A Matter of Days

By Jasmin

Jasmin is a Psychology teacher who is rediscovering her love of good stories. Her inspiration for the following piece comes from a recent family photo.

Sofya Levchenko, available from  Unsplash

Sofya Levchenko, available from Unsplash

She’s right in the centre, beaming in her electric wheelchair which she drives with just as much skill as she used to her car. She prides herself particularly on her reversing skills so when she needs to manoeuvre out of the lounge ‘to the little girls’ room’ and she unexpectedly crashes into the armchair behind her, then the door, then the handrail in the corridor, no one feels bad about laughing with her. This is a party after all and we all take every opportunity to show what a good time they’re having.

While she is gone, my Dad, tired from the thirteen-hour drive from Germany the day before, stretches his legs and picks up the bottle of Prosecco from the beautifully decorated coffee table.

“Anyone for another drop?”

“Go on then.”

I smile and chuckle convincingly as he pours literally one drop into my glass. “Ha ha, very funny, Dad.” Predictable as ever. Restless, he picks up his camera and plays with the settings. I take a sip of my drink and focus on the tickling of the bubbles at the back of my throat.

A sense of relief comes over us as my Grandmother finally returns, the quiet hum of her electric wheelchair approaching somehow soothing. 

“Not been having too much fun without me, have you?” Enthusiastic laughter. 

“Let’s take a photo.” my Dad suggests. “We don’t often get all the family together like this!” 

We arrange ourselves around her, taking care to set up the scene well. My Dad darts out to enlist the help of one of the nursing staff. Usually more than happy behind the camera, this is one picture he feels he should be in.

You know how people say you can tell a fake smile from an authentic one? You can’t. This photo is surely evidence of that. Every single one of us smiling with our eyes as much as with our mouths. We’ve practiced. The hints towards the real reason for the gathering, the party, the photo, well concealed. The lumpy bulge of the damp handkerchief barely noticeable in my father’s trouser pocket, the heavier make-up on my face working well to reduce the redness of my nose and cheeks. All trying our best to give my Grandmother the happiest last memories. A matter of days, the doctor had said. A matter of days.


This is based on something I experienced last year. My Grandmother emailed us all with the news that the doctor had given her just a few days left to live. My parents came rushing over from where they live in Germany and we decided to have a sort of farewell party, except we didn’t want to call it that so we used my parents’ upcoming wedding anniversary as an excuse for a get-together. The whole day was odd, one big lie really! No one was really admitting why we were all there although we all knew and I found taking the photo particularly strange.

Quite miraculously, my Grandmother is still with us (the doctor was wrong…) but it is nevertheless a very emotional memory for me.

We Are Being Scammed - Part 2

by Miranda

Twenty months after that first letter from the Finders our family has all been found, a family scattered and fragmented in a tree that stretches horizontally over ten pages.  We are strewn across the Antipodes, North America and Europe, and amongst our number is a policewoman, an engineer, a farmer, a homeless free thinker and a conspiracy theorist.  Many of us believe we're being scammed.

Eileen, the probate genealogist tell us, has nine living first cousins, and seven dead ones.  Then in the next layer down - my layer - there are thirty-one living beneficiaries, two dead, and four ‘adopted out’ (a term used by the courts which means exactly what it seems). 

We beneficiaries who were, gratefully, not given up for adoption, receive a solicitor’s letter, which outlines how much our bequest might be.  At best I was expecting a muffin’s worth.  So when the news comes in I nearly fall off my chair.  It’s a holiday-of-a-life-time, a second hand BMW.  It’s why the ‘We’re being scammed’ mails have a note of hysteria.  There’s far, far too many of us for holidays and cars, AND there’s the solicitors fee, the finder’s fee, and a whopping 40% of tax.  Someone isn’t telling the truth.  Is anyone suggesting that Eileen mined gold?

