Thursday, 25 April 2013


Grandfather's hand
If my dad's father were alive, he would 102 tomorrow. Born three years before the First World War and taking part in the Second as a Radio Operator in the Signal Corp with The Royal Sussex regiment. He died before I thought to ask about his experiences, and if I had I imagine he would have remained stolid. Outwardly unemotional and impassive; that's just the type of man he was. Silent on events he'd undergone; feelings weren't shared, they were private. He was steadfast and dependable in his dealings with family. Quietly firm and practical in equal measures. His generation wasn't demonstrative, but there was gentleness; in his own way he cared. Like father, like son, these traits infiltrate and are passed on. The stiff, upper lip; the British reserve.
My grandfather wasn't the cuddly type, but his heart was warm. He wasn't one for many words, his actions said it all. I think he liked being useful. Most of my memories centre around his willingness to collect me after school, water our plants and walk our dog. With both my parents in full-time work he was instrumental. A proper gent always dressed in a tweed jacket and matching trilby hat with a fondness for tobacco. A lean and upright man with leathery skin and yellow tinted fingers. I still remember the smell of his tweed and the haze of smoke that lingered permanently about him. His voice had a crackling quality, similar to a wireless, with his native Bermondsey accent creeping in, which he put to good use telling me occasionally to “Shut up!” Nothing was allowed to disturb the snooker or cricket. But he was also kind and playful – dressing in a plastic fireman's helmet while I splashed in our paddling pool.
We weren't aware of his illness until the final stages; another matter he kept to himself. I'm sure I must have visited him in hospital, but I don't recall being told he had passed. One day he was there and the next he wasn't. His funeral was the first I ever attended and if my recollection serves me right I was scared. A little girl in a velvet dress, not really sure what was happening and who all these people were. Why were they dressed in sober dark colours? Why were they coming back to our house? My dad's side of the family were more than ten years older than my mum's, which meant there was a generational gap, a marked difference in manner. After this notable event, I retained a fear of death; that my grandfather might appear in his house. He didn't but I continually spooked myself.
102 is a grand age which he couldn't hope to aspire to, but if he had been without terminal cancer would he have wanted to? To have lived through ten decades? I don't think it's a question you yourself consider. If the will is there, you carry on. Some people have a zest for life, a stubborn determination to live; others intent is not so strong, which makes me think we have to get rid of this 'old' attitude. Ageing changes your appearance, but it's not limiting, and those that have the good fortune to remain free of ailments have more energy than I myself profess to have. My only regret is that I didn't have more time with him; that I didn't get the chance to appreciate him better. What would have I done with the extra time? I would have tried questioning him, but I already know that this plan would have been futile. I've been left with the impression that to understand him I'd have had to admire him like an oil painting: attend to his body language in different circumstances, and in contrasting lights closely observe his features.
Age does not form or alter your character; whatever age you confess to own, you are continually learning, and other people's experiences are valuable. Youth does not hold the answer to everything but then neither does wisdom.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Adam & Me

