Perhaps painted green

By Laura Manzur

Laura was reminded of her earlier love of writing when she started to co write songs with her daughter.  She is currently working on a short story, and also her book of poetry, inspired by family.

Mike Petrucci from  Unsplash

Mike Petrucci from Unsplash

I think it was a corrugated iron building, perhaps painted green.  It sat on the corner of our street.  Inside was one vast room.  The ceiling seemed tremendously high, and it smelled of polished floorboards. I do not remember the other children, just the noise of playing, so many voices that I couldn't pick out just one.  I recall the wooden painting easels, with big black surfaces.  There were little troughs at the bottom for our paint pots, and big rusty bulldog clips at the top.  I could not reach the apex even when I stretched up high on my tiptoes. I could not reach those bulldog clips.  I believe I enjoyed painting. Dutifully covered with a plastic apron, to avoid thick paint splodging a contradicting pattern to my 70's dress.  A homemade dress my Nan had sewn me.  It was a time before I  knew my picture should be recognisable, when colours were haphazardly splashed across clean white paper.  I can still smell the paint, and the feel of it drying on my fingers, and that pure enchantment at the freedom it offered.

There were little chairs.  We placed them in a circle just before home time, and Mrs Humphry read us a story. I see her dark hair, slightly frizzy, and kind face.  She felt safe.  We had to put the chairs to the sides of the hall at the end.  My grandmother collected me, and even though the story was unfinished, I calmly put my chair to the side, waved goodbye, took her hand, and together we strolled home.

My Nan smelled of face powder, hairspray and cigarettes combined.  She sat chatting, cigarette in hand, with the ash growing longer and longer, seemingly unaware.  I watched that ash, unblinking, convinced it would fall and set the carpet alight, but always at the last moment, with a sharp flick of the wrist, she would tap it onto the awaiting ashtray.  Years later there were dark x-rays.  I can still hear the rattle as she struggled to breathe.

Caught: heavier in the hand, a little lighter in the memory

by Sophie

Sophie is an English teacher living in Cambridge. She is currently working on finding the time and a good enough idea to start writing. Here she is at two with her paternal grandfather asleep on the sofa having finished reading a story, and on a different sofa with her maternal grandfather, again caught unawares.

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The camera catches you when you’re not looking. The captor stalks, approaches quickly, quietly; one disturbance and they’ll startle, wake. A still, silent second passes. She squeezes the trigger and departs, leaving the scene exactly as she found it. She knows this is a rare find, the kind of moment that feels rich with retrospect and posterity even before it is developed.

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Months pass. She can’t believe her luck; to see the same creature, the same familiar and obsequious repose, in a completely separate location under the silent guard of another, seems almost immodestly fortunate. Nevertheless, she knows better than to pass up this opportunity. She knows a gift when she sees one.

Years pass. Birthdays, tantrums, health scares and oh my goodness haven’t you grown appear, disappear, reappear. Periodically we return to the pictures, a welcome still point in an ever-accelerating calendar. They’re striking for both their similarities and their differences, in the way incarnations of love always are. One upright and protective, the other laid-back and companionable. One traditional, the other parodic. But, above all else, what stands out is an unspoken, kindred instinct. Written on each face is an inalienable purpose, to care and be cared for.

Time takes a toll of course; only two of the three original subjects remain. Inevitably, one photograph now feels a little heavier in the hand, a little lighter in the memory. We study it more frequently, ask it more questions. It speaks both less and more.

The pictures still hang, proud trophies of an endangered species.

Apples

by Dan Crego

Dan has started, and occasionally finished short stories for a while now. This time it’s serious.
“Writers, unlike most people, tell their best lies when they are alone.”
― Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

My father sits in his chair and carefully slices the apple into about six or eight pieces. He puts down the knife, one of a silver-plated set that was our “best”. It lies next to the apple slices on the plate, balanced on the right arm of the armchair. The room is quiet, the TV is turned off, dormant behind the heavy doors of its cabinet.