The solicitors ask us to present a passport, a utility bill and a bank statement before funds can be released. It is this request that increases the unease.  Clearly we will have our identities stolen, and our bank accounts robbed.  But the itinerant free thinker, of no fixed address, is not listening.  First through the solicitor’s door, with nothing to lose, he presents himself for inspection.

It’s the ‘scruffiest London lawyer’s office’ he has ever seen he tells us: ‘mouldy, damp, items of clothing everywhere.’  And when he goes to relieve himself, he informs us that the whole ‘crew’ were just sitting round a table back stage eating fish and chips.   

There is panic.  The call goes out that someone needs to go in.  The itinerant cannot be trusted.  Clothes on the floor.  Fish and chips.  

I get on a train.  The conspiracy theorist imagines that since there are two locations for the solicitors online, the second address must be the scam. So I head directly to the first.  On Tooley Street it’s expensive.  Shard-proximity expensive, and directly opposite the office entrance is a huge suit shop, mannequined with an army of pricey solicitor uniforms. 

Inside, on the ground floor, there’s a security man at a desk.  I am given a badge.  Then told to go up to the second floor.

Everyone in the lift with me is suited, paunched, complaining, and getting off at floor two as well.  There I find the same logo as used on the letterhead, and behind an extremely posh reception desk, an under thirty receptionist, chosen for her presentation skills and her handling of flowers.  There is a large vase.  She looks baffled when I ask whether she is away with the faeries, and whether the letter I have received (I brandish it) is really, really from her firm.  

'Yes,' she shoos me back towards the lift, 'the office you need,’ she stabs the letter with a manicured finger, ‘is further south, on the Walworth Road.’

In the lift, on the way down, I ask the gentleman trapped alongside me what work it is that these solicitors do.  He lists words that I don’t understand: mergers, acquisitions, debentures, conveyancing, probate.  Clearly I must look bored, because he pauses, speculating on what it is that I might need:  'And of course we do marriage mediation too.'  

Two stops further down the Northern line, at Elephant & Castle, I find gentrification has not yet got the better of Walworth Road.  The sub-office looks like it was once a Jobseeker’s stall.  There is a stingy, narrow counter, and glassed off access to a receptionist, who I peer at through the smudgy window.  Screen open on a database the receptionist is stapled to a desk surrounded by mountains of cheap cardboard wallets in the kinds of colours you’d never want to give to a wall, a dress, or a shoe.

The woman is nested amongst the chaos, degrees older than her Tooley Street colleague, whose only irritation was me and the flowers.  When the glass screen opens there is a desk, a cheap table for overflow and more filing in piles across the floor.  When I announce that the family believes that she and her firm are a scam, the woman flumps into her cheap chair. 

She's sick of the sight of the Eileen Freeman paperwork, she tells me, and levers a blue folder from the overflow table, where it is balanced atop a bulging pile of three.  On the flap is written the deceased’s name in felt tip, the word ‘probate’ and a case code.  She shows me the wide, wide family tree and a list of people she has sent letters to, ticks and highlighter slashes marking the margin with a code.  

‘A relation on Eileen’s mother’s side,’ she tells me, ‘organised the funeral and informed us that she had died.  The pity of it is that his own brother was lost in the waiting.  Now it’s only himself left alive.’

While on her father’s side there is me, and a diabolical thirty-nine moaners.

I ask her if I can have his address to thank him. 

‘Did he know Eileen well?’

‘Not so much. They’d not seen one another in those last years. It’s what happens I suppose as the time drifts by.’

This is no scam.

Against the conspiracy theorist’s clear instructions I offer up my bank details.  I am informed that perhaps it would be cheaper if the office sends me a cheque.  

‘It's forty-two pounds for a bank transfer, and that could eat things up,’ she replaces the folder back on its pile. ‘Tell your relations to send in their identities.  Poor Eileen should be at rest,’ she gestures at the gaping blue files.  ‘It’s time we put her away.’ 

