By the hair of a dragon’s tooth (FLASH FICTION)

nature-591708_1280It is stealing her screams.

She can feel her diaphragm muscles pulsating thrusting her horror up and out of her, retching like a ravenous chick.

But Mads is silent.

The sound of her own screams come from the creature in front of her, escaping between its knotted and dripping black teeth.

A ball of fury, spinning fast then stopping to whirl back in the opposite direction, globs of mucus flying free along with dead bugs and leaves dislodged from its matted hair.

As each of her own curdling cries trumpet several feet away, Maddie feels needles piercing every surface of her body; into her eyes and ears. Her insides are ablaze in fire, her bones cracking and her bowels emptying there on the spot.

But she cannot move. She cannot cover her ears, or turn and run away. The creature has also stolen her motion.

Minutes ago life had been normal. Minutes ago she’d lived in a regular world of coffee shop lattes, yoga and social media updates. There were no monsters there. No supernatural terrors chomping on her nerves and sanity.

How had it come to this?

She’d been carrying stuff from the attic down to the bonfire, and had started watering the plants.

Mike had gone off to the council tip with a cheery smile and wave, their little hatchback straining at its metal seams stuffed with boxes of clutter that couldn’t be burnt.

They knew when they bought the house they’d have to shift all the junk. The lady had lived there her entire life, the estate agent said. But despite all the junk it had worked its magic on them. They loved its bright rambling rooms and dark wooden floors. They loved its unruly greenery filling the conservator and its crazy-looking plants they couldn’t name and hadn’t yet found online.

That was part of its charm.

A gagging smell of rotten milk outside had called her out to check on the bonfire.

And here she is.

With it.

This is how I die, she thinks.

One last scream she passes out.

***

Mike is lifting her, his arms are soft and warm like his tears falling on her face.

She feels safe as he carries her cocooned up the garden path, his steps gently rocking her with the comfort of a baby’s cot.

Her pain and screams are gone.

“It vanished,” he said.

“I put the fire out.”

Later he would explain how he’d forgotten his driving licence to show as ID at the tip, so had rushed back to get it.

Later they would question what they’d seen, and put it all down to some sort of shared hallucination never to be mentioned again.

But for now passing through the conservatory neither noticed the spiky leaf lying at the base of the potted Dragon’s Tooth.

She hadn’t noticed the leaf hanging by a hair, or knocking it free when she’d grazed past earlier with the watering can.

Neither knew things happened when its leaves fell, or that the bonfire had nothing to do with it.

And neither noticed the plant smiling, waiting for the time to come.

To EU or not to EU?

flagThat is the question and I haven’t got an fffing clue. I doubt fffing has either. A clue, that is.

The politicians aren’t helping. Their posturing and mud-slinging labelled as ‘debates’ aren’t hitting anywhere near the heart of the matter.

They’re not presenting like with like. How can they pit immigration controls on one side against economic stability on the other? These are mammoth issues not on the same playing field let alone an even one.

I’m sinking under information overload. Type ‘EU Referendum pros and cons’ into Google and you get 346,000 hits. But no argument (or data) is unbiased. It cannot be by its very nature.

There are also so many unknowns. I get it that Brexit cannot answer certain things because it’s untouched territory. But this means we’re being asked to consider taking a Grand Canyonesque leap of faith.

I know I’m not the only one who is undecided, swinging between ‘in’ and ‘out’ each day. Backwards and forwards, round and round, I’m getting dizzy.

But this is the biggest consumer decision any of us will ever make. It affects our economy, foreign policy, immigration policy, security and sovereignty. Our vote on whether the UK should leave the EU will reverberate through our lifetimes, and those of our children and grandchildren.

Electoral turnout looks set to be high – far more than the seemingly lesser decision on who should actually run our country. Go figure.

Putting the lack of unbiased and factual information aside, and shelving scaremongering issues, the problem also lies with the question itself. In or out? What’s that all about? I don’t like either answer. So what do I do – simply vote for the answer I dislike the least? I guess so. That’s what we normally have to do.

I would rather vote for the pros from both sides of the argument – NOT the sides themselves. That way we really would get the best for our little island.

Hoovering sparkling stars

1X1A0780I have no idea which day of the week it is and I’m hoovering sparkling stars off the carpet.

I’ve just deposited three highly excited and slightly drunk 20-somethings (daughter among them) at a music festival, leaving my Mini and my nerves frayed by their exuberance following 40 minutes in mobile close quarters.

