30 March 2011

The Award, The Mexican and Me

I've been given an award! The versatile blogger award, nonetheless. And whilst I'll admit I have been very versatile in the last couple of weeks working like a nutcase and trying to fit in one hundred things a day, I haven't been such a good blogger because of this, and my posting has been a little too far and few between for my liking. All because you just get those weeks where it all piles on top of you, and you end up being something different to a whole load of people, which stops you from doing what you love, or more importantly, from having the time to be you.

Now, like Jayne from Suburban Soliloquy, I'm no good with following the rules...  But tah-dah! It must have been fate that I was nominated for the award in which you have to show and tell a few things about yourself in a post. So here I am blogging (very good) about me (hurrah!). Two birds with one stone? I think so.

But first, you absolutely must (if you haven't done so already) check out Jayne and her blog, Suburban Soliloquy. Jayne is wonderful with words and very good at regular posting (*blush*). Her writing is playful and beautifully artistic - but always real. When Jayne nominated me for this award, I felt very honoured that she'd picked me, and in a similar way to how I feel when someone stops by my blog, reads a post, or takes their time to comment on something I have written, I was rather grateful. I'd like to say thank you to Jayne - but also to all of you who stop by my blog for a read.

I have so many blogs I could recommend, but I'd never get onto the 'me' bit of this post if I listed them all. For now, four bloggers come to mind. They all write blogs in a way I can always relate to, and their posts have encouraged me to write from the heart, just as they do. As the rules sort of went out the window in the way both Jayne and myself accepted this award, I'll leave these bloggers to accept this award if and as they wish.

Phillip at the domesticated bohemian

Otherworldlyone at Calling People Names

Starlight at Crazy Thoughts

Sharon at Resistant But Persistent

I've been procrastinating. But mainly because I've found it hard to think about just what to say about me...  I've been quite shy in this blog, and haven't put up any pictures of me, or too many personal details. In fact, I think the only photograph I've included in my blog is of my Gran. And a nice one it is too. 

Before I started writing, way back in September last year... I painted. Not walls, but pictures. I wouldn't say I was good enough to call myself an artist, but I loved creating all things bright and beautiful on a blank canvas. I never really liked painting what I saw, but threw everything into what I could imagine, and just waited to see what it would turn out like. I put all of this down to the fact that my Dad made me do Politics instead of Art at A-Level. And since trying desperately to justify 'The Special Relationship' between Britain and America in a draughty exam hall sometime in February 2004, I rebelled, and I threw everything I had into being creative.

So I think I'll say the bit about me, through a few photographs I've taken.
I might live in London, but I'm a country girl at heart.
And a Hertfordshire girl in particular.

Bess. Named after my Great-Grandmother, Bessie.
My lucky black cat.

I collect crystal balls. Nope, not to see into the future.
Because they are beautiful.
This one was a present from my Mum for my sixteenth birthday - and my favourite.

Yes. I crochet small animals - occasionally.
It's Cheryl the Snail.

And finally...

It's my lover. And me.
He's the Mexican and I'm the Cowgirl.
In our first year university halls, where we first met and fell in love.
And nope, he doesn't have one that big in real life.

17 March 2011

Last Friday

I remember last Friday, I'd woken up to the sun streaming through my windows. I usually wake up at around 6:35am, but because I'd washed my hair the night before, I allowed myself that extra fifteen minutes in bed, which had made all the difference. As I stretched myself out in the double bed, I thought it felt a little too roomy, it was definitely time for Liam to come back home. He'd been away for the week with work, and his flight arrived in Heathrow just after lunch, so I'd taken a half day off work so I could meet him.
I lay there looking about the room, thinking of my half day prospects, and what I might choose to do with them. It was so quiet and beautifully bright, and since I'd left the window slightly open, a cool breeze drifted through the room. My stirring had woken the cat, who prrped and jumped onto the bed, padding about the duvet, before finally resting herself on my stomach, purring loudly.
I was in such a good mood. I hoofed the cat off the bed, and pulled the curtains right back, and began to get ready for work.
I never thought to put the television or the radio on. I'm usually having to be quiet, feeling my way through my wash bag to find my moisturier in the dark of our room, or only half blow-drying my hair in the living-room so as not to wake Liam who leaves for work a little later than me. I also didn't get the chance to pick up the newspaper on the tube, all because I'd been so leisurely in walking to Southfields tube, enjoying this rare bright March morning. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, in fact, London felt less dirty, and more chirpy this morning in general.

