29 December 2010

The woman who walks into doors

Finally after being violently ill for twenty-four hours, I mustered up the strength to go to the shop. I stepped out of my bedroom and somehow lamped myself in the forehead with the corner of the door. There probably would have been tears if I wasn't so dehydrated, but the rage fueled me onwards.
When I got to the shop and bought my hula hoops and spaghetti hoops and lucozade, I went back to get some seven-up and the woman asked me if that was all. I glanced behind her at the cigarettes and thought of all the times I had asked for a pack before leaving the shop.
"Yes, that's all thanks."
I felt much better already.

26 December 2010

“I’m sure my little red cat has gone away to die somewhere.”

My mum has a ginger cat. She adopted him from an animal shelter a few years ago, which was run by an eccentric old dear whose house was full of fostered felines. Some of them were slightly feral from lack of human contact. Fizz was one of those. I don’t think he even had a name back then.

When she brought him back he would flee from people, but if you managed to catch him he’d relent and sink into your arms, purring. She bought a novelty cat-bed for him that was in the shape of a sneaker. Of course he never went into it, preferring instead to use the dog’s bed, which was far too big for him. Sometimes I’d grab him and put him in his shoe-bed but he’d only sit there for a moment before darting off.

He used to be very cute, ridiculously fluffy, bright orange with a white chest and white paws and a pink nose. These days his fur is a bit shaggy and liony. You could easily trim him down and leave a mane round the neck and he’d be like a pygmy lion. In recent times he developed tiny black spots on his skin, so it looks a bit like he has some kind of mould growing on his face and ears. I think it might have been from the sun, poor li’l ginger guy.

When she brought him in the other day, he was very sedate but full of purrs. He was in an old towel that she keeps just for cats - when she brings him in, she sometimes swaddles him in it so she can cuddle him without getting orange fur all over her clothes. He loves it.

Yesterday I saw her hold his mouth open and force an antibiotic down - he’s very tame now and doesn’t put up much resistance. Still he hasn’t eaten for a few days and he didn’t touch the cat-milk I put down for him. (I have no idea how the good people at Whiskas get cat-milk, by the way.)

He has an old duvet by the logs in the shed where you can find him tucked away in the centre if you unfurl it. Not today though. He hasn't been there for ages. The other cats seem to know something. They are sitting in his usual place. He might be out in the snow somewhere, paws up, pink pads showing.

24 December 2010

Legendary Literature

Christmas Eve and I'm wrapping presents, which include two books I bought for my nephew. These are children's books, the wide-paged sort that you can read from, with more pictures than words, and not many pages. This makes them so skinny that they are almost brochures. The cover is crisp and glossy and the insides are printed with detailed high-colour illustrations.

I bought them from the school-supplies section in a department store in Manila. Amongst the textbooks and stationery, these were a series of traditional legends for children. They were up on a high shelf but I could reach them easily enough. I picked one up and flicked through it, admiring the quality of the illustrations, which seemed to have been done by hand in pencil and watercolours. Picking another, I discovered that each book told a different legend. Before long I had gone through several of them. While choosing which ones to buy I noticed that the stack of books had started to slump slightly. I tried to pick up one more book, but the one next to it started to fall so I took that one too. Then they all started to go like dominoes. I grabbed a bunch of the skinny books and tried piling them in a stack on their sides to prop the other ones up.

In the meantime a little Filipino woman had come along with her son to buy him some school things. I busied myself with my story-books and concentrated on not teaching the kid any new obscenities. She was very interested in something on one of the bottom shelves, leaning in to examine whatever it was in detail. At this stage I had a bunch of books in both hands, my fingers spanning as much of the smooth cover as I could possibly reach. From where I stood, looking down on her shiny hair at the back of her head as I stretched up, grasping the stacks of shiny books, it felt as if she were a few storeys below me.

It happened as if in slow motion. I adjusted my grip in an effort to stabilize the books and they gently started to slide. Slowly, and smoothly, they just glided across the shelf and over the edge. I had run out of hands, I couldn’t stop them. As they slipped towards the edge they gained momentum, dropping one by one off the shelf.


I gazed in horror as they cascaded on to her, landing on their edges on the back of her head. Some of them sailed over her but more of them dropped straight down, digging their corners into her scalp as they hit.

Plop! Swoosh! Ploploploploploploplop! ‘OW!’

She screamed before looking up in confusion and then scowling at me. I just loomed there awkwardly (arms still outstretched in position) and attempted to stammer out some kind of apology. I wanted the ground to swallow me, but instead, I just towered over everyone like a big white clumsy Godzilla, reddening as I stood there, rooted to the spot as I propped up the rest of the books.

A member of staff scurried over and quickly returned with a ladder, while my victim babbled something and rubbed her head. I felt a bit less sorry for her then because she hadn’t taken her book-avalanche very well. It was clearly an accident! In any case, I was soon relieved of my book-propping task and the whole shelf had to be re-stacked. I quickly selected two nice books that hadn’t taken chunks out of anybody’s scalp for myself. Then I ambled off and continued on my path of destruction.

