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My Song – or something interesting about me

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Years ago when I was still a member of the corporate world, our Surrey based office travelled to a very nice hotel slash conference centre for a team building exercise with our Irish colleagues. I viewed it as a bit of a jolly and it turned out to be just that for the first half an hour. On the first morning we gathered in a light, air conditioned room and we were told to each take a seat randomly around one of the twenty or so carefully arranged tables, laden with posh bottles of water, biscuits and sweets. We were a very merry bunch, chatting and laughing, or to put it in corporate speak, we were ‘building bridges’. Objective achieved. I felt really relaxed until the facilitator jovially told us to introduce ourselves by sharing something interesting, something only a handful of people would know. I gasped silently, my stomach contracted and fluttery nerves filled it. Instinctively I knew this exercise was designed to separate the popular and creative people from the dull and incapable ones. I counted the number of people who had to tell a good story before me. Why, oh why had that stupid man started as far away from me as possible?  The first few people were always able to get away with the less interesting stories on account of the limited time they had had to think of something. Pressure was on. I listened and laughed half-heartedly to stories of alcohol induced accidents and lots of ‘Top that!’ remarks, racking my brain for something good. I do not drink often or very much and I was certainly not going to share anything about my sexual life like the girl two chairs before me. It finally came to me…

… when I was in bed that night. I should have told them about the trip to Brussels!
One summer, when I was still a child, my parents took us there for a day trip. It was a really nice day and my sister and I had been bouncing excitedly for most of the journey on the back seat of our old Mazda. Apart from visiting an uncle in Germany once, we had never been abroad.  The car radio had been on playing pop songs to which little sis and I had been singing along as well as we could. When we entered Brussels however, the radio was turned off. Maybe because my sister and I were getting overexcited, shrieking and laughing loudly. My parents might also have gotten fed up with our constant asking ‘are we there yet?’ But, probably, the music had to be switched off because traffic was busy, very busy, and my parents were looking around impatiently for a parking space. To my child’s eye the streets seemed utter chaos. Cars were moving in different directions, appearing out of small roads or disappearing into wide streets and round bends. People were crossing the road, running and motorbikes were zigzagging between cars.

All of a sudden we went from utter chaos to complete standstill. In my memory, there was a lot of noise one moment and the next it went dead quiet. Cars had stopped moving, people had vanished. It was as if the world had stopped for a few seconds. I have no idea what my sister was thinking during those moments, but I was holding my breath and was on full alert. Something that only ever happened on television was happening right here, right now. Never before had I heard such loud bangs, not even fireworks. I was certain I had heard gunshots. I looked through the window on my right and saw that we were gridlocked right outside a bank. Some men with masks were running away. Oh, wow! My dad must have seen it too, because he shouted – actually shouted at my sister and me to get down into the foot well.  I was rather disappointed having to miss all the action, but did not dare disobey my father. Luckily for me, my mum was scared stiff and provided some form of running commentary. ‘Arr, there’s a policeman…. he’s got a gun… No! Get away from there! Ted, do something, they’re crouching next to our car!’ (That’s when I became scared.) Honk! Honk! My dad mentioned a few expletives, never before heard from his mouth, egging the car in front of us on to move forward and cursing the Belgian police force. The car started rolling and after a while my dad said it was safe to get back up again. We were all quiet. Then, someone turned on the radio and a self assured, happy voice sang:             

Young man, what do you wanna be, I said young man….

I resolved then and there I was never going to be a police officer or a bank robber or even work in a bank. We all joined in with the chorus singing at the top of our lungs:  

It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A. It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A

We soon found a parking space and got out of the car, safe and sound and happy.

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A Virtual Love Affair

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Nearly home, nearly home. It was almost a mantra as the thought repeatedly went through her mind. Round the corner… quick, quick. The mantra changed as she parked her scooter and took off her helmet. Keys, keys… she opened the front door to her small cottage, ran through the living room to the back door, simultaneously grabbing her laptop off the kitchen worktop and unlocking the door. Out in the garden she switched on the computer and sat down. Impatience reached the summit when a messaged flashed on screen demanding a restart due to an unexpected error. “Aargh, stupid old thing!” Making the best of a bad situation, she decided to nip to the toilet to avoid anymore interruptions.

