A Lie in a Jiffy Bag

By Chloe Shaw

After many years working as a marketing copywriter, Chloe now enjoys the freedom and creativity of writing short stories and flash fiction.

The untruth arrives one September morning in a padded envelope and sits composting in the pigeon hole at my hall of residence until mid-afternoon. I’ve no idea what’s inside but delay opening it till I find some breakfast.

As I’m eating, I wonder what the package contains and who has sent it. My sense of anticipation increases until, swallowing the final chunk of sausage, I rip the package open.

First the note – “How dare you!” I reach further inside the envelope and pull out a wilted plant. It’s a common sort of plant and holds no significance. I don’t recognise the handwriting and I find no clues from the post mark. I’m baffled.

Later, back at my room, ‘Anna, Anna, there’s a call for you’. I run to the communal phone and listen to a man telling me in low rushed tones that his wife will be ringing me shortly. I ask who he is. ‘David’ he says and hangs up.

David? The David I worked with over the summer holidays? The quiet, conscientious man who sat at the desk next to mine in the admissions office, processing grant applications? Why would he be ringing?

A minute or so after replacing the handset the phone rings again. This time a woman. She doesn’t introduce herself and I listen to a stream of accusations. There’s mention of a plant and a letter. She tells me David’s bags are packed and he’s waiting by the door.

I don’t get the chance to respond. I want to say ‘Are you joking? I just wrote to thank him for the leaving card and present. Your husband is just someone I sat next to in an office’. But for the second time someone hangs up on me before I can speak and the sound of the handset slamming down rings in my ear.

Then I remember the jiffy bag. Of course, my office plant! That peace lily sat on my desk that whole summer. I left it behind without a thought. Had it taken on greater meaning since?

A lie.

Just off the edge of the remembered

by Amanda Jones
 

Amanda is working on two works of fiction - one a collection of short stories and another longer work that blends historical research and contemporary writing.

I remember the day began with an early start, so we would arrive in time to watch the Spanish fishing boats unloading their night’s catch onto the curved expanse of smooth round black pebbles of the beach. The women gutting the fish without pausing their rapid conversations. Out of sight, in another picture perhaps, nets are mended, bartering continues and news is exchanged but here we are, captured in the aspic of the camera’s eye.

Amanda.jpg

At five, this was new to my little brother. His face glows with delight. He crows quietly with pleasure. One of the older fishermen, with brown, wrinkled hands cracked and marked by age and grime, had presented Jon with some tiny fish. In the picture, he holds one, suspended delicately between his fingers, while I watch with joy at his pleasure.

The tenderness of our parents frame the picture, Father’s camera lens shapes our image while our mother stands back, relaxed, pleased to observe our unity. We form a tender group, ignored by the bustle of the fishermen and women around us. We have abandoned the villa and my father’s parents for a morning together.

Forty years later, gem-like memories persist. A long drive up a mountain to visit a live spring in a cave, where we collected drinking water and smelt the cool mossy blackness behind the waterfall. The fish market, the plastic covered stool at the metallic bar where we shared a plate of fresh grilled sàrdinas, swimming and trips to exotic (for the 1970s) restaurants with live flamenco dancing.

The villa, with a curved pool whose glittering surface called to us from outside the shutters of our darkened bedrooms.

Here and there are occlusions, ripples of dissonant adult emotions. The darker shades of our grandmother’s erratic moods appear here and there, like a series of tiny unrecognizable insects, suspended in the amber of our childhood. Tears and recriminations appear just off the edge of the remembered, causing a faint distortion. Those were happy days.

The Last Photograph in the Album

By Garry Pope

Garry Pope writes film reviews for Take One, an independent magazine and website, and play reviews for Theatre Blog. He also writes book reviews for Great Shelford Village News. He read Creative Writing at M.A. and B.A. levels. He has written novels, novellas, short stories, plays and film scripts: all successfully unpublished! He is currently working on a novella about a theatre producer attempting to put on one last play before he dies.

