1 November 2012

Dead Rats Tails

I crash through my front door porch - umbrella first, and kick my sodden shoes into the shoe basket by the front door in a manner to suggest I've had quite enough of Tuesdays. My fringe is stuck to my forehead, creating a little channel for the rain to run down my nose and plop on the floorboards in my hall. I sigh, and as usual try to avoid stepping on the cat as I make my way down the hall and into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

"I know, I know. I'm coming." I say to her as she mews and widens her beady eyes.

I happen to look up before I open the kitchen door.
How funny, the glass is black.

I stop dead in my tracks, my hand clutching the doorknob.
The glass is black? 
I look closer. The glass isn't black.

I see the flash of iridescent wings and hear the whirring, fizzling hum hover over and around me, darting in and out and settling into a continuous speed. I'm not mistaken; there are hundreds of big black bluebottle flies - the kind that land on dog shit - crawling on the inside of my kitchen door.


I didn't expect to be dashing up the aisles in Sainsbury’s supermarket looking for poison. I'd wanted a cup of tea and back to back re-runs of Channel 4's Who Do You Think You Are? in my pyjamas.

"Cat food... Light bulbs... shoe polish... bleach... where's the bloody fly spray...?" I mutter to my Mum, pressing the phone into my head with my shoulder as I balance my shopping basket, heavily loaded with J-cloths and an obscene amount of bleach.

"These flies don't just come from nowhere, Lizzie.” Mum says to me, all matter-of-fact. She pauses. "You don't think the old woman who lives upstairs... What's her name-?"

"Myrtle." I say.

"-Myrtle. Well, with that many flies I wouldn't be surprised if Myrtle's dead, darling. It only takes days for a body to start decomposing..."

"Oh my God - she's not dead, Mum!" I yell, horrified. "I'm pretty sure I heard her banging upstairs yesterday." I grit my teeth. I still can’t find the killer fly spray and I am so sure it should be somewhere near the disinfectant and bin bags.

"Well, I'd give her a knock just in case, and if she doesn't answer, I'd ring the police."
"Don't you think ringing the police is a bit dramatic?" I reply, distracted suddenly by a shelf full of Raid fly killer.

Mum pauses and then in a manner to suggest she knows how to win this one, she says; "Hang on - Steve's here!"
As Mum explains the whole palaver in great detail to my very considered Stepfather, I choose the neon yellow and black can of fly spray. It looks the most economically unfriendly substance on the shelf, so I throw it in the basket. Mum finishes her sentence with a resounding; "So, don't you think she should ring the police, Steve...?"

"Okay, I'll knock. But you know it's probably going to be a dead rat." I say, unconvinced. Filled with an sense of dread at what I may be about to find, I hurry to the counter to pay, and with a resounding bang, place my basket on the conveyor belt.


I stand outside her flat in my plimsolls, leggings and black anorak, clothes I'd thrown on in a hurry. I hop from one foot to the other as I wait for her to open the door. The hallway is dark and I look around briefly in case there's a switch I missed somewhere. Overgrown spider plants dangle from the banisters and cast long spindly shadows up the wall, stealing the glow from orange streetlights dotted up our road.

I place my hands up to the mottled glass panes and peer in. I squint to the right and then the left, watching how the grey light from deep within the hall plays in the mottled glass, splaying out beautifully.  The sound of faint canned laughter creeps out from under the door. There's a glimmer of hope she might be watching TV from the sofa, inside, and perhaps just didn't hear my knocking. But as Mum pointed out, the TV could have been on all night.

I decide to knock again, a little louder this time.
"Hello? Hello, Myrtle? I'm Lizzie - I'm from downstairs. I was just wondering -"

- if you're dead? No, don't be silly.

"- if I could ask you something..." I yell louder than before, and rapping three times on the glass window pane.

Nothing moves inside. I imagine her sitting all dead in her chair, gooey, big black flies zipping around the living room, the TV's canned laughter chortling inappropriately. I shiver. I wish there was a bloody light in the hallway.

I remember Mum saying something about the smell. I sniff through the keyhole a couple of times, but don’t smell anything particularly nasty. It's been a good minute. I decide to knock again, even louder.