Finally, online, she found the Planeet icon and clicked on it. Time to see if her virtual Mr oh so Right would be there.  She’d only known him for a while. His user name was OldOak and his avatar was a dragon like creature she’d shared some adventures with and some really good conversations. They’d seen each other every day for the past fortnight. She tried not to be disappointed. She could see he wasn’t online, not yet. She’d just have to wait. Last time he didn’t enter Planeet until 9.22pm. Enough time to cook dinner or enjoy the sunshine or, Georgie sat upright, skype her sister in Australia. After all, her sister had given her her old laptop with build in camera so they could continue their chats while she spend six months working in the bush.

Tossing the keys on the side table, Phil kicked off his shoes. It had been a long day. He poured himself a drink and looked round his flat. Its extreme tidiness was testament to how little time he spend home and when he was home his work usually absorbed him. Looking outside through the window he could see his neighbour sitting in the kitchen with her laptop. She’s working too hard too he thought. She was one of the best account managers he had, but lately she just looked tired. Maybe he was setting impossible targets, maybe she didn’t enjoy her job anymore. Maybe a new company car would cheer her up. Maybe, horror struck, she was pregnant. He couldn’t afford to lose her, apart from being good at her job, he liked her. Besides, he thought, he’d never seen her at home with a guy. He had decided to get to the bottom of it and had called for a breakfast meeting early tomorrow morning.

He needed to eat something and then find a distraction. He glanced at his laptop. No, he’d made a resolution this morning. Online gaming was no longer an option. He had to be firm, this had become almost an obsession. PinkScooter79 was on his mind day and night. He’d liked to believe he’d found the woman of his dreams. Someone who made him laugh, someone he could talk with, confide in. Their friendship had taught him to be brave and no matter where he’d go he wouldn’t find a better prize. Well, he’d have move to Australia off course. He’d slowly fallen for a girl called PinkScooter79, whose avatar looked like Wonder Woman. Madness. Today he’d even asked the guys from IT to see if they could track down where she was from. Somehow one of them had been able to remotely log onto her PC and discovered the country settings as Australia. Realising she was miles and miles away, he had given up all hope of meeting her in real life and resolved to stop pursuing his fantasy of marrying Miss PinkScooter79. It was time to go. Time for OldOak to go away from the virtual world of Planeet. He sighed disappointedly, just his luck. He’d have to contend himself with a fantasy. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. All he had to do was close his eyes and they’d be together. No matter have far it seemed.  At least that way he couldn’t get dumped and their love would last forever.

After a long distracted chat with her sister and hours of playing games she wasn’t really into, Georgie decided to call it a day. Maybe he’d be there tomorrow. Just as she moved the cursor to the sign out icon her heart skipped a beat. OldOak had just gone online. Shame it was too late, just too late to stay. She’d have to get up early again tomorrow. Meeting her boss, Phil, The Dinosaur – as he was nicknamed. A real workaholic, judging from the bags under his eyes he worked day and night. It made him look old and grumpy, which he wasn’t. She’d recently learned he was only a few years older than she was and she thought he had a wicked sense of humour. A message from OldOak flicked on screen: In never saw your smile. Georgie’s heart skipped a beat, she grinned and quickly typed How do you make an avatar smile?

Were Georgie and Phil to scratch the surface hard enough they’d know. Sometimes it’s hard to recognise and love comes as a surprise. Sometimes it remains an electric dream.

Human League – Electric Dreams
Songwriters: Giorgio  Moroder and  Philip Oakey

The story of Sam

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They met twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays at Browns, they had done so for years. The little cafe was situated at the corner of a busy and picturesque square. From the small upper terrace at the back you could see the park and on a clear day a view of the sea. The girls didn’t come to Browns for the view, nor the muffins – they preferred salads with chicken. They met there because it was the last place people would expect them to go and therefore not recognise them. Not that they were very famous, just enough to be talked about and just enough to get papped out shopping or when eating in more trendy establishments. They talked about people in the know, people to know and people not to know – they loved to gossip.

