Friday, 25 February 2011

LEAP OF FAITH

It’s half-past-six on Thursday and I’m sat at the kitchen table drinking my second mug of coffee. I can’t get any more awake than I am now. I woke before the alarm at five forty-five, fifteen minutes before Raymond left for the M1. The patio door is wide open inviting in the cool, pleasantly refreshing late spring breeze with wafts of dewy plant life and blackbird song. The two coffees, I suppose, are to make sure I’m not asleep and dreaming. I’m in that state where I feel too alert and giddy that it scares me yet excites me at the same time. It’s nervous energy, I know.

I jump, startled by the two slices of bread trampolining out the toaster; this always happens when I buy the thin sliced loaf. Luckily they land on the bread board in front.

It’s only a small galley kitchen but I love it. The light from the patio bounces off the small white tiles that contrast the dark, grey units. I walk barefoot on the birch wood floor with my toes curling at its coolness. I take out the butter and jam from the fridge and layer on liberal amounts of each.

‘Watch your cholesterol, Faith.’ That’s what Ray would say right now.

‘What’s toast if it’s not dripping in Lurpak?’  

I take the plate with my breakfast to the table and enjoy the slightly salty, sweet strawberry and grainy mixture of flavours and textures.

When I finish eating, I lick my fingers clean of the sticky mess and wipe them on my pink, fluffy dressing gown; it needs a wash anyway. I grab my big, brown leather handbag from under the chair and empty its entire content on the table, whilst discarding the plate and mug to one side. Rummaging through the mix, like I’m shuffling a stack of dominoes, I find the small dairy I’m looking for. I thumb through and note the overdrawn markings that indicate important dates like birthdays; mine of which I celebrated only last week, April 3rd; forty-four years young.

Today’s date is marked with a bold, black marker with nine o’clock heavily underlined. Today is important and I feel positively I will have the start, if not the solution, to my predicament.

I’m all washed and dressed under the dressing gown in dark blue jeans, brown tan boots, white blouse and green three-quarter  sleeved, v-neck jumper; smart/casual. I reload my handbag with the usual ammunition of tissues, purse, pen, diary, make-up, painkillers, sweets, mobile and peppermint oil. I leave the dark coloured bottle on the table and make a mental note to pick some up as soon as possible, as it’s past the use by date.

I have a problem with hiccups. It started in my teens and my mum dragged me to see the doctor, under sufferance, as she worried it might be something more sinister.

‘Singultus,’ the doctor said bluntly. ‘Nerves,’ he added.  ‘You internalise your anxiety which has to manifest itself in the physical, in your case, in the form of hiccups.’

He thrust a prescription under my nose and as an after thought, patted my mother on the arm and said I’d grow out of it. It bothered me at first but I never grew out of it, more grew into it. Things changed and I adapted like you do, but it took on a life changing form. Hiccups isn’t fatal but for me it causes more trouble than the annoyance of involuntary spasms of the diaphragm and the well meaning advise of semi-concerned people.

‘Shall I pat your back?’

‘Do you want a glass of water?’

‘I heard if you drink from the opposite side ……’

‘I know,’ I want to scream. ‘Don’t you think I’ve tried all that? Leave me alone.’

Instead, I kindly inform them all I have peppermint oil and produce the dark bottle from my bag and pop a blue capsule in my mouth.

There is a dark side to my problem that I discovered when I ran out of my ‘blues,’ as I like to call them. Aside from making me feel anxious and insecure, after a length of time I experience a strange buzzing in the nape of my neck that intensifies as it spreads out to fill my entire skull. I liken this transition to a rogue, angry bee that has flown into a milk bottle and can’t figure how to get out. It lasts a matter of seconds and then, ‘snap,’ like a cracking whip, it stops. Feelings of dread engulf me, twisting knots in my gut that seems to anchor my feet to the ground. It’s the same every time.

The first time this happened I was by myself in a multi-story car park, in my black Golf, gripping the stirring wheel. Luckily I hadn’t set off driving. I thought I was having some sort of seizure or stroke. After the ‘snap,’ my face became like jelly and seemed to ripple when I moved my tongue between my teeth and lips to moisten my dry mouth. I remember opening my mouth wide mimicking a guppy fish. It felt like I didn’t fit in my own skin right, as if I’d momentarily left my body. I clenched and unclenched my fists and thumped my thighs and slowly I gained a sense of myself.