"Um... HELLO? Are you there, Myrtle?!" I bang again, this time on the wood, so the spider plants jump. 

Silence. Not even a peep.

Oh my God, I'm going to have to actually call the police. 

As I go to get my phone out of my pocket, and debate whether I'm in a big enough emergency to call 999 (probably not), I see the light from behind her door, glint slightly.

I look up. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, and a rush of blood shoot to my head, all in the space of a second.

Very slowly the door opens half an inch - I spy wide eyes peering out from the dark at me and a flash of white on leathery skin. Then I hear the scream. An hollow, gurgling, high-pitched scream sprung in short bursts of sheer terror.

I'm nearly sick with shock. My toes curl in my shoes.  I scream. I scream because I'm petrified - because I think she's dead - because maybe she really is dead - and there's nothing worse than a ghost in a lace nightie.

But she's not dead - and she's still screaming. A small, wrinkly Jamaican lady shrieking in my face, showing holes where her teeth should have been and lassoing a wooden broom around her head. I realise I've put my hands up pathetically to protect myself. I stutter something about being from downstairs. I'm shaking so hard.

As quick as she started, she stops. Takes a wheasing breath, and as casually as she was asking me in for a cup of tea says in a heavy Jamaican accent;

"Aahhh, sorry me darlin'. I thought you was burglars."

22 September 2012


My eyes peep open just a little. The first thing I see is a toilet roll. Never a good sign.
My head feels prickly, like a thousand little men are marching on the top of it. Strands of hair are plastered across my cheek. I'm warm and fuzzy. I sit up awkwardly and gently arch my back, which has gone all stiff. I crick my neck to the left and then back to the right. A terrible habit, but it makes me feel good.

It's all lovely and quiet. Too quiet. I stand up, placing one hand on the door in front of me. There's a door in front of me? 

I then realise where I am and all the pieces suddenly - and terribly - slot together.

I'm in a toilet...?

---- Earlier ----

It's busy, so you have to inch past people to get to the bar. I flash my eyes apologetically in a way I hope looks attractive, but most probably looks manic. The menu is splashed pink and sticky. I hold it at the corners, my eyes squinting at the small typed font. I'm too drunk to focus properly, but on the left at the very top of the page I spy the word 'mojito'. Yes, I think to myself. I fancy one of those.

I'm starving. I'd munched two bags of crisps after work. Always a quick fix. They probably weren't even enough to soak one of the God-knows-how-many pints I've drunk. My belly feels empty apart from the sloshing of flat beer. It gurgles, then growls in agreement.

"Yes please?" The harassed bartender says, leaning forward and looking at me expectantly.
"Mojito please." I say, and because I can't see the food menu, I take a wild guess. "And some chips - we're sitting over there." I point in the general direction of my friends, because I can't quite focus on anyone in particular.
"Right. That'll be eighteen pounds and fifty pence, please." He says quickly.
"What?" I yell, half outraged and half unsure if I heard him right.
He repeats the price. I don't care. I want chips, so I shrug, hand over my debit card and upon request, punch in my pin.

I lean over to my friend and signal expressively to let her know I'm off to touch up my make-up in the ladies. I'm pretty sure I'll need to by now. The pink sticky stuff seems to be all over my hands, although I can't remember how.

Every flat horizontal surface in the ladies is being used to prop up handbags. The sound of clicking heels on tiles, the heady smell of too much perfume being sprayed in no particular direction and crumpled up paper towels welcomes me to the ladies toilet. 

It's far too busy, but I want to wash my face. Placing my handbag between my knees, I quietly congratulate myself on being sober enough not to chuck the new Longchamp on the floor. 
I pile my hair up, and fix it loosely with the hair tie around my head, shoving my jacket sleeves as far up my arms as they'll go. I push the tap hard. It gushes suddenly into the sink, splashing right out again, and soaking me with water. 
Not to worry, I was going to splash my face anyway. 

I glance at the mirror, pulling out my red lipstick, I smear it once across my bottom lip. I know I've drunk too much.  The orange red makes my face appear even paler, but at least it draws attention away from the hazy look in my eyes. My top is still soaked, despite gyrating against the hand dryer for at least five minutes. I give up and make my way back past the kitchens with their bright lights and white uniforms, past the dim, candlelit restaurant, towards the bar where everyone moves as one. I keep my head up and my eyes focused as straight forward as I can.

