Spelling those words since the early 80s / Purveyor of fine lines

I’ve had a busy old life so far: packing quiches in a refrigerated factory in blue plastic shoes, painting theatres at the Edinburgh Festival just so I could get free croissants from a daily breakfast show, photocopying tenancy agreements for Charlie Brooks (Janine from Eastenders), selling books to customers who insist 1984 was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and working in publishing for nine years. These days, I slave over a hot desk as an author and freelance copywriter.

Get in touch here to find out all the glorious words I could pour right into your brain.

It's Nice That

Oh Happy Day

The Bloggess

Yoruba Girl Dancing

You Are My Fave

What I'd Wear

I am a Leaf on the Wind

Gravity

Last night, after three days sitting mostly alone at my father’s bedside, I go a bit Bertha Mason. A phone call from someone infinitely more sensible than me stops me from torching the place, and tells me that while my father *will* die, we will all keep living. So we need to keep living. 

This morning I wake up to pouring rain. By the time I’ve got my running kit on, it’s become a full-blown thunder storm and the rain’s coming down so hard I can’t see the end of the road. My mother forbids me from going. It’s all the fuel I need. I run away from the traffic and into the fields, and in the middle of one huge open field I’m already drenched and the thunder booms and it’s like a perfect Dawson’s Creek moment and I remember how much I liked being a teenager, for moments like this. 

In the afternoon I get in the car for the first time since Monday and drive to the shopping centre to get shoes for a wedding on Saturday I’m glad to know I’m finally definitely going to attend, whatever happens. The teenage boy at the till asks me if I’ve been shopping long today, and I respond with a beaming non-sequitur that I’ve just come from my father’s deathbed. ‘I take it from your smile he’s OK, though!’ he smiles back at me, and I find that I’m smiling even more now, as I explain in way too much detail (Him: ‘Right, if you could… just… put your card in… please…’) just how long they think he’s got, and that it’s just sheer magic to be out in the real world again. When the transaction is finished he smiles at me, properly, and wishes me luck, and I want to hug him and have him hug me and we would both feel total peace and that feeling would spread out from us to all the shoppers, out past the glass walls of the shopping centre, out across the country, out over the world, and all wars would cease forever, for good. But I take my bag and thank him and look away, not knowing how one deals with this precise situation. 
Last night, after three days sitting mostly alone at my father’s bedside, I go a bit Bertha Mason. A phone call from someone infinitely more sensible than me stops me from torching the place, and tells me that while my father *will* die, we will all keep living. So we need to keep living. 
This morning I wake up to pouring rain. By the time I’ve got my running kit on, it’s become a full-blown thunder storm and the rain’s coming down so hard I can’t see the end of the road. My mother forbids me from going. It’s all the fuel I need. I run away from the traffic and into the fields, and in the middle of one huge open field I’m already drenched and the thunder booms and it’s like a perfect Dawson’s Creek moment and I remember how much I liked being a teenager, for moments like this. 
In the afternoon I get in the car for the first time since Monday and drive to the shopping centre to get shoes for a wedding on Saturday I’m glad to know I’m finally definitely going to attend, whatever happens. The teenage boy at the till asks me if I’ve been shopping long today, and I respond with a beaming non-sequitur that I’ve just come from my father’s deathbed. ‘I take it from your smile he’s OK, though!’ he smiles back at me, and I find that I’m smiling even more now, as I explain in way too much detail (Him: ‘Right, if you could… just… put your card in… please…’) just how long they think he’s got, and that it’s just sheer magic to be out in the real world again. When the transaction is finished he smiles at me, properly, and wishes me luck, and I want to hug him and have him hug me and we would both feel total peace and that feeling would spread out from us to all the shoppers, out past the glass walls of the shopping centre, out across the country, out over the world, and all wars would cease forever, for good. But I take my bag and thank him and look away, not knowing how one deals with this precise situation. 
Besides the family doctor, the only people in my father’s room are women. Carers, nurses, palliative teams; my mother, my sister and me turning him over in bed. Five of us today, daughters of mothers and mothers of daughters, cackling at his bedside at the thought of any man demanding a son. I try not to breathe in his smell of warm, rotting cabbage when I touch him or bend down into his lemon-yellow eyeline, attempting to interpret the sounds from his mouth. When we unbutton his pyjama top for the nurses to fit a syringe driver to his upper arm, I see that the skin on his chest is rolling hills, valleys between each rib and shadowed craters of collarbone dips. His upper body is all bone and wasted sinew, with binding muslin skin. 
Mostly he doesn’t greet us when we come into his bedroom, only fractionally rolling his semi-open eyes. Dude, I know what you mean. 
This morning, my mother brought me orange juice in bed and said he was the same as yesterday, peacefully sleeping. I told her I’d had a terrible nightmare that he was up and about again, and she asked if that wasn’t a nice dream, then we looked at each other and I rubbed my puffy face like people don’t do in real life. 

