When I Was a Teenager
By Moira Flynn
- I found my dead mother at 8:50 on the morning of Saturday 31 March 1984. I was 13.
- My father constantly received letters wrongfully accusing him of not paying his bills.
- One year we used the gas cooker to heat the room.
- Social Services threatened to take me into care.
- Our electricity was reconnected in 1984. We had lived for nine years without.
- My father was made redundant in 1985.
- He refused to let Social Services take me away.
- I was bulled at school. In March 1985 my finger was broken.
- Our windows were smashed. We lived in poverty.
- I fell ill and nearly died in February 1986
Another example of the great work produced here at WMC in the Creative Writing courses. (click here for course info)
Remember the beauty of simplicity. Great power resides in all those one-syllable Anglo-Saxon words.
Sebastian’s story uses only one-syllable words:
The Lone Shoe
by Sebastian Kola-Bankole
On the night of the full moon, I see the man in front of me get hit by a big red bus. I lean on the bus stop sign and hold my breath. My heart pounds in my chest and I know I should try to help him. I try to move but I freeze. I try to run from the scene but my legs say nay.
I watch as a pool of blood, the hue of good red wine, seeps out from the back of the bus. I heave and retch as the ooze spreads, slow and thick. I think I can see a shoe, his left one. It is brown and its heel torn. It lies on the side of the road, this sad lone shoe, right next to a bare foot, ripped from its leg. I can’t tear my eyes from this dire sight. I want to leave but I stand there, fixed to the spot, dead still.
by Sebastian Kola-Bankole
Stayed alive to tell the tale
Even when near death he lay
Beneath a truck, his bones were crushed
All feeling below did turn to mush
Still he fought to stay alive
Through it all, he did survive
In the time that’s passed since then
As he falls, he stands again
Never shall he ever doubt, from all that pain, his strength did sprout
Here are some more fantastic examples of the Flash Fiction task from the Creative Writing classes here at WMC (click here for course info)
Waiting. I’m waiting. Always waiting.
The automated, robot voice on the end of the phone explains its dizzying array of options.
I’m waiting for my details to pop up on the monitor of a remote, invisible, call worker who just wants to go home.
I’m waiting to hear my personal details read back to confirm who I am.
Yes, I am me.
Twenty minutes later, the monotone, script-reading voice, finally asks for my payment details.
I’m going for a coffee I tell him.
He can wait for me.
It was that time in the festivities when bad dancing was rife on the dance floor. Perched on a spindly chair, I sipped at my cocktail. He loomed over me, red faced, swaying wet lipped:
“Wan’ dance?” he said extending a plump, pink hand.
“Rubbish dancer,” I said through gritted teeth. His hand descended, grasping my arm, forcefully lifting me, simultaneously spilling my drink and overturning the table.
“Oops!” he said. Now level with his chins and about to let fly with some righteous indignation, I suddenly registered his identity and saw over his shoulder, huddled in a corner in a froth of white netting and sobbing, the Bride.
He smiled at me from platform 3, then the 10.30 Express passed and he was gone.
White dress and veil. Black suit. Ring. ‘I don’t,’ he said.
After the first day of the Creative Writing course she saw a light in her future. She was changing into a beautiful butterfly and flying into the sky.
Vincy Kam Wai Lau
Musings on a Train by Sylvia Keogh
The train lurched giddily from side to side…gatchy-gatch-gah- gatchy-gatchy-gah, disallowing the usual hypnotic lure towards sleep which I have always associated with train journeys. This ear splitting racket thundered through the barred, glassless windows, prohibiting any conversation unless one had the habit of bellowing. The lurching allowed me to read only a few pages in short bursts before travel sickness demanded I stop. And so I sat there as the familiar movie that is India slipped by my window.
My travelling companion slept the sleep of the innocents. He could sleep anywhere, anytime and he did. I alternately admired, envied, or was resentful of the fact that Morpheus always came to his rescue but never to mine.
I drifted again into musing on the circumstances which had brought us here together. He was now resenting every minute of the trip and that resentment was seeping towards me.
After all it was I who had planted the seed with photographs and stories of a previous trip I had taken alone a few years before. We were acquaintances then, but had become firm friends very quickly despite our age difference, and so we had carefully planned this trip.