Returning to the flat I discover the newly-formed Constellation of Glitter covering all main arterial carpet routes; an expanding universe also now attaching to the cat and dog.

There cannot be much still stuck to the girls. My car is also full of it.

Welcome to my staycation.

“Lovely week off work,” I’d told myself. “Pop home to Bournemouth for a few days and hang with daughter, see friends, do some writing. Chill.”

Day one the boiler threw a hissy fit and would only be placated by a certified engineer.

The following morning, I found myself painting my bedroom, only after teasing a flowery border from the wall, demolishing a bookcase, and rehoming the contents of its shelves.

Day three I threw all sanity to the wind and negotiated the dark arts of flat pack furniture assembly.

On the fourth I was flashed by a speed camera.

By the time, on the fifth day, the next door but one hotel caught alight and became a major incident involving 100 firefighters and a police cordon – with my block inside – any semblance of calm mindfulness on my behalf was pretty much buggered.

So the eardrum battered taxi services, and intergalactic vacuum cleaning on the final day really wasn’t so bad after all.

Holiday? I’m bloody glad it’s over. I’m actually looking forward to returning to my manic plate-spinning with one arm tied behind my back job in local government communications. Better the bonkers stress you know.

Staycations (stay at home vacations) are on the rise among us Brits, even though they cost more than foreign breaks. When it pisses down (and it will) we spend more dosh than planned keeping ourselves entertained.

For me it was the cost of DIY materials. And the boiler’s insistence I cough up for an emergency call-out. I’m now waiting to receive my £100 fine and three penalty points notification in the post from Dorset Police.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some smiley moments. I did catch up with friends and daughter, which was lovely.  The sun chased away the clouds long enough for one afternoon on the beach, and the hound and I discovered some new walking haunts.

What about writing? Sweet F.A. sadly apart from this article and some scribbles in my notebook. Shoddy I know.

But the holiday magic DID capture me as I was sucking up a small planetary system next to the kitchen. Just for a moment I couldn’t remember the day of the week.

Or maybe it was stress-induced amnesia.

The C word

IMG_5878Cancer. Few people have escaped its clutches whether personally or friends and family.

This month it was my turn to fall under its shadow.

Being now a woman of a certain age, I was invited by the NHS to have a mammogram.

I found the whole X-ray sandwich experience a little disconcerting, yet a pitiful price to pay considering.

Within days however I received a letter telling me to attend a specialist breast clinic because they’d found something.

You try not to worry, of course. You try not to go online and read all the stuff you shouldn’t. But that little voice in your head is terrified.

Say what you like about our health service, but it was only two weeks to the day I found myself at the Jarvis Clinic in Guildford for my tests.

I cannot praise the staff there enough. Caring, friendly, and professional doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Their manner and the overall atmosphere of the place helped smoothed the fear of everyone sat in that waiting room. You could see it in all our faces, smiling nervously at each other trying to pretend we were anywhere but there.

Another mammogram and then an ultrasound followed, before trying to digest the findings being presented to me in the calm and carefully chosen words of my consultant.

I wasn’t prepared for the biopsy. The word biopsy sounds squeamish, and the experience of it was pretty horrible. But again the team looking after me was superb.

More than 50,000 women (and men) in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and one in eight will develop it at some point in their lives.

Thanks to medical science and the dedication of healthcare professionals in its arena, people are now more likely to survive it than before.

Of course ‘survive’ could mean months or years of heartache, debilitating chemo and invasive surgery. You don’t walk away unscathed and intact.

I didn’t survive. I escaped. I am one of the exceedingly lucky ones because my three weeks of trying to live normally with this fear dangling above me are over. My final results show I am OK. It isn’t dangerous.

Elated and relieved – yes of course. But bittersweet because I cannot (and won’t) stop thinking about those ladies in that waiting room.

Part of me will always be in there rooting for them; thinking about them; praying for them (and I’m not religious). Cancer took a splice of me after all.

I could say it’s not always bad news. I could say if it is, it’s not the end of the world. But that would be patronising.

What I’m trying to say (and failing miserably) is that I’ve only experienced a nuance of the nightmare some people and their families and friends go through.

And I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Not even my worst enemy.

Cancer is the C word because it is Cruel. It has no Conscience.

So please support research to eradicate it. Please know its signs and check yourself. Please have regular tests or talk to your GP if you are worried.

Don’t give it a Chance.