 

EileenFreeman_Adult.png

Back on the Northern line I think about the forty-two pounds for a bank transfer and it eating things up.  Perhaps, I wonder, it’s the beneficiary letter that’s the problem.  It has a typo.  A too-many-zeros type typo.  The sort of thing that happens amongst cardboard, discarded clothes and smudged glass.  Shall I warn everyone?  No, I tell myself.  I’ll just order them to post in their identities.  Because not one of them will risk being scammed for a muffin sized legacy.  Then poor Eileen would remain on that cluttered desk forever.

We Are Being Scammed - Part 1

by Miranda

We’re being scammed one cousin screams down an email from far, far away.  We are being scammed. 

It has been over two years since Finders, the international probate genealogist firm wrote.  They make money from hunting families for those who die isolated, and alone.  Intestate.  My protestant Scottish relations have too much money & too much anxiety about keeping a hold of it, that there is not a chance they would do something so daft.  But on the other side, for the Catholic Doyles life’s only preoccupation is survival.  As Eileen grew nearer death, her confidence thin, she perhaps believed that she had nothing to leave.  She was worthless.  Literally. 

But Eileen was not.  She was actually worth a great deal.

Not that we know that when the introductory letter from the genealogist comes in.  It writes that Eileen is a once removed cousin and I am the first of our ragged, unwieldly bunch to be found. I am delighted.  The letter lists only one of my brothers.  I wonder whether I should tell the firm about the other two.  Do they count? 

I consult a cousin and am told I need to be fair.  Guileless and gullible as a toddler I shower the genealogist with news of the eleven aunts and uncles that Eileen had, her possible seventeen cousins, and most importantly, because the seventeen are dying off like roses in August, I give them a full list of the next in line – me and a ghastly further forty-six.

The bleating about scams is understandable.  We are a family who have been scammed before, lied to by our parents, who have been lied to by theirs.  It’s bound to make us wary. 

It is months before anyone asks about poor Eileen.  About her life.

Here she is as a girl, standing beside Granny, my grinning Dad out to the far left.  Eileen wears the kind of dress that can terrorize a wearer.  Those white ankle socks too.  Those shoes.  All of them can get dirty, and not through any fault of our own.  This is not a family good at keeping the linen clean. 

EileenFreeman.png

It is one of the few photographs of Eileen that remain.  House clearance has undoubtedly done for everything else.  The rubble of her existence filched and trashed.   But before all that disaster we find her at a family wedding with her hands clasped.  There is still so much story ahead of her, and as she peeks over the edge of her bashfulness to camera, no-one can know how the rest of this narrative will go. 

Yet the family around her know just how things for Eileen have already gone. 

In 1939 her cousin Richard pitched up one afternoon at Glasgow Central.  He had travelled by charabanc, boat and train from Ireland, desperate.  He was thirteen.  His clear instructions were to save his little brothers and sisters from the children’s home and for that he had to find work.  The getting by, the surviving had begun. 

Eileen’s father, John, was a drinker, the kind of drinker that burned a temper.  Self employed, he worked from home, repairing vacuum cleaners, picking broken ones up at auctions, and selling them on.  Richard arrived just before New Year, and for a treat Uncle John took him to Celtic Park.  The boy remembers standing in mud, the snow falling down, miserable.  Not only was Britain at war, but Celtic lost, a loss drowned long and hard in the pub.  By the first week of January the boy had fallen sick. 

When the doctor called, he diagnosed Diphtheria.  In Glasgow diphtheria had broken out, with a mortality rate of over twenty per hundred thousand.  Lancet articles talk in terms of an epidemic.  Within a few days his Aunt fell to the infection too, so sick with it that she spent two months in hospital.  Then four year old Eileen succumbed.  The only person to escape the plague was baby John.  Richard still remembers that when Eileen came out of hospital her leg was in plaster, a deformity that would never be cured.  Then she started to lose her sight.  Richard paused in the telling: 

‘I still think about it you know.  Still think that it was me who brought that diphtheria into the house.’