Now he was so discontented that he saw those photographs and the books I had shown him containing information on customs, religions and landscapes as some mendacious plot used to entice him to India to fulfil the role of my sidekick and rucksack wallah.
The poverty, filth and inhumanity towards animals got to all of us at times, but he became so jaundiced that he was blind to the beauty. That sense of slipping in and out of centuries, and the brilliant technicolored world which would not have seemed out of place in a Cecil B de Mille film, can be found everywhere in India.
I loved watching from the windows the story of India, the dawn ablutions by rivers and lakes of people and their buffaloes. The brightly-dressed women filling their various containers at the wells, to be carried home on their heads, their backs straighter than any catwalk model. Later, when the big orange sun was sinking, smoke from the cow dung patties drifted skywards and the aroma of curry was mouth-watering.
My lone travels seemed so easy now. Besides a few inevitable hassles, I had lost myself in the magic of the diversity I found in and between the Holy places, the Mughal palaces, beaches and the foothills of Everest. I determined then that I would not allow his resentment to tarnish my romantic memories or this trip.
We were on our way to an elephant festival. It would be a joyful, riotous affair of grandly caparisoned elephants and the mahouts would be almost as impressive. There would be the inevitable tinny music played on long trumpet style instruments. I was going to have a good time, I would not allow this parade to be rained on by his black mood. We would go our separate ways.
Here is another great example of writing from the creative writing courses here at WMC. This is a piece by Sebastian Kola Bankole titled “The Past”
I shuffle out of the building, my pace at odds with my thoughts. It’s already dark but unseasonably warm for mid-November and as I head up towards Charing Cross Road, not even the pedestrians, armed with the most dangerous of weapons – a mobile phone – can dampen my exhilaration. I pause under the alcove of a restaurant and fumble in my coat pocket for my phone. I fire off a tweet – “The past is the foundation to our psyche.” Ne’er have truer words been said. #switzerland #patriciahighsmith #longlivethomasripley
I pocket my phone with a smirk and amble towards Tottenham Court Road station. I had known little about the play so had devoured the programme before it started. It was a one-hander about Patricia Highsmith, a writer of whose body of work I knew almost nothing, except that one novel was adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon. I was surprised to learn people had described her, almost universally, as unlikeable. She had endured an abusive childhood but boasted that it was what made her a good writer. The trade-off, one she gladly and unashamedly accepted, was that it also made her a bitch – her words. That certainly came through in the incredible performance of the lead actress, the one from Downton Abbey… Mrs Crawley?
And then there was that line, the one that hit me like a freight train. Why did it stir me so; it was not even a novel idea! It’s precisely why I lie on my back five times a week, whining about my childhood to Misha. But there was something about how she phrased those words that really ignited something within me. I hadn’t felt like this for a while and couldn’t wait to explore this with Misha tomorrow. It’s funny how the strangest things can rekindle your desire to live.
I now realise I have walked past the station and am sweating under this heavy coat. I stop to take it off and a woman pushing a toddler in his pram, on her phone, almost knocks into me. She continues past but the boy drops his ball and it rolls onto the side of the road.
“Excuse me, you dropped something!”
She carries on, oblivious to my (and his) cries so I limp to the kerb and seeing no headlights, I step off to pick it up. The last things my eyes see is a bicycle wheel which, in a slow arc, transforms into a beautiful view of the night sky. And as I lie on my back, I also see myself. I am eight or nine, in the backseat of the old Toyota, leaning between the front seats and listening, for the millionth time, to Mum’s story about how I’d always loved to read. And once, as she drove past a billboard for Maggi cubes, five-year-old me had asked, “Mum, what is maggie cob-ez?” We both bellow in laughter. It’s funny how the past stays with you right until the very end.
Published to mark Refugee Week 2018: 18th-24th June
A COUNTRY TO CALL HOME
Edited by Lucy Popescu
PBO 14th June 2018 | £9.99
“A wake-up call to our blunted humanity” Francesca Simon
“Brilliant… I dare you to read and not feel empathy” Alex Wheatle
“An important book, but also a beautiful one” Anthony McGowan
From the editor of A Country of Refuge comes an anthology on one of the defining issues of the century so far; the vulnerability of refugees and asylum seekers, this time focusing on the fate of children and young adults.
