The House Is Ashes – Now What?

Now we’ve burnt down the house – how do we clean this mess up?

 

Malene Thyssen, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Malene

For too long those of us with the privilege to have not needed to struggle for shelter, for food, for enjoyment in in life, have lived in a world where we believed everything was fine. Even as the house started to burn down around us, we were able to convince ourselves that the fire was a blip, a anomaly.

 

Newsflash for those slow on the uptake – this isn’t an anomaly – this is the new normal.

 

We may now be in the cinders of what is left of our house and we need to take a careful and hard look at ourselves as to how the blaze began. Where did this come from? How did it take so viciously? It burned so quickly and from nowhere it seems.

 

Another bulletin – just in – it came from somewhere. It came from the heart of neglect and it was a slow burn which reached the gas cannisters in a moment of opportunity.

 

There have been people left behind for so long, there have been those cast outside for want of the material, for the want of education which elevates, for a culture which has promoted expertise as a further layer of snobbery rather than a resource for all to use and benefit from. The sneering elements of our social groupings have come to the fore as critics or, worse still, as exploiters of this neglect. Meanwhile we, those who have the advantages of security, have expectation of more whilst giving less. As we give less, we struggle to find ways to occupy ourselves, to make ourselves sedated against the outside and its suffering, its horror.

 

Anyone who has worked in the public sector knows this suffering, this horror – in the United Kingdom alone. Teachers, police officers, NHS staff and council workers are amongst those on the front lines and see what neglect truly means. What it means to our children, to our elderly, to our vulnerable. Bearing witness to this causes damage which manifests in different ways, we need to acknowledge this and show support so it becomes a motivation to be better rather than to become a hardened shell of bitterness and complacency. More than this, we need to alleviate their workloads by carrying the burden of making change which raises more people up than just a select few.

 

Personally I will not engage in the political about this, in terms of party political activism, and I will remain on the outside. That is for others to pursue and I wish them well in good intention. My activism will be on the home front and I will fight each little battle my own way.

 

It is going to take more effort though than tossing cans in a food bank collection, reducing our waste and putting money to a collection – these small duties should be the minimum – we have got to make actual connections with people in their lives in a meaningful way and whether they deserve it or not. There is no deserving poor – there are people trying to live their lives with their own choices – poverty is a social state not a moral punishment and without choice there is no freedom.

 

We have made it to higher ground, in our resources and our advantages, we must bring everyone along with us.

 

• I know so many work in so many different ways to do what I am calling out for – please give them a shout out here or Tweet me. Lets bring some good news, like a light in the darkness.

Meditations on Mother

This piece was first published on my original Quiet Radicals blog in 2016.

On my fifth Mother’s day as a mother I’m now in the mid-point of both being and having. It is a happy and fortunate position to be in as I know of there being many women in the world who are both mothers and daughters but with neither child nor mother to mark the day with. My thoughts are with anyone in this circumstance and I hope that if this is you that you celebrate as always being a parent – some things can never be removed – and you are a celebration to be had just as you. I grieve with you and praise you.

 

Maman – by Louise Bourgeois – outside the Guggenheim Bilbao

This year looking for a mother’s day card has been somewhat difficult – the cards in the shops laud the apotheosis of motherhood – “The one who is the very heart of home and family”, “your tender care”, “always there to give a hug” and “the wonderful ways you’ve made life special for the family”. This hasn’t really been my experience of my mother so it seemed false to present these as the ideal mother’s day card.

As I grew up my mother was not as other mothers were back then. Most of the mum’s in my junior school were mothers who worked jobs for pin money and kept house to a pristine level. Their children were the ones with the best clothes, the perfect home-cooked meals and time to have friends over.

Our house was a back to front house in the sense that it was my step-father (who is the only father I have ever known and am grateful for) who had to learn how to cook as my mother, around giving birth to two daughters after me, rose up from being “just” a teenage mother and took on college studies, followed by university studies and Law School, juggling jobs and attempting to ignore health conditions which would render her exhausted and often laid up in bed in the times reserved for family. My mother’s input into my life as a child largely consisted of educational sessions where I would revel in my mother’s attention as she chose to use the time to encourage me into reading, writing and knowledge. I would sit by her with an illustrated book of British history and savour the rare time together. This time became rarer and rarer.