The desire for water was as desperate as a dying man’s grip for life. I drunk the litre bottle I had with me and ran deliriously to the nearest kiosk and bought two more. Satisfaction: there was no other word to describe the feeling that dousing the anchovy lozenge taste gave.

The next time I was waiting at the bus stop with an elderly lady.

‘Five minutes…it’s not long…I’ll be home and I can settle in for the evening. Shall I have the fish pie or the beef cobbler?...Oh and there’s the apple pie and custard for afters…I can’t wait. What about the telly…I fancy a good thriller…Great the bus is here.’

She seemed oblivious to my intrusion. I sat behind her on the bus and she carried on planning her evening routine. I left her after five stops as she placed her slippers under her bed and her teeth in the glass of water.

I do this every now and then; I just look, leap and learn. It’s like a treat really, a mini break away from my ever frustrating world. I smile at the sad strangers and gain wisdom from the thoughtful young and old and give seemingly intuitive advice to work colleagues. Of course I felt guilty at first but then things just got out of hand.

I often wonder what will happen if I leap into someone’s mind and never return to my own, but that never happens.  As long as I keep within a six metre radius, things are fine, otherwise the bees start buzzing and snap, and I’m back in my mind.

I’m roused from my reverie by the sound of bouncing plastic; it’s the empty bottle, unbalanced by the breeze and landing on the floor. Unfortunately it doesn’t scare away my hiccups that now wake with me every morning. Marvin is circling my legs, which usually means he wants something to eat. He sits up proud like an Egyptian statue and stares at me as if to hypnotise me. I know you’re not meant to stare at cats, I think it’s something to do with them being intimidated, but I do it anyway and pounce in. What a big mistake.

‘I’ve been waiting for you to slip up for ages and bravo, you’ve done it big style.’

‘Is that really you, Marvin? I can’t believe I’m actually talking to you. You don’t sound very pleased.’

‘Nor would you be if you were fed this muck. Not any more though. Only the best from now on. I can see you’re dying to know how, or have you figured it out yet?’

I have and it isn’t good news. As we exchange internal dialogue, my perspective shifts and I no longer sense myself. From experience, I have become familiar to this, but not to the point that I’m morphing into Marvin. I shake involuntarily and annoy my self by enjoying the feline stretch.

‘Don’t look at me like that, pussykins,’ he says. ‘God I hate it when you talk to me like that it’s so annoying. How I tolerate it I’ll never know. Do you realise there’s no going back? Once you delve into an animals mind there’s a permanent exchange. You’re lucky though, you could have chosen Pinky and Perky,’ he laughs, looking at the goldfish. ‘Here, you’d better drink some water.’

That’s that then.

The door bangs shut. What’s Ron doing back home? I run up to him purring as loud as I can. He pats me momentarily and heads for the kitchen as I trot close behind.

‘Can you believe I forgot this document? At least the presentation’s not till eleven. Are you okay,’ he enquires.

‘No,’ I meow.

‘Perfect,’ says Marvin, smiling down at me.

‘The cat’s acting a bit weird, don’t you think? He’s not usually this attentive. What’s got into him?’

Marvin shrugs. He has his head in the fridge, inhaling all the forbidden flavours that are now at hand. He tears the peppered ham into strips and rolls it round a square of Wensleydale, picking it up daintily, and pops it in his mouth. I curl up under the table willing on sleep, hoping it’s all a dream.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

VENUS DE MILO'S

I’m sitting here again in Venus de Milo’s coffee shop, at my usual window seat, with a tall latte. The first time I came here I asked for a small latte, but the snotty young girl said, ‘oh, you mean a tall latte?’ ‘No,’ I thought. ‘I want a bloody expensive mug of milky coffee, Dear.’  I don’t really care for the stuff, but it keeps my hands warm and anything stronger sets my migraines off.

Coffee is not why I come here though, it’s to people watch. It gives me an insight into possible characters for my first novel, which I promised to write once I’d retired. Daughter keeps telling me to stop procrastinating.