Did Eileen limp I ask.  Those who met her and knew her once the family moved to London, can’t be sure.  What they can be sure of though is that when it came to Jesus she was devout.  They are also sure that she waited.  Waited till her mother’s death, before she felt able to marry herself.  Here she is, aged twenty-one, with her mother in Princes Street Gardens before the waiting was begun.

EileenFreeman_withmother.png

It would be another fifteen years before that wait was over.  Paddy waited too. Was it simply that Eileen’s mother did not like him.  God for sure did not like either of them.  Because within months of marriage, while at work inspecting a trench, it collapsed. Paddy was buried alive. 

Alone again, back in her mother’s house with her little brother, the childless Eileen mourned. Though she prayed each day, confessed freely to the priest, and took communion as regularly as she could, there was still more tragedy to come.  Baby John in his fifties, the one lucky enough to avoid Richard’s diphtheria, committed suicide three days before Christmas, leaving the now blinded Eileen all alone.  Together they had lived twenty five winters in the house where he died.  Where their mother died. A home that was cleared and sold, food for solicitors, for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, for Finders, and for us. 

‘The only scam is how these buggers hoover everything up,’ another cousin tells me.  ‘The worst of it is that each one of those scam-accusing-phone-calls the family makes,’ and he’s right, there have been a few, ‘earns them more.’

The Chicken and the Sofa

By Vix Ford

Vix thinks about writing a lot but rarely puts pencil to paper.  Her mannequin blog is available to read here.

I was born out of a lie. My mother stood at the altar,  looking across at my father, bloodied bits of toilet paper stuck to his shaving cuts, with the knowledge that for his nuptials his own mother had shaved his face that morning, and she ignored her rising disquiet. Indeed I come from a family built on lies and truths, like most of us. The lies seem quiet, discovered in dark corners where few people look. They rarely get mentioned in anything but hushed tones. The truths are much more brazen. They are spat and spluttered, quickly and sharp, like knives. They hurt more somehow.

There are lies that are big, there are lies that are painful but the lie that stands out for me, from my own upbringing at least, is not terrible, not life-ending, not based on years of deceit. It was the time I was suspicious of the meat on my plate. I questioned my Mum. ‘It’s just chicken’ she told me ‘Eat it up’. I did. It was tender, tasty and my plate was left clean. I don’t remember how the lie was discovered but it was-the truth was out. It was not chicken. It was rabbit-the same soft, warm, sniffing rabbit I had petted a week previous when visiting my Mums friends who were rabbit breeders. I was heartbroken. My choice had been taken away.

Being truthful in a calm and clear way became more important to me when my own motherhood began. I became acutely aware of the everyday lies we tell our young, to extend their already vivid and colourful imaginations, to smooth over the harsh cracks of life, to get them to eat their peas. None of it sat well with me and I decided to lie as little as possible. I never mentioned Father Christmas. I never said Granny’s pony had gone to fly in the sky on a long holiday (although Granny did). I never told them that greens would put hairs on their chest.

However, in the end I did lie to my children. For all of their lives we had sat, snoozed, laughed, cried and had photographs taken on a giant red L-shaped sofa. It was huge. Great for making castles out of, it cut the open-plan room in half, and was subjected to much jumping, accidental baby wees, spilt teas and crumbs. It provided a comfortable place for years of breastfeeding, reading and cuddles, and it was very much loved by us all. When the father of my children and I finally went our separate ways I found myself desperate to create my own new look, my own way, my own style. I began to hate the sofa for reminding me constantly of that which was now broken. I wanted to get rid of it. But it seemed cruel for them to lose their beloved sofa on top of their Dad moving out, so I lied. I told them it was flea-ridden (we had a flea-troubled cat at the time). They cried. They made me save the corner piece. They asked me to make them capes out of the covers. They drew all over the back in marker pen and we all posed, intentionally, like a pretend happy family before it got carried away to the dump.

I have always known that when my children find this lie out, they will struggle with it. I have been conscious of it every now and again, particularly when they moan about my new sofas. It has been 7 years now but they still miss it. Tonight I have told them. One of them cried and the other questioned what else was not true.