Holiday times would largely be spent with my grandmother, which was an education of its own, as she would encourage imagination with creative activities – making dolls houses out of fruit boxes and dolls out of pegs – alongside long walks in the surrounding bleak countryside, with its scrub land and backdrops of mining landscapes. My grandmother had an uneasy relationship with my mother, her eldest daughter, but her relationship with us was so very close. Even in the trying times – such as when she issued me with my own harmonica and then angrily withdrew it hours later due to the annoying tones I managed to scratch out of it – we would find joy together (most memorably in the times spent around the turntable when Grandma would dig out her favourite 45s and LPs and we would attempt to co-ordinate, as a tangled troupe, the choreography for Little Eva’s Locomotion. I treasure these times because, just three days before my 14th birthday, I lost my beloved Grandma to cancer.

Throughout my teenage years it felt like my mother was largely absent – she would be working until late most weekdays then on weekends she would give her best effort to participate – ambitiously tackling walking routes with us which were far beyond her levels of energy. Summer holidays would mean travelling to the homes of family and friends who lived in interesting places and the family trying our best to enjoy life on a limited budget. This would result in unusual options – such as the warmly remembered trip to the York Crematorium open day – where I learned in truly seasonal summer fashion that bones don’t necessarily disintegrate in the cremation chamber and that the cremains have to be processed through a washing machine-like apparatus to produce the gritty ashes you receive in the brown plastic pot urns.

I digress… When I was around 16 years old my mother left home – she went to live in another town to follow a job during the week – again returning exhausted some weekends, whilst others we would come to visit her. After I left school I began the process of tearing myself out of the family – a necessary process we all have to go through to establish ourselves and I don’t remember being more distant from her than at this time when I was absorbed in myself and my own life with slight returns to the family fold at Christmas time – where I would be met with questions over my life choices, nitpicking over my plans for future advancement and sighs of disappointment when I didn’t push myself far enough.

In this account of the mother-daughter relationship – that seen through my eyes – I neglected to even deign to understand what my mother was going through experiencing and much less wishing for herself or even us. It was only really in becoming a mother that I was really able to start seeing my mother’s life through her eyes.

Now I’ve always hated this idea that somehow parenthood fundamentally elevates you. It’s a journey through doors that not everyone needs to open, which brings the same feelings, highs and lows, as any other creative process. If any other creation involved such concentrated work into each single piece I think the attachment would be equal.  I think however that every lived experience brings you closer to others that have been through the same journey as you and it is in this that I was able to understand my mother.

We both move outside the conventional paradigm of what it is to be a mother. For people of our back ground and our means there has been a very defined path for motherhood in both generations. For my mother the pinnacle of motherhood was probably best embodied by the Lynda Bellingham Bisto adverts. For my generation there has become the weird morphing of what it means to be a woman – we remain equals to our male peers until the point at which we procreate – then all bets are off and it’s the return to the icon of the domestic ideal of perfect house, perfect meals and perfect part time worker, deferring careers until our children are a little older.

My mother was already unconventional by virtue of being a teenage mum. But she has never aimed to be a meals-on-the-table mum or to keep a perfect house, which was fortunate as cooking was not her forte. She held onto her ambitions, pursued them and came to the top of her career which launched her, as one colleague put it, “into the ranks of the great and the good”.

This did not stop her from catching the early morning train, hours after arriving back into the country after trips abroad for work, to arrive in time to meet my daughter seconds after her birth, after I had texted to say I had gone into labour.