Besides the family doctor, the only people in my father’s room are women. Carers, nurses, palliative teams; my mother, my sister and me turning him over in bed. Five of us today, daughters of mothers and mothers of daughters, cackling at his bedside at the thought of any man demanding a son. I try not to breathe in his smell of warm, rotting cabbage when I touch him or bend down into his lemon-yellow eyeline, attempting to interpret the sounds from his mouth. When we unbutton his pyjama top for the nurses to fit a syringe driver to his upper arm, I see that the skin on his chest is rolling hills, valleys between each rib and shadowed craters of collarbone dips. His upper body is all bone and wasted sinew, with binding muslin skin. 

Mostly he doesn’t greet us when we come into his bedroom, only fractionally rolling his semi-open eyes. Dude, I know what you mean. 

This morning, my mother brought me orange juice in bed and said he was the same as yesterday, peacefully sleeping. I told her I’d had a terrible nightmare that he was up and about again, and she asked if that wasn’t a nice dream, then we looked at each other and I rubbed my puffy face like people don’t do in real life. 

Baby clothes bagged up for the charity shop, each one faintly stained with memories and ghostly food smudges, and it’s hard to justify my sadness at seeing them leave. It seems inviting disaster to wonder if our babies might have babies, and need these same clothes many years from now. 

At my parents’ house two days ago, my dad tried to laugh at the idea of his plans for the future, for retirement. A grimace, no sound, then a blank Parkinson’s stare again. Today, every window is open to try and rid the house of the smell, and he doesn’t wake much even when my mother strokes his face. I almost make myself cry by playing the Judi Dench performance of ‘Send in the Clowns’ in my head, even though my dad has very little affection either for Dame Judi, or for any musical theatre that doesn’t contain pop hits of his younger days. It’s just a beautiful song.

We sit with him, and listen to him breathe.

Baby clothes bagged up for the charity shop, each one faintly stained with memories and ghostly food smudges, and it’s hard to justify my sadness at seeing them leave. It seems inviting disaster to wonder if our babies might have babies, and need these same clothes many years from now.

At my parents’ house two days ago, my dad tried to laugh at the idea of his plans for the future, for retirement. A grimace, no sound, then a blank Parkinson’s stare again. Today, every window is open to try and rid the house of the smell, and he doesn’t wake much even when my mother strokes his face. I almost make myself cry by playing the Judi Dench performance of ‘Send in the Clowns’ in my head, even though my dad has very little affection either for Dame Judi, or for any musical theatre that doesn’t contain pop hits of his younger days. It’s just a beautiful song.

We sit with him, and listen to him breathe.

Neither of M’s best friends at school have English as a first language. At a Sunday afternoon barbecue with their parents, we are about seven languages behind everyone else (although I can now say “Pleased to meet you” in a pretty good Brazilian accent, though I say so myself). Of course, the food is excellent. At one point, the host takes a leg of chicken from J’s hand mid-bite, saying, “Don’t waste your time on that - have more steak.”
The next night we are served daal gosht and melt-in-the-mouth chicken liver kebabs at a 1-year-old’s birthday party which runs from bedtime to 11pm, the freshly feral pack of children running wild and sleepless in their darkening garden. There are pockets of deep goodness in the world, and I appear to have stumbled into one.

Neither of M’s best friends at school have English as a first language. At a Sunday afternoon barbecue with their parents, we are about seven languages behind everyone else (although I can now say “Pleased to meet you” in a pretty good Brazilian accent, though I say so myself). Of course, the food is excellent. At one point, the host takes a leg of chicken from J’s hand mid-bite, saying, “Don’t waste your time on that - have more steak.”

