Handbag

Dear Lucy, my handbag is more confident than me.

I didn’t mind at first, letting it put its best foot forward whilst I followed with my less best knee. In situations where I felt less confident – almost daily – my handbag acts as a buffer between me and that experience. Slowly I catch up with my handbag much the way your breath catches up with your skin when you go in the cold sea.

But now it seems to have got a bit too big for my reluctant boots. It barges through queues to the front, me trailing behind, embarrassed, apologetic. It re-arranges itself into the foreground of any situation, “look at me!” it seems to cry. It acts as though we are a fully co-ordinated affair even when I’m in jeans, a jumper and socks that’d don’t match.

It has changed colour and material too, whilst the shape remains. It used to be soft, tanned leather, now it has a firm structure and is red and shiny. It’s handsome alright, but not what I would choose. My lap enjoys the new bag more than my shoulder, it’s a pickle.

Perhaps it’s my mother’s genes, the ones that are more socially feral than my mother’s other good qualities. Are they finding a way out despite my best efforts to keep them hidden, pushed down deep with a long arm? Me, no longer in control of what stays in and what comes out. Mother tourettes. Her genes ‘will out’.

So one day I decided to follow my bag’s lead. I dressed in my most confident of clothes and highest of heels and stomped around London feeling entitled and important. I shouted at people instead of apologising when they get in my way. I didn’t worry what anyone else thought.

My handbag was mortified. I was released.

Ex-boyfriend

Dear Lucy, my ex-boyfriend keeps rejecting me in my dreams.

It normally starts with an unspoken reunion though occasionally it’s like a fairy tale. One time he even built me a shopping mall with everything I could ever want so I didn’t have to leave. Normally though it’s quiet and familiar and I just kind of appear in his life like a lost sock.

But always, always, at some point, I am dumped, rejected, removed. All the while, I always have itchy feet and am doubtful with the reunion. I’ve never felt, yes!, this is it, even when he built me the shopping mall.

It doesn’t happen dramatically – our relationship was never that kind. I’ll suddenly notice his latest girlfriend in the background, or she arrives at the flat and he ignores me or even locks me in a room to hide me. Or he just goes out, becomes distant, sees me to the door… Over and over again. Rejection, rejection, rejection.

The feeling puts me in mind of being ‘managed’ by him when we had the ‘we’ve had a separation and we clearly aren’t getting back together’ conversation, where I cried so much the waiters brought extra serviettes long after we’d stopped eating. I swam home that night.

The irony is that I left him. He told his friends we ‘came to an agreement’. What he actually meant was that he said “ok” when I suggested things weren’t working. I wanted him to fight though I knew he could never win. I wanted him to care, and cry and scream and holler but instead, I did that bit too.

Did I do it all? Did I conduct the entire relationship on my own, did I need him at all, even at the end?

I’ve imagined speaking to him to ask what he wants. I’m quite certain he would say “isn’t this your dream? I’m just minding my own business.” The message is clear.

I fear that this is the only relationship I will ever have. One that is long dead but lives on in my dreams, my own Groundhog Day. Bill Murray learned to be a better person to break the Groundhog spell, but I’m already a good person, maybe I need to be bad.

At least I get the whole bed to myself even though I never sleep in all of it. Perhaps tonight I’ll sleep on his side and see if I dream about dumping him.

Paying on a date

Dear Lucy,

I was on a lunch date recently, and the gentleman I was with wanted to pay. Women aren’t supposed to pay on dates, I know, but I’m not like other women.

I don’t know how to not pay, like I don’t know how to play Lacrosse. And men know I can’t play Lacrosse, or cook a good Goulash, or do exotic things wearing exotic underwear. They know, so I pay. That’s how it goes.

But this man wanted to pay.

Of course I wanted him to pay, mainly because I need some new jeans and I’d rather buy those. But what would it mean if I did, let him pay?

Would I have to do something in return? Kiss him? More than kiss him? Would he expect me to move up from lunch to dinner and if so, would he still be paying at dinner or would it be my turn? If that’s how it’s going to be I’m going to end up paying more because dinner always costs more than lunch and I’m not sure I like him that much. I’ve already imagined our first argument, and it didn’t end well.

The other option of course, would have been to insist on splitting the bill because I’m a fierce and independent woman who oozes self-respect. Paying half is what I would normally do after all, but it doesn’t mean I want to.