There are tales of home, and missing it; poems about living in refugee camps and the struggle of making new friends; accounts of children confronting prejudice, but also stories of their fortitude, their dreams and aspirations.
Many young refugees have experienced unimaginable horror and endured dangerous journeys. They need our kindness and empathy in order to process their trauma. A Country to Call Home encourages us to build bridges, not walls, and to understand the plight of those seeking a safe place to call home.
The book includes stories, flash fiction, poetry and original artwork from some of our finest children’s writers: Hassan Abulrazzak, David Almond, Moniza Alvi, Sita Brahmachari, Brian Conaghan, Kit de Waal, Miriam Halahmy, Peter Kalu, Judith Kerr, Patrice Lawrence, Michael Morpurgo, Anna Perera, Bali Rai, Chris Riddell, S. F. Said and Jon Walter.
Praise for A Country of Refuge:
“Full of powerful writing… Again and again, these writers argue for empathy” TLS
“Moving, poignant, sometimes painful but always enlightening” Literary Review
About Lucy Popescu:
Lucy Popescu is a writer, editor and critic with a background in human rights. She was director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006 and co-edited the PEN anthology, Another Sky. Her book The Good Tourist is about ethical travel and human rights. She volunteers with Freedom from Torture as a creative writing mentor working with refugees. In 2016 she published A Country of Refuge with Unbound. Lucy passionately believes in the power of fiction to promote empathy. She lives in London and is available for interviews, features and events.
Here is an excellent piece of “Flash Fiction” from Veronica Poku. Veronica is a learner of the creative writing course here at WMC.
“As I turned onto my street, I noticed the police cars surrounding my house. My heart dropped as if I had gone over a dip in the road, driving my car too fast. Then it started to beat – rapidly. I felt a rising sense of panic begin to swamp me as I stood rooted to the spot. Dear God, not Sarah! Please not Sarah! From being fixed, as in aspic, mesmerized by the oscillating flashing blue light, I ran towards them. I could hear the sound of my shoes pounding on the ground as I raced, terrified, to the spot. Fear clutched hold of me, digging its nails into my mind so I couldn’t think straight. I pushed through the crowd, gawkers so rapt at the thought of seeing someone else’s misery, they seemed to just step aside. The front door was open and I could see the back of Sarah’s head, bowed as she knelt on the floor. I could her the sirens of the ambulance as it came up the street mixed with a sound that made my blood curdle. A strange animal keening sound was coming from Sarah. Oh my God! Sarah, are you hurt? I shouted rushing to her. Arms out to hold her and protect her. She turned around, eyes red, face warped with anguish. And then I stopped, as if slammed up against a brick wall. At her knees, I lay, staring up at nothing.”
A super piece of Creative writing from a learner on the Creative Writing course with tutor Lucy Popescu
Saturday Morning in Finsbury Park by Lidmila Mamaeva
It is a Saturday morning and the sun rays penetrating through the curtains woke her up just before eight o’ clock. The radio clock softly murmurs French news, making her feel at home in this shared flat at Mersers road in Islington. Céline decided that she will go on a morning walk before meeting her flat mate for lunch. Celine opened the curtains in her bedroom, breathed in fresh, cool air and stayed there for a few moments looking down on the street which was not busy. It was a bright glorious morning with intense blue sky and golden warm sunlight raising above the roof tops.
There were occasional cars, bike riders on the road and lonely pedestrians harried towards Holloway road. She still felt new in London despite that her move to the second flat four months ago, after leaving her first rented flat near Victoria station. It was too expensive and she had rented it over the internet for one week only, just to have a place where she can stay after arrival from Paris. Céline admitted that locals here in Islington were a different crowd in comparison to the area where her office was. She was trying to establish the exact difference between the crowd at Earls Court area and Islington. Certainly, here were more people from Turkey and Greece and Africa, according to the range of shops along Seven Sisters road. She liked this road and she felt a part of it as people there represented different parts of the world and they seemed to feel at ease with each other.