Walking out of Green Park station, I turned right, following the swarm of people streaming down and turning off various side roads, as usual everyone was absorbed in getting to work as fast as possible; their minds seemed absent from their bodies, which dived in and out of the crowd, dancing sidesteps around different kinds of obstacles.

Man with briefcase stuck out too far.
Luminously-clad newspaper guy.
Woman with buggy - much too slow.
Girl absorbed with texting.
Delivery man unloading barrels of beer.
Older lady tottering in too-high-shoes.
Oops. Crate of wine.
Pause to let him through.
Quick steps to catch up.
Cross the road - timed perfectly to miss that bike.

It was like a choreographed dance routine they performed for themselves each day. But Friday I felt different. And to prove I was different, I walked slowly. I looked up to the sky, and admired the blue. It struck me that I rarely looked higher than a few paving stones in front of me. As I looked up, I could see I was interrupting their dancing. I was the obstacle. And I quite liked it. Being the one who was different felt good. And because I behaved differently, I noticed the things I wouldn't usually see. I reached the corner of my road - the one I always turn right into - and I stopped.

Green Park had caught my eye. It was the trees in the park - just a little way off - and how the sunlight shone through all the tiny little leaves, which blew together in the breeze and all merged into a glittery green mass. The trunks of the trees looked silvery, and I thought the way they bent and twisted looked just beautiful. Call me a hippy, but I felt like running over to hug one.
I stood still for longer than a moment, wishing I lived closer to the woods, the sea, green country fields and fresh air. Sometimes you just get zapped into the concrete world of London for too long, and it takes just a different head space to remind you of what you are missing.
I pulled myself away from the view, and turned off right, my view: the familiar high buildings with hundreds of glass windows lining the roads that lead to my office.

I started up my computer as usual, sipped my cup of tea and flicked automatically to BBC world news website. I had avoided media, quite by accident all morning, but it was suddenly loud and clear in front of me: an earthquake had hit off shore Japan.
I stared at the screen not quite believing it. Devastating evidence of a grand scale natural disaster filled page after page across the internet. As I replayed the videos of the tsunami hitting the coast, I saw pictures of fathers searching for their wives and family homes. Homes made of sturdy bricks and wood which had vanished completely in only a couple of hours - consumed easily by the waters. I felt so far away from the moment only ten minutes before, when I'd stood admiring the beauty of a green, leafy park on a sunny day, and my quiet moment felt quite fickle, somehow. Nature continued to prove to us it is well beyond our control, and the world continues to remind us we live here amongst all things; no more important - and no less. I imagined I was feeling just like so many people all around the world at that very moment, and for the second time that morning, I fell quiet.

10 March 2011

Alleged drug use and fist fights

I was out the other night with Liam, enjoying a quiet meal in a new restaurant I'd found last minute. Work had been extra tough on us in recent weeks, so we'd grabbed the opportunity for some 'quality time' together and snuck ourselves in the corner of the restaurant with a bottle of 'bring your own' white - nothing special, just the one on offer in Tesco. My phone beeped just as we'd tucked into our dim sum starter. Liam looked at me, almost daring me to spoil our time together by choosing to stare at my phone more than him.

"Are you Tweeting again?" He eye-balled me with suspicion.

"No!" I hissed, glancing down at the screen quickly.

I was tempted to check Twitter, but it was a text that popped up on my screen to save me from the sin. It was from my littlest sister, Kate, who incidentally, isn't so little. At thirteen-and-a-half, she is bigger and taller than I am.

It read:

Yano your GCSEs, wat ones did you do? Cos I'm picking mine at the moment. xxx

It took me about ten minutes to realise 'yano' meant 'you know' in thirteen-year-old text speak (honestly, she's worse than my Gran). But, I thought how sweet she was asking my opinion, and I set into writing her a text back, comprised of correctly spelt words describing why not to take History, but Graphic Design or Drama instead.
Liam was looking huffy, so I quickly finished the text with:

- I can call you tomorrow evening for a chat about them, if you like - or will that be too late? x

She replied a few seconds later.

No, you can if you want. :) xxx  

The following afternoon, as my train pulled into Southfields and the doors slid open, I stepped onto the platform and took a few deep breaths, trying to exhale out the stresses I'd picked up in central London that day, before I took the usual ten minute walk home. I needed to clear my mind. Whether it was drinking half that bottle of wine from last night, or just because it was a hectic Thursday, I don't know, but the day had been a very long one. I thought i'd stop off at the Wine Rack to pick up another bottle to go with tonight’s meal, (or rather, for a sneaky glass when I got in) - well, it was on the way home...

