Sneeze (aka Sabbatical)

Dear Lucy,

The other day, after a particularly violent sneeze, I came crashing to the ground in a big pile of nuts, bolts, coils, and all manner of metal workings.

The sneeze was loud, yes, but it had been drowned out by the heavy thud of all my parts bouncing and clanking against each other as they fell. Toppling and rolling outwards, the tiny parts spinning and rattling to stillness long after the bigger parts had stopped dead on the clean, white, shiny surface below me.

I don’t know why I came apart, seemingly so easily, but I can say it felt good. I wondered if this was death but realised my wondering was evidence that I was still alive, in some way.

And so I lay there, scattered, all tension gone, all the pressure of staying in one piece – holding it all together, gone.

Tiny metal things are notorious for bouncing and rolling away to unfathomable distances and places where they cannot be found, but I knew all the parts were still with me, still in tact, safe, even though I couldn’t see them all. 

I noticed that a collection of wires and cords had organised themselves into a neat row, not minding which way round they lay. Without something to connect to, they no longer had ends or beginnings.

All the other parts followed, organising themselves into groups. All coils, all washers, all shaped metals, all springs, all bolts, all valves etc. They lined themselves up into neat rows or in circular swirls. Normally separated by utility, together they indulged in the joy of being themselves, the joy of being still and purposeless. No need to do anything or get anything right. The breath I was still breathing got deeper, slower, and almost stopped. 

For a while, there was just space

silence 

air

calm. 

I wanted to stay there. For as long as possible, forever even. But I knew if I stayed, my parts would be picked up and used elsewhere. What if I became some everyday object like a lawn mower, or a wrench. If I were part of an aeroplane wing, I’d have to share my new form with others. At least something simple like a hole punch would be all me, but what would happen to all the parts of me that weren’t needed?

I realised I could stay in bits, on the floor, waiting for someone or something else to choose my fate. Or I could choose to re-form, and so I did. Choose.

At first, the choice alone wasn’t enough and all my parts stayed put, quite happy where they were thank you very much. The tension and the will I needed to pull myself back together had gone in the collapse. It felt good to let it go, yes, but now I needed it back. 

They say anxiety is excitement without the breathing. I think it’s true for all feelings; anger, tension, happiness, sadness, hope, love, they’re all made of the same stuff. Each one just has its own special footprint of air going in and air coming out.

I was still breathing so I started taking really really long, deep breaths, searching for what I needed to get this show back on the road. Soon something caught right at the deepest point of my breath, like a crochet needle picking up a dropped thread. There it was, the will, the drive. Not needing to be asked twice, it got to work.

And so I began coming back to the woman I was. I could feel all the parts stacking one after the other from the ground up in a symphony of taps, clicks and occasional clunks. Once the last item was in place I paused. What now? As if to directly answer my question I sneezed again and with a snap, I was once again in my body, my human form.

I jiggled around inside myself to see how strong I felt and to see if I could hear the sound of metal on metal. I felt strong and heard no clunking, so I jumped up and down for a bit, enjoying my fluid body once again and then did a forward roll for luck.

As I sat on the floor – post forward roll – I noticed some bits had stayed behind. Too dented, rusty and misshapen to fit back into place. Once you undo something it can never be put back together exactly the same. It’s good to have them gone, they were old and no longer fit for purpose, painful even, but I wonder what will happen to the parts that had re-shaped themselves against them. Will they still work without the old bits there to fit around? 

I picked them off the floor, one by one, and put them in my pocket, with the tissues.

Microwave Masterchef

Dear Lucy,

The other day I was preparing my dinner – a ready meal of Thai Green Curry – and guess who was there in my kitchen, judging my every move? Yes! John and Greg from MasterChef. I felt nervous under their critical gaze, but think I did myself proud. 

Greg was impressed – for the first and last time – with my fork stabbing motion when piercing the packaging. I managed to make several nicely spread fork marks without tearing into the lid so that it was beyond repair.

John – already on my side because Thai is his favourite – was charmed by my liberal use of chilli flakes, added in at just the right moment. ‘Just the right moment’ of course, is just after half way through the cooking time when you’re instructed to lift the lid, stir and continue microwaving. Not flicking water everywhere from the flapping lid scores me extra points.

I add in a couple of extra minutes (well, more like 10 minutes) cooking time to make sure to get rid of some of the excess water from the sauce, completely removing the plastic film lid and replacing it with a sheet of kitchen towel. I make a big fuss of this to ensure they see my manoeuvre. A silent nod of approval comes my way from both, but mainly John.

Whilst the final cooking time is underway, I prepare my cutlery and put a slice of kitchen roll, neatly folded under it. Microwave meals don’t mean one has to be unsophisticated. I could also empty the dishwasher during this time, but I simply don’t want to.