I imagine her sat on my shoulder like my very own Jiminy Cricket.

‘Mother, just get on and do it. At least make a start.’

From my position on the high stool, I can view the varied shops across the pedestrianised street. There are a number of shoe shops, department stores and interesting smaller boutiques, gift shops and deli’s down the arcades, adjacent to the main street. As well as having a good nosey out, being up here, and inside, stops my bony ankles from being knocked by those bloody three-wheeled buggies. I know it’s accidental but it hurts.

‘Mother, you’re so intolerant. And stop swearing.’

She makes me feel like a kid; like one of her little brood. Yes, I’d be the cuckoo in her perfect nest.

On Monday, a new man, about my age, came in from Carter’s bookshop and sat in the far corner behind me. He’s been here all week with his newspaper up, all shifty and secretive. He’s a spy.

‘Oh Mother, you’re such a fantasist.’

Well you never know, do you? He even wears the stereotypical spy uniform of dark trousers, trench coat and trilby hat. Oh, of course, there’s the essential newspaper. You watch Miss Maple and I dare you to be dissuaded from the truth. What can I say? He’s a spy, or maybe a private investigator.

In fact on Tuesday, he sat in the same seat and whenever I sneaked a peak; and this is difficult when you’re perched precariously on a stool; his paper shifted up. His hands I noticed were marred by the printing ink, and he wore a wedding band and a Raymond Weil watch. I pretended to be touching up my make-up and used the compact mirror to observe him, but his perplexing reflection looked back at me. I quickly buried my face in the steam of the hot drink.

Two women have just walked in together, each carrying a small holdall and sit on the comfy seats to the right of me. They arrange their baggage on top of each other, out of the way, and one starts to shuffle her brochures whilst the other flicks through the menu.  

‘Tea for two, Jane?’ she says to the slim one. She’s dressed entirely in linen; wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt and brown, wide-legged trousers. ‘We’ve got an hour to spare now before we can register.’

‘Yes, that’ll be great thanks,’ says the fuller figured one, in her indigo blue jeans, red blouse and blue blazer. ‘I’ll pay, Elizabeth,’ she adds, but is quickly dismissed by a waving hand.

I continue to listen and take my jotter out to take notes as Elizabeth returns with the drinks.

‘I’ve been looking forward to this for days. Have you ever been to a place like this,’ says Elizabeth, pointing to the brochure. ‘I mean, for a massage? It’ll be nice to feel relaxed and pampered for once.’

‘I know what you mean. I’ve not had a massage either, except for Russ doing my feet but that was half-hearted. The grounds look wonderful don’t they, so peaceful. We must get lost in the maze before we leave.’

‘Definitely,’ she agrees. ‘Just think, about this time tomorrow they’ll be married, my Chris and your Ruth. I’m so excited I can’t tell you. You know, I went out and bought a hat as soon as they announced it.’

‘I know how you feel; I felt the same with my first. Chris is your only one, so this is a special time for you.’

‘For all of us, Jane. We’re going to be one big happy family, just what I’ve always wanted. Are you a little anxious about tomorrow? I know your trying your best, but you seem distance somehow.’

‘Sorry Elizabeth, but I don’t want anything to ruin their big day. It’s just… Oh, I don’t know.  I’m afraid this marriage won’t workout. We don’t exactly have a good record of happy, long marriages do we? Look at my four girls, none of them lasted ten years between them. What hope can I hold for this one? Stop me if I’m being maudlin.’

‘Jane, this isn’t like you to be so negative. I thought you were okay about everything. Ruth and Chris are solid with five years behind them. They’re a strong couple.’

‘It’s Russ I’m worried about. After a few drinks he’s going to be difficult to control, God knows what he’s going to blurt out.’

‘I thought you…’

‘It was all sorted? Not quite, Beth. Far from it, he’s threatening to let it all out during the speeches; on one condition.’

‘And that is?’

‘He wants the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’

‘Come on, he wouldn’t dare. I thought Ruth was his blue-eyed baby, he wouldn’t want to deliberately sabotage her wedding would he?’

‘I really don’t know anymore.’

‘Jane, he can’t do this surely. Do you want me to have a quiet word, put him straight again?’