The next night we are served daal gosht and melt-in-the-mouth chicken liver kebabs at a 1-year-old’s birthday party which runs from bedtime to 11pm, the freshly feral pack of children running wild and sleepless in their darkening garden. There are pockets of deep goodness in the world, and I appear to have stumbled into one.

Exactly half-way under the Channel, my muscles started knotting, my breathing came shallower, I shucked off my week-old cocoon to reveal my new shape, same as the old one. I drove home angry, the pre-holiday rages settling like ratty fox furs back on my shoulders. 

But past the front door, my in-laws waited, smart and funny and kind. And past them, past the night and into the morning, were the children, all taller and browner and funnier than before. M wants to grow a moustache. F doesn’t like crabs. P wears everyone’s shoes. 

My fancies of flight can wait for another day.

Exactly half-way under the Channel, my muscles started knotting, my breathing came shallower, I shucked off my week-old cocoon to reveal my new shape, same as the old one. I drove home angry, the pre-holiday rages settling like ratty fox furs back on my shoulders.

But past the front door, my in-laws waited, smart and funny and kind. And past them, past the night and into the morning, were the children, all taller and browner and funnier than before. M wants to grow a moustache. F doesn’t like crabs. P wears everyone’s shoes.

My fancies of flight can wait for another day.

The fields are filled with sunflowers, but we leave before dawn so get past most of them without being seen. I loathe those creatures. At best, they’re a forced jollity, a Chuckle Brothers prettiness with lipstick smudged round its mouth and a novelty balloon in one hand; at worst, by late August, they are fields and fields of blackened, charred children, berated, punished, burnt and sorry, their bowed heads just begging someone to forgive their cindered little faces, unable to even meet your eye.

The fields are filled with sunflowers, but we leave before dawn so get past most of them without being seen. I loathe those creatures. At best, they’re a forced jollity, a Chuckle Brothers prettiness with lipstick smudged round its mouth and a novelty balloon in one hand; at worst, by late August, they are fields and fields of blackened, charred children, berated, punished, burnt and sorry, their bowed heads just begging someone to forgive their cindered little faces, unable to even meet your eye.

I remember only after I’ve booked it that trente-deux kilometres seemed trop loin pour nous paddle, last time we came, but it’s too late now - they’ve enquired if I am French, admired my accent, and there’s no way on earth I’m asking for the shorter route. 

It is a long way, and we are in a tiny minority in our single kayaks (and thus have half the potential speed as our two-man colleagues), but I am fast, and I am strong, and the paddle feels familiar in my hands, and I do not even want to stop for lunch but I feel it’s not really in the spirit of going on holiday with someone if you just keep leaving them behind. 

Towards the end, we pass a naturist beach, and every single canoeist ahead of me is fascinated by one figure on the beach, and as I get closer I see it is an apple-breasted woman, waiting with a buggy just like she’s waiting for a bus, waiting with infinite patience while some of our fully dressed paddlers bicker amongst themselves on the beach where they are not permitted.

I remember only after I’ve booked it that trente-deux kilometres seemed trop loin pour nous paddle, last time we came, but it’s too late now - they’ve enquired if I am French, admired my accent, and there’s no way on earth I’m asking for the shorter route.

It is a long way, and we are in a tiny minority in our single kayaks (and thus have half the potential speed as our two-man colleagues), but I am fast, and I am strong, and the paddle feels familiar in my hands, and I do not even want to stop for lunch but I feel it’s not really in the spirit of going on holiday with someone if you just keep leaving them behind.

Towards the end, we pass a naturist beach, and every single canoeist ahead of me is fascinated by one figure on the beach, and as I get closer I see it is an apple-breasted woman, waiting with a buggy just like she’s waiting for a bus, waiting with infinite patience while some of our fully dressed paddlers bicker amongst themselves on the beach where they are not permitted.

I have brought all the wrong music. I have brought PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea; an Elton John Best Of which *doesn’t* contain Tiny Dancer; a White Stripes album which is so soaked in New York memories it’s as if I’m insisting on a bagel and lox from the boulangere; and the sole summery album in the car, wedged at the back of the glove box, an old Nelly Furtado CD, made in the era of claggy, spray-on, William-Orbit-esque over-production which renders much late-90s-early-2000s pop unlistenable. I really need some Solange. Or some Sia. Even some Lana del Rey, and we can pretend we’re crossing the blood-lust wasteland of American states.

So we drive in silence. 

And it’s *wonderful*.

