The Long Way Home

I was nearly home when the woman stopped me. She was younger than me, slight, wrapped in a long beige coat, clutching a battered red suitcase.

“Can I ask you something? Where’s Tesco? Is it near?”.

I was pregnant, tired and desperate to get home. But something in her voice gave me pause. “Are you OK?”, I asked, knowing full well that she wasn’t.

She swallowed, hard. The words fell out, piecemeal, between sobs: “Tesco. I’ve got to get there. I’ve got to go now. Before he gets back.”

“It’s this way. I’ll walk with you.”. I started back the way I’d come, she dragged her suitcase beside me.

As we walked, she told me a little of her situation. She’d come to our country expecting a better life. Her boyfriend seemed kind when she met him. He wasn’t kind when he drank. She was scared of him, of what he’d done, of what he was going to do. He hit her. Repeatedly. She always wore long sleeves. He was at work, so she’d packed her case. She’d called a friend; he was coming to get her, but wouldn’t drive to her house. He didn’t want to risk running into her boyfriend. He, too, was scared of him. He said he’d pick her up from Tesco’s, that it was safer to meet there.

Along the pavements, across the busy road, we walked, in silence now. At the Tesco car park, I asked her if she needed money, if she wanted me to wait until her friend arrived. But she said I should go, that she thought she was safe.

I moved away from there many years ago. Once in a while, I drive past that big Tesco, and I hope that she was right.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I like Christmas. Very much. More than most people (which is particularly unusual given that I’m Jewish). 
 
But Christmas has always been my favourite time of year (except for a few years where I fell out of love with it, but more on that later). And it’s never been about the gifts (indeed, as the esteemed Ms. M Carey says: “I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree”), it’s always been about the people.
 
My parents used to own a gift shop and, as you can imagine, they used to be ever so busy in the run-up to Christmas. So, after school had finished, my sister and I would be packed off to my aunt’s to stay while they worked right up until the end of Christmas Eve. We’d be kept busy “helping” my aunt prepare for Christmas, giggling ourselves to sleep each night, tucked up in twin beds with a tiny Christmas tree inbetween us.
 
Come Christmas morning, our parents would arrive. I was always overjoyed to be reunited with them, then the rest of the day would pass by in a haze of laughter and food. It was a day of traditions—many of which were shared with other families, others were uniquely ours, like the Annual Family Walk (which was much talked about but rarely actually happened), the Annual Family Talent Show (which very much happened and still does)—and I loved every minute of the day.
 
Things change. They always do, they have to. I grew up, I could look after myself, I didn’t need to stay at my aunt’s any more. I got into a relationship with a man who didn’t celebrate Christmas and my love of it was dimmed. And after my father died, it became harder and harder to celebrate it; the joy of Christmas tempered with the knowledge that someone important was missing, that my happiness had a hole in it. My family shifted.
 
Things change. They always do, they have to. I moved into a new home, with my girls. New start. And I saw Christmas afresh, through my kids’ eyes, and I started falling in love with it once more; it came to represent all that was joyful and good. I started celebrating it again, more intensely than ever.
 
A while later, I also fell in love with a friend of mine. He was amused by, and supportive of, my love of Christmas and he came complete with two wonderful bonus children; suddenly I also had a brand-new family to celebrate Christmas with.
 
My favourite song—not just for Christmas, but for always—is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Specifically the original lyrics*: “Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
 
2017 has been a really bloody difficult year, and I’ll be glad to see the back it. But, we muddled through it and I celebrated this Christmas with my sister and her delicious family, my mum, my aunt, my boyfriend, our kids (and the little dog). It was loud, it was joyful, it was perfect. I was as happy as that little girl, on Christmas Day, watching her parents’ car pulling up.
 
So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now xxx
 
*None of this “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” business, that line was rewritten at Frank Sinatra’s request. I prefer the hopefulness and gentle melancholy of the original.
 
 

Situations Vacant

It was the first day of a new job, writing training manuals for my new boss and her beauty business.

I tried to plug in my laptop. “Let me do it!” she shouted, diving beneath the desk: “Health and safety! It’s not safe for you to do it”.