Today, however, was different. For the second time in a year they had met at Sam’s house. The first time it had been after Sam and her wealthy fiancé had just moved in. Obviously they had spent weeks discussing colour schemes, fabrics, wallpaper, kitchens, bathrooms, sofas, light plans and designer furniture at Browns. Sam had shown them round the house to much ooh-ing and aah-ing of her friends.  She knew she had got it just right. “Well, this is it, all that I have. He gave it all to me. Just gave me his credit card and sent me shopping”. Her friends had been delighted.

But today there were no designer cupcakes, nor was there any champagne to celebrated Sam’s good fortunes. Today there were take-away lattes, muffins and big tubs of Häagen Dazs. Gone were the delighted shrieks and clapping of well manicured hands, instead there were sympathetic sighs and nods. And tears, Sam let it flow. “I tried to walk away, ya know, time after time. But it’s just not easy when your soul is torn in two”.
“What do you mean, has he cheated on you before?” One of her friends asked, trying to conceal a flicker of delight in her voice.
Sam nodded, the faces surrounding her fell in sympathy. Sam carried on: “I love my house. Do you know how much time I spent decorating it. And I’d probably have to go and get a job – I mean honestly, me? Work?” They laughed. Sam eyed them, could she trust them, be herself? ” Seriously, I’m not just some WAG. I really do love him and I’ve given him all the love I have in me and now I’ve find it’s all lies. I can’t believe it’s true.”
“We’re so sorry love, but it’s all over the papers. It must be true”, another friend offered.
“Yup, look at him, wrapped in her arms”. Sam waved her hand over the front page, as if to wipe the headlines away like crumbs on a dress. Her friends studied the same pictures in all the tabloids.
“Yah know what? It looks like this picture was taken across the street from here” one of them remarked a little casually.
Sam’s eyes darted over the familiar landmarks “The bastard!” Silence all around, her friends looked up at the ceiling. Surely he wouldn’t have? They looked at one another, but avoided Sam’s gaze. However Sam had noticed and felt disgusted with the troupe surrounding her she needed to get rid of them. As she stood up she told them they’d better leave. He would be home in half an hour and she needed to freshen herself up before she could face him.
” But what are you going to do?”
Sam sighed melodramatically, keeping up her role in the charade.  ”I’ll just have to resign myself to it and leave it up to him. I’m sure it’s just a phase – he’ll grow out of it. All them football players do it, don’t they?”
“He might leave you, break your heart?” But Sam was resolute “He won’t walk out on me, look at this face, look at these tits. He’d be mad to leave me.” They all laughed while Sam ushered them out of the door.

She knew Tom wasn’t going to be home anytime soon, but she had seen the glances, the concealed glee. They probably felt really smug with their faithful husbands and boyfriends. She realized one or two of them would be talking to the papers. An ‘intimate friend’ blah, blah…. Sam felt outraged. She wondered if the girl in the picture knew what was going on. She probably did and she probably couldn’t care less. The bitch. After she had tidied up the mess in the lounge and thrown all the papers in the recycling box her anger has subsided a little and her head felt clearer.  She realized she had come to depend on him too much. She would have to regain some of her independence. Stop playing being a footballer’s wife and start being Sam again. She also knew she needed to prepare what she was going to say to Tom. She wanted to show him she was a strong woman, who wouldn’t put up with infidelities any longer. The anger welled up again. She sat down behind the piano, she could prepare for the confrontation later. She needed to calm down first. She played a few notes, a door clicked open softly, the notes turned into a melody. Sam started singing “You talk of love but you don’t know how it feels when you realise that you’re not the only one”. Tears made it impossible to play on. She got up to get a tissue and there he stood. He still took her breath away, her anger evaporated. She blurted out “Stop if you love me, now’s the time to be sorry. Oh you’d better stop before you tear me all apart, before you go and break my heart”.  Well, so much for being calm and collective she thought. With the back of her hand she wiped away her tears. She took a deep breath and waited for his answer.