Here, in Islington she enjoys shopping in small groceries that belong to Greek, Moroccan, Tunisian, Chinise and Turkish owners. She likes to stroll along shelves filled with tins, glass jars, and plastic bags with strange labels in Arabic, Korean, English and god knowns languages. It was not easy to navigate through tins and preserves and she had asked people at the till about the food that she has chosen and they were happy to explain the taste, the ingredients and the best way of cooking it or saying that you can eat it straight from the tin. She likes their friendliness, strange aromas, customers carefully choosing and commenting products in those shops and familiarity between hosts and regulars.
She took the first bus that arrived at the bus stop opposite the Nags Head market knowing that all buses will pass Finsbury Park. The bus had a few passengers and she sat near the window, looking at the area that she was travelling through. The sun shine highlighted smudges on the glass and she felt its warmth on her face. Both sides of Seven Sisters road were densely occupied by small convenience stores, shops selling fabrics and haberdashery, or cheap household items, competing with Pound Land shops and alike, barbers shops with windows covered with photographs of haircuts, hair extensions, plaited creations, small cafes with loud pompous names, fast food restaurants, advertising the best quality kebabs for £2.99 including rice or salad, or chips and soft drinks to wash it down. No alcohol was advertised there as the area had intentionally decided to avoid drinkers and disarrays.
Stalls already displayed boxes and one pound plastic balls filled with tangerines and grapes, purple passion fruits, pomegranates, bright yellow shiny persimmons with green collars, tick skinned papayas and shiny dotted avocadoes and butternut squash. Their spectacular appearance overpowered common potatoes, onions, cucumbers and occasional mushrooms.
Celine glanced at the shop windows offering wedding outfits in bold colours with richly embroidered tops decorated with shiny small beads. These two shops were like pioneers representing Fonthill road a fairly well known street where every shop was filled with incredible variety of women’s dresses, men’s suits, shoes and children’s clothes at amazingly low prices. Every shop mentioned the retail price and this attracted many customers to this area from London and from Africa. Seriously, you could see small groups of women chatting fast and excitedly in different dialects, pushing huge heavy suitcases towards the underground station. They could easily be mistaken for local residents but it were their animated faces that could not hide a mixture of amazement, shyness, curiosity and sense of accomplished tasks that labelled them out. Their dresses with unusual combination of bright colours, or batik fabric, exotic headgears and ornamentally braided hair remained Celine of rare, exotic birds who landed for a short break but instead of taking off would disappear in the deep underground system.
The bus passed a row of mannequins whose small bottoms in tight jogging pants of different designs were facing the street and crowds. The outfits were cheap and garish but Celine liked this proud display of the perfect buttocks, shameless as some women would commented, but desirable by those who were not fortunate to have ideal proportions. 20 meters separated this corner and Finsbury mosque with its open gate to a small confined space. The united church across the road occupied a well maintained building, in the art deco style, that earlier hosted a cinema theatre. The church offered free entrance, prayers, will power sessions that helped to change your life, give up smoking and find a new purpose of life.
Celine got off near the underground entrance, it was under the low sturdy steel bridge. The opposite wall was covered by a five meter long, well designed poster with a beauty wearing a red mini dress in a provocative pose promising the best deals on Internet use, from Talk Talk.
The old fashioned grey stone entrance to Finsbury Park was a hundred metres away. She passed the entrance and started walking towards the main well maintained alley. A vibration in her pocket prompted her to pick up her mobile to look at arrival of new messages.
She did not notice a watchful youth sitting on the bench near the entrance, dressed in a teenagers’ favourite dark hoodie. He looked at Celine noticing her curly brown hair, skinny jeans and woolly red scarf around her neck. His conversation was short: “ Hey, there is one with red scarf, she got an iPhone, looks new. Going up”
Celine walked fast passing the tennis courts on her left side with a few players and alongside runners, who used the central part of alley. Their appearance at the first glance matched the habit of London’s residents to dress down during weekends, the desire to forget the job and its formalities. The runners were different ages, some preferred to run alone, others run in pairs juggling effort to breathe in and to maintain a conversation and this never failed to amaze Celine. There were rarely a group of three or four runners. Those were a family unit with parents setting an example for young children or couples naively believing in existence of such group sport. Expensive sport wear and fancy sport shoes more likely indicated fashion conscious young and successful but rather inexperienced runners. They tried to hide their shortness of breath by taking more breaks and slowly descending to a walking speed.
