Boggarts In My Back Garden

Ow, I have just been landed on by the three-legged cat, and when you have been landed on by a three-legged cat, you know it. He does like to push the keyboard back in, on its slidey-shelf, so I end up with access to the bottom two rows only.

I thought I would let you know about the writing. I have been very good, surprisingly, producing a rough version of one of my little flash fictions every day. Today I started on part II of my plan, which was to also second-edit one. It’s a system, you see. I have a stack of plastic trays and the printed out stories progress down the trays until they settle, sedimentishly, in REJ – rejected. Of course, if any were to stick at ACC, the tray above REJ, I would be extremely pleased.

I am planning to publish more stories on the blog, but have to start being disciplined about it. The aim of writing them was to try to get them published in internet flash fiction magazines, maybe even earn a cent or two. Research suggests it would only be a cent or two, too.

But when I first attempted to publish an e-book of – longer, older – short stories on Kindle I had problems. Amazon’s automated-bot-crawling-thing became convinced that I had filched my short stories from some other writer. They refused to publish the book and started emailing me, rather scarily, like I was a criminal.

I had to do quite a bit of panic-stricken emailing back before they/it accepted that ‘I’ was in fact ‘Me’ – ie the Elsewhere their had software had detected my stories in was Here. I’ve long since deleted that e-book anyway – approximately three and a half people bought it – but all the stories it contained are here. See dedicated Page at top of blog/menu for how to find them.

Anyway, my plan is to put up a new very-short-story every two weeks. That way I’ll still have the pleasure of sharing stories with you and getting your feedback. If I can continue to write one story a day there should be plenty to spare.

What else? That’s the trouble, nothing non-fictional ever seems to happen to me anymore. That’s the trouble with getting old, at least without money. The high spot – last night I had to pick up my down-the-road friend from the hairdressers in town. She likes to go to the training college, because it’s cheaper, but they are very, very slow – take aeons to complete a single hairdo to the satisfaction of their supervisors. Plus they only open on Wednesdays afternoons and evenings, finishing after the last bus has gone. So I have to wait for a text, jump in the car and drive for 25 minutes, at night, with all those headlights coming towards me. When I would normally be watching some rubbish film on Prime, or dozing.

I never did much like going out at night, especially in winter. I know it’s the same things and places exactly, only with less sunlight, but it doesn’t feel like that. The world seems altogether a different place when it’s dark. Things may be lurking in my garden when I come back. I am afraid to turn away from them to put my key in the lock, and so I fumble. Yes, readers, there are boggarts on my back lawn and they are creeping

I’d better be careful about that or I might end up like Mum. She was absolutely sure there were people, out there behind her drawn curtains, standing in the dark, invisible but watching. How terrifying a genuine psychosis must be. Note to self: remain sane.

Another elderly acquaintance phoned this morning after a long gap. She always looks kind of, well, you know, at death’s door. I hadn’t seen her over Christmas as expected, and for a horrible-creepy-man related reason I wasn’t able to phone her at home to check she was all right. The longer the silence went on the more dead I feared she must be. However, she phoned this morning and she’s not. Not that I actually asked her if she was. She isn’t too well, though.

And tomorrow – tomorrow I think it is lunch with above nocturnally-coiffed down-the-road friend, in the subterranean canteen of the local hospital. It’s a bit like eating in a fish tank. Unfortunately since I have gone gluten-free I am confined to cheese-baked-potato with whatever vegetables they happen to have. Nothing much else is safe. I now have to have cheese-baked-potatoes everywhere I go, whilst others are consuming heaped, delicious steaming great platefuls of pie, chips, pasta and so forth. I will soon begin to look like a baked potato.

To make it even more exciting, we might have to take a ticket and wait for several hours so that she can get her blood test. Note to self: take a book.

In Parentheses

So, this year I promised myself at least a kind of Christmas. For the last however-many years (could it really be twenty-four?) I have spent some (admittedly as little as possible) of every Christmas Day with Mum. This was not because she particularly wanted me to (I suspect she would have been happier pottering about in the garden or going for that interminably long and always the same walk around her home town).

