knowledge that we’d eked the last out of the summer.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“I do understand, Claire, I really do. But you have to see it from my perspective.”

The tired resignation in Conor’s voice made Claire’s mouth go dry. She could imagine him running a hand through his hair and trying not to yell at her. She gripped the phone tightly and waited for him to tell her she no longer had a job.

With an exhalation of breath, Conor spoke into the silence. “How long do you need?”

Claire felt a flicker of hope. “Psych Liaison says she needs monitoring for several weeks if they’re going to let her go home. If Jeff takes anymore time off he’s going to lose his job.” She tried to keep her voice matter of fact.

“What about your job, Claire? Isn’t that important.”

The hope died with the cut of his voice, and something inside her broke. “You don’t get it,” she burst out. “This is my fault. If I’d been a better friend she wouldn’t be in this mess. I have to fix it.”

Another pause followed her words and she braced herself for the consequences. When he spoke again, however, Conor’s voice sounded speculative.

“Maybe what she needs is a holiday? A road trip round Cornwall with her best friend would do her the world of good, don’t you think?”

His words broke into the fog of Claire’s mind and dispersed it like a ray of sunshine. “The PLAN lady didn’t say anything about her having to stay home in bed. I think they want to see her on a regular basis…”

“Then they can Skype or call her, or she can go to a local hospital. It’s June, Claire. What better way to find a reason to live than visiting the most beautiful places the country has to offer, in the summer? You’ll have to book ahead if there are two of you staying in the hostels, and you should probably take a tent for the nights you can’t get a bed. But it should be fun, yes?”

“Maybe you’re right, “Claire said eventually. “I’ll have a chat with her and Jeff.”

“You do that.” Conor’s voice became business like again. “Don’t take too long, I can only stall for so much time and I’m running out of excuses.”

Claire inhaled, then blurted out ,“Thank you. I do really appreciate what you’ve done for me. I don’t know why but I’m grateful.”

“I’ll tell you why, because you have the skills and experience to get the job done. Don’t let me down.”

Claire swallowed. The curt business tone unnerved her, reminding her that Conor was her employer not a friend.

“I won’t,” she said, before hanging up the phone. She hoped she was right.

***

Tranquility: 2013 365 Challenge #257

Tranquility

Tranquility

While walking the dog this evening, in the pouring rain, I tried to nail my scatty thoughts to a topic for today’s blog. I was unsuccessful. My head is full of words but they’re like confetti chucked in the river.

I tried to think what people read blogs for: advice, company, shared experience, entertainment. I didn’t feel capable of any of those things (if I ever am!) All I craved, as I walked, was silence (I had the lyrics “Be happy, be healthy and get well soon” stuck in my head from one of the kids’ bedtime shows).

You can’t recreate silence on a blog. I tried to think of the nearest thing and I thought about some of the poems I recite in my head when I need to drive other words out (especially kids’ songs and TV themes: those pesky things are persistent!)

The poem that comes to mind when I’m dog walking is always Gerard Manley Hopkins’ The Windhover, as there are usually red kites flying overhead. But, as I always worry about copyright on this blog, I didn’t want to include it here. The other thing I often recite is the Desiderata (same applies about the copyright). The opening words particularly are often true, but generally every line is something I can learn and live by.

In the end, with copyright in mind, I thought I’d include a couple of my more tranquil paintings and one of the poems from my creative writing degree course.

Purple Ghost

Purple Ghost

Postcards from an English Summer – May

Wild lavender obscures the once-neat path –
My passing hands stir childhood memories.
Bare feet luxuriate in verdant grass, 
I pause beneath your graceful Acer trees.
 
A symphony of song pervades the air,                                               
with soaring solo blackbird melody.
Above, the fire-red leaves blaze bright against
a cobalt sky.  Like hands they wave goodbye.
 
The silver birch, with peeling papery bark,                                        
is worshipped by the bluebells, as they bend                                      
and whisper to the wind of what they’ve lost.
Their sorrow echoes my unending grief.
 
Wisteria flowers in indigo and cream,
deep fragrance swirls around me like cologne.
They seem robust but fallen blossom tells                                          
of frailty. Already they are dying.
 
Silk-tassel draped with hoary lifeless blooms,
like slender wind chimes silent from respect.
In hues of brown and blue my thoughts are drawn,
sensation without reason.  You are missed.
 