‘I don’t want to antagonise him anymore than we have to. Maybe he was winding me up, you know, to put me in my place. You know how manly he likes to be. You know, after….’

‘Yes. Look, let’s enjoy today and get chilled out. We’ve got the massage, manicure, sauna and jacuzzi to look forward to. We’ll be so laid back we’ll be floating home.’

‘Your right Beth, as always.’

Elizabeth takes out a city map from the side of her holdall and Jane joined in, trying to decipher where the rendezvous is. She places an empty glass in the middle to stop the overhead fan from blowing the map away, changing a friendly but innocent scene into an intimate yet sinister séance. Shortly after, they finish their drinks and leave for their taxi.

I’ve got some good material to work with here. I thought my life was complicated, but it sounds like that wedding’s going to be very entertaining, especially when the drinks start flowing. What’s going on with Russ? I was dying to ask.

I’m actually quite pleased with myself for once. I mean, I should never have thought the book was going to materialise on to my lap without some hard grafting. But sitting here, enjoying a drink and ear wigging into some juicy titbits is my idea of an interesting retirement. I’m not old enough for those ‘clubs’ yet, Daughter Dear. Do you hear me, Daughter? There’s a book in me and I’m going to get it out.

‘Serenity Mother, at all times.’

Yes, we don’t want people thinking there’s a live wire in the house, do we Daughter Dear.

‘Oh Mother. A book. We always knew you’d do it. We’re so proud to share in your limelight.’

Sure you are, Dear. Now take that parasol out of my sunlight, so I can bath in my glory.

I write todays date on the top right corner of my jotter. Today is the first time I’ve written anything of worth. Then I realise, something is missing, or rather, someone.

Today is Friday and Mr. Spy seems to be late, or has his cover been blown. I’m wrong though, he’s just been to Carter’s for his paper which is rammed up his armpit like a drill sergeant’s baton. Has he bought a book, too? He crosses the path of Jane and Elizabeth and smiles at them knowingly. I can’t see their faces but I’m assuming they are giggling to themselves, like fresh faced teenagers. He does have one of those handsome, older faces that even youngsters would agree, was attractive; rather like Paul Newman.  

I’m embarrassed now as he looks straight at me and docks his hat. Is he smiling or grimacing now? As he enters he glances at my books and heads to the snotty girl to order a mocha-choca-what’s-it-drink. He sits in his spot and I wonder about the book he’s bought. I have to move virtually one hundred and eighty degrees to see him as he’s lent right back in the chair. Did he do that on purpose? I subtly manoeuvre myself as if to check out the menu board and find him smiling back at me. And it is a smile. Taking out the book, I can now see that he begins to read, A-Z of Creative Writing. Returning a smile, I turn to my notebook to continue my novel.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A GIFT OF LOVE

Returning home was never going to be easy.

I left the day before I turned eighteen. This grieved my parents, especially my mother, who wanted to lavish me with gifts, too many gifts, to express how much she loved me. It was never enough just to utter those words, there had to be something to show. That was it you see, it was all for show, so others could see that Mr and Mrs Brooke adored their only son.

They knew I’d planned to ‘take time out’ before uni. And how proud they were when I’d secured a place at Oxford.  So I set off on my travels to ‘find myself’ and when I’d done that I would bring ‘me’ back and commence my studies in biochemistry. Well I didn’t ‘find myself’ and I didn’t return. I took myself to America where I’d actually secured my place of study.

Of course my parents weren’t pleased. Poor Mother was beside herself and I did feel a little sorry for Father, having to console her endless days of woe. I really did have to get away from them both before they smothered me to death with their love. Mother, Dearest, was turning me into a Little Lord Fauntleroy and Father just played along to please her. Never was a child more spoilt than theirs, Peter Brooke, or as mother called me, Petey. I wasn’t ungrateful; I relished the attention. But as I got older I started to loath them for it. To my parents, gifts = love; to me gifts = loathing = parents. I honestly didn’t want to feel like this but I did, and I went away, thinking the time apart would restore equilibrium.