 

No-one will find me out

By Miranda

My family are not readers. Inherited wealth often leads to a good deal of inbreeding, or as my husband puts it ‘lack of hybrid vigour’.  Horse & Hound is about the best that they can manage. They will never realise, I tell myself, that I’ve written about them at all.  

That was before I’d wound up on Radio 4 and the broadsheet newspapers.  Then news travels fast.  Especially when it’s bad.

But gratefully there are others in the audience when Auntie C- turns up.  Her hair is a tepid yellow, set like concrete, and her mouth curling down as it always did.  Not the sad face of upside down happiness, but the lip edges dragged disagreeably, permanently south. 

She’s in her tweedy uniform though the sun is shining outside, and she’s driven a whole hour and a half to get here, to this small and beautiful bookshop, hidden down a side street in Stockbridge.  It is clear she is on a mission.  My stomach twists over what that mission could possibly be.  To bully I am guessing, because she has bullied me before.

C- married the legitimate member of the family.  He inherited everything.  I’m not sure then why she is here to bark.  I have not even mentioned her in the Untruths, though I could have.  But it was a lie that I felt too worried to include.  One where she is shouting at Mum's graveside and we’re all having to pretend that she is not. 

So now we have to drag through a ghastly repeat at this sweet, sweet bookshop, Golden Hare, in Edinburgh.  Less a shout than a barbed heckle, which is never loud enough to eject or to yell down. 

Proof that I am not lying, I tell myself.  Look, my family really are bonkers, diabolical. I have not exaggerated them at all. 

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?’

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.

The safest place to do your drinking is at home

In the burns unit the doctor was this big Scot.  I’d scalded my feet.  And no, it wasn’t the drink. Making myself a cup of tea was what did it.  A cup of bloody tea.  Anyway, once they got me in to the hospital it took a long wee while to cut my slippers off.

And like I was saying there was this big fierce Scot and when he came on his rounds, he didn’t call us by our names, but by our bits.  The bits that were burned.  So I was FEET.  The woman in the bed next up was HIP.  She’d fallen out of bed and landed against the heater.  There was an ELBOW.  Don’t know how she did that.  And an EAR. 

I never heard what the big fellow called the next patient that arrived.  They rolled her in just as I was shuffling out.  She'd tipped hot tea between her legs.

A story from my aunt.

Little love

by Mary Moore

How many years have I dreamt of this moment? Not a day has passed when I haven’t thought of you, my darling child, MY wee child. Not a single day. Your letter, still unopened, arrived last week. I have not yet summoned up the courage to read it. I confess, I am a coward. I never told my husband and my other children. Yes, you have a brother and a sister, younger of course, twins.  All those years, you have been my cherished secret.

My sleep is still haunted by my longing for you. My arms ached to hold you and my body hurt with yearning for you after they took you from me.  Every detail of our few treasured moments together is as clear to me now as it was 37 years ago. It was Father Connelly who told me it was all for the best, that this way your soul would be saved, even if mine was lost.   I was not much more than a child myself. I am not making excuses. I am sorry for not being stronger.   

Astoreen was the name I gave you and I sealed it away in my heart, oh Little Love. Now I sit here with your letter in my trembling hands. I look again at the envelope, containing your words, how precious it is. I have examined your handwriting over the last few days, searching for clues to you - a neat hand, ink pen – educated, meticulous perhaps? I savour it, inhaling the smell of the paper. It occurs to me your hands and mine have held this letter. I am almost touching you. My finger traces my maiden name, Anne Fitzpatrick. Truly, I expect nothing from you, yet, I am terrified your words will reject me.  

A Little Lie

by Rachael Cornwell

Rachael is a crime fiction writer and is currently writing a novel based on a mysterious disappearance of a well known public figure with shocking revelations.