23rd July 1989, Gatwick Airport. Left is my father, younger brother George, older brother Matthew and my mother. Our first family holiday, but only my father and George travel, as holidays are expensive, and it’s George’s birthday.

***

Thirty years later, weeks after my father’s funeral, only I attend his one bedroom bungalow and remove his belongings. Flicking through his family photograph albums, this is the last picture he saved.

They flew to Orlando. On their second day, in Disneyland, my brother George disappeared. My father, alone, other than Orlando’s police force, spent the following twelve days searching. He extended his stay for another week, at an astronomical cost. But returned home without George.

Matthew, then seventeen, soon joined the army and had little to do with us.

My mother, a whirlwind of love and anger, blamed my father. When my aunts arrived on Sundays with wine bottles, my mother always slurred, “John lost George in America.”

My father wore a constant smile. When he returned, he never smiled again. He increased his work to evenings and weekends. We saw him only at meal times.

When I think of my father, on his own in Orlando, I choke, as if drowning, wondering what it must have been like for him.

Five years after the disappearance, I turned sixteen and my mother left. I lived with my father until university, and then I too never returned.

I tried keeping in touch, but Matthew stayed abroad; my father seemed pained when he saw me; and my mother, with only anger and not love, distanced herself. Now we don’t even send birthday cards.

Years later, in London, I entered a supermarket, and saw my mother. She must have been forty-five and looked exhausted. She pushed a shopping trolley with a young girl in the seat. My mother smiled at her daughter and her daughter laughed. I didn’t approach them.

Back home, holding my father’s photograph album, I turn to a blank page and slide in a new photograph. This is my future child. If our baby’s a boy, I’ll name him George.

WARNING: Public Health Warning.  This is all made up.  I loved, when reading, the ghastly sense that it was true. Sorry if you feel had, Miranda

First Prize

By Alan Martin

Alan is trying to get his computer to to be a great author. It's working. So far he's succeeded in creating software with writer's block.

All the truth of the world lies in stories. The truth though, does not offer itself up in numbers, tables and graphs. We must dress the truth. Give it a name; give it a beginning; give it an end. The best truths wear a lie just as the best lies have a kernel of truth. The best lies make us who we are.

I won first prize in the Road Safety category at the 1989 Malmesbury Carnival Procession.  You can see it pinned to the front of my cardboard box. 

I'm standing in Malmesbury School's playground. No doubt, the music was Black Lace, the only record needed at any family event in England from 1986 to 1992. I'm learning about the emptiness in victory. 

First, the story's truth. I entered the Road Safety category. I made the costume. I arrived on the day. I beat the competition. I got the prize. Here, the truth has given us its best side, smiling at the camera. This is the story of the picture sitting on a grandmother's shelf. The truth misses the point.

The first problem was I cared not one bit about 'road safety'. I'd tried to channel whatever it is into my costume. I decided it was sign posts. I copied pictures from a road atlas onto the front and back of the box. On the sides, I painted scenes of a busy town. At the last minute, I got worried that Malmesbury is a rural town so wrote 'Wild Horses Ahead' on the box as an appeal to the judges. The first lie is my motivation.

The second problem was that my mother was on the Carnival committee. She picked out this victory like you might a children’s holiday camp or a Christmas present. 'Road Safety' was an unloved category, no one had entered the previous year. As it turned out, someone else had heard the same story. The girl was a little older than me. Her costume was a sports kit, with cardboard road signs safety pinned onto a set of sweat bands. We discussed how both of us guessed this was to be an easy victory with no one else there. The second lie was the competition.

Third and last, I did win, but I think the look on my face is evidence that the victory rang hollow. In winning there was an emptiness. Competitions are games that end, like stories. If we want to win, we become the storyteller, we choose the scene and the characters and act it out. And when we've won, we stand for the camera. The third lie is that ending. At the end, there is just an end.

If you're going to live a story, a lie, then don't pick one with an ending.