I close my eyes, and I can see him, his right hand holding the knife between thumb and forefinger, poised over the plate; his cheek slightly bulging from the last slice he has placed in his mouth. But I can’t see the room clearly. Sometimes, it is the living room in the small flat over the hairdresser’s shop that my mother owned. We lived there until I was eleven years old. Sometimes it isn’t.

I close my eyes again, and Dad is no longer in the flat over the hairdresser’s, faint smell of peroxide, hairdryer and stale beer (a shampoo for ‘body’) rising through the floorboards, but in our 1930s semi a mile further west and a couple of small notches up the social scale. It is a classic inter-war semi-detached house, with the two reception rooms ‘knocked through’, and a small ‘sun lounge’ or conservatory added onto the kitchen, overlooking the garden. Dad looks relaxed (not a frequent state of mind for him), he is happy and concentrating. Our dog, Sandy sits by the chair, pushing her nose against his arm and wrist, ingratiating herself. Dad looks at her, raises a forefinger, says ‘wait’ and then gives her a slice of apple which she gobbles down. The room, is divided into ‘lounge’ and ‘dining’ areas, the patterned carpet imprinted by the weight of the heavy reproduction furniture and the Ferguson Radiogram at one end of the room. A menorah on the sideboard waits patiently for Hanukah; Sabbath candlesticks take pride of place on the centre of an oval silver-plated tray. All are watched over by Tretchikoff’s Green Lady, her face reflecting love, acceptance and detachment.

On Friday nights, my sister and I wait eagerly. Dad brings us our comics – not available locally until the following morning, but Dad through some mysterious alchemy connected with his working ‘in town’ can source them twelve hours ahead of the rest of the Universe. He stands there in the hall, wearing his overcoat and carrying his homburg hat, filling the hall with his presence, with his male-ness, with the romance and allure of having just journeyed from the centre of the city. He was in no hurry to remove his overcoat, to hang up his hat; he was content simply to watch his children, marvel at his family, imbibe that precious commodity, his home life. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand him better now.

Was he the quintessential 1950s Dad – “Hi Honey, I’m home”? Not really. But it wasn’t co-parenting either. My parents’ roles, particularly my father’s, seem like an English, suburban north-west London version of the American dream - a scaled-down version. Our Ford Consul had chrome and even fins (sort of), everything reduced proportionately to meet the aspirations of a Britain not long out of rationing and austerity.

Almost thirty years later, I am sitting in a quiet room in the basement of a hospital, next to my father. He died a few minutes ago. I look at my father and see the familiar features, even his expression. But everything now is different. His soul has departed; I am alone in the room. How can this be?

I look at my father and imagine him eating the apple. But imagining is not living. Here, in this world which we did not imagine, but has to live in, soon it will be time for my tears. Soon it will be time for me to make the arrangements for the funeral; time to make the phone call to Israel and to cope with the grief at the other end of the phone; time for me to walk with my wife behind the coffin under the bright blue winter sky, listening to a beautiful voice singing Hebrew songs behind us; it will be time to say goodbye. Soon the grief will seem unsupportable.

But now is not yet that time. I sit in the chair in the quiet room from which my father’s soul has departed. The mystery of life and death is here. I imagine the apple, I imagine my father alive, content, in his own home with his family. The Green Lady bestows her benediction; Sandy the dog looks up at her master; the clock ticks; a shout from the alley behind (this, according to Joyce is God); distant rumble of a goods train on the west coast main line. All is still there, as I sit in the hospital basement room: in his noble philosopher’s face, the high forehead, the acquiline nose, receding hairline, long-ish grey hair. I remember the apple. I remember my father.

Consul

by Dan Crego

Dan has started, and occasionally finished short stories for a while now. This time it’s serious.
“Writers, unlike most people, tell their best lies when they are alone.”
― Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

The photo is black and white, 3 inches by 3 inches, instantly redolent of the Box Brownie camera, picnic lunches, Ambre Solaire suntan lotion, our Ford Consul on whose back ledge, behind the sometimes quarrelling heads of my sister and me, our dog Sandy would sleep contentedly on the long drive back from Brighton, Worthing or Bognor Regis, as we slowly made our way through the endless, mysterious and definitively Gentile south London suburbs, over Hammersmith Bridge, back to the familiar tree-lined semi-detached avenues of North-West London, and finally down the unpretentious self-respecting High Street, with its Odeon cinema, its greengrocers, bakers and butchers, its solid and protective every-day-ness and welcoming banality. Home.