She seemed to have selected this walk for its lack of any refreshing scenic qualities (for the roar of traffic; the tang of exhaust fumes; the graffiti and aroma of dustbins in housing estate short-cuts that only she could have discovered; the rattle of trains passing under a bridge; the recreation ground that seems to have shrunk to half the size since I played in it; the ugly little grocer’s shop she would never enter, preferring a weekly trip to Tesco – equally ugly but further away and close to a Cypriot café that sold really bad coffee and scrambled egg that looked and tasted like yellow rubber – and the public conveniences).

And as for me, I would rather (would always rather) have been at home with the cats. However, I visited her on Christmas Day out of guilt, out of duty (out of loneliness), because being divorced I was free to (and because no one else would). In earlier years she would cook (something like a) Christmas Dinner. The portions were small (unlike me, she was never very hungry) but tasty. She was a good, nursery cook.

It was at least something to have a cooked meal together instead of Ryvitas (the standard absolutely tasteless variety rather than the slightly more edible ones with the sesame seeds) and low-fat yoghurt or, in later years, nothing at all (she had forgotten about lunch). We ate it in silence balancing cold plastic trays on our knees and gazing out over the garden. In earlier years it was a lovely garden. Later it got kind of overgrown.

It always seemed to be cool and raining on those Christmas Days with Mum. (You know, those days when the sky is kind of Zen – white and featureless, and the occasional black bird flies across it?) We couldn’t converse much except in mime and notes, and it’s not that easy to pass notes back and forth and balance a tray.

And yet in my childhood it seems to me it was snowing every Christmas – thick, crunchy snow, and deep. We would scrunch along the road together, Mum, Dad, my sisters and I, to have Christmas Dinner all together at Nan’s house and watch The Queen’s Speech (recorded sometime in August, probably) and the Top of the Pops Christmas Special (much to Grandad’s grumbling annoyance) and get choked by the aromatic smoke from Grandad’s pipe, and watch the fat old Labrador snoring fitfully in front of a real fire. (I miss Nan and Grandad; I miss Nan’s Christmas Dinners, which were excellent, perfect and absolutely huge.)

Depressed yet? (Keep reading.) This year Mum will be in hospital unless she gets mobile really quickly after her operation, in which case she will be back in the residential home, and either way not knowing or caring that it’s Yuletide. This year I have absolutely no reason to go anywhere on Christmas Day, and that is good on the whole because – you know – twelve cats draped on and around the sofa, purring; CD of folk carols to play whilst reading; entertaining rubbish on TV; cook myself some vegetarian something (out of practice, but not out of mind) – something involving new potatoes, perhaps, and Brussels-sprouts, and peas, and some sort of quiche, and gravy…maybe even a bottle of plonk or some cider.

Leading up to the Big Day, and now that I am no longer at work I have been treating myself to a Christmas Movie almost every afternoon. Sometimes there are even two, one after another. I don’t know why I like them. Comforting, I suppose. I like that they are nearly always set in America or Canada where everything is slightly different and more interesting and where there is real snow (Canada) or an incomprehensible combination of sunshine, fake snow and summer clothes (America). I love how New York has always has an opening shot of yellow taxis so you can tell at once which city you’re in, otherwise it would just be all skyscrapers. I love that every single movie contains some variation on every possible Christmas song so you can sing along and feel sentimental, and I love that they are all sure to contain some if not all of the following tropes:

  • Father Christmas
  • Mother Christmas
  • Elves, in one guise or another
  • Reindeer
  • A sleigh that crashes
  • A red-haired heroine with perfect, glisteningly white teeth
  • A whole lot of other perfect, glisteningly white teeth
  • Men, women, children and infants all wearing green, red or maroon plus a jolly scarf and cute woolly hats from Thanksgiving right through to Christmas Day
  • Romance, several unlikely misunderstandings then more romance
  • Mountains of presents around a mountainous tree
  • Home-made tree decorations that come out of a box in the garage that everyone has forgotten about
  • Christmas cookies – spiced, iced biscuits, sort of – and the heroine always knows how to cook the best ones the hero has ever eaten and at that moment he knows he’s going to marry her
  • A gorgeous but modest fireman, in a uniform
  • A little boy looking for a new father
  • A little girl looking for a new mother
  • A bitchy mother-in-law
  • An angel disguised as a plump old lady
  • Santa hats
  • Candy canes
  • A smart, brittle city sister and a homely, gingham and woolly-scarf wearing sister
  • A bunch of mistletoe that no one has noticed before
  • An unexpected baby
  • Someone losing their job but finding another
  • Someone realising the true meaning of life is family, not fortune
  • A dog
  • Two dogs
  • A cat
  • Two cats…

The Silverado train of thought

Until yesterday I didn’t actually know Silverado was a western – a revisionist, postmodern western in fact. There are quite a few craters in my cultural consciousness. Silverado came out in 1985. I don’t know what happened in 1985. I lost interest in most things round about 1980 and didn’t start taking an interest again till 1994.

It never occurred to me either that I could watch a full three-quarters of an hour of a movie starring my heartthrob Kevin Costner without once realising he was in it. Was that really him? Which one was him?

Until yesterday, I’m ashamed to admit, I thought Silverado was a unique, characterful little jewellery shop in a narrow street in Brighton where, in the company of my former friend Isobel (Made Up Name) one Gay Pride Day – it was a coincidence, honestly – we just used to go shopping – I once bought a pair of dangly silver earrings with exotic dark green oval gemstoney-things. The earrings are long lost. I think the hoover ate them.

I didn’t even know Silverado was a chain of unique, characterful little jewellery shops (I am so naïve). It occurs to me now that Silverado (established 1994) may well have named their chain of jewellery shops after the movie. How can I have lived so long and learned so little? I need to know this stuff. Nerdy. Can’t abide those missing details.

Isobel and I should never have been friends, really. We found ourselves working together as secretaries – she considerably more elevated, secretarially, than I – in an educational establishment. She kind of adopted me. I wasn’t aware of having made much of a choice or done any work to achieve Friend status. I have since realised that Only Children do tend to do this – home in on the loner, the drifter, the one without the social skills to wriggle out of it.

She also had one of those credit cards you can buy anything on, just because you feel like it, whenever you feel like it. This meant a lot of standing around outside shops when we went shopping in the afternoon, pretending to prefer watching passers-by to rifling through trays of exotic beads and silver fastenings and buying long cheesecloth skirts and expensive Jumpers.

She had Hobbies. At that time it was jewellery-crafting. Later it moved on to keep-fit and even – briefly, I suspect – belly-dancing.

She was very posh, the daughter and one-day-to-be heir of farmers. I was permanently anxious in case I said the wrong thing or exhibited working-class manners I wasn’t even aware of. She was also very well-educated and had charming, witty, kind intellectual other-friends. I was forced to mix with them too, at intervals. This made me even more nervous.

I don’t know what I did wrong in the end – something. I think I might have accidentally pointed at the door to the Ladies in a Pizza Hut. She gave me a Look, which of course I was completely unable to interpret except it was Not Good – so that might have been what it was. Well, she asked me where it was.

But until it all inevitably went pear-shaped we made a few good memories. We went to Brighton quite a few times. She had appointments at some New Age herbalist for her migraines. While she was consulting the man in the multi-coloured stripey jumper in the back room I would lurk obediently in the waiting room for what felt like an entire Ice Age reading little fold-out pamphlets about Aromatherapy, Reiki and Counselling, then reading them again. Wondering why these places were always so dusty and had that funny sweet smell

But then came the good bit. We would go to an Italian restaurant and have yummy stuff with names like Margherita and Tagliatelle. She showed me how to wind the tagliatelle round my fork using the spoon as back-stop so that it and garlicky, cheesy mushroom sauce didn’t slide all down my tee shirt. We had a couple of glasses of wine and enjoyed the wiggling of the waiters between the tables. Waiters in Italian restaurants wiggle on purpose, did you know that? It’s part of their performance. And they make the effort to smile. They smiled as if they found us beautiful, and that is an art. Life was good, for a lunch-hour at least.