I manage to make the transition from microwave to kitchen top without spilling any of the bubbling contents, something I’m always quite proud to achieve. I know that John noticed because he loves a tidy work station and I was sure I saw a twinkle in his eye.

They are disappointed that I did not leave the food for the recommended 2 minutes to stand after bringing it from the microwave. In my defence, I do sometimes leave it to stand, but that’s more dependent on whether or not I’ve heard the ping from wherever I am in the house.

On this occasion (because the dishwasher is full with all the plates), I’ve opted to serve the food straight from the packaging. To be fair to me, it’s rather nice packaging, and in the shape of a nice bowl, not a rectangular pot with rounded corners that goes bendy from the heat. This one has retained the shape and the food looks nice against the black, shiny plastic. Whoever created this ready-meal really thought it through. I wipe around the inside edges for the final touch, and of course, make sure there are no little bits of plastic remaining from the film lid.

Horrified as they were by my choice of vessel, when they come to taste the food, I achieve a lifelong ambition, to make John cry. Sadly, he’s not moved by my presentation, or the aforementioned chilli flakes, instead he’s burned his mouth on the food which is by now, basically nuclear. What can I say; I like my food really, really hot. Greg was overall unimpressed, but I knew he wouldn’t like it cause he’s a git.

Once I’d finished my dinner, I politely asked them to leave. I still don’t know how they got in.

Purple Sock

Dear Lucy,

I can’t find my husband. I’ve looked everywhere you can imagine. As you know, it’s not like me to lose something.

I did find something whilst looking though. A purple sock. It was in a duvet cover, rammed right into the corner. After the initial excitement of finding it, it made me want to cry. Somehow it ruined everything.

I think the lost sock had enjoyed being away. On its own, buried deep down inside the duvet. But the sock it left behind – though surrounded by other socks – had become increasingly anxious about the spaces in between.
I put the found sock in the drawer and I’ve felt sad ever since.

It’s like my husband. When I do find him, I’m afraid it will be too late, we won’t match anymore. One of us will be more faded than the other, our threads compacted and worn in such different ways that, no matter what light we’re in, we’ll always look a little off. So why do I keep looking for him?

I don’t know to be honest. I’m afraid if I don’t that he’ll jump out and scare me for fun, even though he knows I don’t like to be frightened that way. I don’t like to be frightened any way, that’s always been my trouble. That’s what he said once. I was so angry that I roared at him – blood in my eyes, sweat flying from my teeth, shaking so violently that I couldn’t see.

I had wondered afterwards if it was normal to want to kill your husband (in that moment, I had wanted to batter him with his own shoes). It’s normal to want to kill your parents, metaphorically of course. Something to do with separating and becoming your own  person. Is that why I wanted to kill my husband? Maybe I already have and that’s why I can’t find him?

Oh well, at least I know where my purple sock isn’t now, which is everywhere except where it should be.

Scarf vs Shoes

Dear Lucy,


The other day on the tube, I caught a man staring at the scarf wrapped around my neck. So I immediately I started staring back – at his shoes, neatly wrapped around his feet. I soon regretted choosing his shoes as it meant I would have to break my stare to check if he was still staring at my scarf. Of course this would have made him the automatic winner.

If I’d have been more vigilant and caught him quicker, I could have stolen his glance and trapped it mid-air with my stare so he couldn’t have moved his eyes anywhere else. This is black-belt stuff. I doubt I’ll ever make it to this level, though I’ve been in the grip of a caught stolen glance often enough.

There was a chance he didn’t know we were in the game. It’s hard to spot a careless gaze from a professional stare in the first instance. I’d have had to look in his eyes to check though. It takes years to stare into another person’s eyes, find something and leave before they find something in your eyes first. If they find your thing first, you’re screwed. Of course if they’re just a careless gazer, you can easily get even, but if they don’t know the rules, it doesn’t really count.

Anyway, as I was staring at his shoes, I began to wonder if he was actually staring at what was on my scarf. I had just been enthusiastically eating some seeds by the handful, and could be covered in them, which would indeed be something to stare at. I couldn’t show any weakness by moving my hand to the ‘stare area’, so I had to wait it out.

I then noticed in my periphery a woman next to me had started to stare at his shoes too. A two person attack is hard to defend. I tried to let her know I was grateful for the backup by flaring my nostrils and staring a bit harder. I think she understood.
I was staring so hard, I realised I’d stopped breathing and was on the verge of passing out, but at the last minute, I was saved. Just before my stop, a man with two King Charles Spaniels stepped on board and walked through the carriage, breaking all stares and rendering the game officially over. No winners, no losers. The woman and I shared a small smile, knowing we’d done our best.