After a year of maternity leave, having been reassured at work that: “You’ll feel different after the baby is here”, I retained my need to progress, my feelings of ambition and my desires for my own success, which to me sat neatly by my child’s success and as an embryonic template as to what I would want for my own child. And that template, although I had not thought about it to that point, was very much built around my mother’s own road map to success. My mother’s legacy was that education and effort were the key to success and, perhaps, the key to successfully raising strong women was by providing your child with the basics – the desire to learn and a role model blazing the trail – not pandering to their needs. She has taught me that to be a woman is to strike out on my own path, to work hard and to be focused.  She would not accept second best for herself, much less for me. I will not now accept second best for myself, much less my daughter.

So, to truly reflect my relationship with my mother the card would have to read:

To my Mother on mother’s day – thank you for being strong, for not bending to convention. I’m grateful for you being intelligent, fierce and uncompromising. I see your love in your integrity, your support, which has been ever present through all life’s struggles, and in your expectation that I will do more and be more. I’m proud of you and love you x

On Mother’s Day: An Apology

I just wanted to say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I smiled and stayed silent when you said I make it look easy. I’m sorry I lied and said: “You just get on with it don’t you.” I couldn’t say how I’d sacrificed desperately needed sleep to pump breastmilk, dashed around vacuuming for your arrival and ran to the shop for cake, just to not look like a slug of a mother.

I’m sorry I made it look like I bounced back without a care, I put on my heels and make up to try to seem as much as I did before. I couldn’t tell you I had to do it to determine where they ended and I began, again. I wasn’t sure, but definition seemed to start with reverting to the material that marked me out before, as if unchanged.

I couldn’t find it in myself to tell you how hard it all was, from the pain and trauma of giving birth, the demoralising process of establishing feeding, the completeness of how you must give yourself over, in entirety, to the support of another human being.

I couldn’t tell you about the times the crying seems to go on for so long that, for sheer safety’s sake, you need to just put the baby gently in bed, walk out of the room, close the door and allow yourself to dissolve into tears on the floor. I couldn’t tell you there was no turning back.

I couldn’t because, good god, there are so many who will. They’ll tell you about the hours spent in labour, their horrific delivery, their sleepless nights, their soul destroying nightmare experiences.

I couldn’t, because I couldn’t steal your hopeful anticipation from yourself. I couldn’t because uou deserved the time of feeling that it would be beautiful, that it would be natural, that it would be bliss.

So I am sorry. So, so sorry.

So what should I tell you?

I should tell you it will get better. I should tell you all those moments you hoped for will come, as blissful as you ever dreamed, as long as you become so, so much kinder to yourself. I should tell you I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I’ve forgiven myself.

I must tell you that you should too, let the wonder and exhaustion and time overwhelm you, before it passes by.

Raising hope from Astonishing Kindness

 

The bleakness of the world goes on, as it ever has, and still we are here. Waiting.

 

We can wait for change, hunkered down with supplies, padded against the actions of the outside, but it brings us no further forward. We are not creatures who wait for things to happen, we are part of the world, part of its machinery of moving parts, ever progressing, even if it be to inevitable doom.

 

Kindness is change

Kindness, astonishing or not, is an agent of change. It attaches to people, brings them closer together. It makes bonds between people, in time and to place. It makes neighbours from strangers, associates into friends. Words of gentleness speak across the barriers of language, of culture, of faith and speak to something more fundamental. The need for safety, for understanding, for community.

 

It gives us hope that people might be better, that they can choose to be so. More is possible than simply making sure we are safe, we can make others safe too.

 Sewing and sowing

I hope now, as I watch my children grow and feel the fluttering of new life within my belly, that each stitch of kindness I sew into the fabric of the world, becomes part of a colourful tapestry that I share in with millions.

 

Ready as I am for the worst, I will continue to put effort out into the world. I want to raise hope like a crop, harvesting sheaves of it to share and to re-plant.

 

Grow with me.

 

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

As the end of March draws closer, we watch and wait.

With the silence of the absent waves before a tsunami, we’re holding our breath and watching the shore. It’s easy to be sucked into such a pause. The quiet is deafening, there are no birds. The waiting is hypnotic and fixes you stationary where you stand.

Once the wave breaks though, should we still be standing, there will be much to do. So we have been making ready, encouraging others to higher ground and doing what we can.

