Vagrant. A story

This is for CAKE.Short and Sweet’s Wednesday Write-in

The prompts were sandwich  ::  country house  ::  atheist  ::  slate  ::  second hand

The grey slate roof of the country house matched the flat grey colour of the sky. Its heaviness seemed to be pressing me down into the earth. I stare at my second hand sandwich and wish I could lie down in this cold hard earth and just fade into the darkness.

Despite the cold day, the public gardens of the house were busy with people, swarming, laughing; playing. No-one notices me, rifling through the bins, looking for lunch. I am part of the grey landscape, a slightly smudgy spot on the horizon. When they go home after the games have finished, I will stay and find use for anything they have left. And, finally, I will be moved on and I will need to find another park, another bin for leftovers, another place to rest my head at night.

10 things I love/hate about America

Our move date has been going backwards and forwards for some time now; we’re told we’re moving in two weeks, we pack everything, we’re told to hold fire, that it will in fact be two months etc etc etc.

But now, finally (fingers crossed) we have our date as 24th May and the flights are being booked and accommodation in Madrid organised.

This date  is actually quite close when you think about it, has brought a range of emotions about our host country to the surface, mostly wonderful, but not totally! So, here are my thoughts on living in the US as a Briton; what I miss about home and what I have learnt to appreciate about this country:

  1. Although attitudes are changing (particularly in NY and amongst the younger generation) many American’s really do think they live in the greatest country in the world. As a visitor, it easy to get caught up in this belief, but if you take stock, look around you, you begin to see things for what they really are. I found this interesting clip on YouTube (some swearing)  
  2. However, if you are talented and have the drive to succeed, America really is the best place to be. The American Dream is alive and kicking. The utmost respect is shown to those who work up from the bottom. There is still a little snobbery in the UK, which is just non-existent here.
  3. I put on a few extra pounds when I moved here. American food is terribly bad for you whilst being terribly tasty. What’s worse is, living in Manhattan, I am surrounded by millions of model thin girls. How do they do it?? HOW!! Food manufacturers hide sugar in everything, EVERYTHING. And don’t get me started on portion sizes…
  4. …and yet. When I go home I miss that food! I spend time trying to avoid the bad stuff that they put in food here, and yet when I’m back in the UK all I can do is dream about it (apart from when I’m staying with my mum and she’s cooking for me!)
  5. I’m beginning to forget the British (correct) words for things. I will put out the trash, use the sidewalk and wear pants. My friends have laughed at me for picking up the word super. This annoys me.
  6. We haven’t had a proper holiday since we moved here. All our vacation (see what I mean) time is spent on trips home to see family and friends. Whilst this is awesome (of course) the fiancé and I usually spend most of the time apart and we both dream about the time when we can be somewhere exotic, just us, together, ideally with a cocktail in hand!
  7. I will never again complain about the British weather. The weather here is mad. We have lived through Hurricane Sandy, but even when it isn’t Hurricane extreme, it’s extreme. I have never felt a bone chilling cold like the New York winter. OK, so we haven’t had to put up with the monotonous grey sludge of sky you can get for weeks on end back home, but I think (I think) I would welcome that in comparison to a NY winter! (I say this now)
  8. TV. Quality TV. We recently spent a week at home, and what a breath of fresh air it was to have quality journalism and entertaining drama for a week!
  9. Living here has made me expect excellent customer service and when I don’t get it, I’m happy to express my dissatisfaction. Whilst I was home last month, I had to pop into M&S to buy an umbrella having got caught short in the rain (of course, it was raining and grey, I was in London!). Whilst M&S had always impressed me with high levels of customer service, my stint of shopping in US stores has made me realise the poor truth. At the checkout, there was no smile, no apologies for having been kept waiting and my purchase was stuffed in a bag and practically chucked at me. She did say please and thank you, so that’s something I guess. I had a great time filling out one of those online survey forms telling them how they had done!
  10. Finally, basically, despite what they might think not every other country in the world thinks about America all the time. If you watch Fox News long enough, you get the impression that everyone else hates America. Or if they don’t, they love America and want to BE America. I suppose there’s a little bit of this in all of us; everything that happens to us is because of us, because someone wants to be mean to us or because we are amazing and deserve it. Either way, it’s the same “it all revolves around me” mentality. Most of us, when we have these moments, are able to say “Uh, OK, I was having a diva moment there! I need to calm down”. I think America might be having its diva moment, and just needs to calm down!