Land of the pasty white

hot-sunHere in the land of the pasty white, we unleash our glare to mirror the sun.

Here in the land of pasty white we pay no heed to body image or fashion, and happily display our limbs and wobbly bits.

The moment the spring or summer sun escapes the shackles of cloud – or even looks like it might – out come the flip-flops, shorts, skimpy tops, T-shirts and wafting dresses.

We are always ready. We always know where our sun clothes are.

And we don’t bloody care what we look like.

The average total annual sunshine in the United Kingdom is 56 days, compared to 300 in the South of France and about 200 in California.

So if you blink in the UK you can miss that big bright thing in the sky.

Problem is, we stupidly forget to apply any or enough of that SPF stuff because we want to BBQ our bits as quickly as possible.

We tell ourselves, “Its only British sun. Not strong like when we go abroad.”

Today, basking in a rare 26 degrees we feel invincible.

But how many of us will be glowing for all the wrong reasons tomorrow?

Will we learn? Probably not.

Time travel made easy

il_214x170.425550000_1c33Ever had that nightmare when you’re trapped in a room surrounded by people that look vaguely familiar?

You stress because you cannot remember their names, and then relax because it’s OK – you don’t know them.

Only this time you do. And they know you too, plus things about yourself you’ve happily forgotten.

Welcome to the school reunion.

This weekend it was the ‘The Class of 82’ from St Paul’s Secondary in Addlestone (reinvented twice in the 34 years since we graced its halls and classrooms), known these days as Jubilee School.

Reunions seem a no-win situation. If you were an outsider at school, why on earth would you want to see these people again? If you were cool or sporty why destroy that image (unless you still are)?

Our classmates shape our first identities and even now, as adults, any insecurity from those days still lurks in our consciousness ready to remind us. So don’t be a numpty and prod it.

But psychologists say we cannot resist seeing how the story ends. We know the beginning. We were there. We expect the end is going to be naff but we’d kick ourselves if we missed it.

To say I was nervous was an understatement. I’d been undecided all day if I would actually attend, and right up until the moment I walked in it was still touch and go.

About 50 of us hauled our ageing backsides from near and far across the globe for a chinwag, some tipples, and a creaky joints boogie aided and abetted with questionable dance moves and hilarious party disguises.

Names badges avoided undue embarrassments, and everyone looked like themselves if you ignored all that horrible shape/face/hair shifting shit the ageing process inflicts on you.

Mingling and memory cells rebooting, connections sparked again and the decades peeled away. 1982 and 2016 were folded together. We had a ball. Sheer joy at being together again was on all our faces.

What struck me was how little and how much we’d all changed. We’d blossomed into pretty awesome adults, and I wish our teenage selves could have had a premonition of this. It would have saved a lot of pubescent angst. Old demons were slain and even new friendships formed.

I’m glad I didn’t let nerves get the better of me. I had a blast and relished every moment, but alas the clock struck twelve far too soon. It was then I realised I’d missed this lot, and will now remember my schooldays far more fondly.

To the Class of 82 – including those who couldn’t come and those no longer with us – I’m honoured we went to school together and I couldn’t be prouder of you all. Now bugger off; go back out there and keep kicking the bollocks out of life.

 

Getting your ‘blog on’

blogI’m one in 152 million, and I’ve been doing what they do for a year now.

That’s the number of blogs across the globe and I’ve just passed my first anniversary.

Long gone are the days when bloggers were a select group of teenage chaps who understood the dark arts of IT, sat in darkened rooms. Today a blogger’s average age is between 18 and 44 and more women than ever are tapping away.

Beware – bloggers are taking over the world. And no subject is taboo.

The media trawls blogs as sources for their stories, and organisations scramble to respond to them in the name of public engagement. Bloggers are increasingly social media savvy and now know how to manipulate its many tools.

And don’t forget the impact of ‘digital cigarettes’ aka smartphones and tablets which 40 per cent of bloggers now regularly employ to create their posts. It’s anytime anywhere baby, writing and reading them.

Notice I refer to ‘them’, not me. I’m not in any sense a serious professional blogger (although I might quite like one day to give it a whirl). But as they spend on average up to 40 hours a week caressing their keyboard I’d have to quit the day job. Like that’s going to happen?

I’m among the 64 per cent of bloggers who do it just for fun: a place to have a wee rant or a musing or two.

So if you’ve read my blog these past 12 months then I thank you very much for taking the time to join me. I do appreciate it.