      Me and my little brother wedge ourselves in between our grandparents on the sofa in their living room and get ready to watch EastEnders. The sofa is a two piece but instead of spreading out amongst the two sofas, we all squash onto one. Me and my brother love when our grandparents look after us because we get ice cream and get to stay up far later than when at home. Our parents are out for a ‘posh meal’ as Mum calls it with Dads’ work friends.
      ‘Anyone for ice cream?’ Granddad heads to the freezer and emerges with three tubs full.
      ‘I think we can squeeze some in can’t we kids?’
       We both agree with Grandma so he continues to dish out a bit of each flavour and hands us our bowls.  Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
      Granddad pours himself and Grandma a glass of wine each and we all wedge back onto the sofa. The adverts seem to last forever. An advert for Disney World which makes me desperate to go back. One for Centre Parcs with grinning families swimming or bike riding. Then an advert for poor, helpless children in Africa, desperate for clean water, food and clothes. I get a funny feeling in my chest and the ice cream is not so appealing. We all sit staring sadly at the television. My grandparents stop sipping their wine and our spoons lie limp in our bowls.
     ‘How sad’, Liam’s’ bottom lip quivers slightly. ‘Do these children really live like this Granddad?’
     He shoots a worried look at Grandma and she cuts in:
     ‘No darling, not always this bad. I’m sure they have a home with loving parents just like you two’.
     Granddad nods approvingly and we go back to our ice cream in time for EastEnders.

Not a Tea Party

by Tom Beakes

Tom lives and works in Cambridge having arrived here 2 years ago via five different continents where he mainly taught little people how to speak English. Consequently he can say 'teacher, i don't understand',  'it's not fair', and 'that looks like a poo' in over 5 different languages but frustratingly, little else.  He's a competitive sibling and gets very angry at computers.

We sit amid the clothes and crumbs that cover our bedroom floor. All delight and delicious giggles. It’s a secret, whisper it: we’re going to have a party.  Everyone’s invited. Grey Bear, Rupert and Blue-Eyes. Lamby and Battle-Cat. Everyone except the Lego men.

‘There’s too many. We can’t invite them all.’ says my brother. He’s the senior partner; born ten minutes ahead of me and he knows it. This means he gets the final say in matters of importance, and there are few things more important to small boys than their Lego.

‘But if we have the party without them they’ll get all sad.’

‘We’ll make sure they don’t see’ he says and the Lego men go out of the window. They make a satisfying noise as they land in the gravel. We place the toys in a rough circle. It’s not as easy as it seems; many of the invitees require some propping up. Optimus Prime only has one leg; the victim of a brief yet vicious custody battle between his fickle masters.

Guests arranged, we take stock.

One thing is clear – this is not a tea party. We don’t have any plastic tea-sets or pink spatulas. We’re not girls.  But we are creative thinkers so we improvise. The window sill in the hall is raided, on tip-toes and with some difficulty, for its plant pots. Soil is tipped out onto the floor, after all no-one – not even Smelly the Badger - likes compost in their tea. Drinking receptacles found we ponder the next problem.

‘They can’t reach the cups.’ I observe.

‘We need straws!’ says my brother and his gaze lands on one of our many picture books. Its pages are smudged with dirty fingers, corners frayed from ‘one more’ bedtime story. The hard back cover is peeling and it is apparent to the world that this book is precious and that it has been loved. My brother rips out the first page and holds it aloft.

‘Aha!’ He rolls the torn leaf into what will have to pass for a straw. More books are defiled until every toy has both cup and means to drink out of it. We sit amongst the crumpled pages and broken toys and feel the satisfaction of accomplishment.
The reverie is broken when the door is wrenched open.

‘Mum, look! We’re having a party!’ I offer her a dirt encrusted plant pot.

We see the look on her face and a primordial survival instinct kicks in. We bolt.
I make it outside and hide in the garage but Dad comes out and chases me round the garden until I am caught. He shouts and I turn red and stare at my sandals and I’m told I have to lie. The same lie I’ve told before and will tell countless times again.

‘I’m sorry’ I say, even though I’m not.