The shop assistant appeared from nowhere as I stood in the middle of the shop looking at all the hundreds of wines on offer, mentally willing one to fall off the shelves (at the right price), into my hands.

"Hello! Good Afternoon! Can I help you?!" His voice was high, as if he singing the words to me.
Way too chirpy.

"Yes. I need cheap, dry and white please." I mumbled, my eyes still scanning the shelves.

"How about this new Pinot Grigio? It's on promotional offer at the moment." He held out a plastic cup half full of the suggested wine, which I quickly took.

I sipped and said, "If you've got a chilled one, I'll take a bottle."

I looked to the half a plastic cup of free wine still in my hand, and as an afterthought, I added, "Hell, can I drink the rest of this?"

Chirpy looked at me as if I had no class or self-respect, and reluctantly nodded.

"It's been a bad day." I said as if to justify, but there was no need, because the woman to the right of me looked sympathetic and promptly asked for her own cups-worth.

I paid for the bottle, and hurried down the road a little further to the greengrocers. It was already 6:30pm. Kate had finished school around 4:00pm, so I guessed she'd have already eaten her tea by now. I whipped my phone out and dialled her mobile number. Picking up a basket with my right hand, I shifted the plastic bag carrying my wine from my right arm over to the left, and tucked the phone under my chin as I fumbled over choosing the best potatoes, waiting for her to pick up.

She picked up quickly.

"Lizzie, I can’t talk." She whispered, talking through her teeth.

"Kate...? Is that you? Can you speak up? There are cars outside..."

"I've been suspended."  She hissed, louder.

I wasn't sure I'd heard right. 

"...What?" I put the basket down so I could hold the phone properly.

"I've been suspended... from school." She said. Then added, "For breaking some girl’s nose."

"You broke someone’s nose..?"

The man to my right stopped inspecting the vine tomatoes he had been turning over one by one and peered suspiciously at me.

"Yeah. But she gave me a black eye first." Her voice was defiant and a little louder than before.
I instinctively turned into her bossy big sister.

"Oh, and that makes it alright to break her nose, does it?"

I did pause and wonder for a moment if I could have broken someone's nose if they'd have hit me in the face. Now? - Perhaps. Then? - Definitely not. At thirteen, I wouldn't have had the balls.
Ignoring my question, her voice retuned to a whisper as she said quickly,

"Look, can’t talk right now. Mum took my phone away and she'll kill me if she knows I got it back again. Speak tomorrow or somethin'?"

"Ok, Kate. Seriously though, what were you thinking..." I drifted off, not really expecting an answer, as I dropped two red onions into the basket on the floor.

"Oh, and please don't tell Mum..." She added, with a hint of desperation, cutting me off shortly after remembering to add, "Love you!"

And then the line went dead.

The few people in the shop, delighted by the unexpected drama in the greengrocers, suddenly became engrossed in the kind of fruit they were buying, as I shuffled past them towards the counter to pay.

The geek within me could not believe Kate had got suspended from school. I'd never even got a detention or been asked to stay behind at school. In fact the worst telling off I'd got was in Year Three, where I'd leant on the painting table after being told not to - twice - and Mrs Nicholson had shouted at me. I'd nearly wet my knickers at the time, I was so upset. I just wasn't brave enough to bend the rules, and I don't think it had ever really crossed my mind to do so. I used to wear too much mascara, and often had my skirt too short, but I hadn't smoked around the back of the swimming pool, taken drugs in the changing rooms, hit anyone I didn’t like, swore at a teacher or stole anything. Boy, my Mum had it lucky first time around.

Aged thirteen, my arms were so skinny, if I had tried to punch anyone, they might have snapped. I was, in short, a weed. My little sister, on the other hand, is not one to be messed with. She plays football for the local under-fourteen's girl’s team as their number one striker, and she is built stronger and sturdier than I ever will be. With two older sisters over twenty one, that girl knows a thing or two, and uses the whole lot to her advantage. In short, she's thirteen, going on thirty.
Because of this, I was slightly more worried about how my Mum was taking the news, rather than Kate.

As I got back to my flat, I dumped the shopping bags on the coffee table and fed the cat, who wrapped herself tightly around my legs before taking one look at the open door and darting for freedom. Our phone is seriously ‘vintage’ and attached to the wall so you sort of have to sit cross legged on the rug and shift every five minutes so you don't get a numb bum when on it. I shuffled about to find a good spot for a few seconds before dialling the familiar number that is Mum's home.