Celine reached the top of the alley and now was turning to her favourite part of the park. She loved the old trees with heavy crowns of branches. Some trees had lost all leaves and looked slim and naked demonstrating intricate design of branches. The most majestic probably a couple of hundred year old trees retained leaves and now their colours competed in displaying daring colours from green to orange, flame fed, bright yellow and pale gold. She stood on the bridge with a dark oval sign and white letters saying that 400 years ago this canal was open to bring fresh water from Herefordshire to London. The canal was not wider than four meters with cold, clear water and long green underground plants following the stream. The morning sun shine in every dewdrops and the green lawn was sparkling like a huge mirror on rising folds of green. She continued her walk until she reached the gates, near Manor House station. Here, she wanted to take a few photographs of very peculiar arrangements for dogs and their owners. It was not the first time when she observed that a small round open terrace had plastic chairs with people sitting and listening to a lady wearing a bright red coat. Near every chair there was a dog. The behaviour of those attenders was different as some were sitting near their owners close to their legs, another dogs were laying under the chairs and looking at passing by people, pretending that they were bored. The dogs were different in size, colours and types from a very miniature to large strong dogs with long silky far. Sometimes dog owners were trying to make their pets do what the lady in the red coat asked, but not everybody was successful in controlling their dogs. The pets had willpower and were not used to following commands and so it was a free spectacle for walkers.
Celine focused on small old lady with a white puddle who was sitting right in the corner because the pair was adorable and loving. Celine could not understand what happened but an invisible force snatched her mobile and a few strands of her hair. It was so sudden, painful and shocking and it took a moment for her to realise that somebody snatched her phone. She saw a small figure in a dark hooded top and the boy aged may be 14 or 16 was pedalling very quickly down the alley, with her phone. She run after him, screaming” Give it back to me! It is mine!” He did not turn or slowed down. It was a well-rehearsed scenario. Celine was shaken and continue to run after him with her tears streaming down her face. The team of boys in white rugby uniforms who were playing on the filed in front of her heard her scream. The trainer a young man who was holding an oval ball ready to pass t at the centre of the field, He turned his head and with one powerful movement and precision send the ball in front of the bike.
The next moment the bike rider found himself on the ground near the bike. He was trying to get up but the decided not to move as he saw a black Labrador who run very quickly and very keenly towards him. The running dog freed himself from the astonished owner, who was left in the queue for the next session of the Saturday school for dogs.
The teenage screamed: “Hey, Man take him off me. Where is the police? Help me!” Celine was surprised by the quick development of the scene and now was standing near the bike and the teen breathing heavily from her short run and looking directly into the eyes of the thief. He was truly terrified of the dog and pointed at her mobile that was laying one metre away from the place of incident. The passers-by, the runners and dog owner formed a small circle around the teen and somebody already was dialling to the police. People smiled and looked at the rugby trainer who was coming to see the result of his try. Boys were running behind him, cheering and shouting and smiling at this unexpected turn of the training match. The Labrador was still excited and really intended to have a closer sniff , but the owner was quick in securing a leash to drag him to the school.
The Forestry Ponies
Jess, hair askew, skipped down the loch road, then up the steep brae through the stinking bracken and balancing on a tightrope of rock edges she navigated the burn in spate. She could hear the buzz of band saws in the distance and the cracking of trees as they bounced to the ground along with the Gaelic calls of men to one another. She inhaled the smell of newly cut wood, the petrol smoke and the pungent sweat of the ponies that she loved.
“Hello lass’, the foreman greeted her as she crunched her way into the clearing of wood chips and sawdust and, as she slumped down on a tree stump, she spied her favourite pony, Bran. Her eyes stroked his wiry forelock and flapping mane, she watched his sturdy determination as he strained at his harness, chains rattling, and she was in awe as he pulled his quota of logs.