22 December 2010

I see people who see dead people!

This morning I got one of the last seats on the bus - one stop later and the bus was full. After a short while I noticed a guy who had gotten on at the next stop and had to stand near the front. He was heavy, balding, in his mid-to-late thirties, wearing a drab greyish-brown raincoat that wasn’t tied properly across his gut and he was drinking a bottle of lucozade for breakfast.

What drew my attention to him, though, was the fact that he was talking so animatedly. He was deeply involved in conversation, hardly sipping from the bottle at all. To my dismay I quickly realized he had no phone, no headset, he was just staring into the middle distance and chattering away. He even paused and inclined his head forwards, staying silent for a minute before saying “Oh really?” or just nodding “Yeah, yeah.” Sometimes he ‘d even emit a slightly camp gasp, widen his eyes and say “Oh I know yeah!”

The bus was quite full so I couldn’t hear most of the ‘conversation’. I heard him drop some ‘r’s and deduced he was probably English. After a while I could make out the rhythm of his speech and I decided that if I had to put money on it I’d have said Liverpudlian. I wondered how he came to be here and what had happened to him.

I looked at the passengers around him, sitting in awkward silence and looking directly ahead, minding their own business. Nobody spoke to each other and they seemed preoccupied with keeping themselves to themselves. I became aware that I had been staring at chatty man for the last few minutes. I don’t think he had noticed but I quickly shifted my gaze to avoid eye contact when he seemed like he might glance in my direction. I wondered who he was talking to and imagined it to be some ghost from his past. He might be traumatically bereaved and his companion, a close friend or family member who, in his mind, never left him. He couldn’t accept the loss and so kept up one-sided conversations so as not to be alone.

Then I thought, ‘What if ghosts did exist?’ He might be like that kid out of The Sixth Sense who can see dead people. Maybe we, the narrow-minded, yawning, shoe-gazing passengers, were in the wrong. As I looked around the bus I saw a small red-haired girl with glasses who was sitting down opposite chatty man. She nodded her head and I realized she was speaking. That’s who he had been talking to. I hadn’t seen her.

17 December 2010

How I Learned to Stop Whining and Love the Flip-Flops

On entering the room the first thing I noticed was a pair of flip-flops. (Okay after the enormous mirror beside the bed, but let’s not go there.) At first I thought someone had forgotten them but then I realised they had been provided by the hotel. They didn’t match at all but they were almost the same size.

I decided to forego this generous facility. I had brought my own slippers and besides I don’t like any kind of shoe that goes between your toes. Especially when they’ve been between countless other peoples’ toes.

I was sorry that I wasn’t wearing them the morning that something swam out of the drain while I was showering. Without my glasses on I couldn’t make out clearly what it was, but it was black and skinny, a few inches long, and a damn good swimmer. I’ve since looked up videos of leeches swimming and I think it might have been one. If not it was some kind of snake or worm-thing. All I know is that I had just put conditioner in my hair and I had to stay and rinse it, while keeping an eye on the slithery creature. I quickly worked out routes in my mind of where I would step, depending on which direction it would take. Fortunately it just went to the edge of the shower and stayed there I think. I stepped over it and went for breakfast, leaving the room as quickly as I could without looking back.

After that I appreciated the flip-flops a lot more. For the rest of my stay I always wore them in the shower. I also found them very useful when hammering cochroaches to death before going to sleep with the lights on.

13 December 2010

“A water pipe has burst in your house. The neighbours can’t get in.”

I make my excuses at work and jump in a taxi, having no real idea what to expect or what to do. When I get in there is water dripping from the ceiling of my kitchen and the bathroom above it. My neighbour helps me to turn off the electricity and stop the leak in the attic. The houses are about 60 years old and we have no idea where the stopcock is to shut the water off. Fortunately someone had called the county council who were sending a guy out with a metal detector. I make some phonecalls and yes it is on the road just outside the gate. But nobody can say exactly where.

Eventually our hero arrives, resplendent in a baseball hat advertising racehorse breeding and a lit cigarette perched permanently at the corner of his mouth. He sets about waving the device over the driveway by the gate and we hear beeping almost immediately. My helpful neighbour grabs a shovel and digs a few chunks out of the concrete. Nothing to see here. More digging. The metal detector gets waved a bit more and we hear more beeping so we open the gate wider in order to clear some waving space. Not so much beeping now. Oh yeah, the gate is metal. And the gate-post, too.

We do also pick up some pipes that eventually lead us to the actual stopcock (with no digging required as it turned out), but not before council guy had discovered many other Things That Go Beep and adjusted the sensitivity on his apparatus. While standing around in the bitter cold outside my sodden semi-detached I could only laugh as we heard a beep and my neighbour pointed out “Well at least we know that your steel toe-caps are working!”.