The Edge. A story

This is for CAKE.Short and Sweet’s Wednesday Write-in

The prompts were on the ledge  ::  fingerprint  ::  subtitle  ::  just a cigar  ::  birthday

Amanda stared at the greasy, smudged fingerprint on the wineglass. The small amount of Sauvignon blanc had gone warm ages ago and she couldn’t stomach any more, in any case.

Around her, the party was still in full swing. But in her little corner of the room, the streamers looked tired and frayed and the tablecloth was stained with an unidentified liquid.

She couldn’t believe the number of people who had turned up for her birthday party; she should be pleased. But not one of them had noticed that she was no longer part of the crowd, no longer centre of the dance floor. Amanda picked at the skin around her thumbnail disconsolately until it started to bleed. She started to cry again, not so much at the pain, more at the sight of blood, so bright and full of life when she felt nothing but dull inside.

She hadn’t been expecting this. She was looking forward to her 30th. Being old enough to know her own mind, to be happy in her skin at last. But turns out nothing changes from 29 to 30. She’s still single, still in a dead end job and now just a little bit older, a little bit saggier.

She sneaked out of the party, onto the roof of the hotel where it’s being held. She looked out across the London skyline. Beautiful. Out on the ledge of the roof garden, she could still hear the thump thump thump of the music’s baseline, but not the sound of the traffic far below, honking amid the never ending roadwork’s. She checked her watch; a few minutes after midnight. That’s that then, she realised. She doesn’t feel any different. Why should things magically be better, she asks herself, just because she’s in a new decade? Amanda peered over the edge of the parapet, into the haziness below. London was never dark, but still, she couldn’t make out the people or pavement below. He hands shook as she leaned out further, straining out into the cool night, further, further.

She didn’t hear his footsteps behind her until it was too late. She felt her arm being yanked back from the ledge and a solid bulk of man surrounding her. He smelt good, he felt good, who on earth was he, she thought? Amanda couldn’t make sense of anything, until he looked down into her eyes and asked her to come back to the party. Maybe 30 would turn out aright, after all?

New Beginnings. A story

I haven’t written anything for what seems like ages now! Very naughty. But back on the bandwagon today, and what better way to get back to it than a Wednesday Write-in?

This is for CAKE.Short and Sweet’s Wednesday Write-in

The prompts were cheesy  ::  breathless  ::   carbon copy  ::  jets  ::  shaving

I hid behind the door jamb and watched him shaving. His towel was tied tightly around his waist, highlighting the delicate bulge of his stomach. I raised my eyebrows in quiet surprise. He had always been so proud of his taut six-pack. I’m surprised to find I prefer this softer, squidgy version. It looks nicer to touch, to hug.

He meticulously checked his face for any missed patches; he curled his lower lip under his front teeth and shaves an imaginary missed patch on his chin,

Finally, he spotted me in the mirror. I ducked out of sight, embarrassed to have been caught. I felt my cheeks burn as he poked his head out of the door, grinning at me. I felt breathless, gazing into his gorgeous eyes, crinkly at the edges. It was then I saw his face, like his stomach, looked rounder, softer. Nicer.

“You’re early. Who let you in?”

Unprepared for this question, I stuttered and finally had to admit the truth to still having his spare key. I offer it back to him in a rush of speech and short breaths, but he waved his hand at me in a friendly dismissive gesture.