Truth & Lies at the Photographer's Gallery

by Miranda

The Photographers' Gallery in London, as part of #ConspiracyWeek, is featuring UFO material: slides, handwritten index cards and photographs featuring sightings of UFOs. Apparently Earth governments are suppressing evidence that they are in touch with extra terrestrials. There were an photographs with very samey looking flying saucers and index cards which said things like: 'looked up and saw this object moving slowly overhead.  Having a camera in hand Joe got one shot before it speeded up and flew away.'

In the same week I went to a brilliant Darwin lecture by Professor David Runciman on our greatest conspiracy theorist Donald Trump. In a talk, titled Dealing with Extremism, Runciman, standing in for Theresa May, examined the relationship between harmless conspiracy theories, extremism and whether in this post-truth environment political extremists and conspiracy theorists are the same. The full lecture will soon be available here and more information on his research into conspiracy and its impact on democracy is found here.

Gratefully someone at the Photographers' Gallery contested Runciman's findings.  In fact Donald is just an alien.

It's Knackered Mate

By Lynn Keller

Lynn is writing a contemporary fairy tale where a tree takes its revenge.

I shouldn’t need to remember this view - I’ve seen it so many times before - a man in an overall with his legs emerging from the van. This one is Alan and he lives in Wales, though he’s originally from Bristol. I know this because we’ve met several times before. Whichever AA man the legs belong to,(Glen in Devon, Dave or Geoff in Cambridge, Rob in Oxford) they are always accompanied by a range of sounds. Some of them are verbal: the sharp intake of breath; the fake cough; the guttural exclamations that roughly translated mean, ‘Bloody hell, what a state!’, ‘’This’ll take some sorting’ or ‘Nah, it’s knackered mate!’ Then there’s the ‘tool versus van’ noises. The stubborn wrench against bolt, the hacksaw versus pipe gnawing,  soldering iron against engine and, my particular favourite, hammer versus starter motor. This was one such occasion! The only thing that makes this memory any different is the second set of legs - Markus getting a lesson on how to sort it if (when) it happens again. Apparently, hitting a starter motor with a hammer is a 2-man job; one to use the hammer and the other (me) to ‘pump the accelerator’. This designation of tasks is not as sexist as it seems but is, in fact, chest related, specifically mine. It seems my 38D’s don't fit under the van! Passers-by do the sympathy nod and smile before getting into their fully functioning cars and heading off happy. I smile back with only a hint of envy and a thought of how much we would get if we sold it on ebay. When the engine finally kicks is, that old familiar smell emerges. The mix of slightly burnt oil, escaping petrol and pitch all merging to invisibly thicken the air. Relief! No tow trucks, no missed adventure, no embarrassing blocking of roads, no blame for holdups on the A48 read out on the travel news. Not yet anyway. See you soon Alan.

Together

by Jacqueline Mordue

Jackie will be travel writing and blogging from her overland trip between London and Australia.

Em Eileen Rose ambled down the main street, her parents flanking her on either side. It was a rare opportunity to spend a little time with them. On this occasion both her parents seemed more relaxed, even managing a smile every so often. Lunch at The George Hotel in Bromsgrove had been full of catching up on news as well as sampling some of the dishes from the hotel's menu. Em was looking forward to spending a little of her newly earned wages on a new dress. Her father wanted to call in at the ironmongers to purchase some inch long screws for the farm plough. After accidently dropping the china teapot on the flagged floor of the kitchen, Em’s mother sought a reasonably priced teapot from Harvey's General store. The day was sunny if a little cold and the family had until teatime to enjoy together before Em had to return to Stratford. 

Catching Cherry Out

By Lynn Keller

Lynn has been writing short stories for about 10 years. She’s managed about 6 so maybe they are not as short as she thought!

The tickets had taken several hours on the phone to finally secure and a rash decision had been made. Monday night it would have to be - we’d work out the practicalities somehow.

So, the practicalities…even if I managed to leave work at 3.30, it was going be 4 hours minimum - too late!  I was going to have to do something I’d never done before (or since) - take a sickie!  What if I was spotted? A wig - that would do it, and sunglasses and I’d wear something I would never normally be seen in. Problem solved by a dress (usually reserved for smear tests), tights (shudder!), shoes with high heels (borrowed) a chenille cardigan (Lord help me!) Mick Jagger had better be worth it!