Adam, are you ready?” I cooed, leaning in and patting him. He winked and unlocked the door for me. I swivelled my legs in and adjusted the seat until I got comfy.
Where shall we go?” I asked him as the engine purred contentedly. “How about a run to Box Hill? We could stop in at Denbies?” I suggested. Adam growled, he likes to be consulted.
As we pulled away from the flats, Adam tooted the horn so I could wave at a passing acquaintance. I released my window and shouted, “It's such a beautiful day, we thought we'd go for a drive.” I know she heard me, but her smile was aimed directly at Adam.
On the High Street, we crawled along, held up by every set of traffic lights; at a snail's pace I noticed women throwing Adam admiring glances. I distracted him by asking him if he wanted the radio on or would he prefer some music. We tried a few stations, but decided to enjoy each other's company. I was relieved to get on to a more open road and away from those preying eyes.
Adam was glued to the smaller, winding 'country' roads, as he watched out for cyclists, ramblers, horses, and unruly motorists; the ones who expect to barge past regardless of the tight path. There were a few 'hairy' moments, but Adam drives well and takes utmost care if he has passengers. I sat back and enjoyed the tranquil effect he has on me.
When we turned onto the Zigzag, we relived moments from the Olympics as Adam shifted gears and worked hard to get us uphill. As we climbed, I encouraged him to “Think of Wiggins!” Groaning, he got us to the top where we stopped to take in the breathtaking scenery. He recovered in the sun while I milled around with day-trippers and borrowed a pair of binoculars. Imagine my surprise when I spied a group huddled about him! I zoomed in on some Japanese tourists taking snaps of him. They were capturing his features in different lights and from different angles; a gaggle of girls were covering their mouths with their hands and giggling. In my absence, Adam seemed to have taken to indiscreet modelling. I hastily handed the binoculars back, jabbered “Thanks” and marched in Adam's direction.
The crowd dispersed as I got there, but I threw daggers at the stragglers until they too departed. Alone with Adam, I glared at him, “What the hell is going on? Why are you attracting so much attention today?” I demanded, giving him a gentle whack and catching the wing-mirror. I flung open the door, got in and slammed it. Adam sulked and refused to respond, stalling twice which he blamed on my temper.
The drive to Denbies was awkward. I continued to fume whereas Adam lost his usual smoothness. He handled twists and turns clunkily and fogged his side of the windscreen. Both of us were very obviously angry. At Denbies we parked under a tree and parted company. Adam wanted time to cool-off and I wanted a pot of chamomile tea. I stalked off with my purse, leaving him to gaze wistfully after me.
When I returned, Adam was waiting for me. “Shall we make a move? You can drop me off at my flat.” I said tiredly.
The journey home was unremarkable, except Adam chose to bypass the Downs and instead went through Ashtead. I unbuckled my seatbelt as we drew up to the communal entrance and placed a comforting hand on the steering wheel.
I think we both know this isn't working.” I said sadly. “It's you, not me. Your style is too urban and your personality is too magnetic for me.”
That was the end of Adam and me.

*Disclaimer: I do not own nor have I ever owned a Vauxhall Adam.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


I don't sweat, I glow. I don't sweat, I glow. I radiate vitality.” The girl next to me was looking at me strangely.
Sorry, was I speaking aloud?” She nodded, although I could see she was thinking 'Weirdo!' She reduced her pace until she could jump off and stretch in the designated area far away from me.
Damn it! I'd done it again. Why couldn't I stop affirmations popping out of my mouth? That was the third person I'd scared off in a week, including a member of staff! But concentrating on a mantra helped me complete my interval training and blotted out the interfering background: a wall of flashing TVs and piped techno music.
Nearly there... Ten more minutes, then a three minute cool down. My programme said fifteen minutes on the cross-trainer next, but I was going to row instead. I didn't want to go on an imaginary hike with Nordic poles, but wanted to pretend I was in a boat on the River Thames. These thoughts came to a halt as I entered the 'zone'. Typical, just when I'm supposed to be slowing down! Now I have to continue to run with this rhythm, where nothing else matters but the pound of my feet on the fake tarmacked road beneath them. For a while, I pretended I was Forrest Gump, until like him I ended my run abruptly.
I did a quick calf stretch taking in what was going on around me. A couple of girls in crop tops and hot pants had walked in and were being chatted up by a male instructor. Others with full make-up and fake eyelashes on were loitering in the free weights to perv at guys who were flexing their pecs and grunting. I was au natural: hair ruthlessly scraped back, in a non-revealing top and tracksuit bottoms, surrounded by 'Heat' wannabes. People posing and waiting to be seen by the paparazzi. The paps that might jump out from behind a bike or resistance machine. A mugshot of me would be in the 'OMG, what does she look like?' category, and as if I had seen the cover of the magazine, I immediately felt deflated. My energy zapped by Lycra-clad gym bunnies.
I sipped my water and realised this wasn't my scene any longer. I came here to de-stress, not to compete with real-life-photo-shopped models. Even the-woman-next-door has to be flawless. Being here suddenly seemed sad and pathetic, like a hamster exercising in a cage with no natural light and recycled air. As I stretched my triceps I had a light bulb moment: I was set to wave goodbye to a big chunk of my life and I didn't care! I would get out of the heat: avoid the gym, the tittle-tattle of gossip magazines, and trashy day-time TV. I would exercise differently, where the price would not be my integrity.
A swimming pool of relief washed over me as with my red towel I wiped my brow and the equipment down. My obsession for this activity had burnt out suddenly; I was amazed by the speed in which it had died within me. The once ignited flame for burning calories on machinery had become a dead fire. And with that I grabbed my belongings, took one final look at the parading bunnies and the pumped-up blokes demonstrating their prowess in the mirror, and exited, letting the door swing closed on this teen-into-adult chapter.
Today's fixation with being seen as 'fit' is not healthier.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Little April Shower