She waved a sheath of typed pages under my nose. “This is what I want you to type up. I wrote it on my computer, I just want you to put it into a nice format.”

“If you’ve already done it on your computer”, I asked, “could you email me the file? I could just reformat it then. It makes more sense than me typing it from scratch.”
“No. I don’t want to get a virus from your computer.”
“You won’t get a virus from emailing me a file.”
“No. I don’t want to do that. Just type it up.”
“That doesn’t seem to be the best use of time.”
“Just type it up.”

So, I started typing up the notes while she stood behind my shoulder, watching me type. After ten minutes of this, she finally spoke:
“I don’t think you want this job, do you?”
“Excuse me?”
“Your body language is telling me that you don’t want the job.”
“Excuse me?”
“Look at you, with your shoulders all hunched up. You think this job’s beneath you, don’t you.”
“What? I do want this job. But you don’t seem to want me here.”
“That’s right, I don’t want you here because your body language tells me that you don’t want this job. You should go now.”

Baffled, I closed my laptop and went to unplug it.

“No!” she shouted, diving under the desk again. “Health and safety! I must unplug it for you.”

I grabbed my laptop and left. It was less than forty minutes from arrival to sacking. It remains one of the strangest – and definitely the shortest – jobs I’ve ever done.

Scarves

I used to harm myself in many different and subtle ways; one of them was with clothing. When I felt bad about myself, I’d dig out my worst clothes and wear them to punish myself. Jeans that bit into my stomach and made me ache all day. Sloppy tops that made me look ultra frumpy. I wouldn’t bother styling my hair; I didn’t deserve it.

That was a lifetime ago. As part of my recovery, I cleared out all the sad pieces and—over time—built a new wardrobe of clothes that I love to wear, that flatter me, that make me feel good.

However, there were still some things that I longed to wear, but convinced myself were beyond my fashion grasp.

Among them, scarves.

I’d look at stylish people, floating around with a jaunty scarf, and think how wonderful they looked. And then, in the same moment think “Not for me”. Surely I’d look too messy, too pretentious… just wrong. I’d look like an idiot, trying too hard.

But I was at a party. And there, on the opposite side of the room, was a charming man wearing the most beautiful scarf. Festooned in bright, graphical print. He looked amazing and I practically vaulted over a sofa to reach him and tell him.

“You look terrific. I wish I could carry off a scarf like that”, I burbled.

He grinned. “It’s just a scarf! Of course you can!”

I must have looked sceptical, because he unwound the scarf of wonder from his neck and handed it to me. “Go on.”

Feeling somewhat self-conscious yet oddly happy, I made a hamfisted attempt to tie it on.

“There you go! It looks good”, he reassured.

I peeked in the mirror. Damnit, he was right. I looked… stylish. Confident. Full of scarf. I looked like a scarf-wearer.

The next day, I bought my own jaunty scarf. Like an 80s explosion of a scarf; pink, blue, orange and green, all in ragged blocks.

I wore it. And I liked it.

And perhaps I do look like an idiot. But I’m a warm idiot, so who cares?

Coitus Interruptus

I am occasionally a little evil. It was 2am, and I was walking home after a night out. Rather surprised to see a car parked over my drive; as I got closer, I realised that there was a couple in it. And then it registered that they were… *ahem*…. rather busy.

Overcome with mischief, I banged on the passenger’s window.

“Hi!”, I bellowed, “Is everything OK?”

They looked horrified. I’ve never seen two people move so quickly. There was a flurry of zipping up, rearranging clothing, and the car sped off.

I chortled all the way to the front door. Whoever you are, sorry…

ADVENTURES IN SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS #1: That time I went swimming.

In the changing rooms, I hung my white towel on a peg, changed into my costume, and left my glasses in my locker.

I’m extremely short-sighted; I can’t swim in my glasses, obviously, but I can’t see anything without them.

So, I went for a swim—all very pleasant—then back to the changing room for a shower. I grabbed my towel off the peg and started drying with it, instantly realising that something was very wrong. My towel wasn’t the right texture. My towel was, it transpired, actually some lady’s white coat, and she wasn’t very impressed with me.

These days, I wear contact lenses and a pair of goggles while swimming.