So Monday morning, phone call made, lie told. Stomach bug - something I’d eaten - need to sleep - planning file on desk - should be straightforward - phone if there’s a problem (please don’t, I won’t be here, that would be another lie (didn’t hear it, must have been asleep)).

The Rolling Stones did their thing. The atmosphere was tangible, the volume filled Wembley Arena and even the crappy plastic seats and sawdust on the floor- left over from the Sheepdog trials at the Horse of the Year Show - were forgivable. The wig was a mistake. Apart from looking ridiculous, the nylon strands made me sweat to soaking point and the scalp rash it left behind was itchy for days. Wearing sunglasses at a concert was also a questionable choice. It’s pretty dark anyway, and let’s be honest, you just look a bit of a twat trying to be cool. But, the fear of being caught was the overpowering thought so the wig, sunglasses and the tights (don’t get me started on the tights), stayed.

The other thing that stayed was the fear of being found out, forever expecting someone to have seen me and expose me. The only way out of that would be another lie. And what if I exposed myself by talking about it or talking about my scabby head? This was hell!

The final straw came 2 days later. Cherry was a lovely lady, a part-time colleague with one major fault that drove us all mad. She would lie about anything and everything though had an amazing knack of never beinh caught out. She arrived at work on the Wednesday and announced in the staff room what an amazing night she’d had on Monday at Wembley, seeing the Rolling Stones. Her highlight was being ‘pulled out of the audience by Jagger onto the stage’. This never happened - I was there! I knew it wasn't true and there was absolutely nothing I could do or say to expose her whopping, great lie.

The Concealment

Deborah Major

Deborah was inspired to take up writing when trying to encourage her young children to read. She is currently working on two children's stories - The Drill Bus and Yolanda the Mermaid.

Bolstered by the easy victory of Mrs Rottenhagis, 9 Alpha went to war against another foe. A far more formidable adversary. One who had reduced many of their number to tears in earlier skirmishes. A teacher who had stuck her nails into the back of Jonny Craig’s neck and actually drawn blood.

Mrs Thomas was a slim woman who wore jackets with padded shoulders, which made her appear immensely tall. She taught her subject (geography) with an efficiency which would not have been out of place in the British Army. Sheet after sheet appeared on the over head projector to be hastily copied down by her beleaguered class. It was quite possibly the most boring lesson in the whole school. Maybe even the whole country.

Seated six around a table the most unfortunate children had to constantly crane their necks around to see the projector. One such child was Jonathon Mathews, who had arrived late with his bosom buddy Luke Alsop. Jonathon became fidgety with the arrangement and began to complain to his companion.

    “She ought to be sacked, I’m gonna get repetitive strain disorder.” Luke sniggered then began to cough as Mrs Thomas bore down on them.
    “I heard that Mathews.  Do you want detention to go with your lines for being late?”
    “Wasn’t me Miss,” said Jonathon, “it were Susan.” He said the first name that came into his head and Susan turned and scowled at him.
    “Do you think I was born yesterday?” screamed Mrs Thomas rather purple in the face.
    “Perhaps she was born today,” said Robert Mann but not quietly enough. With anger blazing in her eyes, Mrs Thomas swept over to Robert, picked him up by the lapels of his blazer and dashed him across the desk. He slid through all the books and pencils and landed in a heap on the floor. A pensive voice from the floor said,
    “You shouldn’t have done that Miss.  Now they will have to sack you.”
Mrs Thomas broke down and cried in front of the silent class.

9 Alpha had punished their next victim and even better, they could have her sacked. Strangely the whole class of thirty decided to conceal their victory. They never said a word.

Ten years on Mrs Thomas is still boring her students to tears.

 

Locked Together

Nicola Mann

Nicola’s main project currently is a blog about her son, Sawyer, who has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The blog is a raw and honest account of how life changed when her son was born, addressing many issues (sensory problems, bullying, growing up with a neurotypical sister…) as they unfold in real life, as well as divulging fears and hopes for her son’s future. 