Life will continue after the big wave, even as it lays waste to all in its path, and intransigence about what might have been without the water will make it different.

We must fix in our minds what we hope to make the world look like after the wave. We must prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

Can we share some #AstonishingKindness?

The world is so bleak.

 

I’m lucky, I can make ready and prepare. I do what I can to protect hearth and home, to keep my children fed, clothed and housed. But, with what’s ahead promises a lot of suffering for a lot of people, many of them will suffer and are suffering before we will.

 

This week alone we’ve seen ahomeless man set on fire as he slept, extinction-prone sharks turning up in dishes in UK restaurants and a foodbank plundered and frozen food deliberately spoiled by the thieves. That’s just a little sample of the legion of horrors written of in the UK press. Callousness abounds, even if we ignore the likely cliff edge that approaches on March 29, and divisions are widening each day.

 

It’s enough to make you think of turning away from the world, for running away and keeping close only those things we love, for shutting the door to anything else. Preserve what you love, the rest of it can go to the wall.

 

But this world will not heal if we only reach within ourselves, within our smallest possible groupings. We have to reach out beyond this, make our worlds large, our knowledge wide and our generosity a way of life. The world will not stay away and to ignore it is as good as to condone it.

 

I’ve always loved the words of Maya Angelou. Her writing offers comfort, direction and above all an understanding that vulnerability is at the core of humanity, that mistakes are the mother of opportunities to improve. When I came across this excerpt from a poem titled “Continue”, a piece she wrote for her “daughter” and friend Oprah Winfrey, I found a sentiment that is so very needed at this time.

 

My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Maya Angelou

 

Astonishing a mean world with kindness is so very much needed. Again and again until it gets boring, until it becomes commonplace, until kindness is the norm.

 

So, to do my little bit, in the month of love, I’ll be using the hashtag #AstonishingKindness throughout February to do a daily blast of five tweets to bring more beauty, truth and love into the darkness.

 

Tweet 1. Highlighting foodbanks in the UK who have the highest demand in the lead up to Brexit in March and putting aside an item a day that I’ll contribute to MK Foodbank at the end of the month.

 

Tweet 2. Promoting a social enterprise which is doing real good in communities here in the UK.

 

Tweet 3. Identifying community projects in the UK who are bringing people together and making change for those in most need.

 

Tweet 4. Recommendations for brilliant and beautifuls reads – poetry, fiction, essays – anything that brings beauty, truth and love into the world.

 

Tweet 5. A story of real kindness – with a beautiful image to inspire hope for the day.

 

Of course I’ll need suggestions and contributions – most of all I’ll need your support. That’s what’s needed right now – support for each other in taking steps to draw people together, to push forward the idea that the world should be full of kindness, honesty and love, to prove that we can be better.

 

I’ll leave you with more words from Maya Angelou, words spoken as eulogy to Coretta Scott King:

 

“I pledge to you, my sister, I will never cease. I mean to say, I want to see a better world. I mean to say, I want to see some peace somewhere. I mean to say, I want to see some honesty, some fair play. I want to see kindness and justice. This is what I want to see.”

George’s Last Three: A short story

George sat on the bench on the end of the pier, his back to the sea, looking back at the vista of the town as the sun set over it.

The town had changed so much throughout his life, from a thriving seaside oasis in his childhood, a welcome escape from the noise of the city where he had been born. A heaven all of its own. Memories of days spent running from the disaster zone of his mother and father. Running with his brother and sisters to hide between the metal legs of the pier, like a safe apron he could pull on the strings of for protection. Safety his mother had never been able to be, in the face of the rage of Dad. This place had been special then and, even now, with its sense of decay and deprivation, George felt happiness even as he looked across the closed shops and the scattered forms of homeless people on the sea front.

George’s legs were set wide and his meaty paws, with their tattooed digits, rested on his thighs as he started to struggle to breathe and the pain latched around his chest. His first thought was to panic, to fight, but then the pain lifted, like the end of a sudden shower of rain on a summers day. Gone.