Jess perched there until a break was called, she then ran over to Bran and ran her fingers down his nose, slyly slipped him a couple of sugar lumps, after which he smacked her a wet kiss. The men slurped their tea out of tin mugs and ate sticky buns, whilst they swapped jokes, some of which Jess didn’t understand. Meanwhile the forestry ponies stood in shades of cream and peat, munching whilst swishing tiresome flies with their tails. Jess soaked in the friendship of man and beast this was a special time; it was uncommon to her, that feeling of camaraderie and family. Then off they would go again, up the worn, tired trail to haul more logs, making sure to avoid the witch’s stone, as a curse would befall anyone who moved it. Jess had touched the old standing stone to feel the magic but had been disappointed; the folk-memory had held more interest.
Dusk fell, the horses stood in wraiths of steam whilst the men hawed and wiped oily hands, they were ready for the off. Jess then got a leg up onto Bran’s back; her prize for waiting so long, the hug of the animal overwhelmed her, like a happy home. Ponies and men wearied down the tracks, whilst the loch below shone the way home like a lantern. Down through tall fir trees, which stood like sentinels guarding them against hidden foes until they reached the tear of the tarmac road. After another mile, the ribbon of friendship reached Jess’s house, tucked under oak and beech trees, it lay anchored to the loch side. She slid from her friend’s back, her knees weak from clinging, she nudged Bran’s nose with hers to say goodbye. The foreman had winked ‘Be good’ but he knew that Jess had already failed; she should have been studying for her O’levels but preferred time spent with the ponies, the friendly foresters. She smelt of wood resin and horse but didn’t care; she ran home grubby and full of glee, ready for a ‘telling off’ and her punishment.
By Evelyn Quek
When we first viewed the apartment, our words echoed, footsteps trailing on cool grey marble as we walked through. The cavernous living room dazzled us with its airiness but the five differently sized rooms were mostly dim and the kitchen pitch black. At the end of a long corridor was a large master bedroom with windows of concrete slabs erected on outside but offered surprisingly, an old sunken bath. I remembered once having a sunken bath, Sundays spent in warm scented water, sunlight streaming through windows and the sound of birds twittering. But this was spacious, along one wall, a blue white terrazzo vanity top four feet long held an oval ceramic basin. Opposite stood an almost child sized, pale blue toilet. Light streamed in through a long, narrow window. Far below people and cars swarmed, antlike on the streets.
We took the 3500 foot apartment bounded by city traffic and swilling crowds, the spaciousness perfect for the two of us who worked from home, its isolating silence on the 25th floor, a sheer relief. Built during the 70’s, Peace Mansion’s 36 floors of dirty grey and brown exterior glowered over costlier neighbouring condos, its height defying strict air regulations in a city state famous for stern governance. Long ago, an official enquiry over this building infringement took place leading to the tragic suicide of a minister responsible for its existence. Conceived as a thing of light and space the building had started badly.
The architect’s grandiose plans to build the highest skyscraper in valuable downtown Singapore failed to for see that once completed, concrete edifices would be raised across the magnificent views on its highest floors as these had the misfortune to tower over the Istana, the President’s residence. So our kitchen stood in perpetual darkness illuminated by harsh neon bars. The space was shared with a stained, rusting stove, two family sized refrigerators dating from when the rooms were sub-let to various tenants and out-of-reach decaying cabinets resting on a sharp, tiled floor. But we were surrounded by mom and pop cafes and food courts offering cheap hot meals so for much of that year, we ate out and hardly cooked.
Sequestered so high, we saw each day, the soaring shadow of an eagle against sheer blue sky and fluffy reshaping clouds, or a kestrel chased by a crow. Our constant neighbours were hardy pigeons with permanent broods established on concrete ledges outside our bedrooms. At night thick with sleep we heard their dream cries. During the day when the stupor of the noon heat slowed the air to almost a standstill, an inaudible hum sometimes happened. Once, alone and lost in reverie, above the vibrating air conditioner, I was startled by a resounding crack. Wood expands in the heat. But an imperceptible sensation dawned, of being watched, an anxiety increasing until my heart raced. Just as quickly the feeling subsided. Since then I have been watchful, a corner of my mind on alert.
It was 8.06 am Harriet clocked in at the factory, six minutes late – this meant her pay would be docked by 15 minutes. How was that even legal she thought.
Harriet would now be on what was considered the worst job – “solitary in the dungeon” –
stocktaking duties in the basement.