 

Eating the prune yoghurt

We all have to eat things we don’t want to, sometimes.

I used not to believe this was true. As a six year-old I got into trouble for not eating my tapioca pudding in the school canteen. Tapioca pudding, through a six year-old’s eyes looks like very small white slugs floating in a sea of sick. It had a dollop of strawberry jam on the top. Strawberry jam, through a six year old’s eyes, looks like the damage to somebody’s knee when they have just fallen over in a pile of broken glass. Tapioca smells like it looks – like sick. Strawberry jam smells like something that might exude from the glass beaker of a mad scientist. I didn’t refuse to eat it, I simply couldn’t persuade the spoon to go anywhere near my mouth.

The big white-coated Dinner Ladies stood on either side of the pig bowl, monstrous sentinels. One of the other kids had shown me how to conceal disgusting food under your upturned spoon and fork, but there was too much this time. A whole bowlful of tapioca: it couldn’t be concealed.

You will return to your place at table until you have eaten it all up,” commanded the teacher on duty. So I returned to my place and sat there as the canteen emptied. There, with my plate of slug-tapioca and torn-flesh-jam, and my green plastic cup of water, I sat and waited, on a tiny wooden chair in a cabbage-smelling canteen. After five or ten minutes a normal infant would have been suffering agonies of boredom; they would have been missing their classmates; feeling left out, left behind, deprived of whatever might be going on in class. After a while I must have tuned out. That’s what they don’t understand, you see – that we absent ourselves. Tuning out is what happens. We don’t have to decide.

At first I was thinking, at least I’m alone-ish in here. This is a different turn of events. I am somewhere I wouldn’t normally be at two… and then three… and then half past three… on a summer’s afternoon. It is not unpleasant. The sun is yellow and quite warm, streaming through the open door. After that, I don’t know where I was – some faraway purple planet with pink dragons and two moons, or making daisy-chains on Nan’s lawn with Sally, the fat Labrador. The teacher had to stay and stare at the congealed tapioca pudding with me, which probably hadn’t been part of her plan.

However, I have now grown up and have finally learned my lesson. Sometimes, you do have to eat the prune yoghurt. I used to put a large teaspoon on honey in it, but now I’ve had to give up sugar, honey, chocolate etc. in an effort to reduce the headaches. In any case, honey doesn’t make prune yoghurt taste any less uniquely prune-like. The two tastes turn their backs, stick their noses in the air and refuse to speak to one another.

It’s all down to money, of course. I’ve never been one to waste food – was never one of those people who bought a stack of ready-meals from the chill cabinet and threw half of them away at the end of the week because they’d gone past their sell-by date.  But now it’s a matter of eating one’s way through the fridge/store-cupboard or going hungry. I’ve learned the art of combining things that never in their wildest dreams, as they huddled on my store-cupboard shelves, expected to be combined.

Have you tried boiled pasta, boiled rice, grated cheese and a sprinkle of mixed herbs? I haven’t yet, either, but it’s on the horizon.

Have you tried mushy-pea and mashed-potato omelette? That’s not bad, actually. Funny colour.

Vegetable curry and baked beans on toast, with half a tomato? Toast is a good way to use up stale bread, but after a while even the toast gets too tough. Then the birds get their share.