Our table is full of empty pint glasses, stained water rings and spills. They are all laughing with wide gestures and shouting above the noise. I see their eyes crinkle. It takes me a little under a minute to spy the large white bowl, completely empty except for a few sprinklings of crushed sea salt in the bottom. 
Someone had asked for tomato ketchup. 
They ate my chips. 

I burst out of the bar and into the fresh air. 
"You alright, love?" A gruff voice asks. 
"No, I'm pissed off." I reply, fumbling about in my bag, pulling out a cigarette, but failing to find a lighter. 
Liam stumbles up behind me, and puts his hands on my shoulders.
"What's up with you?" 
I point my unlit cigarette at him, and scowl. I'm trying to tell him about the chips but it's all such a big effort. I just mumble and get cross. Stupid. 

I whip around and storm back inside. The room has become a pit of dark noise. It comes from nowhere in particular, but reverberates inside me like I've stuck my head between two cymbals. Clashing from all sides. I stand in the middle of it and close my eyes for a moment. It feels wonderful. I open them, and I suddenly feel sick. 

The toilets are less busy than earlier. I scuttle through the doors and slip into the empty cubicle at the far end. 
Locking the door behind me, I hang my bag on the silver hook and exhale. 
I'm safe. I can close my eyes in here. 
I put the toilet lid down and sink onto the seat. It's all still spinning so I close my eyes. I rest my head on my lap, just for a moment. It feels lovely. Much better. 

Never mind about the chips. Never mind they ate them all. 
And I just close my eyes for a minute.


We sit side by side in a black cab; a huge sulking space between us. I chew my lower lip. My teeth are probably orange-red but it doesn't matter. 
Liam turns his head to the right and glares at me.

"I didn't mean to fall... " I begin. But his eyebrows merge together with his dark brown eyes and I know I shouldn't speak.

I want to tell him about the chips - how they ate them all,  how he was right - I can't drink pints in rounds, as he's always said.

But I button it. I sink back in the taxi's leather seats (feeling much-better-now-thank-you) and watch the early morning mist flit across the Thames. 

It'll all be clear tomorrow.

10 August 2012

My Olympics

I’m in my own Olympics, dodging tourists on the tube.
Looping in and out, slipping through gaps - waiting for the perfect moment to move.
Just miss the camera lens dangling around their neck as they stand, hands on hips, staring blankly at a map. 

I’m counting the number of logos slapped on cars, on signs, on clothes.
Thousands of volunteers beam and cheer as we line up to see the shows.
I’m stretching high above the crowds to glimpse the dreams of a golden few that sky above the rest of them, waving flags for the world to view.

I’m in my own Olympics, I’m negotiating my pace.
Fast to wake up and then walk part way, I’m planning it all – just in case.
I like this chilled out London – I don’t really mind the change, I just let things flow and smile to myself as the tourists wander the wrong way.

The world will shrink back to normal; as all the dreamers sink back to their daylight achievements.
So I’m holding on tight until the tickertape falls, the seats become empty and they’ve run the last race.
But for now at least, I’m in my own Olympics -
And I'm beating London to the last bit of space. 

1 August 2012


They stand outside the station; their hands shoved in the pockets of faded shorts, covered almost completely by a shiny blue anorak, which is hanging on in the nineties with its bright yellow lapels. We don’t usually see these buxom men, who look like they know places. The skin is weathered from too much waiting outside venues come rain, snow or shine. Those thick, hairy legs look a little out of place next to the pile of commuters streaming past them, all suited and booted with dark black umbrella mushrooms protecting carefully pinned up hair. They can’t even pretend they’re there to spectate, like the Olympic fans who traipse from the tube with their waterproofs tied firmly around their waists, waving brightly coloured flags. You could almost guarantee the tout’s style of hair; a soft white whip piled to the front of their head - a bit like candy floss - or a slicked back sweep that I imagine they've perfected with one fine swoop. You know they're not fans, because they not even smiling. Although the gleaming white trainers are out, as if a poor attempt to connect with the pennies of passers-by.