April Shower was a little girl who hated water. When it rained, she wore a scowl and angrily brushed away spits from her face. She wouldn't wear a hood, but she would open up her spotted umbrella and walk with small fast steps holding it over her head. or shelter under it with her feet tightly paired together. If she was inside, she liked hearing its pitter-patter on the roof or watching it race down the window. She would wait to see the sun peep from the clouds, but secretly she hoped to catch a rainbow.
Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue...” She sang to herself one rainy Friday afternoon, her voice trailing off to hum the rest of the tune. As she hummed, she continued with her colouring, a stick family outside their house with a rainbow in the background. April was staying with Gran as her parents had gone away and wouldn't be back until Saturday. She had one whole day. What could her and Gran get up to? She poked her tongue out of the corner of her mouth and drew purple flowers in her picture.
That's lovely April.” Gran said placing a glass of squash and a chocolate biscuit beside her. “What shall we do tomorrow?”
Can we feed the ducks please?” April said through a mouthful of biscuit.
I don't see why not. We'll get some stale bread from the corner shop, and then in the afternoon you can help me make jam tarts.” Gran said wiping her hands on her apron.
My favourite!” Squealed April, thinking how she loved to sieve the jam through tights.
That's settled then, but I want these things cleared away and the table laid.”
Yes Gran!” April trilled, zipping her crayons into her pencil case.
Knives, forks, spoons. Knives, forks, spoons...” She recited as she set the table.
For the rest of the evening, April was good. She ate all her vegetables up and didn't make a fuss when she was sent to bed. “Night Gran. Ducks and jam tarts tomorrow!” She excitedly said, giving Gran a kiss on the cheek.
In the morning when she woke, she quickly got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast.
Good morning, sleepyhead. There's your dippy egg with soldiers.” Gran said spreading a thin layer of marmalade on her toast and indicating April's place at the table.
Can we go now Gran?” April asked as soon as she'd finished.
Yes, if you brush your teeth and put on a jumper.” Gran had to shout as April had already jumped up from the table.
As they left, the sun was shining, and April skipped ahead to buy stale bread from Mr. Ahmed. Gran puffing behind her. From the shop, they crossed over the road to the pond on the other side. The ducks ran to greet them and pecked at the bread's plastic covering.
Wait Greedy!” April told a duck, as he ripped a whole slice of bread from her hand. She hurriedly tore up crusts and threw them to the ducks around her. The sun had gone in and splodges of rain were falling. The ducks ruffled their feathers, quacking with pleasure.
Gran, it's raining.” April whimpered, “And we don't have an umbrella.”
Now April, don't be silly. It's just a passing shower. A spot of rain can't harm you.”
Gran was right; rain didn't hurt and when it was fine beads, the sun came back out.
Look April!” Gran exclaimed looking upwards.
Overhead was a beautiful rainbow. April flung her arms around her Gran and sang, “I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow and I've seen a rainbow too.”