It was then that the sallow young man appeared on the bench at his side. George tried not to take umbrage to the fact this youth, with his dark clothes and unlikely colouring, was invading his space when there were at least a half dozen empty benches around them, but it irked him. Little git, he thought. I’ve had enough of these kids on here. He puffed out his breath to signal his annoyance and, in a fit of long redundant muscle memory, cracked his now painless arthritic knuckles into a crunching fist.

George then noticed the tips of the boy’s wings, black and smooth and batlike as they were. While not an educated man, George had always had wit enough to read situations well. It had kept him alive on the streets and seen him well in earning a crust. He put the pieces together: the sudden absence of both sudden and long-borne pain; the appearance, as if by magic; batwings on a person…

You’re not what I expected,” he huffed.

The youth tilted his face to George: “I hardly ever am, this one woman…” His voice tailed off. “This isn’t about what you expect. Or about me. It is about leaving things behind. Making your exit.”

George chuckled: “I always reckoned it’d be the grim reaper. You know, bony face and scythe.” His meaty hand waved over his face before miming a curved blade in the air. The youth smiled sympathetically. “So this is it?” asked George, the weight of his bovine face dropping into a resigned look of sadness.

When you leave the body, you leave it all behind. Every single memory, every single story. We’ve time for just three special moments George,” said the youth.

But it’ll be dark soon,” said George, waving his hand across the view of the town.

You might not have noticed George, but time is stopped. You’re dying, time isn’t a factor any more. We are out of time.”

George’s face crumpled in thought. “Special moments? Just three?”

Just three – think them and we will go back now.”

George’s face uncrumpled and smiled.

He was there in his football strip, the day of his eight birthday, surrounded by his juniors team mates. For the first time ever his father was on the sidelines. There on some sort of a promise from his mother. He could see Dad chatting to Tommy Finnegan’s mother. She was brassy and caught the eye. Even to a boy like him she was noticable. Tight clothes in bright colours. A million miles away from the drudgery of his own mother.

Torn back from the momentary distraction, he heard Tommy shout his name and he turned in time to see the cross, heading it neatly into the goal like a dream. His teammates piled on him in smiles and cheers, as the ref blew his whistle for time. Dad roared from the sidelines: “THAT’S MY BOY!” jumping around and grabbing Tommy’s mum in celebration. Right then George was Terence Sway’s boy and he knew it and it felt like his heart would burst. George didn’t ponder what had come next. How two weeks later Dad and Gloria Finnegan would do a bunk. How he and his siblings would be left with Mother and a whole other world of misery. That was just pain and this wasn’t the time for that.

The youth appeared and the memory shifted. George found himself wearing the skin of his twenty four year old self. He looked at his hands, newly tattooed under his wedding band, pulled his fingers into a painless and functioning fist. He was outside The Bell and he felt glee as it all had started to kick off. The fist to the side of his face was well met as George felt the vigour of his youth mixed with the bravado of drink coursing through his veins. Stunned, but by no means distracted, he span back to the source of the sucker punch, pulsing with pure rage and lamped the bloke straight to the nose, which burst with blood across his face as he fell to the ground. George swung his foot into the man’s side, kicking his ribcage up into a curve, before stamping on the man’s face with his boots. George span round, his own eye cut and bleeding from the earlier blow, dripping down the whiteness of his best shirt. His fists were clenched as he expanded his chest, his face screwed as he roared: “WHO FUCKING WANTS SOME THEN?”

Violent happiness, perhaps the biggest rush of his life. He caught the figure of the youth in the corner of his eye and the world shifted again.

He was sitting in a chair, in his home, the home he’d had with Maggie, before he had spoiled it all. It was dark but he would recognise that place, that moment, even with his eyes closed. The warm weight on his chest, the tiny curve of his sleeping infant son, just settled after what seemed like hours of crying. George couldn’t even remember why he’d gotten up instead of Maggie. It wasn’t the norm – maybe she’d been sick or something – he’d normally sleep through any noises because that was women’s work. But on this occasion he remembered sinking into that chair, very conscious of how small George junior had been and he had felt a quiet joy which was so pure, so burning hot in its purity, that it tore through every defence and awareness of mortality. He cried because he felt at once so much love for this child and so much fear that he couldn’t protect him from the world.