Stop – Sam Brown
Lyrics: Sam Brown, Gregg Sutton, Bruce Brody

Holiday

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I’ve been away. On holiday – yeah. Before I went Madonna came to mind, but there wasn’t enough to inspire me. A host of mediteranian stars passed, The Med being a favourite destination, but it wasn’t where I was heading. In the end it all came down to the Dutch band Toontje Lager ‘Zo veel te doen’ (So much to do) and I ran out of time. Now back, I find myself typing report comments and in between writing up the much applauded achievements of the children in my class, I find myself humming a song and brewing up a story. I can’t, there are other priorities. In the meantime I leave you with a fragment of a translated Toontje Lager. Although the band’s To Do List is firmly set in the eighties, I’m sure you’ll get the picture. I could of course add to the list, being a mother that isn’t too hard to do or, more interestingly,I could turn it into a story. But I can’t, not now at least, I’m running out of time.

My shopping still to do, and the dirty laundry, I want my hair green, but that can only be done tomorrow. Still have to pay the rent, in a minute to the dentist. To Valkenburg and Aachen, where I should have returned to years ago. Call 008. Did I read that book or not? Check book re order, don’t forget the garbage, that appointment was changed and, oh, damn, that party. To the new Fellini I have been fortunate – I’ve been. So much to do, I have so much to do. I need to see the sun set in Japan. So much to do, I have so much to do. I must see the forest in bloom again. I talk with my girlfriend, on the role of husband and wife. Secret Santa poems although, it’s only June just now. The newspaper is still waiting, I need to do some sports. Sleepless nights because the days are too short, they are too short. I change my bed. I have to go to the bathroom, tax forms – late a week or two …..

Toontje Lager – Zo veel te doen
written by B. Hermelink

How the moon got its phases

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Once, in a far away land, in a village at the foot of a mountain, lived a young woman named Ana. Her hair was long, her skin permanently tanned by the sun, she was neither poor nor rich. She was gentle and thoughtful, but not unselfish. Her beauty was unrivalled. When she was a child she had been very popular, but as time went on her friends had turned away. Women feared her, for their husbands would surely stray, men wouldn’t come near, for surely they couldn’t offer anything to please her. At first Ana hadn’t minded her solitude. Adored by parents and grandparents her life was filled with happiness. But in recent years the people who had loved her had passed away and loneliness enveloped her. The vanishing love had left a void in her heart, deep as an ocean trench. Ana’s longing for love and a husband turned into despair.

One night Ana climbed the mountain. Kneeling she turned her face up to the moon. “Curse this face, curse this body. All I want is a husband, someone who can see past my beauty and love me, just love me. Please send me a husband”. She begged the moon over and over until all she could do was weep, her exquisite head cradled in her perfect arms. She didn’t see the stars falling out of the sky trying to console her. At dawn a soft breeze picked up, the leaves on the tree rustling, as if a whisper. Ana looked up at the moon and saw it smile kindly at her: “You’ll have your brown-skin man” spoke the full moon from the sky, “but in return I want the first child that you have with him”. “Moon, you want to be a mother?” Ana cried in disbelief, “Tell me Moon of silver, what do you intend to do with a child of flesh?” As a veil, a cloud obscured the moon, understanding dawned. With no other moon around, the moon’s despair must equal hers. The sacrifice was small; Ana agreed.

A few days later a cinnamon-skinned man arrived in the village. It didn’t take long before he set eyes on Ana – that hair could rival the beauty of a dark lake rippling in the shimmering sun. Nor did it take much time before he went down on one knee – spellbound and scared to lose her to another man. Ana, loving his impulsiveness, agreed. The wedding was glorious and the newlyweds radiated with love. When Ana fell pregnant her resplendence lit up the shades. Of course she thought about her promise and then fast as lightning pushed those thoughts away. The day arrived when Ana gave birth, at dusk he was born. She didn’t have to look at him to know that his skin was white like an ermine’s belly, his eyes gray instead of olive – Moon’s albino son. “Maldita su estampa!” Ana’s husband shouted, outraged. “This is not my son! You won’t get away with this!” Believing himself dishonoured he went to his wife, knife in hand, voice trembling “Whose son is this? I am sure you have deceived me!” Ana pleaded her innocence, an unlikely story hard to believe. She begged her husband not to hurt the child. The tears welling up behind her large eyes, made her more beautiful than eve, but her husband couldn’t see it. Blind with envy and unwilling to listen, Ana’s love stabbed her to death. Then he climbed the mountain with the child in his arms and abandoned it there, under a full moon. He didn’t turn around to see it covered in stars. He didn’t turn around to see it glide up in a beam of moonlight to his mother’s outstretched arms.