Afterwards I was mortified and relieved to find that I had indeed left quite a train of seeds on my scarf – relieved because I was still a bit peckish.
I gave the man a sly grin as I scooped them up and popped them into my mouth, stepping triumphantly off the tube – as if eating the seeds he’d been staring at was what I’d intended all along. He didn’t even notice though, and was already stuck into taking on both the dogs. What a pro.

Matthew downgraded

Dear Lucy,

I heard in the news recently that (Hurricane) Matthew had been “downgraded to a Cyclone and went out to sea.”

I remember Matthew when he was just a light breeze. He’d always dreamed of being a Hurricane.

He was called Matthew, not a name he would have chosen. He wanted to be called Thor, or Brick, or Lightning, though he knew that Lightning got annoyed when people used his name. Thunder on the other hand, didn’t care.

Thunder was Matthew’s favourite mentor. He would help him train by making rumbling noises of encouragement whilst Matthew practised knocking over bicycles and boxes. During those days, Matthew had already started to notice his strength, but whilst he was ambitious, he always worried about hurting people, animals, even plants and trees.

He was advised – based on his humanitarian tendencies – that he should settle for being a Blustery Wind, but who cared about a Blustery Wind? They came and went every day, but a Hurricane, now that was making a mark on the world. Literally. So he cast aside his worries about hurting anyone, or at least he thought he had.

He was ecstatic when he finally got the chance to be a Hurricane. When the day came, all his ambition, all his strength was finally unleashed, spinning and bursting out of him at such speed, such raging force, that for a moment, he no longer existed. It had lasted only a few minutes, but it had been thrilling, and now he would be famous.

Of course the inevitable news that he’d killed 12 people devastated him. But he couldn’t have not been a Hurricane; it was what he was meant to be. Or was it the fame that had been irresistible, wanting to see his name in lights? But what about those people whose lights he’d put out? Had they been able to become what they had always wanted to be? Had he ended them before they even found out what that was? He would never be able to forgive himself. Full of sorrow, he set about letting himself disperse into the sea, gone forever.

Just as he shed his final tear and the darkness began to consume him, Matthew felt himself being swept up by a Light Breeze. Her gentle touch carried him, until he felt strong enough to carry himself again. He could feel her love, diluting his pain, filling the space where the Hurricane had once been. Like an unwrapped gift, she had been waiting to unleash her own purpose, to save him.

They became one in a small rain shower and lived out their days as a Light Breeze that occasionally turned into a Blustery Wind.

Bell Bottom Clive

Dear Lucy,                                                                                                 

A lump comes to my throat when I think of Bell Bottom Clive. A more unfortunate boy, I have never known. He was ginger, the particularly unkind kind. Bright red and wiry, kinking stiffly about his face. Ginger hair is cool now for boys thanks to Harry (Prince) and Sheeran (Ed), but it wasn’t then, in the 80s. It was like having ‘go ahead, destroy me!’ tattooed on your forehead. What a terrible price to pay for something growing involuntarily out of your head.

He also wore bell bottomed school trousers, hanging heavily from his slim waist. They were magnificent, great big bells, the kind you could hide small pets in if you wanted to. But Clive was way too unlucky to have a pet to bring him comfort.

I imagine the bell bottoms were handed down from an older brother who had just emerged from the late 70s – a time when they would have been much admired I’m sure. It’s inconceivable, and unforgivable that his parents brought them for him new, or worse still, made them.

I think of Clive often because I have a hazy memory of standing up once when he was being picked on. The scene is set down an alley way, after school – a perfect storm for the picked on. I’m on my bicycle coming up behind the boys (three) and Bell Bottom Clive (one). They are not on bikes. I said something to them though I can’t remember what, and I think they went away. That’s it, that’s the memory.

It doesn’t sit well, this memory. Partly because I am a shameful chicken, more likely to run or hide from trouble than step into it, even if a fellow ginger is in peril. Also, my memory is generally pretty bad, great big gaps lurk where there should be bundles of colourful swirling snapshots from my past. I muddle memories too. Mashing together fact and fiction and any random timescale that fits. My mind’s eye, like the shifty character in a mafia film, never to be trusted.

Finally, I’m a great fantasiser of gallant acts. Heroic re-runs of what I might have done flood through my brain in the spaces where the memories are not. A masterful and stirring speech here, a cutting quip there, even great acts of kindness and benevolence are possible in my mind’s eye. Unreliable it might be, but it still has aspirations.

Despite all this, I’m somewhat comforted that some memories just have a feeling of truth about them. You just know that some things really did happen, or at least the essence of them. With this particular memory – unlike others – I do hope this is true.