My Dad stands in the centre of the photo, my sister is to his right looking imp-ish and summery, although her right hand is nervously raised, slightly hiding her face, the first hints perhaps of the adolescent storms to come that will tear across our family, rattling windows and up-rooting trees, leaving behind the acrid post-storm smell of ozone, lingering traces of which remain with us and between us today. I am sitting on a ledge to the left of Dad, my spindly limbs on display, angular and alarming enough to have prompted Mum to take me aged five to our family doctor. Dr Cohen, a fleshily substantial and stethoscope-wreathed pillar of our community, living embodiment of all our upwardly mobile ambitions, imperiously waved away her concerns. Fat, thin, or in-between, we were all on the Up. That is what mattered. I was on the studious path, even then Oxbridge and the professions could be glimpsed, through a glass, darkly. Others were on the business track, begging space on market stalls to sell t-shirts and teddy bears, working the angles and the arbitrage and disdaining my path of geekiness as I disdained their worldiness. We were all of us learning, learning, learning.

In this photo, as in many others from that time, I seem to combine equal measures of joy and anxiety into one facial expression, a feat which you may think is either a trick of the camera’s deception or witness to a precocious sophisticated sensibility on my part, a Kierkegaardian appreciation, at age seven, of the angst at the heart of life’s existential struggle.

In truth, it was neither; in truth, it was just the way I was. In truth...But then, how much truth do you actually want?

Hugs

By Noemi Olah

Noemi is a strategic marketer and a passionate campaigner, who, after years of fighting for a more humane society, now made peace with her creative self by writing fiction.

In general I like this photograph. It represents a happy phase in our lives. However, this set up, with me and my brother hugged by our father would be unimaginable today. And not because we do not see each other anymore. I and my father have had our fights and even though our relationship now is as peaceful as the Lake Balaton behind us on this picture, it would be simply impossible to take a similar one now. A tiny harbinger on this photograph already signals today’s – arguably – inevitable situation.

My mother took this picture with our old camera and said “smile” before she pushed the little red button. My father hastened her to push it because the sun were blinding us. I remember wanting it to be over, but not because of the sun but because I was thirsty. That’s why I am holding a bottle of Theodora Quelle sparkling water. That was my favourite, but only because my mother liked it and I thought drinking sparkling water was adult-like.

And even though I was eleven, I thought I was mature, because the school year began the week after and I would start it in a new school. I was excited to see my new classmates and was wondering whether they had spent their holidays abroad. But even if they did, I knew I would not exchange mine for theirs.

I loved the Lake Balaton. I loved the sound of the calm waves, loved its sweet taste and its smell mixed with sun oil and Lángos. I loved to play with my brother in the water and remind him that I could swim better. I hated when my father sent us outside claiming that our mouths were already blue.

But when you’re eleven, you listen to your parents and don’t talk back. I couldn’t even tell my father when posing for this picture that his arm was heavy and he shouldn’t have pulled us closer with that almost unnoticeable force. I listened to my mother instead and smiled.

But I would not remain so silent for long…

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.

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.

Wham! Food from the Edge of Heaven

By Kelvin Agboh

Kelvin works in biological sciences research and is a student of creative writing. 

Looking at a picture of me as a nine-year-old I am immediately transported to a time before the internet, before religious based terrorist franchises and before marathon became snickers.  This was the early nineties and everything was possible. Communism and the threat of nuclear armageddon was over but the synth music and the shoulder pads remained. 