"Hello?" Mum's breathless voice, sounding a little tired and quieter than usual echoed from the receiver.
"Mum. It's me." I said quietly.
"Oh, hi."

And then I let her tell me the story right from the beginning. How she'd got called at work. Asked to come to the school right away. Sat in the Headmaster’s office with a red-faced, black-eyed, Kate. Then took her home in the car. She told me how she'd listened to Kate tell her story all the way home.  How the other girl had hit Kate first. (She'd been sneaky - rallied some older girls to threaten Kate. They'd all teased her - saying she wasn't brave enough to fight back after socking her one in the eye.) 'It probably wasn't all her fault really, it seems she was just defending herself...'  Mum had thought. I listened to how she was so disappointed. And I let her remind me more than once, how, 'under no circumstances was I to tell Granny'.

After I'd put the phone back on the hook, I pottered into the kitchen to pour myself a much needed glass of wine. What a day.
Although I hadn't time to sip it before my mobile rang. I thought it might be Mum again, or even worse, Gran. I couldn't deal with having to lie to my Gran about Kate and was hardly in the mood for another long conversation, so the person on the other end of the phone got landed with the brunt of my exasperation.


"Oh, hi, darling, how was your day?"

It was Liam. About the only person in the world who knows exactly how I'm feeling from the tone of my voice, and he'd already cottoned on to the fact my day probably hadn't been good.
As usual, I just blurted it all out. Right from the leaky sewage pipes at work to my sister getting suspended, to my worries about how Mum was feeling.

"Is your Mum really upset?" He asked.
"Yes." I said, slightly surprised that he chose to answer my dramatic piece with an obvious question. "She's wondering what she could have possibly done wrong..." 

"Oh." There was a pause for a moment, as he took the time to think before he spoke.

That's where we differ enormously, me and Liam. He thinks; I just speak. I was impatient and was ready to declare this conversation over, to be finished and resumed only once I'd had a glass of wine and he'd got home from work. But he carried on.

"Well, suspension really isn't that bad. I mean, you do get over the initial shock of it all." He paused again. "I mean, well, I did."

I was suddenly all ears.

"Excuse me? You got suspended...?"

In the five years we'd been together, not once had Liam mentioned he'd been suspended from school. He was always smug about the fact he was in the top sets for all subjects, getting good grades for his GCSEs and A-Levels, and even boasted about being a school prefect, just like I was. Since we’d achieved the same 2:1 grade in our degrees, I imagined that we were painfully sad, like two little geeky, academic lovers.

"Um, yes, I was." He almost skimmed over the words, before hastily adding, "I don't think we should tell Kate, but if it would help your Mum to know..."

But before he could finish, I cut him short.

"Are you serious?! What did they suspended you for?!" I was expecting a reason like, 'swearing at a teacher', or 'skipping class'. I waited just long enough for my straight-laced boyfriend to say (and, may I add, ever-so seriously),

"Alleged drug use."

I couldn't contain myself any longer. I hung up the phone shrieking with laughter and instantly dialled Mum’s number.

Bless him, I thought. This will cheer her up.

2 March 2011

Spirit Saturday

The Saturday before last, I behaved like many people suppose a twenty-five year old should. I spent two hours getting ready; painting my nails a metallic grey, choosing some wet-look leggings, picked a black vest top, ironed my luminous yellow cardigan and lined up my black patent shoes (with a luminous yellow heel, nonetheless) by the back door. It was Liam's birthday night out, and we were heading for Brixton. We popped open the champagne I'd been given from work for Christmas, and I thought about changing my outfit about three times before he finally dragged me out the door, the bottle left empty on the coffee table amongst the entire contents of my make-up bag. I started with a pint of lager, thinking 'beer before wine is fine - wine after beer is queer...' and all that. I was hoping the champagne didn't count.
Well, it did. And so I ended up at 3am in MacDonald's in Brixton, threatened to be kicked out by the security guard, for possession of a bottle of wine (which wasn't even mine). Really.