Nicola writes for fun, but mainly for misery. Some of her favourite short stories and poems have been born out her saddest times, which makes for some dark, gritty, sarcastic, and downright angry prose. With a lot of swearing. The Happy Sawyer blog is available here

 

The air was crisp with the cold, and the darkness swallowed us as we drifted home. Familiarity existed only in each other and in the silent whispers of the wind through the trees. We became part of the world that night - alone with the weather and the stars. The lights of the city threatened harder by the second as we made our way along our stretch - locked together as it should be. Our laughter, banter, playful flirtations and emotions filled the starlit sky. There was no moon that night. And one final, sweet kiss before darkness ushered me away from you once again. Away from you. And back to my husband.

Family Ties

by Jacqueline Mordue

Jackie will be travel writing and blogging from her overland trip between London and Australia.

Jackie's grandmother was the only child of Heber, aged 26 at the time of this photo and Emily 46

Jackie's grandmother was the only child of Heber, aged 26 at the time of this photo and Emily 46

Em Eileen Rose sat as still as she could on the hard wooden footstool. The lace of her dress itched and scratched the back of her bare legs. Her brand new leather shoes felt stiff giving her feet little room to move freely. The bow in her newly brushed hair tugged, pulling against her scalp. She could feel the tension in the room as they all waited silently for the camera to take the photograph. Although young, Em Eileen Rose could also sense a deeper tension settling around the family. The gestures, the angry expressions, and muted suppressed conversations that passed continuously between her father and mother, made her feel on edge; nervous. She almost preferred the time she spent away from the family home with her Aunt and cousins. At least there was laughter then.

Film Making

by Sam Dean

Sam is a writer based in London and Cambridge.  She is currently writing a novel set in in modern day London, that shows us how events on the global stage impact the lives of normal people - with dramatic life changing consequences.
 
She has also written scripts for satirical short films and a comedy series for TV, ‘Random and Miscellaneous', that charts the hysterical dating dramas of a group of friends in an age when 'real romance' is based on texting.
 
Sam has two sons, and 'Film Making' is dedicated to her son Byron, an actor and film maker currently studyingfor a degree in creative media and performing arts.  His Media Production Company is called Fenland Tigers Media.  Byron is also a member of YAC and the show referred to in 'Film Making’ is a work they presented in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Summer 2016, ‘Dr Who- Adventures in time and space’.

‘Would Byron mind filming the training presentation? We’ve been let down’, asks my colleague.

 ‘No, of course not – it will be good experience for him’ I find myself replying.

I’m not certain he actually will be interested at all, but I feel myself turning into the ‘pushy’ mother I despise, sensing an opportunity for experience and an entry on his CV. Something concrete to show for a long summer of ‘resting’.

When I get home that evening I ask my son if he is free on the day of the presentation.

‘Yes, why what do you want?’ He cuts to the chase, he senses a trap and a pre-arranged commitment.  ‘I’ve got Edinburgh Fringe to rehearse for remember!’.

‘Yes darling, I know that but this will give you another string to your bow won’t it? A Company training film– it would look really good on your CV..’

He looks at me, and through me. ’You’ve already said I will haven’t you?’ he states.

‘It would really help me if you could do it … it would be so tricky to tell the boss you can’t ..’.

He sighs and nods, resigned to his fate.

So, the following week I drag him out of bed at 6am, drive us 30 miles to work in North London, sign him in as a visitor. My workplace is now his studio.

Lights, camera, action… I hardly recognise him as he enters his world of filmmaking. Oblivious to the surroundings, the scene playing out before the camera lens is all he sees.  I watch him, his intense concentration and focus. He films, interviews, reviews and retakes, all with immense charm and style. 

The day rushes by as he edits, recuts, balances sound and vision… tirelessly to achieve his goal, and in the end its me who has had enough & says.. ‘Hey… Can we go home now?’