Harriet could do the job with her eyes shut, and it allowed her to ponder distant memories her travels in Peru or the foothills of the Andes but it always came back to that acrimonious split with Jonathan, and the classic line about not being able to commit until he had ‘found’ himself which was code for ‘I want to commit but just not to you’ proven when he ran offwith someone 10 years younger than Harriet.
Harriet had arrived back in Blighty, 34, broke, with no real job prospects and alone. Harriet thought of asking Father for yet more funds, but decided against it not being able to bear another ‘I told you so’ lecture. Harriet registered with an agency and took the first position she was offered ‘packer’ on a production line, this will tide me over she thought but that was 8 years ago.
In the beginning it had been a challenge to distance herself from her moneyed upbringing and to think of herself as though she were in a Nell Dunn story – after all these were the ‘real people’ the working poor, the heroes in The Road to Wigan Pier and the Ragged Trouser Philanthropist, the people her newspapers and politics championed.
She always defended the proles to the hilt when at one of her father’s social gatherings.
But she’d soon tired of them. The way they prattled on, an incessant tape loop with little
variation in conversation, the favourite being what they were ‘aving for their tea’ which
always included marrow fat peas! or a blow by blow account of the previous night’s
episode of ‘Eastenders’ all in a ghastly bingo accent.
Finally the bell went indicating it was lunchtime.
Harriet entered the canteen and sat where she always sat. Madge and Rube came over
“Ere dya mind if we join you?”“Please do” Harriet replied.
Madge unwrapped a tin foil package revealing thick white sliced Mother’s Pride a sliver of pink processed meat hung out of the side.
‘Eugh’ thought Harriet as she bit into her avocado and rye soda bread.
’it’s only Tuesday, I’ve got another 3 days of this!’
As usual Rube was flicking through the Sun, only ever interested in a salacious murder or celebrity gossip.
‘ooh they should bring back ‘anging for the likes of ‘im’ was one of her well worn
Harriet meanwhile read her Guardian and an article on social inequality in Britain, agreeingwith every word about the injustice.
Harriet was now on the crossword,
“Beginning with G, 5 letters another word for ostentatious”.
Sylive’s quick response was
“eh I don’t even know what osten whatever means, ’ere you swallowed a dictionary?”
cackling at her own joke as though original, even though she herself had made it time and
time again and despite no response she still felt it ok to repeat herself.
They were joined by Pam, who told them Vera was leaving and there was going to be a
‘knees up’ at the Kings ‘ead after work. Even though Harriet never socialised with her co-workers, Madge never gave up trying to persuade her to join them. Nagging on, “it would do ya good, we ‘ave a right laugh” and to “come out ya shell!”
Harriet was reminded of the one and only time she had been out with them, ‘Christmas
Dinner on the Firm’. Pearl had billed the restaurant as “classy and ex-o-ic”, in reality it was a ropey old tapas bar in the High Street. Harriet had sat opposite Sylvie who held her
knife like a pencil, and Tracey complained on her first mouthful of gazpacho, “Ere this
“No, sorry I’m busy” Harriet replied, thinking she would rather walk through diarrhoea in flipflops than spend an evening with them.
Finally it was 4.30 pm, Harriet clocked off and made her way towards the station.
Harriet passed the Kings ‘Ead, outside a chalked up blackboard advertising sports and
karaoke, the aroma of stale beer in the air, a man in the doorway with a large paunch
covered in a shiny nylon football shirt, ‘avin’ a fag.
Although Harriet had never been inside, she pictured the interior with its worn out
patterned carpet, now black and shiny in places. Speakers blaring out some ghastly
opiate for the masses, no doubt encouraging procreation.
A dartboard with a gaggle of overweight bald men with fat necks and faded tattooed
forearms – a rite of passage at age 16 that had limited their future and stereotyped them to their class.
Harriet paused for a second, but this was no experiment like Jack London in the Abyss,
this was her life too.Harriet despised and looked down on these people, as though she were so superior. Could Madge and Rube see through her? see her for what she really was? A sad little snob, who did not belong anywhere. Rejected by her own class the book club she’d tried to join, judged by her lowly occupation which was an embarrassment. Did it make her feel better to poke fun at them, but they did not care, they had purpose, families, holidays to look forward to, a sense of belonging, and they duly looked out for their own. What did she have?
Harriet pushed the door open.