Another way of dealing with it is to free your mind – sounds hippie-ish – free your mind, brothers and sisters, of the concept of a meal. You do not need to have meat/fish/protein of some sort plus two veg. You do not need to have savoury first and sweet afterwards. You can have a bowl of cereal plus half a tin of mandarin oranges, a slightly soft digestive biscuit, three cream-crackers, a small lump of cheese and a slice or two of cucumber in any order you like – your stomach won’t know the difference. In a pinch you can be a strict vegetarian and still eat the cats’ tuna in a sandwich – eat first, agonise about it afterwards. Fighting the cats off is another matter.

Free your mind, brothers and sisters, of the concept of mealtimes – of breakfast, lunch and dinner, or – if like me your place is firmly below the salt – breakfast, dinner and tea. It’s just as easy to graze, as you would have done if you’d lived in the Stone Age.

When I see what some people have to survive on I know I’m fortunate. I have an eccentric, erratic diet but not necessarily an unhealthy one. I rarely cook, which is just as well as the wiring to the cooker’s gone weird. I microwave. I eat raw. I eat whatever I can glean from the village shop, mostly in tins. It varies from week to week since the shop’s there for the benefit of the holidaymakers at the caravan sites rather than the private citizen. When I’ve gone through all the other flavours I hold my nose and eat the prune yoghurt. Prune yoghurt is probably good for me.

I see pictures of children drinking water from filthy streams. I see people fighting over a handful of rice, or living on leaves and grass.

I have no reason to complain.

Cold Cabbage and Custard, Cold Kippers and Lard

That was what Nan used to say, if you asked what was for dinner. I used to wonder where she got all her Sayings from – “It’s as black as yer ‘at over Will’s mother’s”, “Up in Annie’s Room Behind the Clock”, “Jelly, Alice?” Grandad had a few of his own. If you asked him how old he was he’d say “As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.”

The best meals I remember ever were Nan’s Sunday Lunches. Many years later I became a vegetarian, but I can’t pretend not to have relished that great, steaming plateful of chicken or roast beef, gravy, Yorkshire pudding, peas, home-made mint sauce, roast potatoes at the time. Nan did the best roast potatoes in the world. And the best gravy. And the best pastry.

She grew up in the country and went into service at the age of thirteen or fourteen – so she had a range of culinary and household skills, both rural and ‘gentry’. In summer, she would pick cherries from the tree in their garden and bottle them in kilner jars for the winter. They had damson bushes, and raspberries, and she made jam. I remember the steamy, sticky kitchen and that dense caramel-sugar-fruit smell. The jam, of course, we had on bread – cut thin by grandad with a dangerous-looking breadknife. He sharpened it himself, so it had a kind of curve to it, and he cradled the loaf lovingly, slicing towards his chest.

The cherries we had with ice-cream from a home-made cold-safe which had to be raised and lowered on rope pulleys – under the washbasin in the bathroom. The bread and jam we had after Sunday tea. I got sent out to buy a jugful of shrimps from the Shrimp Man, who appeared in the road on Sunday afternoons. And there always seemed to be celery in a jug, and salt to dip the ends in. Tomatoes were straight from the garden and tasted and smelled like tomatoes rather than water and Egyptian tomato-growers’ pee.

On winter evenings Grandad would toast crumpets on the end of a long brass toasting fork – so hot that when you buttered them it melted instantly and ran down through the holes in the crumpets. Sometimes there was toast, made on an ancient electric toaster that lived permanently in the middle of the table. It had a glass flap with a black knob on either side, opening outwards from the top, and a red-hot element on either side. You opened the flaps gingerly, deposited a slice of bread on either side and closed them again, equally gingerly. Until years later I believed toast always sported a lattice of charred black strips.

I actually saw that toaster – well, not that toaster, but that model – in a museum of 40s/50s domestic life, on a visit to Bletchley Park – the country house where Alan Turing and his associates broke all those codes using the Enigma machine during the war. I was more drawn to ‘my’ old toaster than the Enigma machine, which looked a bit lashed-together and steam-punky. At the time, of course, it was the white heat of technology.