20 July 2012

Festie girls

Blonde girls in tiny shorts with legs that boast a delightful shade of orange hang around in packs at the festival.
Faux faded tops hang loosely from their spindly frames and plastic flowers loop within their hair. 
Long hair, perfecting a not-brushed-for-a-year matted mess swept perfectly to the left side of their head -
Just so it covers one mascara-glooped eye.
Oversized wellies bag around woolly grey socks, pulled up and over their knees (the only bit of this outfit that their mothers might approve of).
They’re the girls who get on burly shoulders and wave both arms at the crowds; shrieking impulsively to each other;
Pouting proud.
I watch them take to their own centre stage, revelling in sneers of; 'get yer tits out for the lads!’
I wonder how those luminous plastic Ray Bans could be useful when left propped up on their heads?
They’ve been dashed with neon painted streaks by God-knows-who in a make-shift tent.
(Apparently they charge a fiver for one cheek, tops.)
Highly impractical for the first day, wouldn’t you say?
I peer out from under the toggle-tight cagoule I got from a camping shop last week, and mutter darkly;
“I daresay the baby-wipes won’t take it off.”


26 June 2012

Pirlo v. Pints

The table is full of used crisp packets which have been folded into triangles and wedged inside empty pint glasses. The half a dozen men leaning on the table have had nearly three hours ahead of kick off to get to know this carefully selected spot; coats have crept down the backs of the chairs, six different mobile phones are splayed about the table among dirty napkins and salty bowls have long since parted from their fries.
I’ve walked right into their territory. 

They’re wearing the colours of the tribe; red and white. They glance briefly at my bottle green jeans and faded black T-shirt and rather begrudgingly offer up a spare seat, their eyes hardly leaving the large plasma screen fixed to one wall. 

One of them stands up and grunts. 
They all grunt back.
I raise an eyebrow and as I do, he turns to me and mutters; "drink?"
“Ooh… rum and lemonade, please.” I reply politely.
He slides backwards to the bar. 

I sit and stare at the screen, just like the others. My concentration begins to wander and I lose all focus of the picture, transforming it into little blobs of colour. I think it looks almost pretty this way; just blue and white specks bobbing about in a sea of lime green.  I’d like to ask a question, but I hold it in. I fiddle with the straw on my drink which has just been placed in front of me, swirling the bubbles and letting the ice clink around the glass. I get a look, so I stop. 

A white speck suddenly darts away from a mass of blue. The whole room lifts half an inch off their seats and a collective gasp rises from the table. All arms are raised in elated anticipation- but then they pause. 
Eyebrows knitted tightly together, their bums fall down with a thud to their seats and six arms reach instinctively for the consolation of a pint. 

There’s a commotion involving a leg, a face and a yellow card; and it doesn’t look good for the small white specks. 
“Outrageous!” I say, as a blue blob wriggles in pain.
Six mean, squinty looks are thrown my way. There’s a clack, clack, clack from the one behind me chewing his gum. The one opposite me bangs his fist hard on the table and shakes his head. 

A whistle blows, and all heads are in hands. I know it’s got a lot more serious, because someone’s gone to stand in the corner of the pub, his eyes closed, his head propped up on a picture frame. He can’t look. 

It’s these bloody penalties, apparently

I bite my bottom lip. I try very hard not to make a sound. After all, (I tell myself), I’m wearing bottle green, this is their territory, and I just don’t get it.


18 June 2012


As I push the dark oak door, a breeze of snuffed out candles and warm spices brushes past me. It’s a reassuring smell that reminds me of Christmas and I know instantly I’m somewhere safe. I stand in the doorway for a moment to compose myself as the rain drips off my coat, making little puddles on the hard stone floor.  

A vast energy stirs. 

It’s as if my entering has woken a large sleeping beast and I sense the whole church shift and sigh before falling softly back to sleep as the door shuts slowly behind me.
I look up instinctively, into the belly of the beast. My eyes trace the ancient stone beams that scoop and rise into a formidable ribcage. A thousand tiles glitter a deep gold in the shadows of the triforium, their colour reminding me of old kings and pirate’s gold. The rows and rows of polished pews span out ahead, like two great ladders leading to the altar. 
I take a few steps forward and slip apologetically into the pew closest to me, shuffling along until I reach the very end, so I am tucked away safely in the corner. Those dark corners of the church hold statues of saints with the soft glow of tea lights littered at their feet. I stare at the flames, watching them flicker and splutter as each breath transcribes a prayer into the mind of God. 