At the time my favourite sweets were the wham bar and opal fruits.  As a child I would save what pocket money I could finagle from my unsuspecting, tight-fisted (read: frugal) parents and spend them at our local corner-shop.  Opal fruits (now starburst) were small, tightly packaged parcels of wonder.  As my tiny fingers tried to work my way beneath the cumbersome folds the anxious wait would bring forth a Pavlovian salivary response and would continue as I enjoyed the citrus flavour and numerous E numbers.  The wham bar was similarly a tangy-flavoured sweet of dubious origin.  It was rectangular, smooth and tongue-pink in colour.  As kids we would cram a whole wham bar and attempt to carry on a conversation as this incongruous mass mixed with copious amounts of saliva vied for air time. 

The sensory overload led to a group of already fidgety children to a state akin to a crack head’s high and the subsequent crash - a coma victim.

Courage and Consequence

by Pu Shi

Amy (Pu Shi) is a language teacher and educational researcher.  She is also a student of creative writing in Miranda’s Wednesday evening class.

S was my best friend in school. We lived on the opposite site of the same road. Every day we walked to school together, walked home together and ate unhealthy snacks together. One day in winter the temperature dropped and I was made to put on a coat embarrassingly chunky. To my surprise and relief, that morning S turned up wearing a coat of exactly the same style and colour. So we went to school like two happy penguins.

That day after school I complained about the maths homework. She said she didn’t want to do it. I said there might be consequences. She said if we both didn’t do it, for any consequence at least, we would be taking it together. I thought that was a brilliant idea.

In the maths lesson the next day, the teacher asked everybody to put their homework on a desk at the front. As someone who had always fulfilled the teacher’s requirements, I sat still on my seat, watching everyone standing up to submit their homework. I had no red face nor faster heartbeats, for I knew that I wasn’t the only one and there was nothing to worry about.

Just at that moment, I saw S stand up, holding a piece of paper covered with numbers and symbols, putting it quietly onto that pile of homework.

For the whole lesson I didn’t hear a word. During the break my tears burst out like tap water. I didn’t have the language to explain nor the strength to argue. For the first time in my life, I saw the importance of not trusting others. I understood that in order to ‘be yourself’, you had to have the courage to bear the consequence, alone.

 

Birthday

by Charlie Dear

Charlie, 22, is a recent graduate who writes crime.

I stood firm

Trigger finger ready

Eyes staring down the barrel

This is what three years of intense training had come down to…

I waited patiently. I didn’t flinch. The time had arrived. I scanned the immediate battleground through the scope.  I heard a rustle of discontent and quickly threw my body weight to my left.  Centering on my target, I slid among the reeds as my garish trousers tried to expose my clandestine plans

Zooming in, I now had eyes on the victim.

I lay flat on my stomach. Ready to make the telling blow.

I swept the immediate foreground and saw a rogue figure circling.

But what was with him? This unsettled me slightly.

I stood my ground, unsure whether to engage

He was approaching rapidly now…

I felt my earlier conviction vanish.

It WAS my Birthday cake!

‘Operation abort!’ I screamed.

Panic over, my weapon fell from my nascent hand as I hurtled over towards the plate of chocolatey happiness.

 

Summer Time

The summer visit starts with pure delight. The early days are marked with lake swimming, mountain air, fort building, and the blazing sun on our backs. After the initial excitement wears off, we settle into our daily chores:  moving rocks, sweeping the porch, brushing the dog. Aunt Kimmie keeps us busy while she escapes into her daily soap opera.

Our days get longer as we search for ways to entertain ourselves.   

“All you kids out the back door,” Kimmie directs, “and don’t come back until you have finished the whole watermelon.”

We aim the seeds at the cracks in the pavement, as we eat our weight in the red juicy fruit. Jason buries the remainder of his watermelon in the yard while Sean feeds his to the dog. We are learning their skills of deception.   

In a naive attempt April tries to reason with my aunt.

“I will explode if I eat another bite.” she says. My aunt listens to her plea, gives a smile, then turns to go back into the house and shuts the door.

Defeated, we continue to disappear the red beast, one way or another.