Things have gone downhill a bit from those days. I used to pity one of my husband’s bachelor friends, who appeared to live on Mars bars and minced beef, in a basement flat. He told me he wasn’t interested in food at all and ate merely to live. I started off pitying my mother, who used to cook for herself but now cannot, because of the dementia. I once spent part of one of those interminable meetings with Mum’s social workers, her Mental Health Team, her Care Agency Boss etc. – so many people to look after one old person – discussing her failure to eat regular meals. We were discussing random, margarine-smeared Ryvitas; midnight slices sawn off those interminable Tesco current cakes; the several thousand Activia yoghurts in the fridge, which she swears she rotates but doesn’t, any more than she looks both ways when she crosses the road. No – straight out there. Once more into the breach. Basically, she had a cupboard full of cake, cat food and yoghurt.

And then I went home and faced the truth. In spite of living only fifteen minutes’ drive from a farm shop, with a supply of fresh fruit and vegetables second to none, I had a fridge full of Activia yoghurt – not quite so many, perhaps – bread, butter, cheese, Economy Marmalade, Sandwich Spread, Peanut Butter and Marmite; a packet of softening Custard Creams in the cupboard, and a venerable bag of rice I couldn’t be bothered to boil since it would mean washing-up a saucepan – and flinging a succession of determined, fur-shedding cats from the cooker-top whilst using it. And after all that, only the usual baked bean/tinned curry/grated cheese slop to go with it.

Be honest, I said (sternly!) – you live on this now, don’t you? You know how to cook. On the rare occasions you have people staying with you, you actually do cook. You are perfectly capable of following a recipe. You could even now whip up a Sunday lunch (vegetarian version) preparing the vegetables, organising and timing everything so that it all comes together at exactly the right moment – just like Nan did. But what you do is sit in front of the TV set (often still in your nightie and dressing gown) glued to the Migrant Crisis or Brexit on the 24 hour News Channel, or some abstruse science programme about Black Holes, Event Horizons and the True Nature of Reality whilst slurping bowls of instant porridge or sugar-infested granola, with additional spoonfuls of granulated sugar on top, and occasionally – almost every time, in fact – dribbling the sugary milk down your chin/dressing gown.

So why wait? Why not just book yourself into the Old Folks Home tomorrow?

Just tell me it’s not the end of the line

The Greasy Café is where we go most Sundays, Mum and I. We go there because you don’t have to walk far if it’s raining, or if Mum’s feet are bad, as they are at the moment. And it’s near mini-Tesco’s, in case of a Ryvita and currant-cake famine. Actually, the things we end up buying in Tesco’s seem to have little to do with what Mum has in her store cupboard or even what she likes – they are more likely to be what her internal elves instruct her to buy, and in whatever strange quantities they stipulate – four currant-cakes when once home she will say she doesn’t like cake, a single yoghurt when she eats at least two a day, meat cat food when the cat prefers fish, no bananas when she has no bananas. I have learned not to argue, on the basis that it will do no good in any event, and any food in her cupboard is better than none at all. I am not sure whether she remembers to eat it, or what she eats, but she seems to stay around the same weight so she must be eating something.

But, before that we go to the Greasy Café. We always have to have the same thing – two Choice One. The frothy coffees are free. It’s really a breakfast meal – two slices of toast, one underdone tomato cut into quarters, two potato cakes and a mountain of rubbery scrambled egg, which I suspect starts off as yellow powder in an industrial-size tub. The café is run by Cypriots, a husband and wife team, with occasional weekend waiters or waitresses. Every other week Mum asks me in a deaf person’s whisper where I think they come from, and whether they are Indians, and I pretend not to hear since they are only a foot or so away. If there is a waiter he will learn how handsome he is – could have been a model. If there is a waitress she will learn how slim she is – surprising with all this food around. People are enormous nowadays. Great wobbly things. Look at his stomach! And why do the women wear those long dresses?

The café owners know us well. We walk in and they wave at us, he from the kitchen and she from behind the till. The usual?

Are you going to give them our order? I don’t think they’ve seen us.