This Saturday night just gone, I didn't behave remotely how people suppose a twenty-five year old might. I pulled on my thick woolly socks and my comfy brown leather boots. I turned off the heating in my flat, and switched all the lights off (except one, which I left on for the cat), and locked the door behind me. It was really blowy outside, and colder than I'd expected, so I buttoned my coat up and walked quicker to keep warm. Two buses, and one missed bus later, I reached the brick alley way which turned right off the main road. The first time I'd come, I hadn't noticed the painted sign above the alleyway, which read Spiritualist Church in faded italic lettering. I looked at my phone, and realised I was half an hour early. Well, I suppose it made up for the last time. I'd got lost, and frustrated with walking up and down the road counting door numbers without my glasses on, I was ready at this point to turn around and come home. By the time I'd realised my destination was through the painted arched blue door down the alley, I was ten minutes late and spend another five hovered at the entrance, unsure whether I was just that little too late to walk in and sit down.
This time, I thought, I was so early, they may not even be open yet. But I took hold of the large hooped metal door handle, pushed, and the door creaked open slowly.

"Hello?" I called out.

"Yes, 'ello. Come in." Came the voice from inside.

I'd walked into a make-shift porch, which was really a part of the room sectioned off with a heavy navy curtain.
Blimey, who'd said that?
But I'd never heard a spirit talk in a Jamaican accent before, so I thought I would be safe to pull aside the curtain. A little old lady, in her coat, hat, scarf and a blanket on her knees was sitting in the far corner of the room, doing a crossword from the paper.

"Come in, lovey - take a seat." She said, lifting her newspaper my way in a gesture of acknowledgement.

I smiled and nodded, making my way past the rows of plastic chairs (the kind you see in doctor's waiting rooms), choosing one with a pink cushion, and sitting down.
Being early, it gave me good time to take in my surroundings. It was a large room, with windows set up high all around the four walls. I took my coat off, and immediately wished I hadn't - it was obviously hard to heat a room this size. It had high ceilings which made the room look bigger, which was lucky, since much of the floor was occupied with furniture of some kind, spread higglety-piggelty all around the room. A coffee table which looked like it hadn't been moved since the 1960's, a mahogany bookcase with different coloured leaflets scattered among it's shelves and a beautiful Victorian arm chair next to a fairly modern desk - which would have looked at home more in an office.
In the centre of the room, to which all the chairs faced, was a platform. Now, I guess that's where the Medium will stand to demonstrate. It was cluttered, but cared for, bursting with baskets of flowers, and bowls of fruit. It took me a few minutes, even with my glasses on, to realise that they weren't actually real. In fact, looking around the room, I suddenly noticed many more vases of artificial flowers - irises, lilies, poppies, carnations - and even though they weren't real, I felt someone had thought about them, the sentiment was there.
As the clock on the wall made it's way to a quarter past the hour, more people walked in from behind the navy blue curtain. There was a room to the left, which I'd decided was probably the kitchen. As if to prove me right, I suddenly heard the clink of glasses and a lady strode through the door carrying a tray of small glass tumblers and a jug of water, placing it carefully on the table which was to the front of the platform.

You'll always spot the Medium in a Spiritualist Church. They're the one dressed up in a suit, or in similar smart attire, looking unlike anyone else in the room. I was told once it was so they looked presentable; dressed suitably for public speaking. 'Gives a professional image', my teacher had said. And there he was, his expensive looking suit contrasting spectacularly to the room he was demonstrating in.
If you've never been to see a demonstration of mediumship, or indeed, a Spiritualist church, I could completely understand you feeling the way I first felt, sat nervously at nineteen, right at the back of the room about to see my first demonstration of mediumship and wondering what on earth I might be about to witness.
I remember thinking at the time:

So, this bloke thinks he can talk to dead people.
And he thinks he can prove it.
Oh, come on...
Why is he wearing a suit?
Actually, please don't make me see any actually dead people...
Well, at least I'm sat near the door - just in case I need to run. 