“Keep it, hopefully you’ll need it more again, now.”

He headed to his room, prodding his tummy with forefinger. Pinching an inch.

“Didn’t see much point in maintaining it all when you left. Suppose I better get back to the gym!”

He slings a t-shirt over his head, I tried to divert my eyes as he slips on pants and jeans, but this all feels so normal, so natural, I couldn’t bring myself to. I tell him no, not to worry, he’s still gorgeous to me. He has always been gorgeous to me.

He threw his towel onto the unmade bed and I bite my lip. No need to have a go at him now, not when we’re so close. He reached for my hand and we head out of his apartment, our first date, again. Our first date after 6 years of being together. 6 years together and 6 months apart. As we step out into the gorgeous spring day, I vow on the sunny dancing daffodils blooming in next-door’s garden, that this time it’ll work out.

Easter Weekend at Coney Island

Spring is in the air and the weather in New York has finally become suitable for going outside again! Cue our first trip to our favourite New York beach, Coney Island, for a stroll along the boardwalk and to see any lasting damage from SuperStorm Sandy last October.

Coney Island Station

Coney Island Station

We were expecting the worst. We were expecting the boardwalk to be gone and all stores boarded up. We did arrive quite early on Easter Sunday (about 10.30am) and it was pretty deserted but just an hour later and things had started to liven up. Our favourite bar was open (luckily, as the sea wind made it much colder than Manhattan) for a quick cider and later, the Boardwalk Nathan’s was also open. Sadly, the original Nathan’s located on Surf Ave was still boarded up, but promised to be open by May.

DSC02087

Nathan’s Original stall

It looks like it will be up and running ready for the famous hotdog eating competition held every year on 4th July. We heard that it had had up to 5 feet of flood water on the night of the storm, so I’m so glad to hear it will recover.

There were policemen on most corners to help prevent looting of the many empty buildings. But you could see more and more stores and bars opening up. The world famous Freak Show, which I went to twice during the summer, was also closed which I was very sad to see. When we were heading back towards the station to leave, we saw some of the ‘freaks’ had set up a stall outside the entrance to the show selling parts of the boardwalk that had been destroyed in the storm. A bit goulish I thought, but then, it is a freak show and any way to help rebuild is all good in my books!

DSC02085

Left over debris

DSC02086

The iconic wonder wheel in the background…still standing!

We left with happy heart that this unique area of New York looks set to have a happy and fruitful summer, I’m just sad that we won’t be in the city to join it!

Writers Block

Image

Writers Block

So, today has not been a good day with writing. I have spent much of it staring at a blank screen and grimacing, trying to force words that don’t exist. So instead, I tried to find something to make me laugh and came across this image. As a newly engaged female – it made me titter. I certainly hope I won’t need to be shown this by family and friends in the coming months…

The Expats – a review

The Expats by Chris Pavone

 on Amazon

From the blurb on the back: Kate Moore is an expat mum, newly transplanted from Washington D.C. In the cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg, her days are filled with play dates and coffee mornings, her weekends spent in Paris or skiing in the Alps. Kate is also guarding a secret – one so momentous it could destroy her neat little expat life – and she suspects that another American couple are not who they claim to be; plus her husband is acting suspiciously. As she travels around Europe, she finds herself looking over her shoulder, terrified her past is catching up with her.

 As Kate begins to dig, to uncover the secrets of those around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage – and her life.

Well, what a disappointment! Firstly, I’m glad I bought this in the Kindle January sale at only 99p! I read the reviews, heralded as a gripping intense thriller – but instead found a confused narrative and two-dimensional characters.

Chris Pavone has actually come up with an interesting and unique plot idea, but his execution of it was pretty bad. The first part is confusing with numerous and quick time-jumps, it becomes hard to keep up with what is going on.

But perhaps worst of all is the main character, Kate. She just isn’t believable and when the protagonist doesn’t ring true, it’s hard to take the other characters seriously. Ultimately, it means whenever something is revealed about them, the reader just isn’t invested enough to care.