Thank you for your patience. I hope you enjoyed your little patch of serenity and hopefully normal service will resume tomorrow.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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“Wake up, Claire.”

“Wuh?” Claire turned at the sound of the voice intruding on her dreams. She could feel drool running down the side of her mouth and prayed she hadn’t been snoring.

“Hey, sleepy head, we’re at Franz Josef. Time to get off the bus.”

“We’re here? What did I miss?”

Bethan chuckled. “Most of the day.”

Claire stretched and peered out the window. “Doesn’t look like much of a town.” She pulled her bag up from the foot well and climbed to her feet.

“We’re not here for the town.” Bethan’s smile suggested hidden secrets. Claire didn’t have to wonder what the joke was for long.

As she exited the bus, she stopped and stared. “Holy moly. Where did they come from?”

Up ahead, mountains rose to the heavens. A tree-covered conical mount dominated the foreground, symmetrical and green, as if someone had let moss grow over a mole hill. Then, in the distance, snow covered peaks, with a valley carved between them like a giant had split them with a machete.

“That’s where the glacier is, over there. I’m doing the heli-hike tomorrow, if you fancy it?”

Claire shook her head, partly in wonder, partly in denial. She’d seen the cost of the helicopter ride and couldn’t justify the expense. Yes it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but there were too many of them on the trip. She thought she might do a half-day hike, if the men with hammers moved out of her head sometime soon.

As if sensing her pain, Bethan linked arms with her and asked gently, “How is the head? Do you feel better for the sleep?”

“I’d probably feel better if I drank a gallon of water.” Claire forced the words out of her parched throat. “Please tell me there are no more parties planned for this evening? I’m not as young as I used to be.”

*

“What do you mean we don’t actually walk on the ice? I thought it was possible to climb up and see the ice caves?”

The man behind the desk shook his head. “Not any more, love. Terminal face collapsed last year. Access by ’copter only.”

“I can’t afford the heli-hike.”

“There’s always Fox.”

“I can’t get to Fox, I’m on the bus. It’s here or no-where.”

The man in the tourist info shrugged, as if to say he was out of options. Bethan came to stand next to Claire.

“Come on the heli-hike, it’ll be worth it, if the weather is okay. Once in a lifetime experience, Claire. Worry about the money when you get home.”

“That’s easy enough to say,” Claire responded, “but if I don’t reign in my spending, I won’t even make it home.”

“Why don’t you get a job? A few weeks in Wanaka pulling pints will restore your funds.”

Claire laughed without humour. “I’d have to pull more than pints to fill the hole in my bank balance. Any rich sugar daddies in Wanaka?”

Bethan’s expression grew sombre. Then she gave a shake of her long black hair and the smile returned as if nothing had happened.

“Why not decide in the morning? See what the weather’s doing. It’s not like it’s peak season, you might get on.”

With a sigh, Claire agreed, and let Bethan guide her back to the hostel.

***

Random Thoughts: 2013 365 Challenge #249

Random image for random thoughts

Random image for random thoughts

I don’t really have a post topic for today, for the first time in a long time. Ideas have been floating around in my brain, but none have consolidated into a post. This is partly because we walked the dog as a family this evening, rather than just me and my mobile phone (which is when most blog posts are written). Despite little man’s frequent crying fits – a combination of little sleep last night and a long day – it was a lovely walk. We picked and ate blackberries; well worth the sacrifice of a blog post.

So, instead, I thought I’d list the random thoughts, some of which may become blog posts as and when time, sleep and muse are aligned.

1. My son went to Forest school for the first time today. Basically a preschool session held in a local woodland, surrounded by stinging nettles and with no facilities, it’s a great opportunity for kids to get outdoors. He didn’t cry and I was very proud. I wish all schools had a classroom in the forest (we actually wanted our kids to go to the school the classroom belongs to, but decided against it because all our daughter’s friends were going to a different one.) In my view children don’t spend enough time outdoors learning how to avoid stinging nettles and discovering which berries they can eat.

2. My daughter had her first proper play-date friend over this afternoon, as one of my baby group mums is suffering – as we are – from the slow start to the school year for our particular school. The children played together brilliantly; much better than they do when all the parents are present. Why do kids feel the need to act up when their parents are watching and behave like angels when they’re not?