I stayed away longer than I’d planned. I told Mother in a letter where I was. She wrote a War and Peace length one in reply, stating that she and Father loved me and that when I felt the time was right, I should return and all would be forgotten and forgiven. She unbelievably accepted the situation and carried on with their lives as if nothing had happened. Months were spent on my part feeling guilty and then it soon faded and I did as Mother wanted. I got on with my life.

We never corresponded after that last letter from Mother, not until I wrote them with the news they’d been longing to hear. Peter was coming home. Well, just for a month, as business was bringing me back to England.

Thankfully they didn’t want a reunion at the airport. I could just imagine the scene and it wasn’t a pretty one. Maybe they’d mellowed with age. Twenty-four years was a long time I guess. They knew what time to expect me and as the taxi pulled up outside the house, I just kept expecting something to happen, but all was quiet, thank goodness. It was silly but I felt a bit nervous as I pressed the door bell. Within seconds the door was gently pulled back by Father with Mother under his protective arm. She reached out and grabbed my face looking deep into my eyes and then embraced me; a long twenty-four year embrace. Then Father was given his turn. He guided me over the threshold, took my cases in as Mother gave a quick sweep of the drive, as if looking for someone, then shut the door, locking it behind us.

Three of us together again in my old home and it felt like a good place. The deco had changed as would be expected and Mother and Father had aged of course, maybe shrunk an inch but gained it in width. There was definitely a happy vibe about the place.

We exchanged stories about my studies and work and their retirement. My parents were now attending classes in carpentry and art, something I’d never envisioned them doing. They’d always mentioned moving to Spain when I was younger. I tried not to think about my pre-departure days.

Mother had prepared a wonderful feast, and in return Father and I cleared up and washed the pots. I tried my best not to yawn but the jetlag was gnawing at me like an agitated dog. Mother smiled and told me to go to bed. Father smiled as he came down the stairs; he said my cases were in my bedroom.

My bedroom. I remembered the feeling I got when I’d been away at scout camp or holiday and I’d rush straight to my room to see if it had changed, knowing that it wouldn’t have. To me, it always seemed different somehow as if some of the energy had been lost without my presence in it. I opened the door and was transported back in time. The room hadn’t changed; it was how I’d left it. Despite the initial excitement and the pull to explore my old room, fatigue was eating away at my body. The dog was at the bone. I collapsed on the bed, instantly asleep.

I remember waking up several times in the night. The first time I wandered zombie-like to the bathroom to use the toilet. The second time I was getting too warm and fighting with the bedding. I was still fully clothed. I stripped off in the dark, with my eyes half closed, half in dreamland. I felt at the end of the bed for the nightwear Mother used to leave me. Sure enough, I felt the cold satin weight of the pyjamas. The third time I felt a strange sensation on my face. It was like there was a thick, wet film on it and the slight air movement that passed over me was causing my skin to tighten. I tried to touch my face but I couldn’t move my arms. In fact I couldn’t move my legs or anything. I had jetlag and probably sleep paralysis from waking up too abruptly. I fell deeply asleep.

When I finally woke it was morning and I was totally in the land of the confused. Bleary eyed, I tried to peer through a fog but it was all a bright white mystery. My limbs felt heavy and bound to the bed. I was energyless. My face felt awkward like I had a mask on. Funny how jetlag affects the mind. I tried looking about and glimpsed dark and light shades of my pj’s. This bed had sides all the way round. I seemed to be walled in and couldn’t see out. Nothing was clear yet. It didn’t feel like the bedcovers were on me either. Thinking was not easy. I strained my mind to concentrate, focus but it wandered aimlessly enquiring as to the smells entering my olfactory nerve. Something fresh and clean, paint or nail varnish intermingled with fried food. There’s was a sawing noise earlier I was sure, or Mother filing her nails. Now that would be daft because she’d have to be right up against my ear. Jetlag. Brrr!

I had to get up because I was feeling really thirsty and nauseas. When I licked my lips I tasted something sweet and sickly. What the hell? Was that lipstick or something? Why couldn’t I move? Even my chest felt heavy and bound. I shouted out for my parents in a dry croaky voice. They both ran into the room and looked down at me, their big, crinkly heads looming above me like fairground balloons. I thought I must be really ill, nothing was making any sense. Mother removed the foggy veil from my view and threw it on the floor.