If I was a Feminist, I’m sure I’d have known what to do in an instant; pay for it all, pay for half, not have gone on the date in the first place because dates just reinforce out of date gender roles? Like Lacrosse, I don’t really understand how Feminism works.

Maybe I was getting ahead of myself. Maybe he only wanted me to say “thank you”? He seemed a nice man, but one thing I do know is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

So in the end I let him pay, but then I climbed out of the toilet window so I didn’t have to deal with the consequences. It was just big enough. I hurt my ankle and grazed my chin on the way down. I didn’t mind though because it means I can go shopping for jeans. Perhaps I’ll wear them on my next date.

See a penny

Dear Lucy,

I do believe I have a legacy, but I’m afraid no-one will know it was me who left it. It’s not necessarily that I want to be remembered, I just don’t want to be forgotten, and this could my ticket.

So here’s what it is. I made up a second part to ‘See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck’. It was a few years ago now, not a happy time in my life. I was walking to work, trying to set my intention for a good day. I saw a penny and decided to leave it for someone else, even though I could have done with some luck. I’d read something about giving to strangers and was keen to put it into action. I must admit it made me feel good to intentionally leave it there for someone else.

Naturally, ‘see a penny, pick it up’ came to my mind and I decided there should be a second part, a part about leaving it there, for someone else. So I spent my journey to work making up part 2.

I had several diverting ways to engage my frazzled brain on my journey to work at that time. Sometimes I would pretend I was in a musical number to accompany a song I might be listening to. I’d imagine all the people around me breaking out into a colourful dance routine, with me at the centre of course. Other times, I’d race the other pedestrians. They didn’t know they were in a race which seemed a bit unfair, but really, it was just me, not being over-taken by anyone. If I made it to Lambeth Bridge, I ‘won’, but if anyone overtook me, it was all over. I only ever won once and it was a genuine thrill. Did I mention this was a dark time for me?

Anyway, on this day, it was making up a rhyme, and here’s what I came up with. ‘Leave it there for someone later, your reward will be much greater’.  My sister thought it so professional sounding that she doubted I’d made it up, but I really did. It took me, funnily enough, until I’d reached Lambeth Bridge to come up with it. Another victory.

I suppose it’s possible I could become famous for the saying. I can see myself now, a full blown z-list celebrity, appearing on panel shows and mid-morning cookery programmes. There would be the inevitable backlash of criticism for my lack of talent and my limited contribution to the literary world. This of course is true, for I have come up with no other rhymes, even though I’ve tried, a number of times.

Like all legacies though, it would eventually become obsolete. One day people won’t even know what pennies are because money, and possibly even the concept of money will be long forgotten. The last penny sitting safely in a virtual museum, hoping some virtual visitors will stop by. Hoping that, it too, will not be forgotten.

One thing I can tell you is that I’ve not come into a great fortune having left pennies all over the place for ‘someone later’, so I say just stick to part one and nab that penny when you see it.

Typewriter

Dear Lucy,

I recently brought a typewriter, a big ugly (but beautiful) electric one from the 80s. I just loved the idea of seeing the mark being made on the paper as I typed – touchable, inky, noisy. I could see myself smacking the paper with letters, words and wonder. Turns out it has a dicky ‘h’ that looks like a slightly spidery capital K. I kind of love it all the more for the flaw.

Beyond testing it to see if it works it now it sits, waiting for a fresh piece of paper to be wound into it, ready to come to life and clack away merrily.

But I just can’t seem to sit down at it.

Maybe I know it’ll be a short lived fad and all my Ebay bidding will have been in vain. I could just type swear words over and over again, getting out all my remaining blocks lodged in my finger tips.

It was more of a gesture really. I suppose I liked the idea of putting my steak in the ground and saying, yes! I’m a writer! Look I have a proper typewriter!

I imagined people would go “oooh’ and ‘aaah look at your lovey, but yet ugly typewriter!”

And I’d go “yeeesss, Isn’t it beautiful.”

And we’ll all start making oooh and aaah and other happy noises together and it will make such beautiful music that the pictures on the wall will come to life and join in.

Then the house itself would bring in a deeper, base sound to harmonise.

And then the sky would be filled with so much beauty that it will start to sing too, a rich and full  symphonic sound, the birds in turn, making beautiful patterns in the sky with their golden wings.

Finally the universe would be so moved by all the beauty that it would break out and join other universes and galaxies and then they’d stop spinning and growing farther apart and instead start coming back together until everything came back to one single point again, still and perfect, surrounded by nothing, but full of everything.

No pressure. Poor typewriter.

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.