3. Related to the above point, I do much of my parenting through the kitchen window these days. It means I can ensure the children’s safety without having to tell them off every five minutes for things that are technically against the rules but harming no one. My kids and the play date friend emptied the sandpit into the paddling pool today – most definitely against the rules. But it’s the end of summer, it was a hot day and they were in the shade, and – best of all – they were co-operating and having fun. Sometimes you have to turn a blind eye to the rule breaking. I think of it like plausible deniability.

4. I went to the doctors today in my on-going saga to understand if I have depression or am merely suffering from exhaustion. The GP I saw was the same one my hubbie saw last week about his anxiety. She was not helpful. The only thing she wanted to do anything about was my hubbie’s snoring: that was something real she could fix. I hate speaking to doctors who don’t understand or refuse to admit that mental illness is as real as diabetes or high blood pressure, even though just as invisible on the outside (although, I admit, harder to measure). She basically told me that I have to get several good nights of sleep “For the sake of my family.” I came away with the impression that I was willfully choosing to get up to the kids in the night and sleep in the same bed as my snoring husband even though it made me a bad wife and mother in the day time. Grrrr. Time to see a different GP.

Oh look, my random thoughts have reached the magical 500 words. Thank you for listening and good night! I’m doing as I am told and going to bed before 11pm 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire read the text message and beamed at the empty dorm room, wanting to share the jest. Trust Conor to have something stupid to say to lighten the heaviness she’d been carrying since Wellington. She looked at the message again, marvelling that Conor’s humour was so like her own.

Thank the lovesick puppy for me; sounds like I’ve got more chance of getting you to work for me now. Nothing will send you home quicker than needing to leg it from a clingy bloke with baggage.

It seemed strange to think she would be back in the UK in a couple of weeks, or that it had only been three weeks since her interview for the Dorset job. Her time away felt crammed with a lifetime of experiences.

I suppose something good came of losing my best friend: I would never have run away to New Zealand if Kim hadn’t accused me of killing her baby.

The thought set her heart hammering, and she realised it wasn’t something she could joke about, even in her own mind. What if she had caused the miscarriage, by letting slip Kim’s news to Michael? Suddenly all the lightness slipped away and her mind returned to the dark.

And now I have needy Josh, my new shadow, as penance. I guess I deserve it. Thou shalt not covet another woman’s husband and all that. Just as I was horrified that Kim was throwing her career away for a baby. Why do my stupid thoughts have to come back to bite me.

“Claire?”

Looking up at the door, Claire exhaled at the sight of Bethan. She didn’t want Josh cornering her in an empty room.

“There you are. It’s time to go kayaking, if you’re still coming? Some of the guys are catching the taxi boat, but I want to have a go out on the water.”

Claire stuffed her phone in her bag and nodded. “I’m coming.” She shouldered the rucksack and followed Bethan from the room.

“What were you doing by yourself in there, anyway? Texting loverboy? He’s waiting for you downstairs.” Bethan grinned.

Claire merely rolled her eyes.

*

Claire twisted her fingers while the tour guide allocated them into pairs for the double kayaks they would paddle down the coast. She shuffled nearer to Bethan, conscious of Josh sidling up on her other side. Claire tried to exude her best ‘I’m invisible do not speak to me’ vibe, that she used to use on the Metro. It didn’t work.

The guide, a tanned woman in her twenties, looked directly at them. “You, Bethan? You can come with me. Claire, is it? You’re with Josh. Simon and Lee, you two are together, and, Sally was it? You’re with Matt.”

Claire swore under her breath, conscious of Josh grinning behind her. Bethan threw her an apologetic look and went to stand by the tour guide.

“Why are you avoiding me, Claire?” Josh spoke quietly into her ear, making her shiver. “I’m not about to force myself on you. If you’re not interested, that’s fine, although I must have got my wires crossed.”

The hurt in his voice made her heart clench and she turned to say something, but he was already striding towards their kayak. Her mind churned with conflicting emotions. This Josh confused her, but she couldn’t deny she was still attracted to him. Maybe Bethan was right, perhaps she should let down her guard and see what happened. Or at least try and talk to him, tell him to go back to Fiona. What did she really want? And what was right?

With a sigh, she crossed the sand towards the craft waiting by the water. Blind to the beauty of the sparkling sea, the endless white sand, she took a deep breath and pushed her shoulders back.

It feels like my job in life is to reunite this man with his family.

***