But I didn't need to run. There were no spinning heads, apparitions or ectoplasm floating through the air towards me from the platform where the medium that night stood. I wanted him to be a fake. I would have left, satisfied, with my inquisitive mind put to rest that it was all a load of rubbish. But he seemed just like a normal bloke standing on a sort-of stage in front of a group of strangers. He had no crystal balls or tricks of the light as far as I could see. It was as if invisible information was being streamed into his ear, and out through his mouth.
He described events in great detail, spoke of memorable dates and brought to life images of people who he claimed had passed away. The descriptions he used weren't the ones you'd expect, there was less of the; "Hm. I've got an old lady with grey hair, here. She liked cooking..." And more of the real-life random specifics you might expect if you'd spoken to each different member of the audience in depth, and found out about their personal family history. Such as; "The car accident in Australia involving that red truck." Or perhaps, "There's a gold pocket watch of your grandfather's, kept in the top right-hand draw of that dark, wooden desk."
He chose people in the audience to talk to, and promptly made them nod, gasp, then whisper to their neighbour about the finer details - and a lot of the time they would cry. It seemed as if everything he said, really meant something to those people. But to me, it seemed ever so subjective. So my mind remained still just that little bit wondering, but quite rightly, skeptical.
After about half an hour of sitting on those plastic chairs in Clapham, my bum had started to go numb. I was chilly, so placed my coat over my lap and tucked my hands between my knees. My mind started wandering. The Medium was spending quite a while on each message, and, I'd noted, was rather good at reeling off the names of the apparent deceased. All very well, I thought, but who doesn't know a James, Shirley, Mary or William? I wasn't hugely convinced. I had started focusing on the way his eyes darted about, and the way he expressed himself with his hands - the things you notice, when you're drifting. When I heard him speak somewhere distantly from the back of my mind:

"She was the kind of woman who'd never give up, she was really determined, and even though she was sick, she didn't want anyone to think she was weak..."

I looked up. He was talking openly, and to no one in particular. He carried on.

"She would have had problems with walking. I see her using a stick, then feel later on she would have used a wheelchair. But where her body deteriorated, her mind was very sharp - right up until the end - which would have made her feel very frustrated..."

By now, I was listening carefully. The description resonated with me. Grandma was just like that before she passed.

"Can anyone understand this description?" He asked out.

Where I had begun to slouch in the chair, I shuffled up a bit so I could see him properly. I looked behind me and all around the room before finally accepting that no one else could take what he was saying, then I very slowly raised my hand. His eyes flicked in my direction and he smiled, but his poise remained still. Focused, it seemed, upon the invisible information being streamed into his ear.

"I'm getting the impression..."

He paused.
His hand went to his throat, and he clutched it, as though in pain for a moment.

"...That this woman couldn't swallow - or she couldn't speak. There was a problem with her throat."

I nearly fell off my chair completely.

"Yes - both. She couldn't swallow or speak towards the end." I whispered, my voice unusually quiet.

I didn't tell him, or anyone else just how accurate this invisible information he had received, was. You see my Grandma died of Motor-Neurone disease at seventy one. A disease which left her with an increased loss of mobility in her limbs, stopped her speech, and left her unable to swallow or really breathe. She was a sharp woman, who was proactive in life and to describe her as determined hardly hits it... but it seemed that this man might just have. It was subjective information, that was for sure. No other person in the room other than myself could understand what he'd said. The description fit my Grandma perfectly. But could what he'd said be a coincidence or a lucky guess? I would be left wondering as usual. But deep down, instinctively, I believed it to be true.

The demonstration came to a close and teas and coffees were offered, and I was finally relieved of those uncomfortable plastic chairs, which had started to dig into my back, only to be placed upon a wobbly wooden one in the kitchen.
The chatter got louder in the little tiled kitchen which contrasted from the one voice that had spoken aloud all evening. Strangers huddled around the table helping themselves to bourbon biscuits from a Christmas tin, beginning to get to know each other better. I knew I'd have to leave soon. It was a friendly atmosphere and I could well have stayed for another mug of coffee, but it was already 9:30pm and the prospect of taking two buses home on a Saturday evening loomed over me. I just knew I'd end up sharing a seat with a rowdy drunk on a boozy night out in Clapham, if I didn't leave now. The Medium was propped up in the corner, in his suit, sipping his tea. I walked over to the sink and tipped the dregs of my coffee away then rinsed the mug in the bowl of soapy water. I took one of the faded flowery tea towels which hung on three tiny hooks, dried off the mug and placed it on the full-to-the-brim draining board, hoping I hadn't overstepped the mark by washing up my own mug in someone else's kitchen.

There were plenty of you-must-come-again's and lovely-to-meet-you's and I assured them I'd had a lovely time, and thanked the quiet lady in the corner for my coffee. As I pushed the heavy wooden front door hard, and stepped out into the dark cobbled alleyway, I could still hear the babble coming from the kitchen, but much fainter now, and the light shone onto the cobbles from the mottled glass windows of the church, making me feel safer as I made my way back to the main road.
I stood by the bus stop and carefully rolled up a cigarette before lighting it, all the time keeping one eye on the red lights on the screen to see how long the 219 bus to Clapham Junction would be.

No, it definitely wasn't a normal Saturday night out. But I wouldn't say I was a completely normal twenty-five year old, either.