Pavone drops too many clanging hints about what is to come. It begins to drive you mad. We hear so many times how she has decided to trust her husband, we know from the off that he is up to no good. By the denouement, you just want it to be over, as The NY Times points out:

“The tireless scheming of all four principals truly exceeds all sane expectations.”

This is not my usual genre of novel, so I can’t compare it to Ludlum, Grisham et al. but it has certainly put me off trying them for a while at least! Back to Jojo Moyse for the time being, I think!

The Con. A story

This is for CAKE.Short and Sweet’s Wednesday Write-in

The prompts were sniffle  ::  font  ::  northern  ::  powdered  ::  pick a card

“‘Pick a card,’ he had said. ‘Any card.’

I had thought it a trick, a con-artists game but then he had looked me in the eye and said again, quietly this time in his lilting northern accent, ‘Pick any card.’

And of course, like a fool, I did.”

I glance up at my audience. Hooked. Good.

I spread my palms and shrug my shoulders, conveying, I hope, the sense of inevitability I had felt at the time.

“It didn’t feel like there was anyone watching us. It was just him, playing a stupid card trick, and me. It wasn’t until the gimmick unfolded and I was shown to be a mug did I remember we were standing on a grimy street corner with the gritty London light fading. The crowd laughed, paid their tips and dispersed, leaving me alone with him. He was packing away his table and tricks but I loitered, wanted to stay close to him, to prolong the feeling of magic.

He finished packing up and started strolling away. That’s that then, I thought to myself. But no, miraculously he stopped. He turned around and said; ‘you coming Lass, or what?’

Of course I went. You can guess the rest”

Groans from the other women. Mumblings of unrest.

“I’m a lady, I will not divulge such information. Anyway, we became close. I followed him and the other con artists around, became skilled in their games. I suppose I even became one of them.”

“Then how did you end up in here? This isn’t the type of place for no con-artist and such like,” piped up a listener.

“Well, there you have it. My sly little con man from the north forgot to mention exactly what he had left up there. And what he had left up there eventually came down south looking for him. Along with their two babes, one of them not even on solids yet.”

Gasps from the audience. I smiled.

“Yes, his own missus! Can you believe it?”

Disgruntled shakes of the heads surround me. We have our pride in this place.

“So, no sooner had she arrived than she set up home and turfed me out. I begged for him to tell her that it was me now. That I was the one. He shut the door in my face. But I couldn’t let anyone else have him, if I couldn’t.

Guns are easy to get hold of, if you know where to go. I knew where to go.”

Again, nods of agreement. We’re a sisterhood in here.

“I went to their cosy little home and I shot him dead. I shot her too, for good measure. I had planned to kill the children too, but when it came to it, I couldn’t. Innocent little things. And knowing what I know now, I’m glad I didn’t.”

I stroke my huge belly, feeling for the next lively kick from my child.

“I couldn’t bring this baby into the world, knowing I had killed his brothers.”

I spot the guards heading towards us to break up my party. They don’t like gatherings of more than three women at a time. Stupid really, I mean, we’re only women, what are we going to do to them?

God Bless the NHS

Following reading Roger Taylor’s excellent article on the failings of the NHS last week, I have now got round to reading this follow up from Jenny Diski. It just annoyed me!

By the end of the article I feel the author had lost her way a little:

“The British public are irrational and deluded about their NHS, attached sentimentally to it as if it were our darling child. I am certainly one of that mind.”

Well, she has just successfully negated the entirety of her article by admitting that she herself is deluded about the NHS! But disregarding this, she also posits that:

“And what if the NHS doesn’t cost too much and isn’t spiralling towards impossible budgets, because, as the French believe, the point of a nationalised health system is that you spend whatever is needed to keep it going because it is the basis of the welfare of society?”