Fine

Tina had plans.  Big plans.  She took up an offer to do a ‘glamour’ shoot.  These were the kinds of men we were meeting.  The drug dealers, the addicts, and those at the scummy and amateur end of porn.  And because she was too scared to go alone, I traipsed along with her to an appointment one Saturday afternoon, at the wrong end of the Edgware Road.  The appointment was on the eighth floor of a tower block – a journey we made in a lift that was working, but with that familiar tang of piss. 

The man who let us in was medallioned with died yellow hair, and could have come straight out of Only Fools & Horses, had it not been for a worrying hardness around his eyes.  Inside, across each window hung dirty nets, a sallow, busy décor of competing patterns filling each wall and floor.

Tina had the eyes of a puppy and prowl of a cat, and when she was asked to accompany the man into another room, she sauntered off ahead of him, like any feline - sure footed and without hesitation.  I, as usual, grew desperate for a pee.

After a while another man ambled out of another room. He was younger, shaved, tattooed, his irritability washing up the corridor like a bad smell. He watched my breasts.  Then said finally:

‘You’re not interested yourself?’

I think I asked him if I could use his ‘loo’.

Later, back in the lift, I whispered:

‘So how did it go?’

She shrugged, fiddling her ring up and over the knuckle.

‘Yeah, it was fine.’ 

Boiling

By Anca Cojocaru

Anca likes traveling and experimenting with different cultures and languages. She loves reading books written by Japanese and Korean authors.

I was thinking about it and I was impatient about what was going to happen. I was scared that I would do something wrong but I was so happy to do something so extraordinary. My mum and cousins were there as well. I could just hear what they were saying, but I wasn’t able to respond or to think much about their chatter. My mind was too busy. I needed to make sure everything was perfect.  I loved my clothes that day, they were my fancy clothes I wore just for special occasions. My mom was extra careful telling me to not ruin the perfect white of the top or the trousers. I had to make sure it was perfect as well. It was a special day for me.  But my sister, well, she didn’t have a care in the world while I was stressing about every move. She was laughing, crying, fidgety, trying to get away.  As soon as we entered in the studio, my curious eyes went through everything, the lights, the décor, the people.  Everything was scanned. My sister, on the other hand, was a nightmare. She started crying and wanting to leave. And I was wondering why?! It’s such a great adventure we can have together.  The décor was set, the pose was set, my unruly hair was set but my sister was completely unset. So much annoyance. She was ruining my perfect day. My cousins distracted her, showed her shiny objects to make her stay still. After a long wait, everything was over. She stopped for a second and the photo was taken.  It looks like we’re happy but the inside of me is boiling.

I was thinking about it and I was impatient about what was going to happen. I was scared that I would do something wrong but I was so happy to do something so extraordinary. My mum and cousins were there as well. I could just hear what they were saying, but I wasn’t able to respond or to think much about their chatter. My mind was too busy. I needed to make sure everything was perfect.

I loved my clothes that day, they were my fancy clothes I wore just for special occasions. My mom was extra careful telling me to not ruin the perfect white of the top or the trousers. I had to make sure it was perfect as well. It was a special day for me.

But my sister, well, she didn’t have a care in the world while I was stressing about every move. She was laughing, crying, fidgety, trying to get away.

As soon as we entered in the studio, my curious eyes went through everything, the lights, the décor, the people.  Everything was scanned. My sister, on the other hand, was a nightmare. She started crying and wanting to leave. And I was wondering why?! It’s such a great adventure we can have together.

The décor was set, the pose was set, my unruly hair was set but my sister was completely unset. So much annoyance. She was ruining my perfect day. My cousins distracted her, showed her shiny objects to make her stay still. After a long wait, everything was over. She stopped for a second and the photo was taken.

It looks like we’re happy but the inside of me is boiling.

Fifteen

By Francis Bainton

Francis is a bibliophile who writes whenever he has the time.