They know our order. They’ll be along in a minute with the coffee.

But she hasn’t come to the table with her notebook.

They know our order. We always have the same.

I don’t think they’ve seen us.

They know our order. They’ll be along in a minute…

And then we sink into silence and wait, because Mum doesn’t like to wear her hearing aids, and can’t hear me. And anyway, we have nothing much to say, having got through any ‘business’ over mugs of tea before we came out. I have a notebook and biro in my bag in case of emergencies.

We’ve been waiting for half an hour. Are they very busy?

The café is empty apart from us, the Cypriot owners and a couple of middle aged men commenting the sports pages of the newspaper. They are always here. Seem to be friends of the boss. And outside, there are the vapers – a strange-looking couple who sit at one of the outside tables in all weathers, vaping. Lady boss takes coffee out to them at intervals.

It’s only been ten minutes. She’ll be here with the coffee shortly.

Do they know we’re here? She didn’t come to the table with her notebook.

Outside is the shopping precinct. It was built long after I left, on the land which used to belong to Mum’s school. They demolished Mum’s school. The playground is now a bookmakers, and a Wilco store. Behind that there is a pet shop where Mum sometimes buys cat-biscuits because she feels sorry for them, and a bookshop which I am not allowed to go into because Mum doesn’t do browsing, and a charity shop side window. I make sure to be facing the window, and every Sunday I look out at clumps of fat people going past, the women in the long frocks my mother so dislikes, the children in hoodies, on skateboards, the men with their big bellies in long shorts and tattoos. I am just too far away to read the titles of the second hand hardback books stacked in the bookshop window, but in any case I have been in there on my own and know he overcharges. And I know they’ll be unweildy histories of naval battles in the Second World War, and indexes of all the films ever made, and craft books showing you how to make floral covers for paper tissue boxes, or Easter Bunny peg-bags. And in the charity shop, the same three dresses – a red one, a very short blue one and a longer, beige-coloured one. Always the same three, in some tiny size. Obviously there are not enough small women around here. Oh yes, and a handbag. A battered brown handbag, very large, with black clasps. A homeless handbag.

Our coffees arrive. There is a spoon each to spoon off the froth.

I’ve got three bags of sugar.

Oh, I’ve got two this time.

But I don’t need three bags of sugar.

Put them in your handbag for later, then.

It’s not the done thing. And they might need them for other people.

Leave them on the table, then.

But why have I got three and you’ve got two?

I don’t know. Sometimes I get three and you get two. Sometimes we both get two…

Do they know we’re here? She hasn’t been over…

Our two Choice Ones arrive. I shall be feeling queasy all afternoon. I am thinking, I’ve got a bit of a headache. The toast isn’t too bad, though. I’ll leave half the egg.

This is better than the beans, isn’t it? The one with the beans we used to have. So many beans they used to spill off the edge of the plate. And they made the plate wobble. I could never keep my plate still. Yours never seemed to wobble. Why did I always get the wobbly plate?

I don’t know. Maybe it was a wobbly table.

There’s a dead fly on this table.

It’s just a mark. Look, I’ll poke it – it doesn’t move.

It looks like a dead fly.

But it doesn’t move.

It won’t move if it’s dead.

There is no fly. Look, it’s a mark on the table.

This is better than the beans, isn’t it?

They’ve turned on the radio. Music, to soothe a savage breast.

It’s very noisy in here. What’s that noise all of a sudden?

But I am floating away on a tide of music, and none of it matters any more, not the three same dresses and the homeless handbag, not the unreachable books or the fat people, or the hooded children on their skateboards, not the people in wheelchairs, the people smoking, the tattooed men, the grey clouds overhead, the likelihood of rain, Tesco still to come…

I drew a broken heart

Right on your window pane

Waited for your reply

Here in the pouring rain

Just breathe against the glass

Leave me some kind of sign

I know the hurt won’t pass, yeah

Just tell me it’s not the end of the line…