George hadn’t meant to feel that, hadn’t meant to return there, and, as he came back to the pier with the Angel of Death, he sobbed without restraint.

Why did you take me back there?” he said as big, bulbous tears fell from his eyes.


“I didn’t, you did. That was the moment in which you were most happy.”

George looked skyward as he wept. “I left that morning. I couldn’t do it, I would’ve been an awful dad. I didn’t see him again until he was a teenager. He hated me by then.”

The youth now stood before him and looked at him square in the face, wings spreading around them both.

It’s over now George, let it go.”

As he started to seep from his body, George was hit by the relief of it all. Had he known of the use for the French expression “La Petit Mort” as a euphemism for orgasm, he might have compared it to other moments which were now lost to him. But he was just struck by the sensation of lightness, unencumbered by the weight of his body, the burden of all the feelings accumulated and pushed down through his life and, in those last moments of consciousness, he felt something he had never before remembered feeling: freedom.

Baubles To Advent: How Very Close

I took my cache of goods to the food bank today, a little early before the end of my #BaublesToAdvent2018 campaign, but the food is bought and better there than waiting in my kitchen.

 

As I drove there, after the daily school run, in my battered war-horse of a family car I felt just how close this could be. When I arrived there, in my charity shop-bought coat and battered pumps, I could just as easily be asking for help as bringing an offering. My partner and I cut our cloth carefully to ensure a roof over our head, food in our pantry and that the children have all they need, but for my job we might be closer to needing this service than I would wish to think about.

I remember an old hand at work, discussing an awful tragedy which had come to our notice, saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Faith or not it is mere chance for a lot of us that we have not become too ill to work, injured or some other circumstances which might keep us from our incomes.

With the exception of the super rich, we all walk such a fine tightrope over these things. We must make sure we do what we can to provide for all, while we can, for tomorrow it could be us.

Ruby Inks: A Legacy

There is no finer tribute to the life of someone you have lost than to take their lessons seriously.

Self-preservation and fragility attribute the comments of friends only to kindness, with no merit, and alienate the recipient from the gift that is being given.

As I wrote in Ruby Inks: She Has Her Own Identity That She Will Not Let You See I benefited from the support of a friend, now lost, in writing. We had planned for a joint project, which I was just too scared to immediately pursue. So I will step forwards and onwards with #RubyInks.

At the start of this project I asked you for Just Five Minutes. Five minutes to read through these four, five minute pen pictures and choose the one you wish to be extended. So many of you supported me in the first effort. So may I ask you for just five minutes more?

I’ll put the poll on my pinned Tweet and will ask you to pick your favourite of these four tiny tales. Once the poll is closed I will take the winner and wrangle it into a longer form, to be published for your approval. If you’re not Twitter literate, feel free to vote in the comments below.

1. A Sea-Faring Wreck

He didn’t really want to have this argument, but if that was what it took, he was weighing in.

Look I just don’t care,” he said. “But it is what he wanted.”

The passage of time had given weight to his large frame. Before he had been big and broad, but never heavy. He sat in the chair of the bland solicitors office, his huge volume surpassing the boundaries of its arm rests and the seat sunk into its mechanism as if he were made of lead. He looked down the paperwork of the will in front of him pensively, looking carefully for any sort of deviation that would serve as an out.

His sister sat beside him, tiny, tidy and tightly wound, her stress induced facial tick more evident than ever, She stared at him from behind her narrow, black framed glasses, burning holes into the side of his big head.

But he never even went on a boat,” she said. “Why the heck would he want to be buried at sea.”

He bit his lip, thought to himself “Sheer embuggerance”, then simply reminded her that, to get her share she’d have to be part of this magnificent, impractical, sea-faring wreck of a funeral.