Though it was the kind of occasion that one really should remember, I can’t actually recall the day itself particularly well. I remember the bare facts: we had finished school, it was a hot day in late June and I was with friends. I was fifteen soon to be sixteen and the summer stretched ahead of me, a swathe of days without responsibility. In the years to follow I would begin to count how many of these luxurious summers I had left before life beyond education, but on that day I was just happy to be with my friends without the framework of school holding us all in place.

I can’t remember what we talked about. I can’t remember how I felt from moment to moment. I can’t remember who was absent, though some were. These details, however, are vivid:  

Beneath the shade of a tree, I exchanged my bright green t-shirt for a friend’s loose sand-coloured one.

In town, I walked with a friend through the newly-completed shopping centre as he pushed his bike. We talked with great animation in the bright, sterile space. 

At the place that had been our regular after-school haunt, we all posed for a photograph on a bench, where we packed in together tight and laughed and smiled, squinting at the camera in the sun.

We got on a punt, went down the river and pitched up by a tree. A couple of us swung from a conveniently low-hanging branch. 

I wish dearly that I could remember it better, and I worry that I never will. I have a few pieces from that day, and I have two or three friends whose own memories are other pieces to the bright jigsaw. The few photos that were taken are available to me, when I sit alone looking at a screen, even if the old friend who held the camera is not.

The Hill

By Mary Jennings

Mary has been running in Cambridge and East Anglia for some years now and also coaches others.

I’m thinking about that hill again. Yes, I knew it was there but the sharp turn out of the village car-park out onto the main road is at a 90 degree angle and obscures the view. The sight of that long slow hill is always a shock.

A narrow ridge high about the roadway on the left-hand side , runners trying to pass or be passed with little room to do so and anxious about slipping and sliding down into the traffic . It’s always a dull grey morning at this stage, this section overshadowed by trees with the long branches hanging above us and hedgerows threatening to push us away into the road.

Now the hill is beginning to get to me, 200 meters in, the slow steady rise results in torturedbreathing, grunts and grimaces of those around me, my breathing is ok, it’s the muscle just above my knees that’s feeling it.

Count. And so I begin.  After counting up to a hundred, I close off one finger on my left hand, a count of one hundred is approximately 100 meters, nine more to go, the hill is  about a mile long.  Another 100 plods of my right foot, another finger closed off. Hard-going. Must do more hill-training, I remind myself yet again.  But difficult to find hills in the flatlands of Cambridge. Left-hand is now a fist, 500 meters, half-way there. Start again with the fingers on the right hand.

Pace dropping but I will not walk. Head down. Don’t stop. Pass that runner just ahead, he’s having difficulty, more than me it seems. Watch out for the narrow ledge. Will he move to let me pass? Probably too much in his own head of painedbody, to hear me behind him.  I’ll need to speed up to pass him. Can I do it? Push on.

I’ve lost count. Drat.  Was that 49 or 59? Start again at 40.  Why does running prevent my brain doing something simple like counting? Paula says she counts – does her brain go to mush too. Keep on going on. The sky opens up a little above the horizon through the tree canopy. Brightens me up.  The hill begins to level out.

A yellow-coated marshal shouts ‘well-done’. It feels like she means it just for me yet there are 300 runners ahead of me and she has congratulated us all. The course turns left, the road opens up, the sun widens, three miles still to go. But the hill is behind me.  Hurrah.  Til this year’s Saffron Walden 10K in September. 

Hills in the flatland of Cambridge City wanted desperately by middle-aged runner – Google only gives Hills Road which has not even one hill never mind hills plural. But I will find them.

The perfect body & how to be DICK

A great book excerpt by Lindy West in the Guardian on how women must be small, and starved, to be acceptable.  My father-in-law doesn't find me acceptable at all.  Even so I'm caught, furiously and stupidly, trying to avoid his predictions about weight.  He can't win I goad myself, without realizing that he already has.

‘You’ll be ‘dick’ like your mother,’ my father-in law told me over lunch. He is German. Dick translates as fat.  Maybe I had unwittingly exposed myself, by accepting his offer of pudding. 

Mother was dead when he made this observation.  She was also fat.  Until Motor Neuron Disease made it impossible to swallow.  But my father-in-law has never acknowledged the dying, and has no idea how it went. Motor Neuron Disease robs you of everything, even chocolate.