There’s a bible in front of me, a pen and some slips of white paper. I take a piece of paper, and resting the paper on my knee, I begin to write down words. 
Taking me wholly by surprise, the church is suddenly saturated with a copper-coloured glow. Impulsive sunlight breaks the rain and streams through the tiny stained glass windows at the very top of the four walls. Beaming down beyond the pews, the warmth kisses the tips of the saint’s stony toes, as if He, himself has caught those prayers and laid down glimmering pathways from heaven. 
I take a soft, deep breath and close my eyes. I’m aware of my breathing and how loud it sounds in such a quiet space. 


7 June 2012

The Viewing

The front door has many different keys, all looped together with a bit of ruffled string. The estate agent fumbles around for longer than feels comfortable, prodding each key into the door and muttering about the keyhole being upside down. I start to wonder if it's a sign. The various couples lining up behind her at the front door sigh and shift their weight from foot to foot, sun heating up the back of their necks. I stare blankly at the dandelions poking between the crack under the doorstep and wait for her to let us in. On account of the fact I haven’t eyed up our competition yet, I’m guessing I’m not fussed either way about this one. 

The estate agent is a large woman with jangly gold earrings that clatter rudely as she talks. She’s decided upon a loud flowery summer dress, complete with hessian flip flops that slap the back of her heels, which I take to be a less than obvious hint that she doesn’t like viewing empty properties on a Saturday morning either. As she pushes the front door open, we each have to squeeze (nose to wall) past her enormous bosoms, to escape into the cool, dark hallway of the ground floor flat. The side wall is painted a hospital ward yellow and I immediately feel claustrophobic.  Breaking off from the others, who are nodding in unison as if worshiping those jangly gold earrings, I creep off into the living room.  It doesn't look like mine- it’s very cool. Vintage LPs scatter the coffee table, square clocks with curved edges and bold numerates tick on the mantelpiece, and hundreds of hardback books stake their claim of the bookcase.  The sofa could look comfier, but I imagine it’s because of the two different bottom-sized holes dented in the fabric that it doesn’t look quite right to me. I run my toe along the gap between the polished wooden floor boards. 

It’s a grown-up apartment.

Photos with thick mounts and sharp black frames hang along the hallway. As I walk through, I sneak a peek, not daring to stare too long in case I get caught snooping. The couple are attractive, and a bit older than us. His hand drapes across her shoulders, her nose just tucks under his chin; both look into the camera and grin like idiots. I hover in the doorway to their breezy bedroom, with crisp white bed sheets, and tall Edwardian windows. Gleaming copper pots and pans hang abstract from the kitchen ceiling, fresh herbs in terracotta pots dot the window sill. The place is small, but cosy. The fridge is decorated with gig tickets, restaurant cards and even more of their photographic memories. My heart leaps as I spy a cat flap in the back door for Bess, leading out into a leafy private garden.  Just down the hall I hear Liam discussing storage space and meter readings, and I’m glad one of us remembered to do so. I look over my shoulder, but am not really worried if anyone is watching, because I have a question I felt ready to ask. I gingerly walk up to the kitchen sink and stand on my tiptoes to peer out of the window, brushing aside the pot plants gently. I gaze through the trees, allowing Liam’s voice to carry into a background whisper, until I see Bess rolling in the sun, warming her black furry belly on the patio, knowing I like to dream as I’m doing the washing up.  

24 April 2012

100 Words : Those last few

Chairs askew at empty desks, papers shuffled quickly into piles. 
The clock ticks when the office's quiet. 

There's a hush that stares out long carpeted corridors; footsteps have stopped their hurried pacing. 
Lights still on and burning brightly. Shining as a ghost ship sails on a gloomy night.
Only one or two stay. 

You know, those ones. 

They leave permanent coffee rings marked upon their desks. Blackberries nestled deep inside pinstriped pockets.
Only stepping out once the clock strikes nine, scuttling under the scolding street lights of London.

Forgetting that just above that sooty fog is a sparkling, moonlit sky.