I have brought all the wrong music. I have brought PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea; an Elton John Best Of which *doesn’t* contain Tiny Dancer; a White Stripes album which is so soaked in New York memories it’s as if I’m insisting on a bagel and lox from the boulangere; and the sole summery album in the car, wedged at the back of the glove box, an old Nelly Furtado CD, made in the era of claggy, spray-on, William-Orbit-esque over-production which renders much late-90s-early-2000s pop unlistenable. I really need some Solange. Or some Sia. Even some Lana del Rey, and we can pretend we’re crossing the blood-lust wasteland of American states.

So we drive in silence.

And it’s *wonderful*.

Sometimes clichés are lazy half-truths perpetuated by a handsome-sounding rhyme, and sometimes clichés kick around for so long because that truth just keeps coming around and reminding us with a humble shrug, Nope, still true. 

French food, man. French food. 

Even the humblest service station serves us tender, spiced ham with a rich Marsala gravy. At the grubby supermarket a few kilometres down the road, the saucisson sec and the fromage du chèvre are enough to make a grown woman keep eating hours after she is sated. And the bread. Oh, the bread. As we sit down to our breakfast each morning, golden crust and airy, tangy, chewy innards fresh from the boulangerie, I think (as best I can) of the final sentence of Jeffrey Steingarten’s essential essay on bread: “And on good days, we eat nothing else.” Jeffrey, I know *exactly* what you mean.

Sometimes clichés are lazy half-truths perpetuated by a handsome-sounding rhyme, and sometimes clichés kick around for so long because that truth just keeps coming around and reminding us with a humble shrug, Nope, still true.

French food, man. French food.

Even the humblest service station serves us tender, spiced ham with a rich Marsala gravy. At the grubby supermarket a few kilometres down the road, the saucisson sec and the fromage du chèvre are enough to make a grown woman keep eating hours after she is sated. And the bread. Oh, the bread. As we sit down to our breakfast each morning, golden crust and airy, tangy, chewy innards fresh from the boulangerie, I think (as best I can) of the final sentence of Jeffrey Steingarten’s essential essay on bread: “And on good days, we eat nothing else.” Jeffrey, I know *exactly* what you mean.

Nous allons à la rivière aujourd’hui, en route to which I discover possibly my most annoying habit yet: reading out loud all the French signs. Worse, and more bafflingly, I have to do each one in a different, strange voice. Miel, in a hoarse growl; Les Chevals, in a giddy high-pitched squeal. 

At the river, the beautiful Euro-women have pouched, puckered stomachs over their bikinis which match mine, and I feel completely contented, even with the children jumping into the river from 60 feet up the cliff face. When there is a particularly painful sounding water-landing, the whole river bank applauds in that sarcastic French way. The noise I took for distant thunder at first is actually plastic canoes scraping over shingle in the echoing gorge, and when we’re in the water, we must dodge the canoes and paddles, as we have better speed and versatility than many of their pilots. 

My lunch is pa amb tomàquet, my mother’s go-to summer lunch, warmed in the sun for a few hours. Its olive, salty smell is the most summery scent I know, more than cut grass, more than sun cream, more than anything. It is my mother making several baguette’s-worth of Catalan goodness for me and my sisters and pushing us back into the garden. One day I might even give you the recipe.

Nous allons à la rivière aujourd’hui, en route to which I discover possibly my most annoying habit yet: reading out loud all the French signs. Worse, and more bafflingly, I have to do each one in a different, strange voice. Miel, in a hoarse growl; Les Chevals, in a giddy high-pitched squeal.

At the river, the beautiful Euro-women have pouched, puckered stomachs over their bikinis which match mine, and I feel completely contented, even with the children jumping into the river from 60 feet up the cliff face. When there is a particularly painful sounding water-landing, the whole river bank applauds in that sarcastic French way. The noise I took for distant thunder at first is actually plastic canoes scraping over shingle in the echoing gorge, and when we’re in the water, we must dodge the canoes and paddles, as we have better speed and versatility than many of their pilots.

My lunch is pa amb tomàquet, my mother’s go-to summer lunch, warmed in the sun for a few hours. Its olive, salty smell is the most summery scent I know, more than cut grass, more than sun cream, more than anything. It is my mother making several baguette’s-worth of Catalan goodness for me and my sisters and pushing us back into the garden. One day I might even give you the recipe.