In the evenings, dinner is an outdoor event. At the barbeque, uncle Jim grills up a feast. “I killed that chicken for you myself. You best eat it all,” he says with a stern face. I look up at him as he towers over me. My eyes are wide with fear and bewilderment. He cracks a smile, but I am not convinced. I catch a knowing glance from Jason before he returns to his food. I clean my plate.

My mom comes to collect us, marking the end of our summer stay. Sunburnt and bitten, we drive the car down the dusty road.

A sense of relief fills the air as we return to the coast-side. Home to where a blanket of fog shields us from the sun.  

Spread out in the back seat, I sleep soundly the whole ride home.

#MandateNow

Tom Perry, following his experience at Caldicott School, is petitioning for Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse.  When abuse doesn't suit a school's idea of themselves, or its economics, children are forgotten, and lies of omission enable abuse to go on.  One example is discussed here on Radio 5 Live.

Make Believe

Where and when does the line between deceit and make believe get drawn in childhood?  How do we learn to differentiate between the two?  Because pretending is crucial.  Research shows the enormous cognitive benefits to pretend play – an awareness in the child that their own thoughts may differ from those of others, increased language use and enriched creativity. Root-Bernstein’s research with Nobel Prize and MacArthur Foundation winners indicates that early childhood make-believe worlds were more fundamental to play in those individuals, than in control participants in their fields.  But much more important than any parent perceived benefits to pretend play, make believe is freeing and it is fun.

 

By Raquel Bello

Raquel is the co-creator of Carddies - Card People to Colour and Go. Carddies are cute colouring sets of card people ‘who live in a box’ and can be brought to life and carried in a handbag, backpack or pocket.  She and her sister, Esther, an ex-lawyer and ex-accountant respectively, used to make cardboard dolls when they were little, pulling together toys from anything they had to hand (napkins, cotton wool, bits of cloth).  Having children of her own, has given Raquel the excuse to regress.

Carddies is all about make-believe and imagination.  The first were made out of the backs of cereal packsand I still make those when we are on holiday My three girls became completely engrossed in colouring them in, giving them names and acting out stories with them for hours at a time. Other children also asked me to draw them (my first “commission” was a Victorian family, followed by a football team).  I draw the little people and animals; Esther has drawn most of the scenes and some of the packaging artwork, and it’s difficult to distinguish between the two styles shared doodling in childhood.

Carddies are environmentally friendly toys, made in Britain.  They have been awarded Top Drawer 2012 Award for Best New Product for Children; Shortlisted at the Gift of the Year Awards 2013 (under the Eco Friendly Category), were highly commended Junior Design Awards 2012  (Best Arts and Crafts) and Toy Talk Best Travel Toy 2012.

The Chimney

by Jeremy Doyle

Jeremy heads IDLS and is passionate about poverty and our global energy challenge.  In the past he worked in Guyana and Mozambique and now works with government and non-government organisations on clean energy to tackle poverty and address climate change.  He likes playing the piano, cycling and tennis.

Early evening. We are in the kitchen, kids guzzling their food. Our 7-year old son grabs some green grapes and stuffs them all into his mouth.  On cue, 4 year-old Anne explodes: “Not fair!!” Her share now seems small, due to the dribbling smirk opposite.

Grapes in winter, I think, distracted.  Picked easily from a well-lit supermarket shelf. Our species has never had it so damned good.

Once the grape argument has burnt out, we return the subject of Santa Claus.  He’ll be coming down the chimney tonight, quickly, neatly. He’ll carry enough presents for all children.  He’s checked his list.

I peer at their eyes, which are glazed, looking up and into the middle distance.  Visual thinkers and not a flicker of doubt.  Coca Cola red suit, bearded, jolly and obese.   The images are streaming through their fast-growing neurones.

“How does he know where the stockings are?” squeaks our youngest. 

“Oh he just knows absolutely everything.  Don’t worry, he’ll find them alright” says Mummy.

We hang the stockings. They give them a long happy look.

 “Can he shrink to get down the chimney then grow again?”  Our son looks worried.