‘Look at my darling Petey. He’s got sick on his face.’ She took a handkerchief that was folded in her bra strap, daubed a gob of spit on it and rubbed my face roughly. ‘Let me sort that face out.’ She took out a tube that looked like Pritt Stick glue, and circled white stuff on my skin.

I tried to speak but Mother put a finger on my lips and told me to hush. It left a black imprint on her finger. God I hoped this was just a dream.

‘Look Papa Brooke, Petey put his suit on, all by himself,’ said Mother.

‘You are clever, Son. You do look very smart. They’ll all be jealous of you now.’

I wanted to know who ‘they’ were but I gave up. Something terrible must have happened to me. I think maybe I’d had a stroke. A transatlantic flight could do this, give you a blood clot, and stop the flow of oxygen to the brain. The effects could range from paralysis to loss of cognition, sensory defects. I think I had some of those. The visual thing was really disturbing me though. Why was everything so big?

‘Papa Brooke, have you finished with the column? I’m dying to show our Petey off. It’s nearly time. You’ll have lots of new friends to keep you company in here, my Sweet.’

‘Come here Petey.’ Father’s hand loomed over me like a mechanical crane and loosened me from my bed.

He held me aloft at arm’s length and they both cooed like pigeons. I tried to look at my surrounding but it was all a blur with them spinning me about. When I was finally able to focus Father helped me stand in a metal frame with props that went under my arms. I hung there, limp limbed and full of dread.

The bell kick-started my reality check.

I was in a shop and people were coming in with happy faces. Mothers and fathers with their young children, and grandparents all cooed. It was madness. I was slumped in this frame on a pedestal feeling woozy still from my distorted vision, a Lilliputian amongst giants. I sensed others like myself beside me. They stared ahead as if in a trance; Harlequin to my left and Columbine to my right. The children cooed the loudest and longest, pointing and squeaking with joy. A hand smaller than the crane, reached up to touch me, but was haltered by Father lowering a glass dome over the three of us. There was writing running along the bottom edge: ELAS ROF TON. The girl sighed and looked up at her mother.

‘I like that one, Mummy. Oh look, he’s called Parrot. That’s funny because he doesn’t look like one.’ I tried to focus at my reflection on the glass.

‘That’s not Parrot, dear, it says Pierrot,’ said Father.

‘Pierrot comes from the name Peter,’ added Mother.’ He’s not for sale, I’m afraid. 
He’s our treasure. There are other clowns to choose from.’

‘I do like Pierrot, Mummy. Oh look, Mummy. Look at that shiny tear. He’s so sad.’

I was their gift; their love. They put me in a glass box, to sit on a shelf to be adored.  I looked back and abhorred them.

Friday, 4 February 2011

ECO-WARRIOR

Shopping’s not one of my favourite pastimes, I admit, but it’s a thing that has to be done. I suppose it’s because I never venture far off my weekly list. Am not very adventurous with my tastes now Millie’s gone. She did all the cooking then. I was spoilt, but she loved to look after me. Now it’s the same old microwave meals. They’re very convenient aren’t they and there’s no washing up apart from the cutlery. It’s not the same as homemade. That’s why every Friday I go to Sidney’s Fisheries for a fish supper.

It’s good to have a focus, something to look forward to, and this is my thing. I go for the food and to absorb the atmosphere, but mainly to eavesdrop. Friday’s are busy as you can guess. At the end of the working week, who wants to ‘press start’ or cook a meal? It’s ‘let’s get a take-away’ or ‘let’s eat out.’ For me, it has to be, a sweet cup of tea, fish ‘n’ chips, two slices of white, buttered bread and mushy peas. Don’t you dare put any of those ‘arty farty’ lemons on my plate, please. I want to eat my food not admire it. Eric, who owns the café, said you just squeeze it over the fish. I don’t think so. It’s salt ‘n’ vinegar or nothing.