These days the people in the town at the foot of the mountain have long forgotten about Ana. But legend has it, that on nights when the moon is full it’s because her child is happy and when the child cries, the moon will wane to make him a cradle.

Mecano – Hijo de la luna
Songwriter: José María Cano

Sorry

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“I wish you just stayed away from us, you’ve ruined everything. I hate you!” She flinched, could he hear her heart breaking, her hopes plummeting, crashing beneath her feet?

“Don’t talk to my mum like that” Well at least someone here loved her. She took a deep breath.

“Leave it” she said calmly to her daughter, who sat down next to her on the sofa. “I can understand their anger. Your dad died, and however much we wish he could, he can’t come back. We’ve accepted that. It’s different for them”. Nodding towards the boys she carried on. “Their parents are divorced. They love their mum and they want nothing more than her coming back. They can still hope and I’ve squashed that hope when I started dating their dad”. She looked the eldest boy straight in the eyes. “I’m very sorry your parents couldn’t work things out. I wish they had been able to. I also wish my husband hadn’t died”. The boys looked down, a silent tear rolled down her cheek. “I am, however very grateful for meeting your dad. I’m forty-four years old, probably only just half way…” she swallowed hard “and I have every right to be happy for another forty-four years to come. Your dad makes me happy, he makes my daughter happy. I hope you can eventually accept that”. The boys looked up, was she imagining it or did they look embarrassed?

“I miss daddy” her daughter wrapped her arms around her; she kissed her on the head. “So do I darling, so do I”.  

The youngest boy asked “What was your dad like” Was it a start? The oldest boy turned round and left the room. She stood up, decided against following him and walked outside into the garden. She needed some air. She wandered round, looking but not really seeing anything. What did she have to do to make those boys love her or at least care for her, she could settle for that.  No more reproaches, no more hurt, no more mess.  She knew lightning didn’t strike twice. She had found love once, twenty years ago and had it been simple. Now, unexpectedly she had found it again but it was so complicated. There were children involved, one very precious girl who had been through enough turmoil and the two boys. She had known them vaguely, the youngest was in her daughter’s class, and they had always been kind. She had not expected any problems with them. At first there had been a forced politeness, indifference followed and now… hate.  John thought the world of his sons. She had to take his word for it. It was such a sad situation. She was scared. What if John couldn’t take it anymore? What if one day she woke up to find him not there.

She sat down on the swing under the oak tree. The big trunk of the tree told her it had stood there for at least a hundred years. Solid and firm, like John’s love, it would always be there. She needed to make this work, for him. What did she have to do to make those boys want her around? What did she have to say to be heard? Her thoughts went round in circles. She didn’t want to admit it, but something had to give. Ben hated her. This was getting more and more absurd. Her life was in pieces, she didn’t need to drag other people into the ruins. She could make things easy for John. He would no longer have to defend her to his kids and them to her. End it all. Big question was how? Pretend it was all over? She couldn’t. One kiss and she’d melt, give in. What would she say? Sorry? It seemed harsh.

Upstairs, from his bedroom window Ben watched the intruder in the garden. He had been surprised she had not shouted at him. His parents used to shout at each other all the time. Was it better now? He missed Mum so much. She had moved out nearly eight months ago and lived in a very small flat twenty minutes from here. He saw her twice a week and she seemed happier, more relaxed than when she had lived at home.  Dad was happier too, especially since he had met Nora. She was probably going to dump Dad now. He had said the most awful thing he’d ever said to anyone and he had not even meant it. He had heard every word she had said. She had understood his feelings, better than he had himself. She had even been kind to him. Why? He had been horrible. He knew he had to apologize to her, talk things over before it was too late. He wanted Dad to be happy and if Nora made him happy… it was only one word, but it seemed to be the hardest word to say.