“Yes, maybe, I don’t know.” I reply

This will be the last Santa lie.  Until tomorrow morning.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

By Andrea Porter

Andrea is a poet and writer who has been published widely in anthologies and magazines. Her latest book, 'House of the Deaf Man' is a collaboration with the contemporary artist Tom de Freston in response to Goya's Black Paintings. She lives in the flat lands of the Fens, where she is easily spotted.

“You’ll have to be a Bluebell dearie,” commented the nit nurse as she stood on a chair to examine my head for small creatures. The comb, which had been plunged into something ominously grey between each child, was dragged through my hair.

I was uncertain why a flower was brought into the proceedings. Years later I learnt that the ‘Bluebell girls’ were a troupe of dancers. Even if I had known this then I am sure I would have felt her career advice random.

 I always had to dance with Kevin the tallest and fattest boy in the school. In asking that eternal question, ‘Who ate all the pies?’ the answer in our school would have been Kevin as his dad ran the local bakery. Kevin and I galumphed together through strip the willow and other dances whose names seemed to convey peasants frolicking on the village green. Dancing was not my favourite pastime. Kevin trampled my feet, I trampled his and gazed down upon the greasy helmet of his hair, he had taken to using his dad’s Brylcreem from an early age.

I was a gift to the netball team, although I always had be a goal keeper, it required no sporting prowess whatsoever to stand in front of a diminutive shooter and block their view of the hoop. I had to carry my birth certificate to tournaments as puce faced teachers from other school often insisted I couldn’t possibly be eleven. The long suffering head teacher would tell me to show them my credentials. Only one teacher ever suggested that this may be a younger sister’s certificate but then she allegedly once made her wing attack play on with an open fracture of her right arm.

Looming was not allowed outside of the netball court. I learnt the choreography required of me by twelve years old. Adults, particularly small adults, did not like me to loom. I stood at least three paces back to reduce the crick in their neck. I avoided fights in the playground, edging away from anything that might become physical as just my presence was taken to be a sign of some level of culpability. I should know better, I should show more responsibility, I should grow up because I was growing up and up and up.

My Northern mother in a feisty reaction to the soft southerners that surrounded us, introduced me to the time honoured trick of shifting the focus onto others for our own short comings or in my case long comings.

‘Remember the lot of them aren’t far enough out of the ground to be healthy’.

This was my mantra into the teenage years, I was the committed disciple to her religion of ‘it’s them not us’.

The disco at Newmarket, crammed with jockey and slight stable lads was to be my ultimate test of belief.  It was there I scoped the room, a lighthouse amidst a boiling sea of sweaty humanity and lost faith.

None of this is true

by Malachi McIntosh:

Malachi was born in Birmingham, England but raised in the United States. He writes fiction, and other things, and lives in Cambridge.

Someone told you, later, that at that age you swarmed with other kids like a scavenging animal, taking outside air as inheritance, territory, you, then, and them as young vandals or bandits, claiming, it’s been said, stair steps, swing slats, seesaws, skirt hems, insect’s legs, sunlight, heartstrings, sour sweets and armfuls of others’ attention like wild things and at your will. Because someone told you this you know the names of your co-conspirators – old names relocated – young boys christened with the identities of dead men. And yet, although they’ve told you everything, you don’t know, because no one can ever explain it, what it felt like then to be an animal just hatched, fresh, close enough to newborn and inhaling Earth like some wet colt past stumbling past afterbirth and bolting at hills. And so, thus, when you see this old picture – or ‘he’ sees it, perhaps – because you aren’t ‘you’ when you look at this photograph – you get a sense instead of someone else – through the eyes of the fresh life of this other self – staring at you, staring back – this ‘he’ that others say that you had been. And in him you catch no glimpse of a subject or perspective, the living presence of an ‘I’ anywhere in his face; you see instead, and feel, an open if not abject submission to the sight of the seeing, a way of being that you – or the ‘he’ that you are when you watch him – feels as the possession of someone else. Because if there has ever been a single thing to fetter your several selves into a single chain extending across different spaces, expectations, losses and gains, it’s been this: not submission. At least that’s what you think.