Eric’s a great guy. My age I think, maybe older, but not retired yet. Not his style, not working. I’m not lazy though, oh no. Come rain or fair weather, you’ll find me on my allotment. I know what you’re thinking. Allotments are for growing veg but he doesn’t cook. Well, it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the toil of the land; seeding the earth, cultivating, nurturing, and bringing to bear the best food around. Some’s for competition and the rest for sale or exchange. I swap carrots, beans and peas for Bert’s ‘hush-hush’ beer. He thinks his wife’s oblivious to his antics but she knows. She told me; as long as he’s brewing in his shed, he’s not messy with any women. As for my sideboard, it’s always dressed with flowers from Delma in exchange for my potatoes.


Allotments and potatoes, there’s a thing. They forever hold a connection with me. I shall tell you as I told a couple of teenagers last Friday.

They were already in Sidney’s when I arrived, tucking into their fish suppers as I ordered mine. The only free table was next to theirs. I sipped my tea as I waited, listening into their conversation.

‘Don’t you find it boring that the last generation are so ignorant of the consequences of their environmental mistakes?’ said the curly haired one with the glasses.

‘Oh yeah. It’s so wrong, and we have to deal with the long term issues from the likes of Sellafield and Chernobyl. We are the ‘clean up’ generation. Mops in hand and buckets for the trash. We won’t be making those errors. We are too conscientious to dump endless environmental disasters on the future ones,’ said the lanky one.

‘Yeah, we’re like the Tipp-Ex to the inkpot spilling oldies.’ They both laughed.

I listened on.

‘Our generation invented eco-friendly, right?’

‘Oh yeah. I’ve got the latest bag for life from the net. Should be coming in the post anytime now,’ said Curly.

‘You know, they do moan about the bins they have to use to sort out the waste. They just think they’re eyesores. I mean, it just makes it easier, I think.’

‘Actually, I’m a bit nit-picky about those plastics; you know there are some that you can’t recycle at the moment.’

‘Yeah. Well, you don’t have to put up with your grandparents cynicism.’

One nudged the other and both looked over at me. I was smiling at them, ready with some ammunition. I could sense a fight was on.

‘Are you laughing at us?’ said Curly. I sucked into my fish supper that had just arrived. I shook my head.

‘Yeah, but you were listening to our conversation?’

I nodded.

‘Have you got something to say?’ They challenged. I nodded.

They’d invented the environmentally friendly thing? I assured them they weren’t the first. I think they’d forgotten a piece of history, a very important piece. In the war we had rationing, they wouldn’t have liked that. I was a ‘baby boomer’ and it still went on then. There was no wasting food; it was all used up in next day’s meal. Clothes were made into other items or used as rags to clean or lagging. As for a ‘bag for life,’ I’ve had one for 65 years; all my life.

‘How’s that then?’ they asked. They seemed interested.
When I was only a few days old, so I was told, I was dumped outside an allotment shed. Luckily for me the weather was fair and the potato sack kept me reasonable warm.’

‘You were left in a potato sack? How awful,’ said Curly.

‘What about your parents?’ asked Lanky.

I’m sure they gathered that it was a case of father unknown and shamed young girl. I was told she was probably local to the area and that she’d gone missing a while, probably gave birth to me in the allotment and then ran off, never to be heard of.

I was taken in by the family who found me. My new mother loved me as one of her own and I grow up amongst six siblings. Father nicknamed me Spud and Mother hid the potato sack till I was older, till I was able to understand and accept my terrible beginnings.

The sack was given to me, with the story, when I was eight. I accepted it with no questions and was to spend the rest of my life making use of this constant reminder of my roots.

One of the girls sniggered at my unintended pun. I smiled.

The old trusted sack came out on sports days for the sack race which I always won. I stuffed my few possessions in it the day I left home. When I got my first digs by the sea, the wild, winter waves would often flood the streets, so the sack was filled with sand and barracked my front door.

At the moment I used it to carry my shopping. In the end, someone might carry my ashes in it.

Both girls were a little shocked but appreciative of my story. The lanky one dared to ask if I had the bag on me. It was folded in my coat pocket. I opened it up and showed them it. The way they looked at the bag was as if I’d produced the Shroud of Turin.

They both looked at each other as if they were reading each other’s minds, and nodded. Curly asked if I would help them with a presentation they were working on for a college project, Eco Warriors. They wanted me to share my story with their peers. I agreed. I didn’t have much on so that was okay. It was something to look forward to.