Elton John – Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Songwriters: Elton John, Bernie Taupin

A Mysterious Tour

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Picture this… an average size town, not far from London. There’s a bus stop outside a train station. The weather is nice, the station’s not too busy. Zoom in on a group of people waiting at the stop for a bus. There’s a very cool young guy on his way home, wearing a new pair of Levi’s and a red The Killers t-shirt. On his left some American tourists, on his right an elderly couple. The guy’s me, obviously and it was the American family who caught my attention. Not because of their dress sense – they were wearing the standard American holiday attire: beige knee-length bermuda, a light blue baggy shirt (the kids had white ones with ‘Lakers’ printed in big letters), white trainers and white socks. Nor was my attention caught by the likeness of the parents – creepy, though she didn’t say a word during the entire journey. The dad was loud and carried some guidebook, talking to his kids about this place they were trying to get to. I didn’t hear where they were going. I became interested in the conversation when I heard him describe it. He was saying something about an exhibition of photographs of every head a barber had had the pleasure of knowing. “It says here, and I quote: ‘All the people come and go and stop to say hello.’ So it must be a good place to visit. You might even see some celebrities,” the American said. It got his kids’ attention. As you know I like photography and I was intrigued. I hadn’t seen anything about an exhibition of some sort in the area plus the only two celebrities around here are John Tickle and Ali G, and the last one isn’t even real. I decided to follow them.

They got on the 117 and three minutes later got off again. They either didn’t know Staines at all or they were very lazy. We could have walked here! It didn‘t appear to be their destination because, once again, we were waiting at the bus stop. Five minutes later the 458 to Kingston came into view. That’s better, I thought, Kingston’s a nice place and there are plenty of things to do there. The bus was nearly empty, so I sat two rows away from the Americans. Not too near to be noticed and not too far for me to listen in on their conversation. As soon as they sat down the kids started asking about Penny. Whoever? I rummaged in by bag to look for a book. A book would be an excellent undercover accessory. I also plugged my earphones in, so I really looked the part. Mister undercover! Clearly I’m not the best spy in the world because I got distracted and (again) missed hearing about our destination. However, I did pick up that there was supposed to be a banker with a motorcar on the corner who was very funny because children laughed at him. To top it off, he never wore a mac in the pouring rain. Hm, strange, I though, very strange, or maybe it was installation art.

To my disappointment they got off about twenty minutes later near the Marshalls roundabout. Surely the exhibition couldn’t be around here. Maybe they were hungry and had decided to go to the pub? But if they didn’t even know about walking from the train station to the bus station, it seemed unlikely they would know their way to the pub. The tourists weren’t the only ones to get off and for a moment their voices were out of hearing. When I caught up with them they were walking towards the roundabout and seemed to be looking around for something. I heard them talking about a shelter and a nurse selling poppies. Well, at least it sounded like that. I couldn’t linger on the roundabout. That would be way too obvious and besides my enthusiasm for this art thing had somewhat diminished. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing on this roundabout, except for some trees.There are houses on the left, a field on the right and there’s the Marina behind us. I turned around and decided to walk back to the bus stop before I made a complete fool of myself. However, it wasn’t long before I realised the Americans must have followed me, their voices growing louder by the minute and sounding rather agitated. Curiosity roused once more, I put Mister Undercover back into action: I stopped, kneeled down and pretended to do up my shoelaces. Smooth. When they were at a reasonable distance I started my pursuit.

I didn’t want to walk too closely behind them, so it was really difficult to hear what they were talking about. I caught snippets of their conversation. Something about firemen and hourglasses; the Queen and clean fire engines. It didn’t make sense. We seemed to be going towards the Marina and I was really puzzled. I’ve been to the Marina often but never seen any art centres.

From an open window I could hear someone playing the trumpet, I knew the song. At the same time my eyes fell upon the road sign. I started to laugh, one of the American kids turned round to look at me. There I was, Penny Lane, in my ears and in my eyes. All those things the American had been talking about were from that Beatles song. Only they weren’t singing about this little lane. The Americans were in completely the wrong town. Fantastic!

Two things crossed my mind. Would there really be a banker waiting for a trim at the barber’s in Penny Lane and, should I tell them?

The Beatles – Penny Lane
Songwriters Paul Mccartney, John Lennon