Mum fell by days and hours and weeks from millionaire shortbread and Diet Coke down through blueing bread, to gavage.  Soon we had to pump protein packs directly by tube into her stomach.  They smelt of school dinners, of hospital trays, of wrong.  From the first day that sticky plastic syringe was put to use, there was a yeasty heaviness that hung about her, the house, my hands. 

Each time we loaded her lunch I wondered whether she had been able to mark the last time something had tasted good.  Whether she had enjoyed its soft sweetness, or if that final square of Dairy Milk had been rushed, undone, unenjoyed.  Forever laced with a sourness of guilt.

Only men come down chimneys

by Nadia Ranieri

Nadia is scientist with a strong passion for books. She writes for hobby.

It's the morning of the 6th of January and I just can't wait to go downstairs. I hope the old lady brought me lots of candies! I've been a good girl.

Yesterday, before going to bed, my sister and I left a dish with some cheese and bread near the fireplace. We left a glass of wine too as daddy said the old lady might appreciate it. It is very cold outside and she'll travel all night to visit all the kids of the world so she'll need some wine to warm her up. That's also what daddy said and I think it is true.

I still don't get how she can pass through the chimney though. I never saw the old lady but everybody talk about a large woman with a generous bottom. She must have some kind of magic power, like Santa Claus!

Since the fire was lit, my sister and I were afraid that the old lady might burn her bottom. If she does so she'll run away and never come back. She'll run away with all our candies!
Last night, I was so worried that I almost cried but mummy told us that the fire will be gone when the old lady comes and she'll be ok. I was not sure about that but mummy's always right so my sister and I went to bed without any worries.

Now it's morning, I wake up my sister and we run downstairs towards the fireplace.
Next to it we find two big filled socks, one has my name on it and the other one my sister's and are about the same size. The cheese and bread and the wine are gone! She was happy when she left our home. She'll be back next year, I'm sure!

Orange Juice

By Valerie Hutchinson

Nearly half a century’s reading later I am intrigued by life writing; what curious, sad, funny, shifting things families are - hurrah for the treasure trove of memory which yields tantalising clues to who we were and who we are.

One evening freedom reigned.
Parents out. But our TV viewing was
shattered.  My little sister Katie appeared
in her blue fuzzy hat worn for bed, to
ward off nocturnal tangles, (it didn’t work),
mournful, bubbles issuing from her mouth.  

Let’s ask the neighbours, we older sisters agreed.
My soft slippers spilled over the pebble path.  
I asked for help with the bubble storm, returning
with Fay and Mike and warm concern.
Katie sat on Fay’s knee as fat tears mingled with
bubbles in a bowl beneath Katie’s chin.

Fay calmly relayed their phone number as Mike,
Napoleon aficionado, recalled ancient battle dates
but not personal details when questioned by 999.
With shaky voice, his trembling hand replaced the
receiver.  The cavalry was on its way.
‘Want one?’ he offered my big sister a cigarette.

The door-bell severed rattling nerves.  
Mike, grinning, jumped to answer.  
Strange blue lights blinked in the hall.
Aliens invaded in black boots and silver
buttoned jackets, carrying strange shiny cases
containing what?   

Mum and Dad returned.
‘Why’s Katie sucking a lollipop?’ Mum whispered.
‘Watch where you keep your shampoo love,’ the
aliens chided Mum, snapping their cases shut.
They ruffled Katie’s blue head, then blue lights,
boots and silver cases vanished.

‘Take that muck off your toe nails and that bloody
thing out of your mouth!’ Dad thundered at my older sister.      
Mike grinned nervously white teeth flashing.
The egg cup, containing Mum’s orange hair
thickening lotion, (It didn’t work) or orange juice,
Katie thought, disappeared as swiftly as the aliens,

Katie clutched two more lollipops, the aliens’
departing gifts.  We sisters sat stunned not by
the medical alert but ‘bloody’, never before heard
from my father’s lips.