2. Patterns In Sand

Young as he is, he is not what he seems. He sits in the sandbox, at just three years old, sketching with his fingers through the grains. His mother only noticed him intently smoothing the top layer before drawing in the box with his hands whilst sitting on the side. She was entranced by his slow, deliberate movements focused on the ground before him. She didn’t see the patterns he sketched in the sand, the swirling, geometrically-sound mandalas he laid out on the surface of it. Had she, she might have thought him a prodigy and boasted of his endeavours to the world. But each time she came down the yard to collect his tiny frame up and indoors, he would have already smoothed the surface back over again. Instead she feared he was a fool, as he had not uttered a word or a sound in all his life. She feared what that might mean, as it had done for her cousin. The cousin never learned to speak and eked out a living in the pit, assumed an idiot but grown into a huge man, with hands the size of shovels and pony-like strength, without ever saying a word.

3. An Unusual Hour

The clock struck an unusual hour as she waited at the station. The clock display was digital which rendered the accompanying 24 bongs odd – sounding out as the clock switched to 24:01:00. Lucy peered at the display, unsure as to the extent of the effect of the three G&T’s she had consumed on the train or the fact she had chosen not to wear her glasses that night. She reached into the deep pocket of her woollen greatcoat and pulled out her own phone which also showed the time as 24:01. She shook the handset, as if resetting an etch-a-sketch, and looked again. The consistence baffled her and she looked around the concourse, casting about to find someone to verify the odd information being presented to her. There were two other people. The man in a bowler hat with an umbrella, checking a watch on a chain, appeared to be an oddly clean shaven hipster, insistent on period detail. The woman was somewhat more interesting as she peered in the space before her, confused and flicking across at the air, but dressed in clothes the like of which Lucy had never seen before, neat but visually far too light for the conditions even within the vacuum of the concourse. It might have been the oddity of the woman which had distracted Lucy as to the fact the concourse had shifted in appearance. All detail had fallen away and just the grey pencil-like outlines of the structure of the concourse remained. This only became apparent to her as she heard the bowler cry out in shock…

4. The News

It was a cold day when the trouble started. No snow, or rain or fog, just cold. She remembered the draft whispering past her ankles as she brushed her teeth in her nightdress, it carried the sound of deep voices at the opened front door up the stairs to her in the bathroom. She couldn’t hear what they said and she paused to listen, only to have her eardrum pierced by her mother’s shriek. The scream dropped into a lower howl and Leonie’s toothbrush dropped to the floor as she felt the grief hit her like a wave of solid water. She did not know who, what or why but she knew that sound, the sound of a suddenly hollowed human. She crept out onto the landing, which overlooked the wide sitting room on the ground floor, and saw the man in the scuffed bright yellow jacket helping her weeping mother to the sofa. Her mother wilted into the stained leather sofa in a shower of sobs, her body shivering with pain. Leonie hesitantly took herself to the top of the steps, a hand over her mouth, unaware of the toothpaste that sat around her dark lips. She resolved to descend the stairs, aware of the potential threat the uniformed man might pose to her and the other children up the stairs, her brothers whose tiny forms were currently cuddled close together in the cold of their bed. She took the steps one by one, grasping unseeingly at the wooden handrail, whose splintering surface irritated but did not distract from the purpose of reaching and comforting her mother. Even at six years old she had been able to work out the reasons they might be here. Her father was late home, even for him, and her mother had started to chant his name under her breath as the policeman attempted to console her. As she rounded the corner at the bottom of the staircase Leonie saw the policeman was not alone as she identified the much larger man by the door to the kitchen, silent and threatening mass, with his hands tucked inside his stab vest, as he balanced his substantial weight across his two huge boots. For his part the man, a father of children himself, saw the small child with the resolute but terror stricken face, under the neatly braided hair, and softened inside. This translated to his face falling into a sad puppy-like expression, but did not alter his stance. Leonie reacted accordingly, refusing to move her stare away from him until she reached the uncertain haven of her mother, even then still peering at him frequently to ensure he didn’t scale the stairs to her brothers in the bed above.