I would love to hear, from people who actually believe this, how we can just keep on throwing the money that is needed at the NHS? Where is this bottomless pot of money coming from? Ironically, France does not have a nationalised system like us. It has a clever system which combines private and public sectors to provide universal health coverage to all. Most citizens receive their insurance through their employer and almost everyone has supplemental private insurance (source: World Health Report 2000).

As Roger Taylor has already proved, the NHS is costing the state too much money not because of the ageing population, but due to the sheer cost of modern medicine and technology. We didn’t have this problem in the 60’s and 70’s simply because medicine wasn’t as advance as it is today.

Why should we suffer and lose ground on breakthrough medicines when other countries, such as the US, strive forward and have some of the best medical research facilities in the world? Whilst the US system is far from perfect, my own experience of it over the last year has been faultless. I spent some time researching a dermatologist for a long-term complaint I suffer with that no UK GP has ever had the time or resources to deal with. Fair enough, I had always thought, it’s not life threatening and I can live with it. However, I thought I would see how the US treatment would compare and I was astounded. The dermatologist I chose was one of the leading doctors in his field and I was able to find out about his career history, from where he graduated to his most recent published paper. When we met, he was professional, caring and certainly knew his stuff. He prescribed something I had never heard of. Within one month of using the medication, I was cured. This was something I had had, on and off, for nine years. NINE YEARS. Admittedly, I was shocked by the cost of the prescription. If I didn’t have medical insurance, the whole process would have set me back $1500. Perhaps that is why my UK GP did not, or could not prescribe that medication to me; the NHS was not prepared to invest that much in something I could, technically, live with. But why should I, if I didn’t have to?

No healthcare system will ever be perfect, but until we can start to admit that targets need to be geared towards successful care rather than money and that some sort of competition does need to be incorporated into our system to maintain standards, our system will keep lagging behind the rest of the world. Perhaps the French have got this right, after all?!

An Arrival. A story

This is for CAKE.Short and Sweet’s Wednesday Write-in

The prompts were overdose  ::  mither  ::  gloss over  ::  poach  ::  digest

Camilla focused very hard on the tiny patch she was painting. It’s easier if you don’t look at the whole picture, she thought.

“You are going to gloss the rest of it, aren’t you Cam?” Steve joked.

Although she was facing away from him, she scowled, hoping he could pick up the negative energy from her back.

It had all been a bit of a shock; they certainly weren’t prepared. The only cot they could afford and get at short notice was pink. Obviously not suitable. She had found some old pale blue gloss in Dad’s garage, but it was glunky and it wasn’t painting on smoothly.

Would this arrival be the same as the paint? A shoddy glossing-over of the cracks in her relationship with Steve?

She moved onto the next slat of the cot and took a sneaky look at how many there was still left to paint. Too many.

“What if the fumes are still too strong when the baby arrives?”

“He’s had worse, I’m sure!” Steve laughed, shaking out the FT in an attempt to prevent any further mithering from her.

She cursed her sister for the fifteenth time that day. How dare she do this to her? So inconsiderate. She wasn’t ready to look after her baby. She glanced behind her, at Steve with his slippered feet resting on the coffee table, reading the weekend papers. Was she ready to do this with him? She turned back to the cot and started with the next slat.

The phone rings. Steve remained resolutely reading the paper, slouching deeper into the sofa. Camilla rested the brush on the tin, a drop of blue gloss slowly glooping down to the rag underneath it.

It’s her sister’s social worker.

“All the tests show no permanent damage to the newborn. He’s ready to come home to you tomorrow,” she said brusquely.

“Are you sure?” Camilla asked tentatively, hoping to get a couple more days of freedom.

“Well, the effects of your sister’s overdose may have some long-lasting consequences that we just can’t know about right now. But nothing physical in the short-term. I’ll pop him over to you tomorrow.”

“Right, we’ll be in…” But the social worker had already rung off. On to the next case, the next druggie, the next family that has had their life turned upside down.